The Inca Trial!

Trip Start Apr 03, 2006
Trip End May 29, 2006

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Hello all!

Well, we did it! 43km / 26 miles of absolutely stunning trails combining Inca ruins, magnificent mountains, exotic vegetation and animals. Basically you trek over three mountain passes with breathtaking views, causing the trial to range in altitude from 2400m to 4200m later and we are here to tell the tail, arriving in Machu Picchu (the lost city of the Incas)! The four day trek lived up to our high expectations with stunning scenery including Inca Ruins and numerous mountain ranges. Not to mention a great group of 12 tourists, 2 guides (Marcello and Ceasar), a cook and 20 (yes 20!!) Porters. We had hired a third of a porter each to carry sleeping bag, mattress, and some clothes leaving us with day packs of essentials and room for the all important Snickers bars. To cap it all off, the weather was fantastic for the first three days and we had to play "spot the cloud". The final day at Machu Picchu was cloudy at first but cleared up to give some fantastic photo opportunities with rays of light coming through the breaking cloud.

A note of background on our route: The Lost City of Machu Picchu is the most recognizable symbol of Inca Civilization. "The Inca Trail", as it is known now, was the Royal Highway that led pilgrims and officials of the Empire to the Sacred City of the Incas. The Inca Trail is part of a 30,000 kilometre highway system, that integrated the vast Inca Empire of Tawantinsuyo (The Four Ways), running from southern Colombia to central Chile passing through the cities of Quito in Ecuador; Cajamarca, Huanuco, Jauja, Huamanga and Cusco in Peru; La Paz and Cochabamba in Bolivia; and finishing in Salta and Tucuman in Argentina. (Yes, copied straight from the internet John!)

Day 1 - Cusco to Wayllabamba (12km)
We started the trek at a passport control point at a place simply named, "Km82". The first day was fairly easy and we all enjoyed the walk through the valleys whilst getting to know each other. We were a group of 12 - John, Amber, Will & Gina from UK, Erin, Carlos & Ceci from USA and Gina, Natalie, Dirk, Ken and Joy from Canada. A mixture of ages and experiences making up a fine team. We ended up at the foot of the first pass at the end of the day. The fitness of the porters (each carrying about of camping equipment, tourist belongings or food) was becoming very apparent as by the time we stopped for lunch, they had pitched a dinning tent, and cooked lunch, a three course meal consisting of soup, main and sweet. This was a standard which they maintained throughout the trek, for breakfast, lunch and tea every day.... we ate well! The Porters preferred to run rather than walk and a standard cry of "Porter!" became the norm where we would have to move aside to left them pass. We had the most fantastic views of the Cordillera Urubamba (mountain range) and the snow capped peak of Veronica (5860m). The last 7km was hiking to the village of Wayllabamba (3000m) to camp amongst the local farming community in a picturesque spot. We could even have a beer to celebrate the completion of day 1!

Day 2 - Wayllabamba to Pacamaya
The trek itself was very challenging at times, especially on the second day where we had to climb 1100m starting from a height of 3100m or about 10000 feet, a height you would normally sky dive from! The first half of the climb was in shadow and both John and Amber managed it well... then the sun came! Amber pushed ahead to the to the top of the first pass known as Abra de Huarmihuanusca or Dead Womans Pass, arriving second to super-fit Ken, in 3 hours 15 and earned the new nickname, John's little Mountain Goat!. Not sure where this aptitude for hiking at altitude has come from but motoring was a fair description of this little lady powering up the mountain. The hardest thing about climbing was the thin air and therefore the need to continually catch your breath. John had to dig deep in the hot sun but made it to the top in 4 hours 20, a highly respectable time, to a chorus of encouraging shouting from the group (fast becoming a "team" at this stage). For John, this was the best moment of the trek and the group photo at the top of this first pass tells the story, showing the relieved, proud and exhausted expressions on all our faces. A steep descent to Pacamaya (3600m) for a spot of lunch and time to call it a day. Pisco sours before bed ensured we all slept well!

We enjoyed interacting with the Porters who were all up for a joke and generally jovial in spite of the huge packs on their backs. One Porter especially was worth a mention. His name was unpronounceable but he told us to call him Barney... just the icebreaker John needed (John is also called Barney by his Nieces and Nephews due to his "Barney the Dinosaur" impression... its a long story). He carried both of our packs as part of his load and every time he saw us on the trial he would be running past us with a smile and a Vamos! or Hola! Talking with him was challenging with his limited English but John took to sing a South American Folk Song every time he saw him, which earned him the name John Travolta with all of the Porters and Amber happily chatted in Spanish.

Day 3 - Pacamaya to Chachabamba (18km)
A very early start as so much ground to cover, after an hour breaking to take in the Runkuracary ruins then straight into the challenge of the second pass, Abra de Runkuracary (4000m). Amber was first up with Barney encouraging her last few steps, sharing the wonder of the spectacular views we were afforded after the final step. The girls showed the boys how it should be done by arriving ahead! No time for resting as we were straight on down the steep hill marching towards the third pass. The scenery was beautiful along this next stretch with high stone embankments and steep precipices. Our trail took us through the magnificent cloud forest full of orchids and much more, including the highly impressive Inca tunnel carved into the rock. The third pass (3700m) was lunch, although not content with having trekked all morning, Amber still found time to run up to the highest peak overlooking the third pass for the panoramic views of the snow capped Salkantay (6180m) and Veronica (5700m).

We managed to trek the 18km in good time, including the 950m rapid descent down Inca steps after lunch, and ended up at Chachabamba by the urubamba River, one hour's walk from Machu Picchu town, more commonly known as Aguas Calientes. The walk from the second pass to the third on the morning of the third day was widely regarded as the most picturesque of the trip. We all agreed that with the climbs from the first and second pass behind us, together with the stunning scenery (see the pictures!) made this a highlight of the trek, ending up at the top of the third pass for lunch and a promise of "its all down hill from here" from Marcello, our guide. The usual way into the ruins, via the gate of the sun is closed due to an avalanche which was a shame but as we know no different it wasn't going to spoil the experience only enhance. Instead, day 4 involves a short bus ride from Aguas Calientes to the ruins. day.

Day 4 - Machu Picchu
We got up to the ruins by about 7am. They were as spectacular as the pictures promised with the early morning cloud setting a moody atmosphere. Nothing really prepares you for your first glimpse of the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu. After a couple of hours walking round with Marcello explaining the history we were left to explore ourselves. At the far end looms the mountain of Wayna Picchu - Amber again earned her Mountain Goat name by deciding after four days of walking to climb this mountain and the small one next to it, Toon top proudly displayed much to pleasure of many Peruvians encountered along the trails.... another 350m climb done in just 40mins with Natalie. It was more like rock climbing than trekking but it was so very worth it - the most superlative views of the entire valley and the ruins. The descent was tricky and strenuous but we did it with a remarkable level of ease in just 30 mins feeling like we had just conquered the world! A very impressive feat considering our general stiffness! Celebratory pizza and beer in Aguas Calientes with the whole team eased the pain though. As we headed for the tourist train back to Cusco, we were all quite overcome when wishing Marcello and Caesar goodbye as they had become dear friends during the last 4 days and would retain a fond place in each of our hearts for sure as they made the experience. It had been a remarkable journey for the 12 of us gringos too with 12 strangers becoming best buddies through the trials and tribulations faced.

Hope you all enjoy the pictures!

We are flying to Arequipa on Saturday to begin the trek up the coast to Lima.

Until the next update,

Take care
John and Amber

P.s. Many thanks to all of those who kept Amber up to date on Nobby's little crash in Lima, Shall be having words with him when we arrive there on 26 May!
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