Inca Trail Day 4

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
Trip End May 04, 2007

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Thursday, November 9, 2006

I managed to get about 5-6 hours of sleep, and was surprisingly chipper when Efrena woke us up at 4 am (a little too early for tea). I suppose it helps when you haven't been up all night puking your guts out. I felt like a new person, and of course was excited to finally see Machu Picchu. There was plenty of early-morning mist, but it was not raining so that was a good sign!

Breakfast was fairly light-coffee, pancakes, and rolls with cheese. It was a bit early for a full meal. We were packed and ready to go by 5 am. The pre-dawn sky was awesome-the moon and the mountain peaks rose above the mist-filled valley, and the sky revealed an increasingly amazing array of colors as we hiked down to Winaywayna (passport control) and waited for the office to open at 5:30 am. Here's a cute shot of Jason and me , sleepy but excited for the day to come. We were the second group in line. Jubinal told us that many groups wake up before 4 am simply to be the first group in line and consequently the first to arrive at Intipunku, otherwise known as the Sun Gate. Here is one last shot with my tour guides before we began our hike.

Our group was moving at a pretty fast pace, filled with adrenaline and clearly eager to reach our goal. It was pretty funny to watch some people sprint ahead of us. I mean, really, what's the rush? I preferred to get there in one piece, thank you very much. Some of the narrowest sections we encountered were on this section of the trail. More importantly, the Sun Gate did not exactly live up to its name. Intipunku is supposed to be the climax of the Inca Trail! After three extremely challenging days of hiking, you wake up before dawn, rush through Winaywayna and along a dirt and stone path (gentle up and downs) for about an hour. Finally, after climbing up this insanely steep and difficult stone staircase (60 huge steps I believe), you are suddenly hit with this breathtaking view of what you have been thinking about and imagining for so many months--Machu Picchu and the lush, surrounding mountain landscape. Well, I'll show you my wonderful reward for hiking the Inca Trail. Looks REALLY different from that other amazing view I posted yesterday right? HA. Yeah, all I saw was a pure sheet of white. I was not really expecting to see much, but the relatively clear sky earlier in the morning had given me a tiny bit of hope and I was disappointed.

We rested here for about ten minutes. I grabbed a snack (it definitely did not feel like 6:30 am!) and watched all the people pour through the gate one by one, each seemingly as frustrated as I was. We would have stayed longer, but what was the point when there was no view to appreciate? Whatever, I still enjoyed the challenge of the hike, and the landscapes during first day and this morning were quite stunning! We still had about an hour to go until we reached Machu Picchu, and as we hiked the mist slowly began to dissipate. Here is a shot of the same mountains ten minutes later. About halfway down the mountain, we got a slight, hazy view of Machu Picchu and shortly thereafter it cleared further and the SUN actually came out! I know it has only been a couple days, but I seriously forgot what the sun felt like until this morning.

We reached the top section of Machu Picchu, which consisted primarily of a watch tower and Inca terraces, around 7:30 am. This was our view of Machu Picchu at this point and here is one of me as well . We had some time to rest, snack, and wander before continuing onward to the main attraction. Justin and I took a "we made it! yeah!" photo with our walking sticks , and we also took a group photo in front of the "classic" backdrop, which in our case was (surprise!) a sheet of white. Yes, the mist sadly had not lifted from Machu Picchu just quite yet. Nevertheless, as you can see in this picture of the watch tower , the clouds gave the site a mystical, spiritual air, and it was really quite nice to sit and relax here for awhile before facing the busloads of tourists that would inevitably swarm Machu Picchu over the next several hours.

By the time we started to head down, the weather had greatly improved and we were able to see Machu Picchu . We stored our backpacks, chucked our walking sticks (no big bags or sticks are permitted inside), got our passports stamped (not required, just for a souvenir) and then around 8:45 am began our 2 1/2 hour tour of the site with Jubinal. Here is a video that I took upon my arrival. Machu Picchu was amazing and, combined with the nice weather, made our challenging hike worthwhile. It's just too bad we were not able to see anything from the Sun Gate. Had we waited a couple hours, we would have had a crystal clear view, or at least I assume so as I had a great view of the Sun Gate from where I was standing. Jubinal was a wonderful guide. The site was huge and although my body wasn't too psyched for more stairs, I really enjoyed my time here and found it fascinating to imagine what it must have been like here in Inca times. I took tons of pictures of all the individual ruins (the temples were particularly impressive), but unfortunately did not have the time to upload them all. Or actually I just forgot and am too lazy to put them up now.

We really lucked out on weather as it remained nice until a little after 12 pm, an hour after we finished up our tour. We had some free time until we had to meet our guides in Aguas Calientes at 1:30 to pick up our train tickets back to Cusco. I would have loved to have hiked up Waynapicchu, the mountain pictured here , but my legs made it pretty clear during our tour that they would not cooperate with that plan and everyone else seemed to be thinking the same thing. My feet were hot and gross inside of the plastic bags (our brilliant solution to keeping our feet dry inside our soaking wet boots after Day 2) and I just wanted to chill for awhile. It started raining shortly thereafter, so I guess I made the right decision! Climbing down those stairs in the rain, which I have heard are worse than those on the Inca trail if that is even possible, would NOT have been much fun. Instead, I wandered around some more with Justin and took in the scenery for a bit . Llamas and alpacas were running around all over the place, and I got a great picture of one of them looking out towards Waynapicchu. I would have stayed longer but the hordes of tourists (busloads of old people and little kids, mainly) were driving me nuts and completely destroying the tranquil atmosphere. Unlike the Inca trail, which limits the number of tourists to 500 people per day, there is no limit to how many people visit Machu Picchu. As a result, 1-2 thousand tourists visit each day, and Machu Picchu is apparently sinking 1 centimeter per year as it was built to house only a small community of about 1000 people. Thank God we arrived early!

Justin and I caught a bus down to Aguas Calientes around 12 pm and 25 minutes later arrived at Restaurant Ayllu to grab some lunch and get our train tickets. I ordered steamed trout with avocado and veggies (so nice after several days of chicken and meat) and I finally tasted Inka Cola, which I didn't like so much. Our restaurant was located on the main street, which also happened to be the main train tracks. Every ten minutes or so, a massive Peru Rails train would pass by. There were sidewalks, but most of the people, locals and tourists alike, just walked in the street. It was very strange! I also got a great shot of a guy wandering by with a massive squash , although to be fair, I have seen squash in the local markets far bigger than this one. Lastly, I have to include a classic shot of our porter, who was supposed to be guarding our packs while we wandered around town but was instead passed out on the table after four days of hard work and a huge, well-deserved beer! I was right there with him, believe me.

Funny enough, as we were eating Gary wandered by with three other people he had met in Aguas Calientes a night or two ago (Eric from Washington DC, and Jo and Will from England, all of whom I met up with later on), and they ended up eating lunch at a nearby table. They had just hiked up the mountain opposite to Machu Picchu, and were heading back to Cusco on the tourist train (fancier than my backpacker's train) at 3:30 pm. I had a feeling I would run into him again, and I am sure I will see him at Victor Victoria tomorrow morning.

After lunch, Justin and I wandered around town for a bit (which was really cute) before heading out to the train station. My stomach acted up again after I decided to get ice cream, which did not bode well for our long train ride. Ugh. We boarded our train around 3:45 pm and left shortly thereafter. It was pretty funny being on a train filled with trekkers, all smelly, dirty and exhausted, with their rucksacks (or rice sacks for those who hired porters) everywhere. I suppose it makes sense to separate the hikers from the tourists; I doubt I would want to be in a car with a bunch of stinky backpackers had I not done the trail myself! Although I was still feeling slightly guilty for having skipped Waynapicchu (I could have stayed the night in Aguas Calientes and returned to Machu Picchu the next morning), I can honestly say that at this point I have seen enough ruins and I was glad to be heading back to Cusco with most of the others in my group.

The train took forever. For the last hour or so it kept going backwards and forwards as it descended into Cusco. I caught a cab back to my hotel, took a long HOT shower (so nice!), dropped off FIVE kilos of laundry at the front desk, which is basically everything I have with me, for less than five bucks, and talked to my mom briefly to let her know I am still alive before popping an Ambien and passing out.

So, in conclusion: I was very happy with Peru Treks. The food, guides, equipment, treatment of the porters, everything was great. I paid $315 bucks with my student and SAE discounts (normally is $350), and counting tips, 2 days of hiring an unofficial porter, my first breakfast and last lunch, and water/snacks along the way, the total came to about $400 for four full days. I would recommend others to go earlier in the season--in September perhaps--but then again, it's always a crap shoot to some degree (As I am writing this entry a little late, I can say that I just met some guys who did the trail a week after me and didn't have a single drop of rain. Bastards!).

Some tips to leave you with if you decide to do the Inca Trail: PACK LIGHT. With that said, bring two rolls of toilet paper, a reasonable amount of snacks (they do feed you a lot, but I definitely craved candy and snack type things in between meals), a mini first aid/medical kit in case you get sick (THANK GOD I had Cipro with me), lots of moleskin, a full change of clothes that you will always keep dry for those cold, wet nights, long underwear and/or other warm clothing (definitely a hat, scarf or turtleneck, and a pair of waterproof gloves), a poncho and rain pants (they didn't keep me totally dry, but they are super cheap in Cusco and helped a little), four pairs of socks, DEFINITELY a good pair of hiking shoes that will keep you from slipping on the rocks and killing yourself, 1 or 2 walking sticks (I found them really helpful to keep my balance while going downhill), HIRE A PORTER (challenging yourself is of course rewarding and enjoyable in a way, but even people more experienced in backpacking than me might enjoy the trail more with just a day pack), put your things in individual zip lock bags and put these bags inside a large trash bag to keep everything dry inside your pack, and lastly, bring plenty extra bags for wet or dirty clothes, misc. items, and to protect your dry feet from your wet boots...That's all I can think of for now. I will end by saying that I brought water tablets but never used them, as I was too paranoid that I would get sick. Then again, I got sick anyway so there you go.
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