Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Trip Start Oct 06, 2008
38Trip End Apr 18, 2009
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Luckily, our first day was described in the brochure as "easy", which was true for the opening 5 minute walk down to the first check point! Armed with our walking poles, and after crossing a rickety old suspension bridge, we made our way up the first of many uphill climbs. Compared to what was ahead of us, this was a walk in the park, however we were both out of breath by the time we got to the top. We continued along the path for four hours, stopping occasionally for a brief narration from the guide and to chew coca leaves. These were given in order to help with altitude sickness and as a stimulant to urge us up the final incline to the campsite. After a taster of what was ahead, our nerves turned to worry as we were both quite concerned of how we would survive the next 3 days. That night, whilst I slept soundly tucked up in my sleeping bag, Iwan was wide awake, convinced that there was a vicious puma roaming around our tent. However, the next morning (after our coca tea wake up call) we were informend that the "vicious puma" was nothing but a hungry mule, and nothing more was said on the matter!
After an early breakfast, we began our second day of hiking (judgement day) up to the highest point of our trek morbidly titled "Dead Woman┤s Pass". From the time we left the campsite to the time we arrive the summit (around 5 hours) it was nothing but an uphill struggle. We both found it extremely difficult carrying just a small rucksack, but our hearts went out to the porters, hired by our company to carry our equipment and clothes - one even carried a freezer, whilst another carried an oven! They would practically jog past us wearing nothing but sandals on their feet in order to set up camp before we arrived. With the summit finally in sight, we both took a final deep breath, and urged on by the applause from the top we struggled our way up. To celebrate our achievement we participated in an old Incan ritual as we were on sacred ground. This involved inhaling Incan "holy water" and burrying coca leaves under rocks whilst making a wish. The next two hours were spent descending to the campsite, which in fact proved trickier than the uphill climb due to our shaky legs and inconsistant steps that were very slippery in some places (we were both thankful for our poles at this stage). That afternoon we had arrived at our campsite much earlier than expected, and the night was spent listening to ghost stories that surrounded the area, which left Iwan dreading the prospect of another sleepless night!
Although our legs were tired, and we had another 20 km to walk that day it still didn┤t take away from our enjoyment. We passed through numerous ruins, all of which had watch towers for communication with other nearby fortresses, and also acted as "Incan lodges" for pilgrims on the way to Machu Picchu. After lunch, the trail dramatically changed from cold, barren land to lush cloud forest, and we were instantly reminded of our time in Manu. Walking through the scenic part of the trail was a pleasure, full of impressive views and quirky Incan tunnels. By the time we arrived at our campsite it was starting to get dark, however this (nor the promise of a hot shower) could not keep us from visiting the remarkable Incan site of Wi˝aywayna. It was an excellent taster of what to expect from Machu Picchu with the preserved buildings untouched by the Spanish invaders. On getting back to the campsite, it was time to say goodbye to the porters. After a brief introduction, we all shook hands and they sang us a traditional Peruvian song.
We awoke at 4 am on the morning of the fourth day, all eager to be first in line for the final check point before the final leg of the Inca Trail. As soon as the gate was opened, everyone charged for the entrance and the race to Machu Picchu had began! The pace was tremendous, with some people even running, so we scarcely had time to take in the views. The final climb to the Sun Gate seemed to take a lifetime, but on reaching the top it was well worth the effort. The views of Machu Picchu were undisturbed by the overhanging cloud, as the ruins reflected the early morning Sun. We were instantly made aware of how big the site actually was and wondered how we┤d last the tour with our legs being in such poor condition! An hour later, we arrived down at the bottom of the terraced agricultural region where we witnessed the magnificant postcard view of Machu Picchu. Being one of the first groups to arrive, the view was unspoilt and we watched as the clouds gradually dispersed revealing Wayna Picchu (the famous mountain backdrop). After getting our breath back we began the tour of the site. The Temple of the Sun was desgined in such a way that the Sun would shine through the main window at both Winter and Summer solstices. This was calculated due to the precise positioning of Machu Picchu having glaciers exactly to the South, East and West, which the Incas worshiped. A Sundial was also built, which exactly marked these coordinations (this was sadly damaged by the crew filming a beer commercial!). The Temple of the Three Windows housed an alter used to sacrifice children for Pachamama (Mother Earth) in times of desperation. They would carry the bodies of the children for miles in order to bury them in the glaciers. After passing many catacombs, we reached the Temple of the Condor, where the natural rock had been carved into the shape of a giant condor (symbolising the higher plane). Other interesting sites included the sacred rock, residential area and house of the high priest. At the end of the tour we were left to explore the site on our own, but after a tiring four days we decided to simply sit amongst the alpacas and admire the view!
Returning to the nearby village of Aguas Calientes, we relaxed in the thermal baths before departing on our train journey back to Cusco. Little did we know that the day┤s excitement was not yet over. The train journey was full of entertainment including a jester, fashion show and a sighting of who Iwan thought was Freddie Star! On returning to Cusco, we checked into a more luxurious hotel and treated ourselfes to a few days of rest!