So wet even the chickens wear ponchos.
Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
20Trip End Jul 24, 2011
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Where I stayed
in a tent
We met with the rest of the group after a few hours of poor sleep to board a bus from Cusco to our starting point in the village of Mollepata
Another pre-dawn start meant that we got to appreciate the sight of the sun rising over the surrounding mountains, although it was quite a struggle to pull myself out of my toasty warm sleeping bag. This was to be the hardest day, with a long relentless uphill walk to the highest point of the 5 days; the Salkantay Pass at an altitude of 4600m
Going down was a lot quicker than going up, and we soon left the mountain highlands and entered the cloud forest where huge deciduous trees somehow clung to the steep slopes, exactly like a view out of National Geographic. Unfortunately this is where the rain really began in earnest (hence the lack of photos) and we were quickly soaked through despite waterproof coats and plastic ponchos. The narrow path had also turned into a muddy quagmire, churned up by horses, which made walking slow and hard going. Think Glastonbury 2007 but without Radiohead. It was at this point we all started to question why we were doing the trek, and Raśl’s comments about 'hey, this is adventure tourism’ didn’t have the desired effect! We eventually staggered into camp after nightfall, thoroughly exhausted and collapsed into bed in a rather damp tent
Waking up early again we discovered yet more rain, with the added discomfort of all our clothes still being wet from the previous day. After another delicious meal thanks to the ingenious chef, we set of on yet another path covered with ankle deep mud. After skirting round a rather ominous landslide that had taken out the entire path we found ourselves on a gravel track and started to pass isolated houses. Outside one we saw the odd sight of chickens running around with yellow plastic bags tied to their backs. Raśl assured us this wasn’t because of the rain (I’m still doubtful) but instead to deter any passing eagles that fancied them as a light snack.
In contrast to the previous day the path was much better, although we were still soaked by the constant rain. We also had the numerous streams to wade through and recent landslides to negotiate to keep the excitement levels up! After dropping down into the tropical jungle we arrived in the oddly named village of Playa by mid-afternoon, so had the rest of the day to rest. Unfortunately I was coerced into a locals vs gringos football match, held on the renowned venue of ‘the road outside the campsite’
Amazingly we woke up to blazing sun, which carried on through the day. The walking was also reasonably flat, alongside the Urubamba River, so much more like our kind of trekking! I think my walking boots almost dried out. Our destination was the town of Aguas Calientes in the valley below Machu Picchu, so the route took us round the base of the mountain. It was so exciting to finally get a glimpse of the ultimate objective of the whole trek, albeit from quite a distance! We also saw a new site which has just been discovered and excavations are in the primary stages – it is rumoured to be even bigger than Machu Picchu which really makes you think what other secrets the jungle is hiding
It was a huge relief to arrive to our hostel, with hot showers, dry rooms and a real bed all waiting for us. We had a quick dinner then headed to bed to get some sleep before the main event the next morning.
We had the earliest start yet, up at 3am to make sure we were in the first bus up to Machu Picchu at 5:30am (surprisingly no one took the option of the 2km uphill walk!). The sky was just lightening as we drove up the steep winding road, though the valley was still filled with mist. After the efforts of the 4 previous days and with the nervous excitement of getting up so early it was a magical experience when we arrived to the funerary rock and saw the famous view of Machu Picchu spread out before us, devoid of visitors, with clouds rolling in and out. Yet another example of where photos don’t do the actual experience justice. Still we gave it a good try and then Raśl proceeded to give us a tour of the ruins, taking in the agricultural terraces, Temple of the Sun, Royal Palace, sacred plaza and the most important shrine for the Incas; the Intihuatana or Hitching Post of the Sun
By now the place was busy with throngs of other tourists and once our tour had ended it was time for Amanda and I to expend some energy climbing Huayna Picchu (the ‘small’ mountain in the background of the view). This was via a precipitous path cut into the sheer cliffs, seriously lacking in sufficient handholds or safety barriers. Amazingly at the top the Incas built a series of incredibly steep terraces and buildings that seem to defy gravity, clinging to the rock. I dread to think how may Quechua people plunged over the edge constructing them.
Sadly it was eventually time to leave – its testament to how stunning Machu Picchu is that the 7+ hours we spent there just flew by, and it has definitely entered my top South American experiences so far.