Rain, rucksacks and ruins

Trip Start Sep 02, 2008
Trip End Dec 14, 2008

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Thursday, October 9, 2008

After a few too many days hanging out in Cusco, we finally set off on our reason for being there, the famous Inca
Trail, a 4 day/3 night hike to Machu Pichu, just voted on of the new 7 wonders of the world.

Day 1:
We were picked up from our hostel at 5:15am - eek! - for a bus trip to Kilometre 82, the start of the trail, during which we met our 14 fellow trekkers, happy to discover that all were a similar age and friendly, but slightly disconcerted to discover most were very fit looking and two were training for marathons!  After over a month of being slobby backpackers - the most exercise we'd had was maybe a 10 minute walk from bus station to hostel or a couple of hours strolling around town - we were slightly worried this was going to relegate us to back markers of the group!  In addition to this, we seemed to have the biggest packs - how can 1 change of clothes, a sleeping bag and a rain jacket weigh so much??

On the bus ride, we also met our guide, Freddy (Kruger - as he liked to be called), who in turn introduced us to his favourite subject, Pachamama, or Mother Earth!  Freddy was a very friendly, cheerful and enthusiastic guy, who spends his life showing gringoes his 'office' as he calls the amazing countryside around Cusco. 

We set off on the trek at Km82 with our surprisingly heavy packs weighing us down and Freddy bounding along ahead of us, stopping along the way to show us anything that caught his eye - orchids, cochineal - with which he daubed us in bright red war paint!, trains carrying 'lazy people' to Machu Pichu, and all sorts of Inca and pre-Inca ruins.

As 500 people (including trekkers, porters and guides) start the trek every day - a limit imposed to prevent erosion/damage - the path was pretty busy, and every so often there would be a call 'Porters!' from behind, and we'd all step aside to let these amazing guys literally run past us, carrying massive packs full of our tents, cooking/eating tents, gas cookers and all the food to sustain us all for 4 days! 

At our lunch stop it started to rain, a theme that was to recur ever more frequently as the days went on.  But our cook, Jesus!, treated us to a fantastic meal that was luckily also to become a theme during our trek - each mealtime,as we got tireder and further from civilisation, Jesus would conjure up more and more amazing meals to keep us smiling - at one point he even produced a birthday cake, fully iced and decorated, as it turned out to be one of the group's birthday - he was reluctant to give away his secrets but did let slip something about steaming the sponge in a pan!!

So we finished the first day tired, but ready for more, and the rain and darkness held off just long enough for 6 of the porters to thrash 6 of us gringoes at footie, although in the end as darkness fell we agreed 'next goal wins' and Nige scored a blinder!  Awesome!

Day 2:
The second day we were woken by numerous cockerels and a cup of coca tea in bed (made by the porters, not the cockerels!), for an early start on the notorious climb to Dead Woman's Pass, at 4200m above sea level just about on the snow line, a climb of 1200m in one morning!  We all made it in a pretty decent time, with much cheering and clapping for each member of our 'family' as we reached the top, and Nige was chuffed to be one of the first up - I blame the effect of altitude for my finish near the back!!  The clouds cleared just enough for us to snap a few quick pictures of the surrounding snow and peaks and then after a quick ceremony to Pachamama, which involved making a pile of rocks we'd each carried from the bottom, adding some coca leaves and a splash of pisco, with a sip each for us too to warm our cockles, then we were off on a knee-popping descent to our campsite, for a late lunch.  And then it really started to rain.....

Day 3:
It rained all yesterday afternoon and last night, so when we woke up on day 3 to a break in the rain and some delicious vanilla porridge, things were looking up - quite literally as it turned out - our first couple of hours were uphill again to another pass.  Child's play after the previous day though, at 4000m - and the sun came out at the top to give us fabulous sparkling views of lagoons and peaks. 

The rest of the day was a long hike over lower and lower passes, and past cool Inka ruins, but unfortunately the rain came down again and it really pelted it down for the whole afternoon, leaving us pretty miserable, because apart from being soaked to the skin, we were missing view after view of snow-capped peaks and deep valleys - all we could see was grey - so thank goodness we had Freddy to cheer us up by jumping out on us in a mask in the depths of an Inka tunnel, telling us many Inka history and Pachamama tales and leading an overtaking party past a massive Inka trail traffic jam on the 2000 inka steps down to our campsite!

We celebrated that evening, both a break in the rain, and the fact we were only an hour and half from our first glimpse of our destination, Machu Pichu, and spirits were high again after a pisco cocktail, a couple of beers and the afore-mentioned birthday cake, as we went to bed early in preparation for our earliest start yet.

Day 4:
Wake up call - 3:50am!! We had a quick breakfast and shot off down the path in the dark to be first in the queue at the entrance to the track which opened just as it started getting light at 5:20am.  The reason for the early start, and queue-jostling: to be first at the Sun Gate, a small pass from where you can first see Machu Pichu, to see it as the sun rose, and then be down at the ruins in time to explore before the crowds and crowds of  'lazy people' arrived by train/bus.  So we had an exhausting but amusing route-march for the next hour, overtaking whoever we could, and then there was a last flight of steps, and suddenly there it was!  Machu Pichu!!  It brought tears to the eyes and a lump to the throat (for me not Nige!) to finally see it there, peaking out of the mist in the early morning sunlight!  A really magical moment!

Once we were all gathered, we set off down the last stretch to the ruins, which unfortunately disappeared slightly behind the morning mist, so we didn't quite get the postcard views on camera, but it was just amazing being there!  Freddy gave us a couple of hours tour round the ruins and then we had a while to explore on our own, but by then the sun was out and the place was full of school parties, so it was all too much for us after being away from it all for so long, and our legs couldn't cope with one more inca step, so we went back to the entrance and took a bus down to Aguas Calientes with our family.

Then began an epic journey back to Cusco, which started innocently enough with a 45 minute train ride down the valley, from where we all piled into a minibus for an 8 hour!!! ride through the mountains, up, down and around, punctuated by huge rocks in the road (at first we thought from all the rain causing landslides, but it turned out it was part of a nationwide strike!!) which caused our driver to veer wildly from one side of the road to the other, huge hairpin bends up into the mist, one of our party coming down with sickness, diarrohea and a fever, which had all the pharmacists on the bus shouting out varying recommendations of treatment from our basic first aid kits (me and Nige kept very quiet!), and finally, the other van (thankfully not ours) being involved in a crash - not serious - meaning we all had to squish up and sit on knees for the last 2 hours so that none of our family got left behind waiting for police reports etc.

We finally arrived back in Cusco about 9pm, exhausted from all the adrenaline and fears of dying, went for pizza and wonderful shower, and went gratefully to bed in a real bed with sheets and blankets......Inca Trail - DONE!!
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