El Camino Inka y Machu Picchu

Trip Start Sep 20, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Sunday, October 7, 2007


I finished theInca Trail yesterday and it was amazing! Tough and exhausting but so so cool :o)

It all began a very long time ago (or so it seems) very early in the morning. We were picked up from the hostel at 5.30am on tuesday morning and drove for 2 hours to the start point, Ollyantaytambo (aren´t quechuan names great?!). There were 14 of us in our trek group plus 2 guides - Bobby (done the trail 450+ times and knows everything) and Puma (assistant, really sweet and helped us all out). The group was a good mix - Jess, Jo-Jo and Humper (all very very aussie, lot of fun, late 20s), Gary and Jeremy (30ish, american, v.cool), Sam, Helen and Jenny (British girls, great sense of humour, mostly I walked with them), Jon and Carol (30ish american couple, quieter but sweet), Valerie (New Yorker, 30, quietly outspoken), Jen (another New Yorker, Queens girl through and through, so so funny), Joe (hilarious Irish guy, accent and humour straight from Father Ted, 28) and me obviously. So a few solo travellers as well as friends groups which was really nice. We all gelled really well and got each other through the tough bits as a family (as Puma liked to say!).

The first day we didn´t start walking until mid morning as we had to drive there, have breakfast, and fight off the women selling useful stuff at the trailhead! We all bought walking sticks (ˇnecessito seńorita!) and plastic ponchos and eventually made it through the checkpoin, over a very rickety bridge across the river and started walking! The first days walking was pretty easy, mainly flat with some fairly gentle uphills. At lunchtime we stopped for the first of many great meals in our dining tent. The porters who work on the trek our amazing - they run ahead, put up tents and make food in time for us arriving there for lunch, then once we are done, take it all down, run past us along the trail, and set it all up again in time for dinner, plus all our sleeping tents. we walked about 9km in total on the first day and arrived about 4.30pm, a little tired but ok! There were some great views of the valley which I have photos of. We also had our first experience of inca trail toilets -  there are loo blocks but at times we would have prefered o go behind a bush, they were not nice! Once we arrived at the campsite we chilled out and chatted, had dinner at 6.30 and then went to bed at 7.30! All that walking tired us out! I slept like a log :o)

The second day of trekking is well known to be the hardest so we were not looking forward to it! on the first day we walked 9km but only climbed 300m in altitude to 3000m, on the second day its only a 10km walk but with a 1200m ascent to Dead Womens Pass at 4200m and then a 700m descent to the campsite at 3500m. Ouch. We got up at 5.30am  and our guide gave us the best possible advice which was to go at your own pace, dont rush it or push too hard and its not so bad. Its not a race! Good thing he said that really, what with me being a tad competitve I might have tried to keep up with the super-human aussies otherwise :oP so we set off on the first stretch, legs aching slightly from the previous day, and began the long long climb. The first 20mins is horrible as your body is still asleep and complaining about the exercise, plus the hill is fairly relentless, very few nice flat bits to relax on! The total climb took us about 5 hours, with the group reconvening 3 times at rest spots. It was realy really tough but we took it pretty slow, had lots of breaks and perservered! The last leg was the hardest as it got steeper and we could see the pass still way above us, but the views were amazing. Photos is a good excuse for a break! We all made it eventually, with about 1.5 hours between the first (crazy aussies) making the top and the last (Val and Jen) - I was happily right in the middle, about 30mins behind the aussies. The pass was pretty awesome - on one side the climb we had just done up a valley flanked by sparse mountains either side, and on the other side a steep drop into the cloud forest. I coped well with the alitude too, its obviously harder breathing but no headaches etc :o) Then once we had regrouped and recovered, we had the long descen down the other side. it was such a relief after the uphill, I was practically running down! Its tough on the knees but I could breathe! Got to the campsite around 2pm for lunch - we deserved it! Had a bit of a nap after lunch and a very lazy afternoon playing cards, then another amazing dinner and early night! Time feels different when ur outside all the time, especially in the Andes as the nights are so cold. The stars were beautiful that night but no cloud meant it was freezing! I was wearing all my clothes in my sleping bag and using my drinks bottle as a hot water bottle, but its hard to sleep at that altitude and i didnt get much kip :o(

On the third day when we woke up, again ridiculously early, the valley was totally covered with cloud and we could hardly see anything. It had been cloudy for the previous two days but it was getting worse so we were pretty worried that we wouldnt actually be able to see Machu Picchu when we arrived. Also the guides had told us that the third day would be the hardest so none of us were in a greta mood when we started walking! The first hour or so was a steep uphill to the second pass on the trail at 3900m. Still once we had got going and our muscles had warmed up it wasnt so bad! After the previous days climb a measly hour and a half uphill was nothing! We stopped about two thirds of the way up at an Inka site - the first of many as we neared Machu Picchu. It was a lookout post with a view up to Dead Womens pass and another Inka Trail nearby (the trail known as The Inca Trail was by no means the only inca trail - there were many routes all heading to Machu Picchu that can still be seen, but most are not easily walkable now). The site was interesting and a good rest. Its shape represents an andean god adn it was built by a tribe from northern Peru that the incas "persuaded" to join them and then relocated to the south Andes. Cant remember the name im afraid, something Quechuan! At this site we also each picked up a piece of stone, as is tradition, and carried it to the top of the pass. This was apparently a sacred inca place and all around there are piles of stones that people have carried up the hill and left there for luck - when you lay your stone down you make a wish to the mountain god. I´ll have to see if it comes true and let you know!

The first pass was the highest point of the day so we all felt pretty good to be over it! We then descended down the hill to another two Inca sites - this time also lookouts but much bigger with a small village incorporated - maybe 50 people. Our guide knew what every marking and hole in the wall meant so it was pretyy cool! We saw the wall niches where important mummies would have been put, facing due east to the sun god. Also saw the aqueduct system which still works today! To supply each site with water they would divert a river or stream at the same altitude further upstream and make channels through the mountains to the site, at which point a series of fountains would cascade down the hill from which people took water. As we approached Machu Picchu the number of fountains at each site increased, probably a symbolic thing as people should be clean as they enter the sacred city. The water supplies also had to be hidden as rival tribes would try and poison it if they could, but the source was never found.

Following this site we continued descending to around 3400m and then there was a longish section of "Inka Flat" - i.e. lots of up and down but no real altitude change! Then a very gentle (compared to previous!) uphill to the third and final pass on the trail. It felt good to be there! We had lunch there, and there was also an interesting toilet - a portaloo perched in the middle of the mountainside! Unfortunately not the most pleasant toilet ever but a great location!
After lunch we had a long downhill to our final campsite - from 3700m to 2700m down steep sloping paths and long flights of stairs. It was a big improvement on the up (my lungs coped better :o) ) but it was killer on the legs! Even with the walking sticks we all had its pretty hard on the knees and quads. It was also still really cloudy so we couldn't see much, but what we could see was stunning. On this side of the mountain it was all cloud forest so we were walking down through the trees. Stopped briefly at another Inka site, and then also at some awesome inka terraces just above the campsite. The sun had finally come out and it was really cool :o) the last campsite was luxury compared to the previous nights - there were hot showers and a bar! So we all made the most of the showers, and had a quiet drink in the bar over a few games of cards. Heavy drinking not allowed! After our last dinner in the dining tent all the porters came in so we could meet them properly and tip them - standard practice. It was nice to meet them though as they had been carrying all our stuff and making us amazing meals! Each porter carries 24kg, and they have to run parts of the trail to be ahead of us walking it so its an incredibly tough job. The company I went with is pretty good and pays them decent wage, plus provides them with proper backpacks and warm clothes, but some companies are awful - the porters carry way more stuff and its just strapped to them with rope. Still things seem to be improving as more people will pay extra in order that the porters re treated well. Anyways, after dinner and tips we had another really early night (bed by 8pm). Big day tomorrow! It also started raining/storming really hard at dinner time so we were all praying it would clear the cloud away!
I slept like a log again :o) and we were woken up at 3.45am. Its still really dark at that time! Stumbled around (head torch very useful!), had some breakfast and then we ran down to the checkpoint just outside the camp! The gate to the final part of the trail doesn't open until 5.30am but groups always get there early to be the first through so we got there at 4.45am, and were the third group - not so bad :o) the view of the mountains as the sun came up was stunning! Once the gate open we pretty much power walked all the way to the Sun gate. There was some quite steep up-hills but we didn't want to be overtaken! The steepest bit was 60 steps that I went up using hands and feet but it was fine! At the top we all looked around for the next steps up, as from experience each steep section is immediately followed by another, but it was just the one :o) from there it was more easy inca flat trail and then one final set of steps up to the Sun Gate!
We passed through the Sun Gate and right below us was Machu Picchu, just being hit by the first rays of the sun over the mountain behind us! Its totally stunning! I have loads of photos but just put up a few - internet not that quick! The storm the night before was absolutely perfect timing as it cleared all the cloud so the view was crystal clear. We could even see the snow-capped mountains in the distance :o) The sun gate is so named because on the summer solstice (21st December) the sun rises exactly through the sun gate when viewed from the sun temple in Machu Picchu - its pretty clever :o) From the sun gate we bounced down the track into the city. I nearly came a cropper - slipped on a rock and was pretty close to falling but managed to stay upright just! Would have been a shame to break an ankle when it was so close! We came into the city from the top and at that time (about 7am) it was still pretty quiet, just lots of hikers. We celebrated the end with a photo of the family with Wiyna Picchu in the background - the big mountain behind Machu Picchu, and then headed down to the checkpoint to dump our bags and get a cool passport stamp :o)
The next couple of hours we spent as a group with Bobby giving us a guided tour of all the bets bits of the city. I don't think it's a good idea for me to try and write it all down - will save that for when I get home! But there was some really cool stuff, particularly the sun temple. Its built on top of a huge sloping rock, with a cave underneath representing the overworld, world and underworld. There are two windows in the temple, one facing the sun gate and the other facing the point at which the sun rises on the winter solstice. By the time our guided tour was done it was 11am and it had turned into tourist central - argh! So glad we got there to see it before the majority ascended on it. Machu Picchu gets 3000 visitors a day, only 250 of which have done the inca trail, so there are just people everywhere. Still we had a quick wander by ourselves and then went to the café for a snack - long time since breakfast!
As amazing as it was, we were glad to leave all the tourists behind (feels especially crowded after 3 days in the Andes) and the bus down to the nearest town was fun  - really steep mountain roads and hairpin bends! Not much to say about the afternoon - the town of Aguas Caliente has nothing going for it except the train station to get back to Cusco! Just sat in a restaurant and had extortionately expensive food (for Peru)! Train back to Ollyantaytambo was uneventful, mainly slept, and then a long bus journey back to Cusco with one song on repeat :oS
Got back to Cusco exhausted but had to go out for one last night with the trek group! We all got on really well so it was sad to say goodbye. So we went to an Irish pub, had a couple of (very strong!) drinks and then went to a club and partied until 3am! Im a wild child me :o) it was a really, really fun night, and we all forgot our aching joints and muscles after the first drink! Talking of which, my god do my legs hurt! At Machu Picchu I wanted to run up the steps but literally couldn't, it hurt too much! The steep 1000m downhill was the best workout my quads have had for a very long time! Just about recovered now though :o)
Also, hopefully going to see some of the trek group again - Helen and Sam are both going to Ambue Ari, the animal reserve in Bolivia where im going to volunteer so il see them there! And Val and Jen are both New Yorkers so we are gonna go for dinner when im there and they've promised to show me the sights :oD
I think this is the longest blog entry ever but its nearly done.... And I don't go to Machu Picchu everyday!
Im in Puno now so will write that separately - need my map pin in the right place! Also, iv put loads of photos up but cant be bothered to imbed them in text now -  youll have to match them up yourself! Theres more photos in the Cusco entry too.
ˇAdios amigos!
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