It has been about 8 months since we booked the Inca Trail when we headed off to the trail start on 26 June, and other than Dad being a little apprehensive about how his knees would hold up we were all very excited. We were picked up at 5.30am and driven to Ollantaytambo for breakfast, and then on to the start point of the trek – Km82. We had been to SAS the night before to have a briefing for the trek so we had already met most of the group – 4 Americans (Johanna, Ryan, Adam and Amanda) and 2 Canadians (Sean and Astrid). We picked up the last 4 as we passed through Ollantaytambo, and with the three of us brought our group size to 13. On top of this our convoy consisted of 19 porters (including 2 chefs) and 2 guides. Quite the group. Although as we realised after not too long we rarely saw the porters because despite their 25kg packs, they were always way quicker than the rest of us
The first day was relatively relaxed. We crossed the Urumbamba River and then walked alongside it for a while. Although there was a fair bit of 'up', the guides, Angel and James, gave us lots of breaks to ease us into it. Immediately the scenery was stunning and we could see Veronica mountain, before walking into the forest. We saw our first Inca sight before lunch and had a bit of a history lesson from Angel about the Incas, the Spanish and his general distaste for anything colonial. As the time was approaching 1pm, we all started to feel a little peckish and were looking forward to a sandwich and a drink, or something similar. However, as we all arrived at the lunch spot we were greeted by a dining tent, a cooking tent and 19 clapping porters- as if we'd done anything stressful!! There were basins out for us to wash our hands with someone handing us towels to dry them and a plastic sheet on the ground so that we didn't have to put our bags directly on the ground! Five star trekking indeed! Lunch was 2 courses of amazing food followed by tea and 20 minutes to nap before we headed off. The rest of the days walk was ok except for an hours or so push up hill to get us in the mood for the next day which would be the hardest day of the trek. They let us walk at our own pace for this instead of keeping us as a group and I was very proud of my 60-year-old old man being one of the first to arrive at camp!
! When we got to camp our tents were all set up with great views and we were given hot water and soap to wash – definitely wasn’t expecting that. We had some time to wander around before tea time (tea, popcorn and biscuits) and yet another amazing meal. Because the night was so clear the 3 of us went outside and Dad and Kevin tried to work out which star constellations they knew in the southern hemisphere. I just thought the sky looked pretty!
Today started with a 5.45am wake up by the porters complete with a hot cup of coca tea for everyone. This is the life (well when you’re expecting hard core camping it is anyway)!! We had 30 minutes to get ready and pack up and then we had breakfast. Yet another feast – toast, quinoa porridge, pancakes…! By 7.10am we were ready to face the toughest day of the trek. Having been in the front 6 the night before, the 3 of us headed off first. We were passed out quite quickly by the quickest 3 (early 20s!) but kept a decent pace. Kevin took advantage of the fact that dad was there and was able to walk at his own pace…being the gentleman that he is he usually walks with me even though I’m a little slower. Dad and I kept up a nice constant pace for the whole 2 and a half hours it took to walk to the 4200m of Dead Woman’s Pass
. Unlike some people. Twice we were passed by a youngish English guy puffing and panting like he was about to die, and then we slowly walked passed him whilst he had to rest for 10 minutes because he was so wrecked! We made it to the top about 30 minutes before him. I know the tortoise and the hare isn’t necessarily the model anymore for life, because in our modern world you have to be both steady and speedy, but in this instance he could have learnt a thing or 2 from that book. As we arrived so early at the top (Kevin and Felix arrived about 30 minutes before us, and Adam and Amanda 5 minutes after them) we ended up waiting around for about 2 hours before the rest had arrived and the group photos had been taken. It was stunning scenery, as it had been for the walk, but to be honest it was pretty cold up at 4200m at 10am and we were a little anxious to move on by the time we were given the go ahead. The next bit Dad was a little worried about having slightly dodgy knees as it was an hour or so of downhill steps. He did very well though and hardly complained at all! It was tough work actually, especially as it was getting hot, but we had a friendly group of SAS porters, wash basins and a 3 course lunch to make us feel better when we got to the bottom. After lunch was another uphill climb to 3800m passing by an Inca site and a small mountain lake on the way. At one point we were passed by all 19 of our amazing porters, them having already washed and packed up from lunch. Now obviously their packs were marginally lighter having already fed us a few meals (!) but it was still extremely impressive the speed at which they climbed the hill
. We gave them a well-deserved round of applause! As we reached the top the fog really started to roll in so James said that we could keep going instead of waiting for everyone else. It was quite eerie walking through the mountain forest in thick fog – we couldn’t really see anything across the valley. Before we reached camp we visited quite a large Inca site called Sayacmarca complete with a sacrificial stone in the temple and an overgrown Inca Trail leading elsewhere. Every now and then the fog would thin enough in places to see mountains looming over us but unfortunately never enough to see the full valley. Fingers crossed for tomorrow! We reached camp after a tough day ready to roll straight into bed. But obviously we first had to fill up on tea, popcorn, biscuits and a large dinner! That night to congratulate us on our achievement we were given a special tea, complete with something like brandy. It tasted like Christmas to me.
For the first time on the whole trip so far Kevin got sick on the 2nd night. He was up and down all night, and unfortunately didn’t get the luck I did when I got sick in Namche where we had an ensuite – the facilities were somewhat disgusting of the squat variety a minutes walk away. Poor Kevin. The whole group experienced his pain when he was sick right outside our tent because he couldn’t make it to the toilet
. When he eventually managed to bed down it was almost impossible to get to sleep because of the multitude of snoring sounds resounding throughout the campsite. Oh the joys!
So everybody woke up the next morning a little less rested than the night before, the worst of course being Kevin, except for Dad who had no idea what had happened and had slept straight through all the noise! Luckily the third day was the 'easy’ day – basically we got up a little later than the day before and stopped at lunch. The three of us took it slowly this day and instead of being in the front group, spent most of the day up the back slowly taking in the scenery and chatting with Angel. The day before we had arrived at the campsite in complete cloud cover, with just the hint of the spectacular scenery around. In the morning everything had cleared up and we got to see the three valleys running away from the Inca sight we had seen the evening before plus the looming snow peaks overhead. When we were in the Inca remains we felt like we were at the top of the mountain, but from across the valley we could see that where we had stood in the courtyard the day before was hardly half way up the mountain and was in an amazing position. The Inca didn’t half make it tough for themselves whilst building these things, although their strategic location is unquestionable
. The first part of the day was relatively easy with ‘Andean flat’ for the most part, which made it easy to saunter along and take in the Aobamba Valley. As we got to the halfway point for the day, a lookout with supposedly stunning views, the clouds rolled in again which was a bit of a shame. If you watched non-stop you could get glimpses every now and then of the peaks in the distance before they disappeared behind a veil of clouds again. Kevin by this point was feeling very drained and decided to have a little snooze at the top – great picture! After the SAS boys had headed down with our stuff, we started a 2 hour descent to lunch and our last camp spot. There was a break after about 20 minutes to talk about Runcuracay, another Inca site (and to give the porters time to get there and cook lunch for when we arrived), where we got to experience the best and the worst of Americans! Adam was lovely and blew up his sleeping mat so Kevin could have a lie down for 30 minutes – genuinely the nicest people, but then a guy from another group walked straight through our group whilst Angel was talking to us and drawled ‘I just want to have a look at the view….oh sorry did I walk through your drawings’ – genuinely irritating!! We kept going and it was a long way down and I don’t think Dad thought we were ever going to get there…and was extremely grateful for his poles. However we emerged on Intipata quite suddenly and as it had cleared up and was sunny we sat in the sun waiting for the rest of the group
. The size of the terraces and the way they built them into the natural contours of the mountains in genuinely jaw dropping and as we walked down to camp through the terraces and store houses you started to wonder why anyone would bother! Its’ so steep and would be extremely hard work if you left something at the bottom! This is not my lack of appreciation for history or mocking of the Incan Empire, this is a real wondering because it’s hard enough work just going in one direction once! We got to camp and had another amazing feed. This was followed by a nap and then a tour around Winay Waynu, the second largest remain on the trail. Then more food! Because it was the last night we said goodbye to the porters and they served us an amazing cake. The food provided on this tour was above and way beyond anything any of us could have expected. I mean how does someone cook an actual sponge cake when they’re camping??? Three cheers for our chefs!! By this time the weather had well and truly come in on us, with even a bit of spitting rain. So we all went to bed with our fingers crossed that it would clear up in the morning.
It didn’t. We all woke up to thick cloud which was very obvious even though it was 4.00am and pitch black
. It wasn’t any better when we set off at 5.30am. Kevin was feeling better though and Dad found it highly entertaining that he was walking along the last stages of the Inca Trail quoting Monty Python verbatim. I think Adam and Amanda generally enjoyed it. I just wanted him to keep the torch light in the straight line so I didn’t fall off the cliff, as Angel had told us the night before that it was a dangerous walk and it would ‘all be over’ if we went off the path! Although we were supposed to be walking this section as a group, James and Felix set off at such a pace that the rest of us slowly fell back to our own speed. It was a bit up and down, but mostly an easy walk, if it wasn’t for the dark and the recently rained upon slippery steps. Nonetheless we soon arrived at the Gringo Killer. Not really too sure why it’s called this because without sounding smug, all of us made it up here without much effort and we even passed out a couple of people! Five minutes later we walked through the so called Sun Gate, aka Inti Punku for a view of diddly squat! Now I don’t mean to sound negative because the whole walk was amazing and it was great doing it with Dad and meeting the people we did, however it was a little disappointing not to get a lovely early morning view over Machu Picchu. We all sat a little dejected waiting for the rest of the group, and instead of the initial plan to hang around for a bit, left as soon as everyone else arrived to walk into the city itself
. The whole way down the clouds just stayed stubbornly thick and we thought it would never clear (for those sitting on the edge of your seat it did eventually clear). One of the most hilarious sights we’ve seen in a while was the Llama Path group (complete with irritating American from the day before) standing around looking thoughtfully out into absolutely nothing whilst their guide played them the recorder. It didn’t even sound like traditional Andean music. What a bunch of tools! At some point walking through the fog we came upon some terraces…and then some more…and then some buildings, and we realised we were in Machu Picchu! Miraculously about 5 minutes later the fog cleared and we got our first glimpse. It was pretty impressive, although the oh so famous mountain that’s always in the pictures was still hidden so it didn’t look quite right. We took a great group picture just as the fog rolled in again and headed out so that could get a snack before starting our tour.
The Inca Trail ended with a guided tour of Machu Picchu. By the time we started the fog had more or less cleared up and when we finished the tour it was well and truly sunny, and looked just like it does in the postcard pictures. Kevin and I considered walking up Huayna Picchu (the mountain in all the pictures) after the tour but because we were a little tired and we had the next day to do that we headed down with Dad to Aguas Calientes to meet up with Caroline, check in to our hostel and have a nap. But we couldn’t sleep so instead went for a beer! And then had a couple more with the group at lunch to say goodbye to our fantastic guides, Angel and James. Four days doesn’t exactly count as an era but we had a really great time on the Inca Trail – great company, excellent food and I'm happy that I could do it with Dad!