It started with being met at 7am Saturday morning before collecting the rest of our group - Suzan (my Dutch travel buddy in Cusco), Cedric (far too energetic French man) and Alex (gentle giant from Germany, although not really a giant however looks it compared to all the little Peruvians!). We were then driven 3 hours to the top of a mountain 4,350m where we were literally in the clouds, and proceeded to cycle 3km down in altitude the other side of the mountain for 45km.
Now before any one comments on my cycling abilities I was fully kitted out with knee pads, elbow pads, helmet and flourescent orange vest, the only thing missing was the stabilisers, so I thought there would be no chance of repeating my last cycling incident! To be honest, there wasnīt a lot of cycling involved other than trying to stay upright and remembering to brake around the hairpin bends avoiding the traffic coming the other way, but it was a lot of fun!! We did find out later in the trip that the group behind us got delayed due to an accident where someone needed hospital attention and also met a kiwi lady who had had a close encounter with some rocks, so I think I did really well to stay upright!! ;o)
After the bike ride we stopped for lunch in a ghost town called Santa Maria and dropped our kit off at what must have been the only hostel in town where we would be staying the night. We were told by our guide, Edwin, that there were 5,000 people living here but after walking around the deserted market and empty streets Iīm sure he added a few extra zeroīs onto the end! The afternoon was supposed to be where the next adventure started - white water rafting! As I had been on antibiotics for the previous 5 days for an ear infection I decided to skip this and went for a walk with the others that werenīt going instead, preparing our legs for the next dayīs hike! Somehow this little ghost town had a bar complete with flashing neon lights, 2 pool tables, a dart board and lots of table games, so our evening was spent with another group doing the same tour sampling Inka Tequila (steeped with coca leaves!) and being taught how to play poker by Alex - I think I have a new career on the way!!
Day 2 we were told to meet for breakfast at 6:30am and we set off for a 9 hour hike at 7am, which took us through the rain forest to the next town, Santa Teresa. Although it was only 25km away we had to climb 600m in altitude a mix of Peruvian flat (moderate up hill) and Inka flat (ridiculously up hill), then down 400m (Dutch flat!) and meant walking along cliff hugging paths and along one of the original Inca trails to Machu Picchu. The walk took us through coca plantations and coffee plantations, and we had several water (and oxygen!) stops en route, finishing at some thermal hot springs. We even had the chance to siesta in hammocks after lunching on the best guacamole I have ever tasted, for half an hour.
By the time we reached the hot springs we were all too exhausted to jump in so ended up going straight to our next hostel for a nice hot shower and to change into some dry clean clothes instead - so adventurous!!! The group we were shadowing all the way was a group of younger fitter guys than us so were always a step or 2 ahead of us.
One of them was turning 23 that day, so after dinner we joimed them and renewed our energy in the form of tequila shots and beautifully applied red face paint from some natural berries found on the trek, and joined them in the local nightclub to salsa dancing with the locals and tour guides. Somehow the night finished with the guys in the other group streaking down the street with just their face paint as a disguise before we all completely crashed out in bed - I canīt remember the last time I slept so well!!
Day 3 we luckily had a lie in and didnīt have to meet for breakfast until 7:30am before we were picked up for our next adventure... zip lining!! We soon found out that the red face paint from the day before was not the easiest to remove so were left with Essex looking fake tans (aka oompah loompahīs) for the rest of the day! We spent the next 2 hours flying accross the canyons and doing our best superman impressions high above the rapids below, included the longest zip line in South America. Anyone that has done Go Ape back in the UK, thatīs nothing!!!!!
I did have a little accident at one point and managed to drop my helmet down the side of the mountain into the rapids, oooops, lucky it was just the helmet! After lunch we found some more hammocks for another siesta under some avocado trees and then continued our trekking to Aguas Calientes which was another 3 hours. Aguas Calientes is the town in the valley at the bottom of Machu Picchu so our last nights stop on the trip. Itīs amazing when you get there, the town is surrounded 360 degrees by rugged jagged mountains, Iīve never felt so small!!
Our final day started at 4am so that we could make it to Machu Picchu for the sunrise. Me, Suzan and Alex had decided that we had enough of walking up hill by this point so opted to take the bus up instead of an hour and a half of walking up giant sized Inca steps. Once at the top we met Cedric who was the only one left with enough energy to have done the climb in the dark and had sprinted up in 45 minutes! We had a 2.5 hour guide and then were left to our own devices to explore and find our own way back to Aguas Calientes for our 4 hour train/bus ride back to Cusco. We didnīt have a ticket to walk up either of the moutains itīs possible to walk up from Machu Picchu so we walked to the Sun Gate instead, which is a 30 minute hike up to where the original Inca Trek reaches the citadel, and has the most amazing views!
I canīt begin to describe Machu Picchu, everything about it is incredibly breathtaking! Itīs unbelievable to imagine how the Incaīs built it and lived there, and you really just have to go there to experience it, I can not describe it in words other than to say itīs a very very special place!
As most of you already know I wasnīt able to get a pass to do the original Inca Trail as these are limited and sold out 5 months before I came to Peru, so on Saturday 30th June I started on the most popular alternative instead - the Jungle Inca Trek - which is a 4 day high adrenaline version with less walking and more fun stuff but still being able to walk on part of one of the Inca trails.