The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Trip Start Aug 12, 2010
Trip End Sep 23, 2011

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In a tent

Flag of Peru  , Ucayali,
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hi all,

The day has finally arrived, today we start the 4 day Inca Trial to Machu Picchu. This trail is the most famous in the world and only recently have celebrities like Fearne Cotton and Denise Van Outen completed it in aid of charity. This 26 mile walk is completed by thousands of backpackers and tourists every year. Although the route is only 26 miles, the ancient trial laid by the Incas winds its way up, down and around the mountains, snaking over three high passes en route. On the way there are stupendous snowy peaks and cloud forests, and the trail passes through many cliff hanging ruins abandoned by the Incas.

Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The Incas started building the estate around AD 1400 but abandoned it as an official site for the Inca rulers a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Professor Hiram Bingham. The film Indiana Jones character is based on Prof. Bingham himself.

We met our tour group in the San Francisco Plaza of Cusco at 4.30am. As we boarded our mini-bus we were greeted with a round of applause by the famous "Red Army", the Llama Path porters. At first we thought that this was a sarcastic applause for being late, but then gathered that they applauded everyone as they got on the mini-bus. We then departed for Ollantaytambo, a small town 2 hours away to have a buffet breakfast and buy the last supplies for the trek including coca leaves, snacks, and a wooden walking stick. From here we made the short journey to km82, the start of the Inca Trial.

Our group consisted of 13 people. Firstly there is Stefanie and Tessa (Bo) from New Zealand, Jerry the pilot and his wife Lisa from USA, Malcom and Megan a recently engaged couple from England and Australia; John, Marian and Anna from London, and lastly Helen and Rob, a couple from Leeds, England who were on their Honeymoon. Hello to you all!!!

After getting our passports stamped at Km82 we crossed the bridge and started the trek. Day 1 is a relatively easy 10KM walk to campsite 1B. The trial climbs gently alongside the river to the first large archaeological site of Patallacta before heading south down a side valley of the Rio Kusichaca ("happy river"). Patallacta was a site used for religious and ceremonial functions, crop production, and housing for soldiers from the nearby hilltop site of Willkaraqay, an ancient pre-Inca site first inhabited around 500 BC The trial south leads another 7km to the hamlet of Wayllabamba (3100m), where we saw the breathtaking views of snowy Veronica (5750m).

We then crossed Rio Llullucha, and then climbed steeply up along the river. This area is known as Tres Piedras (Three White Stones) and from here it was a long, very steep 3km climb. The trial finally emerged on the high, bare mountainside of Llulluchupampa (3200m), our campsite for the first night. Today we had gained an advantage on any other group as many camp at Wayllabamba, 3km below us. This meant that the following day we would climb 1000m so we could reach Warmiwa˝usca ("Dead Woman's Pass, 4200m) and the second pass, Pacaymayu (3700m), all in one day.

Camping in the freezing cold mountains is not our idea of fun (especially not Hollie's) but we were pleasantly surprised. We reached the campsite and the porters who basically run the trail have the campsite set up for our arrival. Our tents were already made up, with a bowl of hot water and soap sitting outside for each of us to wash before happy hour and dinner. This was Hollie's favourite time of the day. Happy hour consisted of popcorn, jam, crackers, tea and hot cocoa. The food on the trip was amazing. Each day we had breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour with each meal consisting of 3 courses so ironically despite all the exercise you generally end up putting on more weight than losing it.

The distance to Dead Woman's Pass may not seem that long (1000m ascend) but the sheer altitude makes the climb very difficult and consequently you walk much slower taking a few hours to climb this part of the trail. Our guide recommended the coca leaves to help with altitude sickness. Coca leaves are illegal in most countries apart from The Andes Region including Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador, and our little stash will be confiscated if we don't use them up before we reach the Brazilian border. Coca leaves are illegal as they contain active alkaloids of the stimulant cocaine :-). Unfortunately they taste disgusting, but chewing a small clump of leaves does help with the altitude.When chewed, they produce a numbness in the mouth but it does act as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue. Alternatively you can drink them as a tea, much nicer! Traces of coca have been found in mummies dating 3000 years back; as there are such high levels of calcium in the leaves the bones are still to bio-degrade. Coca was introduced to Europe in the 16th century and was widely sold as patent medicines and tonics, coca wine (pure cocaine) and the original version of Coca-cola.

After ascending the second pass, Pacaymayu, the trail descends steeply. Tom had a little problem with his knees due to previous football injuries due to the sheer pressure of walking down over 1000 steps. Our trail led us to Sayaqmarka, an Inca guardhouse perched atop a sheer rocky spur. Sayaqmarka is at an altitude of 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). A steep, narrow staircase leads up to the extensive, heavily restored ruins.

From here it was a short walk (in the rain and hail) to our campground at Chaquicocha. Our campsite on the second night was in a quiet hillside overlooking the Inca site. Evening draws in quick and the campsite in surrounded in pitch black. There are no man-made facilities anywhere so you really can appreciate what the night sky had to offer. The stars were stunning and at this time of year we saw the planet Jupiter. On this penultimate night we were told to come outside before happy hour for a surprise. Tom and I, Helen and Rob and Lisa were all told to sit down. Our chef, Caesar had made a cake for each of us to celebrate Lisa's birthday, Helen and Rob's honeymoon and our 5 year anniversary. The kitchen equipment has to be carried by the porters so the cakes were cooked over a gas burner that you would use camping, so how they managed to bake 3 cakes, we couldn't comprehend but it was a lovely surprise and tasted delicious.

The third day we woke at 6am to continue the trail through high cloud forest, with dramatic viewpoints of mountains. A long Inca tunnel and a viewpoint overlooking two valleys: the Urubamba and Aobamba, are passed. This day is the most relaxing as the walk is very serene and not so strenuous. This marks the start of the Amazon Basin. Again, we passed more ruins, Phuyupatmarka (Cloud-level Town). The trail then descends approximately 1000 metres including an irregular staircase of 3000 steps......Tom really had sore knees! The scenery changed again with vegetation becoming more dense, lush, and jungle-like with more birds and butterflies. We passed through another Inca site, Intipata, an extensive set of agricultural terraces which would have been used to grow food such as potatoes, maize and fruit to feed the Incas at this site and supplement the food supply at the other Inca ruins including Machu Picchu. The final site on the third day was Winay Wayna (forever young) which was used as a place for ritual cleansing before entering Machu Picchu. This was our final campsite before our early morning rise to finish walking to Machu Picchu.

The final morning we woke at 4am to walk to The Sun Gate, the entrance to Machu Picchu. As we reached the site it was extremely misty and the Lost City couldn't be seen as it was covered in cloud. The sun did come out after a few hours and the site is just don't do it justice. Machu Picchu does get very busy with tourists up to 1000 people a day, not only from the various Inca Trail tour groups but also the people visiting for the day by train. It was clearly apparent that we had walked the Inca Trail as we looked a state and exhausted compared to the (puffing) day trippers. We finally left Machu Picchu after a four hour tour of the site and caught a train back to Cusco. A celebratory dinner and drink was clearly needed and we danced the night away till 4am with the rest of our group in Cusco. A word of advice staying up 24hours after a 4 day hike to Machu Picchu is not advisable!!!

Overall the Inca Trail was a great experience and something we will remember forever.

As our experience of Peru nears to an end watch this video to see the best highlights -

All our love,

Thomas and Hollie

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