The main event - Inca trail and Machupichu

Trip Start Apr 23, 2005
Trip End Mar 31, 2006

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Monday, September 5, 2005

Again, it was an early start and despite the anticipation of finally getting onto the trail, I couldn't help but fall asleep on the bus and completely miss the passing mountain landscape on the way to kilometre 82 which is the official start of the inca trail. We had a short stop in a town along the way to stock up on supplies which mainly involved water, chocolate, coca leaves and a vast quantity of cane walking sticks which were forcibly recommended by the guides and equally forcibly sold by the vendors. Having never walked with a stick, I declined and found myself the subject of the scorn of both parties. A bit rich I thought - It's just a bloody stick - I'm sure I will survive without it. Besides, this wasn't your standard traditional trek where you have to carry everything you need on your back. We had porters! More porters than trekkers. These guys carried our tents, food, clothes leaving us to carry the water we needed for the day and maybe a bit of food in a small daYpack. The day before we started, Gaspar was telling us about one guy on a previous tour who insisted that he carry everything himself. At the time, I felt challenged to do the same, but then I would miss out on experiencing a trek with porters (well at least that's my excuse for being soft anyway).

After a quick group photo, and introductions to our Inca trail guides Boris and Carlos (who quickly became known as manboobs), we set off. The path climbed slowly up a dry Andean valley before reaching an adjacent valley which gave us a view of our first Inca town - Llactapapa was built into the hill opposite us, attractively following the contour of the land with its terraces and houses. We moved on and quickly arrived at our first campsite. Too quickly! We'd only been walking for 2.5 hours? This isn't trekking! I'd prepared myself for at least 6hours. I wanted to feel tired and sore, like I've worked hard! What's more, when we arrived at the campsite, the tents had already been set-up and a big dining tent was waiting to serve us afternoon tea. I realised at this point that my idea of trekking is not everyones idea of trekking and I should just relax and enjoy it - its not every day you get served in style and never on a trek.

But not before I climb the hill next to us and get all this unspent energy out of my system. So I headed solo up the hill. I'd been going about an hour and stopped for a minute to have a smoke and appreciate the amazing view I had down the valley we'd just walked up. While I was lost in meditation, a local man came walking along near where I was sitting. I yelled out Ola and he came over and we spent the next half hour having a smoke and talking about everything we could in my broken spanish and hand signals. A local farmer named Miguel, 58 years old, lives over there, father from Cusco, Mother from somewhere, just going for a walk. It's amazing how much you can communicate with a few words and a lot of effort. I got him to take a photo of me, but not too familiar with the concept of cameras, he messed it up a bit:

On seeing the result, I suggested we get a photo together - this time with me handling the camera side of things:

I said my farewells and then headed back down to the camp where we were treated to a fantastic 3-course meal before retiring early (8pm) to bed as there was nothing else to do.

Next morning was a very early rise as we had our biggest day ahead of us (14km, 1000m ascent and 1000m descent or long walk with no flat ground). What our guides hadn't counted on was that our group were young and fit and we chewed it up in no time. Poor old manboobs who hadn't been guiding in a couple of years and was more than a little bit out of shape (hence the nickname) had an impossible job keeping up with most of us. At the top of dead-womens pass (the highest point on the trail), there were about 6 of waiting as manboobs (who was supposed to be leading the group) came labouring up the hill to catch up with us. He quickly got onto the radio to Boris (who was looking after the back of the group) for a conversation which went something like this:

Manboobs: Boris! Boris! (PANT! PANT! PANT!)

Boris: Yes?

Manboobs: (PANT! PANT! PANT!) We have arrived (PANT! PANT! PANT!)

Boris: What? Already?

Manboobs: (PANT! PANT! PANT!) Yes, Already (PANT! PANT! PANT!)

Boris: Alright, just wait there.

That was just before Manboobs lost the ability to talk completely. I feel for the guy - His first time guiding in 2 years and he gets us!

Mankasikis at the top of Dead Womens Pass

We head down the other side of the pass to the bottom of the valley and stopped for our well earned 3-course meal. Mind you, not as well earned as the porters who managed to beat our fast group, while carrying all our food and equipment and have enough time left over to set up the dining tent and cook us a 3 course meal. Impressive stuff.

After lunch we headed up another pass and over into the cloud forest. The Peruvian Andes are divided into 3 distinct ranges. The Coastal range in the west hardly sees any rain due to the dry climate of the pacific coast and as a result is very arid in its plant life. The central range which gets rain during the wet season, but in the dry (which is what we were in) it sees very little which makes it a bit greener. The final range is on the Amazon basin side and sees rain and cloud all year long and is full of lush green rainforest which threatens to overpower everything manmade if not held in check. The Inca trail traverse all the ranges. So the pass over to the next valley was such a dramatic change from semi arid highlnds with small dry scrub and barely any trees, to this lush tropical rainforest which feeds not so much on the rain that falls but more on the clouds which drift in from the Amazon.

We visited the Inca site of SayakMarqa which is a small town built seemingly into the side of the mountain with this amazing view of the valley below.

We followed the path down to the bottom of the valley before a short walk up to the campsite halfway up the next mountain and collapsing into an exhausted heap.

The third morning we headed up from the campsite toward the second highest pass of the trail. The scenery was now completely rainforest covered mountains. On getting to the top of the pass, some of us decided to try out the coca leaves we'd bought before we started the trip. Along with the leaves, I'd also got a little ball of brown stuff which turned out to be an alkaline substance which when chewed with the leaves, helped bring out the stimulating chemicals. The way to use the leaves is to wrap a small bit of the alkaline stuff in the leaves and wedge it under your gums and let your saliva do the rest. The effects took about half an hour to kick in, but when they did there were 4 of literally running down that hill. Only problem was I'd used too much of the brown stuff and it took the inside of my mouth off.

Checking out the view at the top of the second pass.

We quickly gained the 3rd camp which to our surprise and delight had a bar. We had a few drinks, merrily checked out another inca site and headed to bed for the very early start which would be the last stretch to the Sun Gate and then to MachuPichu.

We were rudely awoken at 5am and quickly got ourselves ready for the final walk. Downhill from the camp was the checkpoint which we got to at about 6am only to find a big line of people waiting for it to open. I was hoping to get to Machupichu to watch the sun rise, but apparently that's not how it works. They don't open the path until 6am, which is too late.

Punters waiting for the checkpoint to open.

The gates opened and we were on our way. the walk took about an hour and before I knew it, I was at the sun gate and gazing down onto Machupichu. Having walked 4 days to get here, I've got to be honest - I couldn't really take it all in! The picture before me was like a scene out of thunderbirds - a hidden hilltop location surrounded on all sides by massive tropical mountains and deep secret valleys, except that there was no high-tech sci-fi base but an amazing inca ruin instead. We descended down to the town itself and were taken on a tour for a closer look which just emphasised the amazing place we were looking at. Here's a closer photo:

The site was full of terraces, temples, staterooms, fountains and even the more basic necessities which you don't really think about (but of course every adavanced civilisation couldn't do without):

After wandering around wide-eyed and slack jawed for 2 hours, time was running short and the neighbouring peak called Waynupichu was beckoning us all - 7 of us listened to the call. After climbing my first big peak in France, I've got this weakness and I need to climb anything within my reach. Boris had been talking about the peak and how he had climbed it in 18 minutes, so Scotty and myself decided we would give it a go. Starting off running up a hill at 2300m is not a good idea. It's hard enough to run on flat ground at that altitude - I soon slowed to a breathless stumble, but we persevered nonetheless and managed to make it to the top in 19:39 - piccie to prove it:

The rest of the group followed shortly and we sat at the top appreciating the view until an employee chucked us off (apparently you're not allowed to spend too much time at the top):

Back from Left: Kerry, Scotty and Kelly
Front from Left: Me, Glenn, Lisa and Jason

Happy and exhausted, we headed back down the mountain, caught a bus into the nearby town, had a quick meal and walk around and headed back to Cusco for some much needed rest.
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