The Inca Trail
A 4.30am pick up awaited the group on the first trekking day. The group were taken to Ollantaytambo, a 2 hour coach trip deep into the mountains. The coach wasn’t exactly new and coupled with the terrible roads, the ride quality left its mark on my spine. A stop for an overpriced jam and egg roll later and we were off again 45mins further into the mountains to the start of the Inca Trail. The road / track surface depreciated dramatically, leaving our decrepid coach and my spine in tatters by arrival. On arrival we were welcomed by an army of short stout red men, clapping spiritedly by the possibilities of a 29 person tip.
The trek started gently with rolling wide shale paths alongside the Urubamba river. Some students had a rather sharp awakening to the weight of their bags and the reality of the task ahead. At this very early stage it was already easy to develop a hatred for the many trekkers hiring porters and an admiration for the underpaid army of porters carrying up to 28kgs along the trail like a swathe of ants.
We awaited with some caution as we were thinking how much food could be brought up in bags and then cooked within 20 mins. However, we soon realized that Llamapath were keen to ensure we all ate very well – far better than we had the last couple of weeks. The food was excellent with four different starters.
After lunch we only had another 90mins up hill until camp. However the first real ‘uphill’ hit some people quite hard, soon realizing that uphill in Peru is properly uphill, no gentle slopes here.
Day 2 is notoriously the hardest day of the Machu Picchu trek, many of us knowing this well before we left. However, to some this came as quite a horrible surprise.
The path out of the campsite was a fairly sharp uphill from 7am all the way to the top of the mountain at dead woman's pass reached by the whole group at 10am. Some found it slightly harder than others and there were no shortage of grimaces and questions of fitness asked by the back end of the group.
The views along the route were incredible and made for good reasons to stop sporadically. By the top however much of the mist had drawn in and reduced the view slightly, though many by this point were just happy to sit down.
Fortunately from there until lunch the only way was down, a long way down.
As lunch came the morning had taken its toll on some of the group, deciding that sleep was the best option.
In Inca style, a down hill is usually followed by a significant uphill and we weren't disappointed after lunch. Regretting eating the massive lunch supplied by the chefs we waded up the steepest steps seen on the trek so far. This lead all the way up to another pass and Inca look out tower.
After a another 2 hrs of up and down hills we finally reached another Inca fortress precariously sitting on a three sided cliff face, unknown as the inaccessible place. Sadly we were again scuppered by the mist with visibility of about 20ft. However, the lack of a view did not distract from the realisation of how ridiculous building on top of such a place was.
A further 30 mins a long a FLAT cobbley path lead us to the second campsite. For many this was a welcome sight. The day had been very long (10hrs walking mainly uphill) and had taken its toll on many. However, at dinner all was forgotten and the hot chocolate and coffee was greeted with cheers.
The exertions of the previous day meant for some very tired bodies. Yet the sun was shining and the view were far better than the previous evening, showing a beautiful panorama of some the Andes highest mountains.
The path was very different to the previous two days. Apparently we had now entered the 'eyebrow of the Amazon' and this was quite evident from the change in flora and forna and the ever present frog noises in the background (I was determined to see one).
The walk was far easier than the previous day, much of it fairly flat. Sadly by mid morning the mist had again rolled in, meaning the views were not great, even from the Inca look out towers dotted along the trail.
By mid morning the terrain had become very jungle like, with the path becoming a fairly steady downhill with cobbley steps. This continued for at least 2 hours until it finally opened out into a beautiful valley.
Once at the opening of the valley and with the mist clearing it became apparent where we had actually walked. One of the most noticeable things on the trek and in the sacred valley is the seemingly impossible places at which the Incas decided to build terraces to grow crops. One of the largest and most remote of these was just before reached camp, located on a very steep mountain side looking over the valley. Complete with llamas it was quintessential Peru.
After this Inca site it was only a quick 20mins downhill to the camp, for a relaxing evening before the final day.
Started VERY early, we were all up by 3am walking 20mins to the check point and then waiting at the front of the gate to make sure we got to Machu Picchu first that day. By 5am we were allowed through and made our way along an undulating path for 90mins to Sungate. However, Sungate should have been renamed mistgate, as sadly we could not see more than 20ft in front of us and what were supposed to be the first views of Machu Picchu were lost in the clouds.
A further 40mins along the path were arrived at Machu Picchu to everyones happiness and relief. Though the relief was swiftly followed with the disappointment at the view (See Below).
Fortunately after 30 mins the mountain gods heard our pleas for a view and the sun came out. We then had a tour of Machu Picchu with our guides and 2000 other tourists.
Needless to say Machu Picchu was amazing and simply unexplainable. It was difficult to actually take in the enormity of the building work and architecture on top on a steep mountain side. No pictures could do the place justice. What truely does not come across in any pictures is the shear scale of the place and the height changes from the top to bottom. This is unquestionably one place that you must visit in your lifetime.
After a few hours looking around Machu Picchu we all got the bus down to Agas Calientes, a town developed entirely for tourism. The group spent the afternoon waiting for the train, enjoying the bars and restaurants. Some of us ventured uphill to the hot springs. On fist glimpse these springs looked very much like mud baths and a health hazard, yet once braved we realised why they were so popular.
By 5pm we were all fully relaxed and ready to go home on the train back to Ollaytaytambo a 2 hour train ride, followed by a further 2 hour coach ride back to Cusco.
Overall the trek walk a great experience for all, it served as a physical and mental challenge for many. If you have the opportunity we cannot emphasise enough how worthwhile the trek is. Taking the train up just doesn't allow you appreciate all the other buildings along the trail that make Machu Picchu so much more special and important to the Inca people.
Finally a big thank you to our guides, porters and chefs. The porters and chefs worked incredibly hard to make sure everything ran smoothly and that w ate so well for the 4 days.