Machupicchu, Peru
13° 9' S 72° 31' W
Nov 29, 2004 17:27
Distance 600km

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Text written in: English

El Camino Inca - the most famous trek in S.A.

It´s been ages since I´ve written properly and mostly that´s because we spent a lovely relaxing week in the beautiful city Cusco catching up with Jennie and eating obscene amounts. Between us we went through an incredible array of illnesses, me - sore throat, swollen itchy feet (?), chronic heart burn, Jennie - dicky tummy, insomnia and headaches. We had great plans to visit loads of the gorgeous little villages in the Sacred valley but were thwarted by health so we concentrated on getting ourselves well enough to do the Inca trail.

Cusco, the former capital of the once massive Inca empire (encompassing Peru, Ecuador, part of Colombia and Chile!), it´s name meaning Centre of the World - now it´s certainly centre of the South American tourist industry. Having said that, once you can duck past the persistant touts jossling to tell you about their restaurant, cine-bar, tourist information, or if you´re a girl ´free massage´(hmmmm...)it really is the most gorgeous city. It´s set in a valley of semi-jagged rolling hills, on a clear day you can see distant snow capped mountains, the centre is a mish mash of inca foundations and predominantly red colonial architecture and the blend works suprisingly well. The Plaza de Armas has two main architectural highlights one a Cathedral, the other an equally splendid Church (much to the annoyance of inca-stone-lined passagways.

I didn´t do absolutely nothing while in Cusco I hooked up with a very lovely Spanish teacher called Roxana for a couple hours a day to keep pratising and it worked out wonderfully, we got on really well and ended up chatting about everything from the Spanish invation to her adoration of Sean Connery! (I devastated her when I expained David Backham had a girl´s voice!)

All in all a rather bizarre week, but luckily all ailments were abolished by the time it came to start the Inca Trail last Wednesday.
On Tuesday night we met our group for the first time for a ´briefing session´ - by this stage we were all incredibly exciting. The 4 day Inca trail is THE trek to do in South America, I always thought this was because on the forth day you arrive at the magical Machu Pichu but having completed the trail I realise now that the trail itself warrants the hype - it´s stunningly beautiful.

Day 1 - the first early start we´ve had in ages, getting up at 5am not being our forte! We arrived at the tour office and piled onto the bus. The start of the trail we were doing was at the 82km mark - basically the end of the road (there are a few options when it comes to the Inca Trail the one we opted for was the ´classic´ via cloud forest, Inca remains and along original inca staircases). There were 16 people in our group the maximum allowed, we had a fantastic set of folk predominantly english speaking and mostly around our age, with the exception of a Dutch couple aged 65 and 67 (amazing!!).

The first thing that hit Dave and I was the difference between going with an organised group and treking solo - our bags were so light not having to carry food, cooking equipment or the tent! We weighed them later a mere 12kg! The start of the trail was a suspension bridge crossing the Rio Urubamba (poor Dave and his fear of heights -he gets dragged into all sorts of crazy situations now!) The first day treking was very easy, slighty up - slightly down - only one major section of very up hill, a warm up day really. The weather was touch and go a litte drizzle, a little sunshine, the cloud would occasionally reveal the snow capped peaks of ´Veronica´( a bit of a weird name for a mountain if you ask me!)The first part of the trek is through the Sacred Valley which has an incredibly lush basin, the greenery disperses the higher up you climb. From our elevated position we could see various Inca remains and a lot of inca terracing. The buildings we were passing were Colques or store houses. The inca´s had an incredible network or store houses, the terrain all around Cusco is pretty tough walking and so it makes sense that the inca people would need places to bring there produce to trade, store houses acted a bit like supermarkets preventing them from having to walk all the way from one end of a valley to another. The different climates all in a relatively small area allowed the incas to grow different types of crops from potatoes to corn. Day 1 was quite slow with a lot of stopping and starting but it allowed us time to appreciate the views and changing fauna. The greyish weather gave everything a rather bizarre hue, the grass seemed quite olive green and the surrounding mountains a blacky grey.

We were all quite surprised to see a lot of houses along the route, there are very small farming villages which you don´t expect to find in a national park. Small villages means lots of very cute kids though so it was nice to stop and ´chat´ one little toddler tried to eat my camera lense - I gave her a sesame snack to wean her away from it! Very sweet.

The final trek up to the camp site was the hardest bit of the day, the walking wasn´t so bad but it was a long day and we were tired. We ended the day with a spectacular feast (the food the whole way was exceptional - and plentiful!) shame about the toilets - the less said about them the better - yuck!

Day 2 - We were up at 6am for the notorious hardest day, but we woke up confident and a little smug because all three of us had opted to hire a local porter for our personal stuff (roll mat, sleeping bag etc.) which meant all we had to carry was some snacks and rain gear. It was a tough trail it ascends 1,200 metres utilising stone stair case after stair case through the cloud forest, it was such a fantastic day. Had I been carrying my own bag I would have been very upset it was hard enough climbing up the steps bagless, but as we climbed higher and higher I just felt the most incredible sense of achievement. We moved out of the forest to climb up to the highest pass of the trek, to get up to the pass was simply the longest staircase in the history of staircases - on the side of a mountain! Walking up something so uniform for so long I almost get into a medatitive state so when I reached the top I was less relieved and more quietly delighted! But it was raining, so on came the layers of waterproofs and fleeces - when it started hailing we opted to continue rather than wait on top of this very cold pass for the others in the group. We had hoped to be rewarded by the beautiful view over both valleys when we reached the pass but the couds were swarming around us so much so that as we started the descent down a staircase I felt a little angelic!

The trek down was needless to say easier than the uphill but the weather was rough, making the rocks pretty slippy, the clouds would separate and we´d see the barren valley we were walking through before they´d quickly be enveloped in cloud, it felt very isolated and very scottish!

That evening was the highest campsite and the coldest, after we´d changed out of our wet clothes we all milled around waiting for ´happy hour´ 5:30pm when we were fed biscuits, pop corn and tea! Although we´d only walked for around 5 hours we were all pretty pooped and so headed to bed for an early but cold and rather uncomfortable night - sleeping on a hill adds incredible tension to your buttocks!

Day 3 - We had to take our packs back and in some ways this was the hardest day purely because of it´s length, but probably the most beautiful. The trek was mostly down hill, although not exclusively, the first part of the day was spent climbing yet another inca staircase up to an inca site and the last high pass. The view as we climbed was exceptional, the site was perched on the edge of a mountain on the side of a valley, looking down and across you were rewarded by stunning views of mountains from every angle. The mountains in this area are very different to the mountains we saw in Northern Peru, less of the classic blue/purple snow capped variety and more lush, but grey and craggy. On the way up to the pass tradition has it that you have to carry a stone from a small lake up to the highest point not only to appease the mountain gods but also to make a wish - having recieved some bad news about a friend recently there was only one wish from all of us so the last section of the trek was quite a thoughful, sombre but wishful section.

That was the last high pass and from there the trail passed quite pleasantly down, and down, and down some more - our poor knees. The weather became more and more misty although the rain managed to hold off making for a stunning walk. I´m sure half of the trail was on the edge of a cliff but the clouds were lying so low we had no idea. Instead we were able to concentrate on careful walking and the gorgeous array of multi coloured mosses we were surrounded by. We managed to get away from all the other groups as our guide (Hilbert!!) opted for a lunch stop away from the others allowing us to walk the most beautiful section in peace. I particularly liked climbing through an inca tunnel! The weather improved after lunch so much so that by the last inca site we were basking in golden sunshine looking over a brilliant green and gold valley!

By the time we arrived at the final camp site we were wrecked, my knees were just at breaking point so the hot showers on offer were very, very welcome! You could also buy beer which always helps to soothe the muscles. By this stage I was so unbelievably content that had someone told me Machu Pichu had burnt down that night I would have been like - awh well it was a lovely walk!! And it really was - incredibly varied and beautiful, a fantastic challenge but fun at the same time.

Day 4 - Up at 4am to get to the last control office for it´s 5:30am opening - FAR too early if you ask me! The first section of the trek is an hour and half walk to the sun gate, theory being you see the sun rise over your first glimpse of Machu Pichu. But at this time of year, the sun doesn´t rise at that angle. Anyway, we left mad early, it was the only section of the entire trail that I got annoyed with other people, because it isn´t peak season most of the trail you find very peaceful rarely seeing other folk except for food stops - but this section was like some weird race! After ten minutes or so though we manged to pull away from the ´pack´ and enjoyed a very lovely walk through the jungle along a stone cliff face basically, it was one of the most gorgeous sections but then the rain came. Not just a little rain, BIG rain, by the time we´d dragged our soaking bones up the final vertical staircase at the sun gate (renamed the ´rain gate´) there was no view, nothing, infact it was impossible to imagine there was anything over there at all let alone mountains and Machu Pichu. We all stood huddled at the side under the only sheltering tree - sulking. Hilbert did his best to try and cheer us up explaining that the classical Machu Pichu view is actually from a place another hour down the trail - it was sweet of him to try but after walking three days - it just didn´t work. We listlessly followed him down the last section of the trail towards Machu Pichu city itself - tempers fraying all the way, the rain became heavier and heavier, occasionaly the mist would lift just enough to reveal where Machu Pichu would be - not enough to lift our spirits. We arrived at the viewing point above the city at the same time as a huge packload of Peruvian tourists all sporting brightly coloured ponchos - not exactly how we´d envisaged it!

I took maybe one photo, then we headed down to the entrance where Jennie and I stripped off to change out of our soaking clothes, popped our bags in storage, had a bite to eat and couldn´t have felt less like we were in the sacred city of Machu Pichu if we´d been in Disneyland! Hilbert led us around the site which was far more beautiful that I excpected even if I was unable to force a smile at the time. We wandered around listening to his explanation all heart breakingly disapointed.

We were kind of coming to terms with the disgusting weather as the clouds began to shift, slowly at first, then the rain stopped, ponchos off...and then..... the sun came out, the sky cleared totally and we found ourself in the most incredible golden light and blue sky, finally being able to see Machu Pichu properly. We were elated! We couldn´t have been happier if it had been sunny from the start. Suddenly we could see just how incredible the surrounding hills were, the setting was just out of this world. We were all like exited school kids laughing hysterically just soooooo relieved by the turn around!

After going around the site with Hilbert, we were left to wander around on our own for a few hours, since the weather had transformed so totally I felt a renewed energy and myself and another mad Scottish fella from our group decided to tackle the final ascent of the inca trail - Huyana Pichu - it´s the green lump you always see in arial views of Machu Pichu. It was a hard climb, and definately more of a climb than a trek, it´s so steep there are ropes to hold on to, but as you climb higher your perspective of the whole area changes, you find yourself looking back over Machu Pichu, you can see the sun gate (incredible especially since we couldn´t see 3m in front of us when we were up there in the rain 3 hours before). It took around 40 minutes of continuous climbing to get to the top but man, was it worth it! I was still wearing all my waterproofs and it was mad sunny so I was drenched in sweat but utterly and blissfully happy. The view was breathtaking and there was only a handful of people up there, it was so peaceful, all the tourists arriving by the bus load at Machu Pichu were smaller than ants. I finally got my Machu Pichu moment, later in the day than expected, definately harder work than expected, but oh so worth it!! We practially ran down the mountain skipping to meet the others.

After a hearty lunch bak at the hotel we headed to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes, most of our group headed straight back to Cusco by train we left the following morning after the sleep of the dead! Inredibly Jennie and I managed to walk around another site the following morning in the town of Ollantyamba, I have no idea what the site was used for but it was great fun climbing around it an gave us great views of the valley. It was quite bizarre when we passed the start of the inca trail by train, so much seemed to have happened in just four days. We felt incredibly proud of ourselves and very lucky to have had the chance to trek in cuch a beautiful area with such an incredible goal.

So that brings me to yesterday when we came back to Cusco, we were exhausted, so we opted for a jug of Sangria and an afternoon nap. Tomorrow we finally leave Cusco heading back to Lake Titicaca to visit the floating islands.