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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Cuzco, Peru

So bright and early on Saturday morning (5:00am) we all gathered in one of the central plazas and got on the bus that would take us to the beginning of our four day trek. I think we all slept for the first couple of hours where we got off to have some breakfast. It was freezing and I was glad that I´d bought so many layers with me, as well as hiring a thick pufa jacket from one of the trekking shops in Cuzco. It was really the first time that we´d all sat down together and chatted, and as I thought, we all seemed to get on well and there was a good feeling in the group which made the thought of fours days hiking much more enjoyable!
After a quick breakie we all hopped back on the bus and headed for the beginning of the trail, Kilometre 82 (so called as it is 82 km on the train to that point from Cuzco). We had been given duffle bags by Llamapath to fill with the things that we wished the porters to carry so we organised those and made final checks to our personal day bags before setting out on the first leg of our journey. Our guide Raul was great fun, and throughout the morning kept us laughing and constantly insisted on ´family´ photos infront of significaint locations. When we arrived at Inca sites he would make us all sit down and tell us about what the site had been used for (farming, traveller rest poitn etc) and supplied us with loads on information about the area.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the first half of the day, and found it much easier than I was expecting to. At lunch though we would face our first surprise.....the super porters! It used to be that these men, (there were 15 for our group, carrying our things, tents, food, chairs and all sorts) before porter welfare came into play, would be allowed to carry between about 60 and 100 kilos each! Now, they are allowed a to carry up to about 50k each I think, but even so this is a huge amount. They are simply super human creatures, who start out after us, and get to the camp sites before us, jogging most of the way. It´s extraordinary to watch. Apparently each year a porter race is held where they race the whole Inca Trail, which bear in mind is taking us over three days. The winner last year completed the whole thing in under four hours! Unbelievable! Anyway, at our first stop where we were having lunch, we were all expecting some sandwiches and juice, but after sitting down in a tent with a table and stools, we were served with first an avocado starter, beautifully presented, then asparagus soup with garlic bread, followed by trout and rice and fresh vegatables and huge plates of other yummy things, finished off with coca tea. We were all astounded to say the least, and by supper time on the first evening it became apparent after a feast of vegatable soup, three different types of spaghetti and flambayed bananas for pudding, that this was the culinary level that we could expect for the entire trek.
The second half of the first day was a little harder but even so, I was finding it enjoyable rather than a struggle so arriving at camp for the firsr night was a good feeling of achievement. When we arrive, the porters have already set up our tents so we can dump our stuff inside and then they supply in with small bowls of warm water and soap so we can have a makeshift wash before ´happy hour´ where we can warm up (becuase by this time it´s beginning to get pretty cold) with hot chocolate and tea, jam and bread and big bowl of popcorn. Really, I know when Daddy reads this he will think that we weren´t camping at all, but the camps and tents were pretty basic, it´s just the amazing porter service that made it feel slightly on the luxurious side.
Happy hour and supper was always great fun, as when you´re walking during the day you are chatting a little bit but are more concentrating on placing your feet and breathing steadily. So in the evenings we all got time to get to know each other and relax. As we start early every morning, after supper we were all advised to go to bed so after brushing your teeth it´s time to snuggle up in your tent. I was obviously on my own which nice as I had lots of room, but it made it even more cold so I was wrapped up in a long sleeved t-shirt, a vest top, a normal t-shirt, then my alpaca jumper, my hoodie, a thing puffa jacket, gloves and hat, leggings, trousers and thick socks, and yes, I was still cold in the night!
In the morning the porters come and wake you up with a hot cup of tea which is lovely to warm you up before you have to venture outside, and they give you another bowl of water to have wash in. We all gather for breakfast in the dining tent which is tea and jam and bread really, and on the this morning we had pancakes aswell. This second day was the hardest day as we climbed the two tallest peaks of the trek. Before lunch we conquered the first pass which is at 4215m above sea level! It was a tough climb, but a great challenge so I was pretty pleased that I was the first in our group, including our guide, to reach the summit. On the way up you have been slaving in the sun and heat but as soon as you reach the top you are engulfed in the clouds and have to layer up quickly to stop yourself freezing to death! The scenery on the trek is contantly changing as well, we walked through rough plains, cloud forest, bleak moutainous hillside where only Andean grass can grow and then back down into cloud forest again. So every part requires different clothing to keep you at the right temperature. Also because you are so high the sun is really, really strong and without sounding dramatic, it can actually feel like your skin is cooking! We all wore high factor suncream and I kept my cap on though so none of us got burned.
The second pass, though less high was a lot worse! Half way up we were caught in a thunder and lightning storm that then showered us for about half an hour with rain and hail. Just as we were beginning to get miserable and down beat, our uide Raul runs off and returns minutes later, having caught up with the porters, bearing several tarporlins that we could thrown over ourselves. So we all huddled in our little Inca ruins until the worst of it had passed and then set off again up the moutain side. I have to say that of the whole trek it was this afternoon that I enjoyed the least. The uphill struggle to the first pass (Dead Woman´s Pass) had been tough but rewarding and I felt great afterwards but I had become cold after the storm and after the second pass we had to endure about an hour and a half of steep downhill steps. I would rather go uphill than down any day and by the end of the second day I was cold and aching and glad to reach the camp. After a quick wash in warm water and piling on all my clothes I began to feel better and was further uplifted by happy hour and then an other delicious, and huge, supper. The second camp was at a higher altitude than the first so much colder at night, and I don´t think any of us slept particularly well, but it didn´t really matter as day three was only a half day. Most tours only climb the first pass on day two meaning they have to do the second one on day three, but as we had conquered both in one day, it meant that we could relax a bit on day three. We had a bit of up, a bit of flat but a lot of down so we were all aching and ready to rest by lunch time. Our lunch stop was also our camp site that night and as it´s the place that most tours stop the night before reaching Machu Picchu there were hot showers and proper loos so we all reveled in that! After lunch it began to rain again so we were all thankfully granted a couple of hours to relax in our tents, and I think we all had quick naps before going to investigate one final Inca site before the grand finale the next day. Some of the sites were more impressive than others ans this one was fantastic. Brilliantly preserved and beautifully contsructed we were the only people there so we spent an hour just wandering through the deserted buildings before heading back for happy hour and supper.
As we had to get up at 3:30am the next day we all headed to bed straight away and, as the camp site was only just above 2000 feet it was a much warmer night, thankfully! We were awoken the next day bright and early and had a quick breakfast before packing up camp. The reason you have to get up so early on the last day is because the check point (you pass one of these every so often so the number of people walking the trail can be regulated) opens at 5:30am and it´s best to be within the first group through so you can power on through and be first to the Sun Gate. We were the second group there, an hour before it opens, so we sat and played cards by the light of our head torches until we were allowed through and then began the final push. It´s best to be at the Sun Gate, as I said, before the crowd arrive, so the last few kilometres seem like a race and we power walked solidly for 45 minutes to get there. The final climb of stairs to the top nearly killed us all, but once again I managed to get there first our of our group and was only one of about five people there. The Sun Gate is the first time you see Machu Picchu so it´s an amazing feeling as the last few days pay off. The views are incredible so we took loads of photos and then started the climb down to the site itself. All this was before the sunrise so as we walked down we saw the sun coming up over the mountains and illuminating the site.....spectacular!
The gates to Machu Picchu open at 6:00am so by the time we had climbed down to it there were already plenty of tourists arriving but everyone seemed to respect everybody else and it was pretty quiet as we all sat down and watched the last of the sun lighting up the ruins.
We spent the next couple of hours having a guided tour through the ruins which was extremely interesting and then we all had an couple of hours to wander ourselves through the site. It was busy with tourists but still fabulous to walk through such an old and important site, and it´s huge too, much bigger than I expected it to be.
Arriving home we were all exhuasted but even so, we orgainsed to meet up for supper and drinks as a final goodbye. It´s funny how much you bond with people when you´re living with them and sharing the same experiences. Supper was great, and the perfect end to a fantastic couple of days.
Time for bed!

permalink written by  veritykent on May 13, 2009 from Cuzco, Peru
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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