Day 1 of our 4 day Inca Trail trek saw us rise at 3.30am, as we were being picked up at 4am for the 2.5 hour drive to the registration point and the beginning of the trail at Piscacucho. At 2600m it was the first time in nearly 2 weeks that we were below 3000m. This did not last long though as soon we climbed up to 3000m as the trail weaved through the Sacred Valley floor. It was quite warm, and Humming Birds were furiously beating their wings everywhere. By 1.30pm, we had reached our lunch spot and tucked into a delicious 3 course meal stacked full of carbs, as after we lunch we had to ascend to 3800m to our campsite for the nigh at Llulluchapampa. It was 4 hours of straight ascending mostly by stairs, and it was pretty hard going for us, but not the porters who were carrying the majority of our gear. They flew up the mountain, barely stopping for a breath in order to set the camp site up before we arrived. They are all farmers from the surrounding area who come to work as porters once or twice a year for a month at a time to make some good money to supplement their self sufficient lifestyle. We were all clad in gortex hiking gear with walking poles, and these guys are in shorts and t-shirts, and most of them were wearing rubber sandals made from old car tyres…
One of the reasons why i had chosen our tour company was because that they push really hard on the first 2 days of the trek in order to get past all of the other groups doing the trail, and to get the toughest parts of the trek over and done with while we are still somewhat fresh. We got into camp just as it got dark, and were presented with an amazing view as the full moon rose over a massive glacial capped mountain across the valley. It was spectacular, but shit it was cold. Dinner was quickly served, and we got to know more about our guide Freddy. He is a professor of anthropology, teaching Andean culture, history and language at the University during the wet season. He also volunteers for a Peruvian NGO that is trying to record the Andean culture and wisdom before it dies off. This has led him to conferences in the states where he translates on behalf of Shamans and healers, and to Australia to study the Aboriginals. A totally fascinating and absorbing guy who in between cracking jokes and telling stories imparted his immense knowledge and philosophies on the Inca people, history and culture. As well his own Anthropological views on society and the human race. It made for some great dinner conversations over the 4 days, and we felt truely lucky that we had scored a guide like Freddy. He called our group, family, and ensured that we were actually like a family, working and staying together to get over the various hurdles the trek threw up at us. All of our group had the right mindset to go with Freddy’s family ideal, and it worked really well as we all bonded and became quite close. There was Dan and Sara from the states having their first holiday in years, Kim and Andrew from Taiwan/States, and Rory and Sofia from Canada. Over the 4 days we saw a lot of groups, most of them stretched out with team members isolated, and I can only feel that they missed out on something, as the Inca Trail became somewhat of a spiritual adventure, and I am the least spiritual person going around.
That first night was really cold, at least -5 and probably more like -10. We were in bed by 8.30, and spent the next 8 hours shivering our arses off with our sleeping bags drawn so tight that only our noses poked out. For the trek we had stocked up on nuts and dried fruit, which provided a great energy hit during the day, but at night it resulted in Mojo nearly blowing the tent apart. As the tents were closely huddled together, it was hard to muffle the eruptions, slightly embarrassing for mojo, but quite hilarious for me.
Up at 5am, it was even colder as we huddled around the dining table drinking cups of tea made from coca leaves. We left camp around 6am to complete the rest of the walk up to the aptly named Dead Women’s Pass at 4200m. It took just over 2 hours to get to the pass, once again a lot of it was stairs. Then we had to descend 600m over 3 kilometres to get to our lunch spot. Going up for me was not so bad, but going down was not much fun, as the pressure on the kness is a killer. Wobbly knee-ed we got to Pacaymayo around 11.30.
After lunch we climbing straight away, to get over the next pass, Abra Runkurakay at 3950m. It took us nearly 3 hours to get to the top, passing through some Inca ruins along the way where we could catch our breath and marvel at the scenery. Once we got to the top of the pass the clouds formed around us quickly and it was soon a complete white out, and thunder rumbled through the valley. Not the most comforting sound when standing on top of a mountain clutching two aluminium walking poles! The descent to our campsite for the night was once again hard on the knees, as we made our way down the side of the mountain through passages and caves between rocks and down some fairly hefty stairs. For a short race, the Inca’s sure did make some really high steps.
Our campsite was at 3500m, and once again it was a frigid night, but we had the most amazing view. The clouds had cleared and the near full moon highlighted a snow capped mountain range some 100km’s away. It was breathtaking, and a sight i will never forget. But it was too cold to stay up and take in the views, so it was once again an early night as we put on all of our clothes and pulled the sleeping bag tight.
Day 3 was a bit of a killer, as we had to descend nearly 1000m over 4 hours to get to our next campsite. But it was a beautiful walk through cloud forests with orchids dotting the path and humming birds zipping in and out of the flowering trees. The mountain ranges changed from a quite barren landscape to jungle lined cliffs faces that were over a 1000m. Our campsite at Winay Wayna was next to an amazing Inca ruin which was a farming area providing food to Machu Picchu. It is perched on the side of ridiculously steep mountain and we could see the ingenuity of the architecture and engineering that the Inca’s employed. The irrigation and fountain systems that they built over 500 years ago were still working flawlessly, and hardly any of the massive stones were out of place.
Up at 3.30am in order to allow the porters to pack up and quickly walk down to Aguas Calientes to get the 5.30am train back to the start of the trek with the hope of picking up another tour and doing it all again. We made tracks just after 5am, walking along the narrow path on the cliff line with torches for light. Soon the sun rose and we realised that in some parts the drop next to the path was 100’s of metres. By 8am we made it to the Sun Gate and had our first views of Machu Picchu, the sun was just coming over the mountains and clouds were being formed and disappearing in a matter of minutes.
Walking down from the Sun Gate there was a steady stream of tourists making their way up, having caught the train from Cuzco. It was a bit overwhelming to be surrounded by all of these people after spending the last 4 days trekking. It was even crazier when we got down to Machu Picchu, as there were swarms of tourists, growing by the minute as the trains and busses rolled in. Freddy did his best to shelter us from the masses taking us around to the various sites within Citadel. It is truly an impressive place, from the architecture and engineering used to build the place, to the Inca’s understanding and use of Astrology and the Equinoxes.
After 3 hours of wandering the sites we were sore, tired and over the masses of tourists so we all agreed that we wanted beer and pizza, but not before Rory proposed to Sofia in an isolated and quiet place with all us watching on and the women bubbling away . Back down in Aguas Calientes we had the best pizza and beer, which Dan and Sara kindly paid for, before heading back to Cuzco on the train.
It marked the end of a remarkable 4 days, and time for a shower.