We awoke at 6am to beautiful surroundings and the backdrop of a snow-capped mountain. The porters were busily preparing our breakfast and after that we were on our way, hiking the extra 5km to take us to kilometre 82, where we posed for pics, had our passport stamped and got on our way. We met our other guide, Marcela, who indulged me in some language practice. The first day was mostly a fairly easy hike, stopping for a lovely lunch and stopping again to take in the view over Patallacta. The last hour took us up a fairly steep incline to our camping spot at Waylabamba. To celebrate day one’s achievements (and partly because they were unexpectedly available) we bought beers from a small boy and toasted our efforts.
Pathetic of course, in comparison to the herculean efforts performed regularly by the porters.
The porters deserve a mention at this point. They carry around 25kg (more than my entire backpack and daypack for our whole time away combined) each on their back, they walk/run in sandals made from tyres, they pack up your tents when you leave on a morning and have them ready when you arrive at the next camp, having most likely ran past you on the way, they provide you with three excellent meals per day better than you’d find anywhere else in Peru and to top it off, bring you hot water and soap to bathe your feet at the end of the day.
After a few rounds of Shithead and some great food we were ready for some sleep.
Everyone we’d met said day two was the hardest, so we knew what to expect.
We were woken with tea in the tent at 5am and set off at about 6am in order to clear the toughest part before the sun could take its toll too much. We had a vertical mile to hike, up to Dead Woman’s Pass at a height of 4200m above sea level. The pre-breakfast stint was steep but keeping a steady pace Frank, Tim and I made it to breakfast in good time, and Em wasn’t too far behind with her cronies. Breakfast was well-earned and after formally meeting the porters we were tackling the toughest part of the walk. Reaching Dead Woman’s pass wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be, and keeping a steady pace zig-zagging up the steep steps helped alot. The view behind us was amazing and we were stopping regularly for photos and the odd breather. We reached the top with sense of relief and achievement and rested for 30 minutes until all the group was up for more pics.
The most gruelling part for me and my multi-sprained ankle was to follow, a 900m vertical descent on steep and slippery steps. I took my time down that part, meeting everyone at the bottom (Pacaymayu campground) for a well-earned rest, some feet-soaking and some Shithead action. Dinner again was superb and another early night followed.
With the hardest day out of the way we could relax a little and enjoy the day. We opted to carry on the routine of hiking in the morning and were up again by 5am and off shortly after 6am. We stopped an hour or so later to check out Runkuraqay, an Inca 'Tambo' - post house and check-point.
Carrying on we came to the second-highest point on the trail at 3900m and before we knew it, it was breakfast time, where we were treated to another great breakfast of pancakes. The mist thickened and we progressed into the cloud forest, which gave the whole thing an eerie feel but added to the ambience. The ruins were coming thick and fast as we got closer to Machu Picchu. We stopped at some very impressive ruins of Sayaqmarka (inacessible town) and Puyupatamarca (cloud-level town), both of which perched dramatically on mountain-sides. Further on the trail snaked around the mountain on rocky paths that left you wondering how on earth the Incas managed to build it in the first place, how they used it every day (there were some treacherous parts, particularly in the damp mist) and just how many fell over the ledge to a forest floor 100m below at times.
The mist cleared, revealing sensational views of the valley and more inca sites.
Our early start meant that there was still time for Frank and I to take a little detour to the top of yet another spectacular terrace, Intipata. From Intipata we could see our campsite so we headed down to put our feet up, have some lunch and buy ourselves (and the porters and guides) a well-deserved beer. Henry was keen to show us his favourite site of all and led us, making sure we'd closed our eyes, a few hundred metres from the campsite. When we opened our eyes we saw Winaywayna ('Forever young') clinging impressively to the valley side, and it was easy to see why this was Henry's favourite.
Day four - Machu Picchu
I've wanted to visit Machu Picchu for the last seven years, so the 4am start wasn't too difficult to take.
We hiked the first 30 minutes by torchlight before reaching the official checkpoint and making our way to the Sun Gate. From there the mist was slowly clearing to allow views over Machu Picchu. The drizzle and mist came in again as we approached the city and we were struggling to get views of the city. Just as we approached the 'money shot' the mist lifted slightly and we could get some good pics. The mist gave way to bright sunshine for the rest of the day. Henry took us on a tour of the main sites, including the sacraficial altar and religious buildings. At the second attempt, Jacquie, Frank, Matt, Tim and I were allowed in to climb Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu is 600m vertical ascent up some very steep steps. Stupidly we were seeing how quickly we could climb it. It was way harder than it looked and I managed it in around 23 minutes, reaching the top a good three minutes after Frank and Matt! The views from the top were incredible.
As if we still hadn't exerted ourselves enough, Frank and I decided that we couldn't pass up the chance to head back to the terraces and take some great pictures. After that it was time to head back to Aguas Calientes to meet up with the rest for lunch and to embark on the craziest train journey I've ever been on.
The train was fantastic, complete with glass panels in the roof and and terracotta crockery. After refreshments we started on the beers. Then things got a little bizarre. We were treated to a 'traditional' performance of masked man doing some crazy dancing through the carriage. Very scary. After that the carriage attendants put on an alpaca show, where they donned a wide variety of Alpaca-based clobber and spent the next half hour strutting up and down the carriage much to the amusement of the cringeing carriage.
We were on our way back to Cusco
, to see if anyone could last the 24 hour challenge...