In the footsteps of the Inca

Machu Picchu Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 7 › view all entries
At Km 82, getting ready for our trek.

We made it back in one piece from our four day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I have to say that this is quite possibly the coolest thing I have ever done outside of raising my kid J The trek was definitely not easy but it was so incredibly worth all the hard work and exhaustion and I absolutely believe that if you are going to Machu Picchu and you are fit and ready for hard work, you should head out on this trek.

Chris with all her gear on.

We had to book back in February since the trail is heavily regulated and only 500 people are allowed on the trail at once. Permits sell out fast so you have get one pretty far in advance. I am so happy we had the foresight to book this. There is a bus that takes you to the site but in my opinion, trekking for four days along the same path the Incas used really gives you an appreciation for Inca architecture as you get to see some of the ruins along the way. It also helps you understand how the Inca worked with the land and it really gives you an appreciation for how incredibly adept they were at mountaineering. And coming in through the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu instead of from below on the bus makes the first glimpse of the site that much more unforgettable.

Day One:

We were picked up by a bus at the unholy hour of 5:30 am.

Crossing the Vilcanota River. This marks the start of the trek.
We headed out with 12 other people to the town of Ollantaytambo where we stopped for breakfast and last minute supplies. Our team consisted of me and my sister, two guys from Canada who would supply hours of much needed comic relief, an absolutely wonderful couple from England, two sisters from Quebec and a group of six friends from Australia. Some people bought walking sticks and coca leaves. We had trekking poles, which I would later be incredibly grateful for. After breakfast we headed to the checkpoint, known as Kilometer 82, where all the other trekkers entering the trail gathered and readied themselves. Chris and I were hauling our own stuff. We could have hired an extra porter to carry our personal items but I looked at the list when I was originally planning this and the list didn´t look too bad so we decided to forgo the extra porter. At the checkpoint, I hoisted my bag onto my back and thought, ¨What the hell was I thinking? This is heavy.
Porters and hikers on the trail.
¨ On top of having to haul my own stuff, I was battling a vicious cold I had picked up somewhere along the way. If only I had hired an extra porter. Oh well. Too late. We all lined up and had our passports inspected and stamped and then we were through and on the trail. We started our hike right away.

I was immediately worried that I was in over my head. I consider myself to be fairly in shape. I run regularly and do a lot of stuff outside at home. I also eat well and take pretty good care of myself. But right away I was at the back of the pack. Day one was supposed to be the easy day, the ¨training day¨for the rest of the trek. Everyone on our team was booking and our guide was cruising too. Just my luck to get hooked up with some sort of high altitude olympic marathon running team. I felt a little overwhelmed and panicked. The first day of any trip like this is also tough in that the group dynamics are just forming, everyone is getting to know each other, and there is a bit of competition and fronting going on.

Chris taking a breather.
I immediatly decided that one of the Australian girls was going to be annoying and sure enough, for the rest of the trek, my hiking pace was largely determined by where she was in the line up since our personalities clashed. Outside of that, I felt in the beginning like I was definitely not in shape enough to be there. Chris had warned me that she had heard that some people see this trail as some sort of race. It was a little bit intimidating.

Overall, the trail wasn´t that hard but it was a lot of gradual uphills and we were at a pretty high altitude. I was so happy when we stopped to check out the first archaeological site so I could catch my breath.  Our first stop was the ruins of the Inca hillfort of Huillca Raccay, which was fort built by the Incas that was used to control the entrance to the Cusichaca valley.

The beautiful valley we hiked.

We didn´t stop for long before we were on our way again. After a few hours of huffing along, we finally stopped for lunch. The porters were amazing. These guys hauled all the food and tents and ran way ahead of us. When we got to our lunch spot, they had a big tent with a long table complete with nice place settings. Our lunch was phenomenal, as were all of our meals on this trek. We never lacked for excellent food. After lunch, the porters packed everything up and ran ahead of us again so they could get to camp, set up our tents, get dinner ready and clap for us when we came in. I was always amazed by these guys. I was also always amazed by our guide Marcelo, who was knowledgable, competent and incredibly nice. We had a great assistant guide too.

A note on the racing metality: there definitely were a few people that were more concerned about being the first to the next resting stop and less concerned about their amazing surroundings in the mountains.

Valley.
It became kind of a joke between us as we watched these people constantly run and pass us up over and over again only to see them at the next rest stop. I figured we were all getting to the same place eventually and I would rather enjoy myself.

Anyway, we continued trekking that day until we had covered about 12 km. We stopped in the little village of Wayllabamba where we spent the night.

 

Day Two:

Chris and I broke down and hired a porter for day two.

First archaeological site: Huillca Raccay Ruins.
This was to be our hardest day, with a steep hike that would bring us up  1,200 meters in a few hours. We were able to hire a guy from the local village to be our porter just for the day. We packed as much as we could in my pack and took only snacks and rain jackets in Chris´s pack. I carried the backpack and Chris carried the water. The porter carried the rest up and over the mountain for us to our next camp. That was the best $20 we ever spent.

I was mentally kind of psyched up for this day given how much I had struggled the day before. But I was feeling great and the two hours up the steepest hill I have ever hiked went rather quickly. We passed into a sort of cloud forest and the terrain changed from the arid hills to a deep green woods. I tried to enjoy the scenery but I was focused on not passing out from exhaustion. I finally got into some sort of rhythm and soon enough we were at the top of our first mountain pass, Dead Woman´s Pass, so named for the mountain´s shape and not for any infamous deaths.

At our lunch stop on the first day. Chris, Emma and James (from England).
The pass was all the way up at 4,200 meters (13,779 feet for us Americans). We stopped here and rested and celebrated having finished the hardest part of the trek. It was really brisk at the top. I looked out over the Andes mountains and at the clouds below and I felt like I was on top of the world.

After we caught our breath, it was time to head down to our camp at Pacamayo. For more than an hour, we climbed down the steepest and most uneven steps known to man. It was rough on the knees but we were at camp by 1 in the afternoon. We had a fantastic lunch and then it was siesta time. I slept on and off for a good two hours. We woke up, had dinner, and went to right to bed.

Day Three:

We headed out early, again laden with our stuff.

Back on the trail.
I was still feeling good but having my heavy pack on again was not fun. This day was touted as “unforgettable” since the scenery was so beautiful along this part of the trail. We were also finally on the original trail laid by the Inca. Only an hour into the climb, we stopped at the ruins of Runkuracay where we stopped and our guide gave us a tour and filled us in on Inca tradition.I wish I could reiterate what he told us but like many of the other stops, I was mostly overwhelmed by my surroundings and by how incredibly fatigued I felt. My cold by this time had also kicked up a notch and I was coughing constantly now and having a hard time breathing.

We left those ruins and hiked for another 45 minutes to our second mountain pass, Abra de Runkuracay (4,000m).

Me on the trail.
This pass was much easier to get to than Dead Woman´s but it was still a victory to reach it nonetheless. The descent down was absolutely beautiful. Here is where we passed through overhanging mossy trees, orchids, tree ferns and flowers. We also passed through a cave.

We made our way to the third pass, after which we could see Phuyupatamarca, a ruins in the distance. We had to descend over 3,000 stairs that were steep and irregular. We had a choice of visiting the ruins or heading straight to camp. Both Chris and I decided camp was the way to go. We descended these stairs, affectionately named the “Gringo Killer” with the couple from England. It was rough on my knees and one of my ankles kept giving out. We finally made it to the bottom, to our camp, Wiñay Wayna, where there were tons of other trekkers already recovering from that brutal climb down. We had tea and then beer to celebrate finally making it to our last camp.

View from our tent on the first night.
We had dinner and then were in bed right away since our wake up was to be at 4 am so we could get to the Sun Gate in time to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu the next day.

Day Four:

We woke up in the dark at 4am and packed up, had breakfast and then climbed down to the checkpoint where we all lined up to get off the trail. It was amazingly quiet and still as we stood in the dark with headlamps and flashlights, excitement mounting. When we finally passed through the checkpoint, we all started hiking fast. It was the fastest I have ever hiked. We headed up and down, along narrow paths that were fronted by mountain on one side and shear cliff drops on the other, trying to make it to the Sun Gate in time to see the sun break over the site.

Dinner tent.
We all hiked in utter silence.

When we reached the Sun Gate, the sun had already broken over the horizon but had not hit Machu Picchu yet. I passed through the entrance of the pass and looked down and there it was in the distance. My first glimpse of Machu Picchu left me speechless. I couldn´t believe I was actually here. It seemed to be a little chaotic around me. Everyone was scrambling to get pictures and angling for a good position to see the sun break. We stopped and posed for a few pics but our guide ushered us along since we still had 45 minutes to hike down to the site. We headed down, stopping for pictures and to admire the view along the way.

Now, back in February, when we booked this trek, I downloaded a desktop background to my work computer and every day for the last few months I have looked at that picture of Machu Picchu.

Me and a burro.
And on some of my hardest days, I would look at it and think, “I will be there soon .” In the picture, at the front of the ruins, there stood a little tree, all alone. And I told myself that soon, I would stand in front of that tree in person. Now as I hiked down after three long hard days, I could see that tree. My tree. And I was so incredibly satisfied and fulfilled. Words can´t describe how I felt. And when I finally got down to the site and stood near that tree, I felt like I had finally made it. All the hard steps and steep hills and shear cliffs made this vist to the site so much more worth it.

We got an hour and half tour by our guide and then we were free to wander around.  The site is just as beautiful and majestic as it is in all the pictures and on all the tv shows. I was overwhelmed with amazement at how the Inca could build something so magnificent. We spent a few hours wandering around and taking it all in.

Porters. I thought I was carrying a lot of stuff...
Before we knew it, it was time to head down. This time on a bus. We spent the afternoon eating lunch and celebrating our hike in the town of Aquas Caliente, and then we settled in for a long three hour trip back to Cusco. Once in Cusco, I collapsed into bed. My cold had ratched up and I was in the throws of a full blown fever. But I had done it. And inside, I felt terrific.

For more pics, see my sister´s blog: www.travbuddy.com/chrisrae

peruana28 says:
Hello my friend
Yougot wonderful pictures about Machu picchu Ohh that´´s nice i really love this place i feel to proud to be Peruvian :)
see you soon :) :)
Posted on: Jul 02, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
At Km 82, getting ready for our tr…
At Km 82, getting ready for our t…
Chris with all her gear on.
Chris with all her gear on.
Crossing the Vilcanota River. This…
Crossing the Vilcanota River. Thi…
Porters and hikers on the trail.
Porters and hikers on the trail.
Chris taking a breather.
Chris taking a breather.
The beautiful valley we hiked.
The beautiful valley we hiked.
Valley.
Valley.
First archaeological site: Huillca…
First archaeological site: Huillc…
At our lunch stop on the first day…
At our lunch stop on the first da…
Back on the trail.
Back on the trail.
Me on the trail.
Me on the trail.
View from our tent on the first ni…
View from our tent on the first n…
Dinner tent.
Dinner tent.
Me and a burro.
Me and a burro.
Porters. I thought I was carrying …
Porters. I thought I was carrying…
The trail from a distance.
The trail from a distance.
At Dead Woman´s Pass, 4,200 meter…
At Dead Woman´s Pass, 4,200 mete…
Chris and I at Dead Woman´s Pass.…
Chris and I at Dead Woman´s Pass…
Our group at Dead Woman´s Pass.
Our group at Dead Woman´s Pass.
The sunrise at camp.
The sunrise at camp.
The valley. If you look far into t…
The valley. If you look far into …
Runkuracay ruins.
Runkuracay ruins.
Chris afer a brutal uphill.
Chris afer a brutal uphill.
View of the vally and mountains.
View of the vally and mountains.
Hiking down was just as much work.
Hiking down was just as much work.
View from a ruins site.
View from a ruins site.
Ruins on the third day.
Ruins on the third day.
Chris crossing a bridge into the c…
Chris crossing a bridge into the …
Above the clouds.
Above the clouds.
The trail through the cloud forest.
The trail through the cloud forest.
Chris going uphill again.
Chris going uphill again.
At the third and final pass, we re…
At the third and final pass, we r…
Chris touches a fountain, believed…
Chris touches a fountain, believe…
Me with my hand in the water makin…
Me with my hand in the water maki…
Chris climbs down the Gringo Kille…
Chris climbs down the Gringo Kill…
Me resting at a ruins. Can you bel…
Me resting at a ruins. Can you be…
Chris and I in the cloud forest.
Chris and I in the cloud forest.
Our thrid and final camp.
Our thrid and final camp.
Our tent at camp.
Our tent at camp.
My first glimpse of Machu Picchu a…
My first glimpse of Machu Picchu …
Machu Picchu in the mist.
Machu Picchu in the mist.
Chris and I at the Sun Gate above …
Chris and I at the Sun Gate above…
Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu.
A resident llama at Machu Picchu.
A resident llama at Machu Picchu.
Llama at Machu Picchu.
Llama at Machu Picchu.
Chris decided to kiss a llama.
Chris decided to kiss a llama.
Me going in for a kiss. Seconds af…
Me going in for a kiss. Seconds a…
Our team in front of Machu Picchu.
Our team in front of Machu Picchu.
Me at Machu Picchu
Me at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu.
Simply breathtaking
Simply breathtaking
Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu.
The tree I have been staring at on…
The tree I have been staring at o…
Me in front of the tree.
Me in front of the tree.
Me and my tree.
Me and "my tree."
Our awesome guide Marcelo demonstr…
Our awesome guide Marcelo demonst…
Marcelo demonstrating how the Inca…
Marcelo demonstrating how the Inc…
Inside Machu Picchu.
Inside Machu Picchu.
In Aquas Caliente, after our day a…
In Aquas Caliente, after our day …
The town of Aquas Caliente.
The town of Aquas Caliente.
The end. We head for the train and…
The end. We head for the train an…
Machu Picchu
photo by: NazfromOz