In the footsteps of the Inca
Machu Picchu Travel Blog› entry 5 of 7 › view all entries
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.
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.
We were picked up by a bus at the unholy hour of 5:30 am.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chris and I broke down and hired a porter for day two.
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.
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.
We headed out early, again laden with our stuff.
We left those ruins and hiked for another 45 minutes to our second mountain pass, Abra de Runkuracay (4,000m).
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more pics, see my sister´s blog: www.travbuddy.com/chrisrae