Katie on her bike
It was an early 4.30am start on the first day and it followed a typical South American routine - get the gringos up bloody ridiculously early so they can sit around waiting for the local tour company to faff around loading a van, having umpteen discussions and generally sodding around. So it was 5.45am before we set off from Cuzco and the first stop was to fill the van up with petrol - why the hell couldn't they do that the night before?!? When we finally got on the road, Katie and I did the customary introductions with teh rest of the group - Markus and Teresa from Switzerland, Luke & Lydia (UK), Red (Ireland), Fred & Leo (UK), Peter & Robin (Holland) and Asli and Yid from Turkey. We stopped in a nice little town called Ollytaytambo for breakfast and I had some awesome banana pancakes at the Heart Cafe.
Views down the valley when we were biking
We carried on up into the mountains to our starting point for the mountain biking at 4350m - it was pretty damn chilly and the breeze certainly woke us up. It was misty to start with so we couldn't see jack-all and some points I could barely see Robin and Peter who were about 5 metres in front of me! Luckily it was all downhill all the way, so it wasn't hard work, but as we descended it warmed up and we were soon sweating like the proverbial pigs. The scenery was stunning - we could see straight down the valleys which was awesome. By the time we got down to about 1100m, the mozzies were out in full effect, absolutely decimating everyone's legs and arms...little buggers! The road is used by locals and we had a few huge lorries to overtake, which was slightly nerve-wracking! Unfortunately Katie fell off her bike and busted her knee, so she had to do the second half of the ride in the van.
Teresa really getting into Time's Up....this was the Taj Mahal!
The van picked us up after about 4-5 hours of riding, by which time my hand were shot to bits - there's so many bumps to absorb that you have to learn to not grip too tightly even though your instincts tell you to hold on for dear life! We were driven about half an hour to Santa Maria, our stop for the first night. We had a rather basic hostel, but it was fine for a night. After a decent set lunch, we chilled out in the afternoon and in the evening I introduced the group to 'Time's Up', which was pretty damn funny as always. A good way to end the first day, but the real trekking starts tomorrrow....
6am start for a good pancake breakfast. We were on the trek by 7.30am and the first couple of hours were tough as the sun was out straight away and we had to make our way uphill.
Our hostel in Santa Maria
Katie's knee didn't hold out, so she went back to take a bus to Santa Theresa. Even though i had packed light, it was still a pain in the arse climbing with weight on my back...there were plenty of stops for breath and fresh air! After a few hours we saw the signs for the actual Inca Trail and after a stop at a bizarre little shop/cafe which had various animals tied up the tourist's pleasure (?!?!) we were on the actual trail used by the Incas to get between Cuzco (the capital of the Inca empire) and Machu Pichu, their sacred site. The views along the trail were absolutely stunning and it was amazing to think that about 500 years ago the Inca messengers were running along these paths and stones delivering the messages that kept the empire going.
Inca Trail, here I come!
It was about 30 degrees (which I wasn't expecting!) and the mozzies were eating us as we soldiered on. It was so nice when we arrived at the thermal springs at the end of the day - the perfect way to relax!! I was expecting them to be like the others I had seen in South America - pretty grim - but what we actually had was like a 5-star luxury resort, with beautifully maintained pools. We were all so happy to spend a couple of hours there and decided in the end to get a minibus to pick us up and take us to our hostel for the night as we were too relaxed to walk (especially after a beer or two!). We arrived in Santa Theresa after dark and again had a really nice meal before having a few drinks in the 'nightclub'...a very strange little place I can tell you!
After breakfast, we were agin walking before 8am and it was another long, sweaty day.
The view on the Inca Trail
It was less of an incline compared to yesterday, but it was still absolutely boiling hot and I was glad to see the numerous ladies selling water along the way. They don't charge too much, and most have energy drinks as well, which were much needed! We walked to a place called Hydro Electric, our lunch stop. Unsurprisingly, as the name suggests, there's a hydro electric plant there! The worst meal of the entire trip for lunch, a bloody awful chicken burger which almost had me throwing up.
The afternoon was tough - we had to walk along the train tracks (in use!) to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Pichu mountain.
Red crossing a bridge just before the hot springs
The scenery along the route was really nice, but the fact that you have to concentrate so hard on where you put your feet kind of spoils it. My feet were aching something cronic by the time we got to A/C at about 4pm. We stopped at the train station only to realise we still had about 25 minutes to walk uphill to get to the town - nice! It was nice to get to the hostel, which wasn't quite as luxurious as we had been promised, and the Turkish guys kicked off in protest at having to share rooms again. I was just happy to have a hot shower for once!! We met up for a few beers in the town square where we managed to get some ridiculously cheap price as the bar owners had an open price war on the street as we wandered by!! It wasn't a late night though as tomorrow we're up at 4.
The train taking priority...we were shooed off the tracks!!
00am for the big day....
It was still dark when we started walking. Head torches at the ready!! A few of the group decided to get the bus, and the rest of us (obviously slightly deranged) took the 2000 step path up to Machu Pichu. Our group was combined with another for the last day, which was cool as it was the same tour group as Abby & Stan who we had met in Cuzco. Robin, Peter, Red, Fred and I decided to share two bags to carry our lunch and stuff for the day, and I stupidly volunteered for the first stint. The ascent up to Machu Pichu is pretty much vertical and I was sweating like a river and absolutely soaked by the time I got to the top at about 5.30am - cheers lads!
We hung around and queued at the entrance, hoping to be in early to get some pictures without the crowds and we got our tickets for Waynapichu (you have to be in the first 400 people each day to get the chance to climb Waynapichu).
First photo of Machu Pichu
The entrance opened at 6am and the first glimpse of Machu Pichu is truly awesome - the site clings to the side of the mountain and with the misty morning closing in, it had a real mysterious feel to it, which was spine-tingling. Our guide Alex took us round the site, explaining the uses of the various parts of the 'town'. We had tickets for the 10am climb of Waynapichu, which also coincided with the sun coming out to full effect - erm, sunburn here I come!
Waynapichu was a testing climb (again, near vertical with tiny steps), but we were up in about 45 minutes - it was a hell of a lot easier as I wasn't on bag duty this time! The views from the top looking down on Machu Pichu are amazing and we had a good couple of hours up there taking it all in.
View from Waynapichu - awesome!
The descent after our packed lunch was almost as hard as going up as it really tests your knees - Robin was an absolute star, as he helped a 76 year old lady all the way down. How the hell she climbed up there at her age, I have no idea....I'm sure there isn't a cable car!!
After a short recovery break, we headed over the Puerto del Sol (Sungate) for a different view down on the site, but again i would definitely recommend doing it. Its quite a easy half hour walk each way, so not too tiring. although by the time we got back to the main site, I was pretty knackered and after getting my passport stamped (cheesy!), I decided to take the rather expensive bus back to Aguas Calientes ($7 each way). Cold beers were the order of the day as we celebrated a great trek and got ourselves to the train station for the return journey to Cuzco.
Red coming back Waynapichu....a tad steep
Our company booked us on the 6pm train, which was a relief as some people get stuck on the 9pm one, which means a very late return to Cuzco, 4 hours away. It was Hallowe'en and we had all planned to go out - I have to admit that I let the team down by sloping off to bed when we got back - the 5 beers on the train may have had something to do with it!!!