The start of the inca trail
The night befoe the Inca trail we had a briefing at the agency (Andean Life) to meet our tour guide jimmy and the other people in our team. We were in a group of 11 with two English guys (Chris and Matt), two irish (Pauline and cormac) two swiss (Francois and Patrick) two Canadians (heather and bob) and a japànese guy (Sotashi).
We were collected from our hotel at 530am by a few of the porters and continued on to pick up the rest of the group from other hotels around cusco.
AC and I paid for an extra porter so he would carry 8kg each extra for us. We had no way of measuring our sack of stuff, so I just hoped that they didn´t decide it was too much and leave our sleeping bag by the side of the road. My worries were ill founded though we were well within the weight requirements.
The final destination Machu picchu.
Äfter breakfast in olyantambo we continued on to the start of the inca trail at what known as ´km 82´in peru (they are very logical here, its simply the distance from cusco) where we had our passports and tickets checked and the porters were checked that they were not carrying more thanmaximum 20kg each. This is a really strict regulation for the porters that has been introduced quite recently as otherwise they were carrying upto 30kg. We all passed the test so we were on our way about 9.30am. There were further checkpoints along the wasy and one of our porters was caught carrying 27kg, but it didn´t seem to even matter at this stage.
We weighed our bags and mine was only 3.8kg, nice!
This is what the track looked like on day 1. The scenery changed so often, it was amazing!
The first part of the trail was quite easy, we were carrying our day packs with not much in them just water and a jumper (the porters had the rest!) but some people had not opted for the porter so they were carrying larger backpacks. It was nice for them to have this easy part before lunch to keep there motivation up for the afternoon.
We had to stick to the hillside of the track so we didn´t block the porters as they marched past at full speed with they`re 20kg. You felt so unfit, but mind you they didn´t look particualry healthy running past with big gas bottles and cooking utensils etc literally strapped to their backs, no backpacks required for them.
On the way up the first pass, nice snow capped mountain in the background
When we arrived at the lunch spot they had already set up dining tent, chairs, dining table (everything but the kitchen sink was there) we were served a three course meal of avocado salad, soup, steak (eggplant for me) and then coffees and teas to finish. We were all a bit blown away by the effort and attention to detail (little wash basins with soap and towels for cleaning up before meals, food served on trays and much more) but would soon become accustomed to this over the four days.
That afternoon was a much harder hike as we walked on the flat and then for about 2hrs up hill to our campsite. This was the first part of the walk up to Dead Woman´s pass which is elevated at 4200m.
We would complete the rest of this ascent the following day.
One of the inca sites, which we couldn´t get too close too, but nice view from this spot
The campsite was very picturesque, we looked across to a magnificent mountain, which changes what it looked like every 30seconds because the clouds were moving soo fast. We we`re in bed (and exhausted) by 8.30pm after another 3 course meal, for some much needed sleep before starting again at 6am.
Day two of the Inca Trail commenced when the porters woke us up about 6am with a cup of tea or coca tea in hand.
The porters really are a good thing, they even bought us warm water, soap and a towel to have a bit of wash off. It was no sponge bath, but good none the less. Great meal of pancakes to start the morning and obviously another trip to those beautiful toilets. I recommend anyone coming on the Inca Trail in the future to commence quad muscle exercises well before starting the trek, there is a lot squatting to be done! After breakfast we packed our day bags and left everything else to the porters, geez I love those guys.
A close up of one of the common semi circular inca buildings
Day two is commonly know as the hardest day of the trek, where you make the trek over the two highest mountain passes. It is pretty much just up and down hill all day. This was the day that buying that extra porter (our sherpa) to haul our stuff up the mountains was really going to pay off.
Our guide Jimmy had informed us that the first days trekking was not actually on the official Inca Trail and that day two was the start of walking on what is the official Inca Trail that was used by the Incas to gain access to the `lost city of Incas` Machu Pichu.
There was a notable difference in the track which now included a lot of well placed rocks along the path, the first day was mostly dirt. However he also mentioned that a lot of these rocks are not original from the Inca times and have had to be replaced over the years.
Cow on the trail?? Where`s Mick Dundee when you need him?
The first hour or two was all up hill to the first pass which is the highest pass of the trek.
It was a magnificent view of the valley below and also very interesting that the other side of the mountain, which we were now to descend into was completely whited out with cloud, I suppose the name of `the cloud valley` is appropriate. As good tourists we took this opportunity to snap up as many photos as possible, even got the finger puppets in a couple. We had a pretty good group to trek with and everyone made it up the hill in pretty good time, well ahead of what Jimmy was predicting.
Had a nice cold snickers at the top that we purchased the night before. I am only just starting to recognize how well snickers really do satisfy, i´m on the bandwagon in a big way. From the top we descended into the cloud to another campsite for lunch, a walk of about 4 hours for the morning, just enough to work up a bit of hunger. Again lunch was magnificent, the porters had flown by us earlier in the day and had everything all set up. We had a tuna appetizer, veggie soup and something for main that I can’t remember, it was satisfying though that’s for sure, bit of a siesta required afterwards.
First day lunch site. We ate lunch in the first big tent, and the other one was for the cook to slave over the hot stove.
After lunch we passed a few Inca ruins and climbed upwards to the second pass. We were hoping after the second pass that the cloud would disappear, no such luck though and we continued on in the thick fog. The walking sticks that Sarah had purchased at Ollyantantambo (or spelling similar to that) were really starting to pay off for her, as its pretty hard on your knees downhill on the Inca stairs.
It was only about 2 hours walking in the afternoon before we reached our campsite for the night. Again another massive meal and an early night.
Nice view at one of the villages along the path
As per the night before we were still covered in cloud when we woke this morning, and it was even raining lightly. Jimmy reckoned it would be clear once we got a bit lower down under the clouds but AC and I had our doubts. We followed a fairly easy trail (along with the 8 other groups who had camped in this area for the night) to the third high pass of the walk, before we were began a steep fast decent of apparently 2000 steps. I counted the first 300 but got sick of it pretty quickly after that.
It was hard on the knees but I had my trusty bamboo sticks to help take some of the pressure off my knees so it was fairly smooth sailing, others though were a little worse for wear after all the down hill. AC was fit as a fiddle!
Tent city at the first night campsite, quite the view and absolutely freezing!! we would camp higher though on night 2. Here we were at approx 3600m.
Day 3 was along day, some lovely inca ruins, one particualry cool one where you could see most parts of houses and some amazing inca walls. Inca walls are fascinating, they take massive rocks and somehow manage to chisel them into a shape so they fit perfectly together (check out the photos). They don´t bother with your simple rectangle though, some have 12 corners, and that´s just what you can see on the face of the wall, apparently there are more 3D corners internally to help keep the wall together ( a good idea considering the chance of landslides, earthquakes etc)
The most amazing part was descending from the highlands into the ´jungle´the scenery changed very quickly in to a rainforest and by lunchtime the sun was out (jimmy was right).
Due to a landslide on the track for the final day of the trail we actually past the location of the third nights accommodation prior to lunch. We then began another difficult and steep descent to our lunch site by the river.
AC enjoying a tea on the 2nd morning before we headed off up to 4200m.
After lunch we walked along the train track (train from cusco to machu picchu) towards aguas calientes, where we would spend our third night. Ready to take the bus to machu pichu first thing in the morning. Only in peru would they let tourists walk on and beside a live train track… our guide did mention that when the train comes we should move to the sides of the track. I had a few weak moments as we walked through train tunnels and along narrow parts of the track where there would have been no place to move except for into the river! But in the end there was nothing to be concerned about.
As we were on our third night, we all had a few beers at the campsite, which were purchased for a very small amount at the campsite, but hit the hay early as we had to get up at 4:30 am to get the first bus to Machu picchu. We had a few beers with Jimmy as it was his birthday.
Look at those horsies and mules. Can we keep him?
Day four commenced pretty early at about half past four with a call from the porters. This time however no early morning tea or warm water for a bit of a scrub. The night before we had given the porters and the cook their tips for the trip, maybe they weren`t happy with our generosity? I know the cook failed to meet his normal high standard! However we managed to haul ourselves out of bed and be ready for the bus to pick us up at five thirty with Jimmy on board (he had left the campsite the night before to meet a lady friend in Agus Calientes, a bit of love on his birthday maybe?).
We waited for the bus on the road while Nancy, the assistant guide, verbally tore shreds from the porters (or so it sounded in spanish), we were all very scared of her after this (which became very apparent in the afternnon).
Get ready to squat, then jump when you flush. Water and other things were known to come vertically out of the hole. Lovely!
We took the bus up the hill passing all the day trippers who decided to walk up the hill instead of catching the bus, very, very stupid indeed! The bus dropped us at the entrance to Machu Picchu where we got our passports stamped with the Machu Picchu stamp and had our final passport and ticket check. We weren’t allowed to take our walking sticks into Machu Picchu so we dropped them in a corner somewhere and hoped we’d never see them again, as we’d been trying to lose them for a while.
Jimmy had made us get up so early so we could see Machu Picchu at sunrise, which turned out to be a great plan when we arrived and everything was completely whited out with fog.
Oh well we decided to play the waiting and the fog began to rise after a few hours. We took the tour through the city with Jimmy explaining all the details of each part of the city. Glad we were there early before all the day trippers arrived from Cusco as it was packed enough in there as it was. Some of the details behind the city are really interesting, however it is all stipulation by archaeologists as there is no published history from the Inca times as they didn’t use written communication as we know it. Machu Picchu is the most well preserved known Inca ruin at around what archaeologists believe is around 70% of its original state (in its hay day). It was clear what was the difference between the original Inca construction and anything else that has been put up since their time. The Inca construction was of unbelievable precision. We toured the city then headed back up to the lookout for the `postcard` photo as the fog was beginning to rise.
our porter team.. fantastic. Àll these guys for only 11 of us.
At the lookout there was a lot of random Llamas hanging around just chewing the grass (as Llamas do).
These Llamas came down near our lookout and hung around directly in front of us which made for a perfect photo of Machu Picchu with Llamas in the foreground. We thought how much better can this get? We soon found out when two Llamas began to fight (or so we thought), this was actually their mating ritual and before you know it wham, bam, thank you mam, two Llamas going at it hammer and thongs! I don`t think there will potentially ever be a better photo captured in history. The ancient city of the Incas with two Llamas sharing the wonders of nature directly in front. The only pity was that we didn’t have our camera at hand so we’re waiting on one of our tour buddies to email it to us, tragedy! When we get it though, don`t worry it will be up for all to see.
The track day 2, walking up towards the first peak. Original Inca Trail (apparently).
After all this excitement and around 4.5 hours up at Machu Picchu we decided to head back to Agus Calientes for some lunch and a few relaxing beers before the train.
Most people head down to the thermal springs in the afternoon for a bathe (which is what Agus Calientes is famous for). However on the advise of jimmy we gave it a miss, he was referring to it as `porter soup` as all the porters go down in the morning and have baths before we get there. Its is apparently pretty average by the afternoon. We were meant to have lunch in a restaurant that has a deal with Andean Life, however after one look at the price of the menu we decided to go somewhere cheaper. At this stage Nancy’s eyes were like daggers! However we had a nice pizza each and returned for beers before the train ride home. The train took four and half hours to do what the buses could do in about 1.5, however we had paid and they had beer over the bar, so we took the train all the way. Got back to Cusco at about eight thirty and headed out to meet everyone from the tour, see Cusco.
Mountain still looking good there, and nice clear weather