Monday, October 29, 2007

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - 26th - 29th October 2007

I know its taken a while to get this post up but there has been sooooo much to write!! I´m not sure I´m gonna be able to do it justice either but I´ll try!

This morning saw a very early start of 3.30 am, on the road by 4.45am!

The Team at the start!

This is where we´re gonna be hiking.

Our guide, Casiano, wants us to be the first to get to the starting point of the trail as well as the first to get to each campsite as well as the first up the mountains!! Oh dear! Not liking the sound of that too much! I`m planning on bringing up the rear each day!

Day 1

We drove to Ollaytaytambo for a spot of breakfast before we met with our porters and cook, our team are nicknamed the Red Army as, yes you´ve guessed it, they´re all in red! They´re a great team of all ages and from all locations as we were to find out during our introductions, the youngest was 19 and the oldest in their late 50s and still they were faster up the mountains than any of us!

Around 9am and after our introductions we and our porters got loaded up and headed off to KM 82 to start hiking.

This is what some bring on the Inca Trail!

It`s a lovely sunny day to start hiking and as we do it gets warmer and warmer until to be honest it`s too hot, typical huh?!

As we`re hiking the porters from different companies as well as ours are overtaking us, at speed, while carrying soooooo much more than us! Each time a porter comes up behind us the back person yells "porter" and we all stand to one side as they pass us by.

I choose Llama Path as a company because of the way they say they treated their porters, they give them proper decent warm clothers and gear, as well as backpacks and weight belts with which to carry stuff, complete with water bottles etc, in addition they give their porters insurance and provide a house in Cusco for them to live in. On the trek at every pace it was clear that I had chosen the right company, everyhting they said they did for their staff they did do and then some it seemed. Some of the porters from other companies didn`t even have proper packs to carry all the stuff in, it was just tied to their backs by ropes.

The Red Army always stuck together as a team which was really nice to see, while other groups were really disjointed, also the Red Army was always on hand to give us encouragement when we reached each stage of the trek claping us and shaking our hands as we went past.

I`m sure other trekkers were jealous of our little team. I know we were all really proud of them and extremely grateful to them for all the gear they carried.

So on our first day of hiking we eventually stopped for a very welcome lunch.

The team had arranged for us 8 bowls of hot water to wash with, had put up a dinning tent for us as well as preparing and serving us with an amazing 3 course lunch with as much food as we could possibly manage with then loads left over! You would not think they could carry and prepare all that food half way up a mountian, but they did!

With renewed energy we headed off on the next part of our trek. Casiano told us that today we were gonna trek quite a way up towards Dead Womans Pass, usually tours only trek to the bottom of the mountain then on the second day, their toughest day, they trek up to the pass. By doing it Casianos way meant that our second day wouldn`t be as bad, our first day however was gonna be pretty tough! Better now though we thought before we got really tired!

It was a long trek up the first afternoon and as we got higher and higher our breathing also got harder and harder, or it could just have been me and Leanne chatting at the back that took our breaths away, in addition to the amazing scenary we were seeing at every pace!

We finally reahed our camp for the night at 6.30pm, the sun had gone down and it was begining to get dark and cold, still with the encouragement of Casiano we continued, making it to camp in time for "happy hour" of hot chocolate, popcorn and biscuits. Mmm!

Dinner was another extremely elaborate affair, still not sure how they do it with just a small gas hob, but they do and they continue to amaze us with their culinary delights, chocolate pudding for afters, thats what mountaners recommend when at altitude (apparently) so who are we to argue!

After attempting to learn an Israely card game, and failing, we headed off to bed at about 8.30pm, sharing a tent with my French man!

Day 2

The view from our tent on the first morning up the mountain.

This morning was a relatively early start, although not as early as yesterday, and after waking to amazing views of the mountains and llamas outside our tents we had an amazing breakfast and continued up the long trek to Dead Womans Pass.

Dead Womans Pass, and I think it nearly was, is at 4200 m or 13650 ft.

The team at Dead Womans Pass!

We did really good actualy, and did it I think in just 2 hours (or so). Nik had already been at the top for half hour and the others had made it just before Leanne and I, and because of this we had time for just a few postcard pictures and a quick snack then it was off back down the other side!

Me at Dead Womans Pass.

The weather was begining to look not so great on the descent down the other side, but with the thought of lunch half way down the other side we carried on with renewed vigour!

After lunch Casiano asked us whether we needed anything from out duffel bags (which the porters were carrying) as some of the porters were gonna head off to set up the night camp, I stupidly said no and 10 mins later it started to rain, guess where my waterproof jacket was? Fortunately I had with me waterproof trousers and a poncho which did the trick, just about. Some of the others didn´t have waterproof trousers and were soon soaked through though, shoes included which made the climp up to the second pass a bit uncomfortable.

View from Sayac Marca.

By the time we reached Sayac Marca (meaning Dominant Town) the skies were clearing and the sun was coming out, we could see our campsite for the night in the distance, about another half hour walk but in the meantime we enjoyed a well needed rest and a chance to soak up the amazing views,as well as the sunshine, and learn more about the Inca history and culture.

The ruins show the Inca tendency to incorporate the natural structure of the site into the architecture. A large projection of rock is surrounded by several of the interior rooms in what looks to be a temple and there is a lot of stonework built right out of the existing stone surface of the site. Steps lead up and down to the various levels of the site as it conforms to the shape of the ridge. There are also the remains of an aqueduct system still visible coming coming off the ridge above into the top of the site.

Another half hours walking had us arriving at our campsite 9 hours after we had left our last camp. Once again it was happy hour and after a succesful game of trumps we headed off for an early night grateful in the knowledge that the hardest first two days were behind us and we had survivied!

Day 3

This was to be our easiest day with just a pleasant sedate walk down the other side of the final pass to reach our final destination of the hostal and bar at around lunch time.

The walk down the final pass was very steep in places and generally accompanied by many many many steps! Apparently the descent is 1 km in about 3 kms of walking!

And oh how the Incas loved their steps. Now I know I´m not tall but the Incas were even shorter and I´m still not sure how they managed them, especially without the aid of my trusty trekking poles and my new favourite footwear, my boots!

Steps, steps and more steps!!

On our decent down the pass we passed many different orchids, there are some 150 different species in the highlands of Peru but I think we just saw a couple.

We arrived at the campsite area bang on time for lunch.

The number of tourists that are allowed on the Inca trail per day is 200 and with porters this makes about 500 in total, and tonight is the first time that all 200 tourists that set off on the same day as us will be camping at the same place. On the previous two nights the groups and camp sites are staggered, with us tending to be the front group each time.

Our camp for this evening was no exception, we were right next to the bar and of course the showers, we had the perfect spot with fantastic uninterupted views from our tents of Machu Picchu mountain, can it get any better?

After lunch a relax and a shower (!) yes this is the way to do it (!) we headed off for a 15 min walk to Winya Wayna which was an amazing site and really beautiful, there is terraces down the mountainside, stone ruins up high and down low, a string of ceremonial baths connecting them and a beautiful waterfall as a backdrop behind the ruins. This is a really beautiful site, the most beautiful so far, which can only be matched I´m imagining by what tomorrow holds.

Winya Wayna.

Back at camp we treated ourselves to a well deserved beer, or Pisco Sour, and a nice relax before dinner.

That evening, our last with the group, we had a small ceremony with our porters and chatted about our expereriences on the trail and what it had all meant to each of us before we sang a few songs together and discused our strategy for the following morning.

The key is to get to the checkpoint as early as possible to be the first through the gate and then the first to the Sun Gate, which is about another 1 and half hours walk away! Casiano was very keen for us to be the first to the gate and sent off one of his porters to find out what time all the other groups were leaving, the result was that we needed 2 be up at 3.40 am to aim to get to the gate for 4.30am.

Day 4

Nik was very keen to be the first at the gate and after breakfast of a fully iced cake at 4.30am he ran off to reserve our place. While we were packing up we saw another group head off but we were secure in the knowledge that Nik was racing for our team!

It was pouring with rain and the gate didn´t open until 5.30 am, Leanne and I were chatting about how strange it was to get there so early etc but as soon as the gate was opened the two of us and Ant dashed off almost at a sprint, eager to stay ahead of the other 200 people and eager to be first to view the magnificent Machu Picchu.

Nik had shot off like lightening but were we keeping a good pace folowing on behind, with the other groups way behinds us. We made it in 50 mins, 1 hour 40 ahead of schedule! I was 5th to the top just behind Leanne, Ant, Casiano and of course Nik and the sight that greated was truly amazing!

The team at the Sun Gate.

There was cloud cloud and cloud as far as the eye could see, we didn´t even have any idea which way we should have been looking to catch our first glimpse. It was still great to be there though, at the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu, WOW!

Our first view of machu Picchu, or not!!

We started to head down towards machu Picchu in the hope that the sun would soon come up and burn all the clouds away, it did eventually and we were soon awarded with our first view of the famous Inca site!

Our first real view of machu Picchu!

Some of us were tempted to return back up to the Sun Gate to get that perfect first glimpse, but four days walking had got the better of us and physically we really couldn´t have made it!

Reaching Machu Picchu was an incredibly amazing feeling after walking for so long and really for looking forward to it for so long. It really was amazing to be there, and I can honestly say that at the end of the 4 days I felt at one with my hiking boots, my poles and my very good rucksac (thanks again dad!).

Casiano then gave us a two hour very informative guided tour of the site, pinting out all the extremely important parts of the area and all the history behind it all, without his knowledge there´s no way any of us would have had a clue!

Pictures from Machu Picchu.

The Brit team at Machu Picchu!

Following our visit to the site we headed off into the nearest town of Aguas Callientas for lunch and a beer to celebrate.

Aguas Callinetas

Aguas Callientas is a strange little town which seems to serve just Machu Picchu and the route between here and Ollantayambo where the tour buses pick us up to take us back to Cusco.

What was strange about this town was that the train came right into and through the main street, we were sitting there having pizza for lunch when straight past us went the train!

A great little town though and the perfect spot for a beer to celebrate our triumph before we headed back to Cusco, exhausted but happy!

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