Friday, 18 October 2013

The Inca Trail

The route
We woke at 3.30am to have our last shower for 4 days, pack our stuff and leave our big backpacks in the hotel storage leave the hotel and meet at Plaza Regocijo.

Our tour company was Llama Path we had done loads of research and a colleague of Angel's had gone with them just a few months before. Our guides were Eddie and Marko, Marko ended up spending most of his time with Ellen at the back of the group on the hike (some of our group were extremely fit!!!). After about 2 hours the bus stopped and we had a buffet breakfast (not included in the tour but cheap) and probably the last proper toilets we would see in 4 days. Then it was time to head off for another hour of driving to the beginning of the trail.

Our group
Our group was a fantastic crowd, the best you could have hoped for, we all had a similar sense of humour and just got along really well, there were no annoying people, no divas, it was a perfect group, and all from the UK & Ireland (except Angel, but he is now technically British, innit).

Day 1
We got off the bus at Rio Urubamba and put on our packs and rain gear - we bought quite heavy duty ponchos in Cusco which would also cover our packs - and packed our belongings into our red Llama Path sacks for the porters to take. These porters are superhuman. They each carry 30kg of stuff (our belongings, 7 tents, food for 4 days, stools, a table...) and they march ahead - some of them run - and set everything up for our arrival at lunch and then do the same again at dinner, including putting up our tents and putting our bags in them. They really are amazing.

Our remarkable porters
The initial section of the hike is almost flat and lulls you into a false sense of security as before long you hit a very steep section, and as we were hiking in wet weather gear there was a lot of sweat.

Along the way we stop here and there for our guides Eddie and Marko to give us some information about where we had stopped and Inca history. Wayllabamba was the first Inca site we encountered on the trek. We then walked a little longer and met up with our porters who had set up a tent, cooked our lunch and had bowls of warm water and a towel for us to wash ourselves before eating, we were all pretty amazed by the quality of the food cooked with what they had carried. After lunch we head off on the first steep section of the hike for about an hour where we stopped to try the local made beer Chicha, it's made from maize, and the process begins by women chewing the maize in their mouths and spitting it into a vat before the fermentation process begins. It's an odd taste, quite sweet and it smelt like when Angel is making bread, very yeasty. At this point we were also were shown how to chew the cocoa leaves to help with altitude sickness. This was an acquired taste and makes your lips and the side of your mouth go numb after about 20 mins.
Refreshed we headed off for about 3 hours of continuous uphill hiking to our first campsite, at Ayapata, 14 km from our starting point and at 3300m above sea level. The views from the campsite were breathtaking, we camped on a section right in the sacred valley. The tents were up and everything was ready for our arrival. These porters are amazing. Every day at about 4pm we had happy hour, which consists of Milo, tea, coffee, crackers, jam and popcorn.
At Dead Woman's Pass

Day 2
We were woken (by porters bringing us cocoa leaf tea) at 5am for what is said is the hardest day of the trek, 16km of practically all uphill over steps built by the Incas to Dead Woman's Pass (no women died in the making of this name, it apparently looks like a woman laying down, dead) the pass is 4,215m high, we really struggled up this section of thousands of steps, Ellen was kept company by Marko, who stayed with Ellen through most of the trek, and who Ellen wanted to adopt by the end. Yes Angel struggled too (but we think all the spin classes back in London helped!). On the hike up we saw llamas and some sheep, but the real star was the scenery. From the top there was a very steep downhill hike for around an hour after Dead Woman's Pass followed by a stop for lunch at Pacaymaya before hiking uphill (ouch!) again passing the Inca site Runcuraccay at 3,710m before heading downhill again for about an hour to the next Inca site of Sayacmarca at 3575m. We also saw some deer, which Ellen spotted and excitedly interrupted the guides' talk at Runcuraccay to point them out. That night we camped at Chaquicocha which is at 3,600m where there were llama at the site, which was nice until Angel trod in Llama poo on the way to the bathroom in flip flops.

Winay Wayna

Day 3 
Today was less hiking. Up at 5am and a day consisting of up and downhill treks into the rainforest, amazing views of the Andes, and several inca sites.
The path became narrow and was along the edge of some serious cliffs, and even at one point the path was chipped through a boulder in the side of the cliff to allow the pathway along the ridge. By now we were feeling more energised and knowing that the hardest section was behind us at Dead Woman's Pass we knew we could handle anything the trek threw at us.

The last inca site for the day was right next to the campsite at Winay Wayna 2680m, which they call Machu Picchu junior. Here Marko gave us a talk about the site and the terraces and how the Inca used them to experiment with growing crops at various altitudes.

Day 4
The final morning was a bit of a shock to the system, most mornings we were up at 5, today it was 3.30am. Eddie said we had to be first to the checkpoint which was only10 mins down the track but opened at 5.30am, we were first, and just as well really, there are 500 people a day on the trail, 200 hikers and 300 porters and guides, so we wanted to be the first group to the Sun Gate, which gives you the first views of Machu Picchu, we almost were the first but after the gate opened, about 30 mins into the hike we were overtaken by 2 Americans with a death wish, this couple actually overtook us on a very narrow cliff edge and sprinted to the end, our group were all pretty cautious after hearing of an American tourist who died after plummeting from this section of the trail in January this year, when she was apparently rushing to be first to the sun gate.
Ellen coming up the Gringo Killer

We survived the 'Gringo Killer' which are very steep steps just before the gate, and made it to just glimpse the famous site through the mist as it formed! But as we walked down to the site, about another 30 minutes later the clouds began to clear and we were treated to the most magnificent views over Machu Picchu. One of the guys in our tour, Paul, had a sun god necklace and had rubbed it that morning in hope of good weather, now we are not believers, but we must admit the weather that day could not have been better. After a tour of the site by Eddie and an hour of walking around the site ourselves we all took the bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes and enjoyed a final lunch together before going our separate ways.
We made it!

We had opted to stay the night after the trek in the town at the end of the trek and had pre-booked a hotel stayed at a hotel, we ate at a pizza place and put our clothes in to be washed and just layed on the bed knackered. The next morning we both had massages, 1 hour for £12 each!

We really had an amazing time, made all the better by the group we had. We're all staying in touch.

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