|When I thought about what the Inca trail would be like before I went I thought it would be really commercial and not as amazing an experience as everyone said it would be. Well, I´m glad to say that I was totally wrong. What a great four days!
After an early start at 5.30 we arrived at km 82 (2380m above sea level) where we began our trek. 11 tourists, 2 guides and 18 porters. Yes, what an imbalance of numbers eh! We had porters to carry our bags (Eimear, Anne and I decided to do the trek in style minus the bags after having to carry them in Torres del Paine), tents all the food for the four days, tables and stools, anything you could thing of.
The first day involved a 6 hour hike, 14km which was the easiest day of hiking with the odd historical lecture along the way at interesting sights we passed, especially Llactapata which was a weighing station and watch tour in Inca times. We had a fab lunch and dinner in a tent like a mini marque with table cloths the lot and a three course meal with all the garnishes. Unbelievable. Every little detail on the tour was thought of. If we thought that we would naturally loose weight over the four days, this would not be the case with the meals we received. All the tents were up when we arrived at our campsite with popcorn still hot for us to eat. Who would have thought of popcorn while camping. Because of the altitude, it popped into bigger pieces than would be normal at home. Fab! Anyway, after meeting all the staff team we admired the milky way amongst all the stars and went off to bed early. What an amazing first day. We also bumped into girl who recognised us from college. A friend of Therese Coleman. Noelle Ryan. A small world!
The second day is reportedly the hardest and the first part of it is known as Dead Woman's Pass at 4200m (the highest point we would reach on the trip). None of us were looking forward to it but to be honest the guides were great and ensured that we didn´t go too fast and it didn´t seem that bad at all. If we made the accent too quickly we could suffer from Altitude sickness and have to abandon the rest of the trip. Luckily that did not happen any of us, even Anne who was sick yesterday. I kept on being distracted by the fab views and amazing flowers on the trail. I had never heard about how varied and interesting the hike would be without the Inca ruins being present. As you can imagine I was snap happy. The weather was so changeable on the trail, so our ponchos came in handy. Clouds would disappear all of a sudden and highlight the most amazing views. We walked 12km today to a final height of 3600m above sea level. Today I bumped into two Irish guys who know my next door neighbours well. Now that's a small world. The rest of our group found it hard to believe how small Ireland can be! We spent some time exploring the Inca ruin called Runkuracay, which was an oval shaped building and was used not only as a watch tower but as a message collection centre where messengers would travel 40km and deliver their message here before it would be taken by another messenger to it final destination. An advanced form of the post office system but it was quite different as the Incas did not write (one of the difficulties in piecing their history together as there are no written documents). They instead used a system which involved a series of strings in different colours and a different number of knots, each symbolising something. I gathered that it was a bit like a collage and a vast amount of information could be gathered from this one series of strings, be it the number of families in the village, the agricultural growth locally, any threats, number of children per family, number of animals etc. It was used especially for accountancy and record keeping. Really interesting. We also visited Sayacmarca which is Quechua for dominant town. We saw how the Incas channelled water from the mountains along the tops of the buildings for the religious fountain baths. We had a fab view of our camp site from here and even saw the Incas version of a spirit level! Much heavier than those at home! Great ruins and a great day.
By day three I could feel my calves getting hard. A good sign eh! Not over tired and ready for the fab quinoa porridge breakfast and pancakes. What luxury! Today rained for the majority of the day but I enjoyed chatting to the rest of our gang, hearing about Korean and Chinese history, the lot! I just couldn´t get over all the different types of flowers here. Wild lupins, unique orchids, ladies slipper, Andean daisies, Bolivian fuchsias. What colour amongst the jungle trek. Today was the first day that we were walking on some of the original Inca trail. The steps were really high and if you are going down hill for hours on end you begin to feel it. We arrived at our campsite early today and were able to treat ourselves to a hot shower. Talk about well deserved! We then headed off to investigate the most impressive of the Inca trail ruins before tomorrows finale - Huinay Huayna which was named after a particular orchid that was spotted here when it was found in the mid 1910´s. It was a series of agricultural terraces in a curved shape, with stone containing quartz stacked into walls to separate the terraces. The terrace was curved so that with the curve of the Mountain in front of it, the sun would heat the stone, and in turn would heat the soil and create excellent agricultural growing conditions. One half would flourish in winter and the other in Summer so they had a constant supply of food. The monastery here was called the temple of the rainbow and we were lucky enough to see one earlier this day. It was interesting to hear that only nobles could afford to set off on the Inca trail to end in Machu Picchu. It is surreal to think that this is still the case today. It costs 20 dollars to start the Inca trail so only those who can afford it can visit it which I think is a major shame since its an important part of Peruvian history.
Day four was to be the climax of the trip, getting up at 4.30 and hiking for 3 hours and pass through the sun gate and to spot Machu Picchu ahead. Of course things didn´t go according to plan. There was a mud slide the night before which blocked our trail. The guides were up for hours trying to agree on a plan with the park rangers. Well, they eventually decided for safety reasons, that we would hike for 3 hours South back to civilisation to Aguas Callientes walking along train tracks for an hour or so (as you do) and then get a bus up to Machu Picchu entrance. The diversion was actually quite fun and all groups were in the same situation so when we arrived at the Lost city of the Incas it was well deserved. What a sight. Really moving. At the top of the mountains, just where the Incas wanted it as they had a strong belief in the mountains acting as protection for them. For centuries it was buried by jungle until Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911 after a local farmer hinted that it existed.
This city held 1000 people at any one time and was self sufficient as regards agriculture etc. It contained a temple to the sun, wind and water which were insightful to visit. Machu Picchu is in the shape of a condor, which the Incas believed brought messages from heaven to the earth and in turn to them. Its believed to have been a religious retreat. Its amazing to think that such a magnificent sight was not found by the Spanish! Our guide believes that it was probably built by Pachacuti Inca, the 9th Inca, as a royal estate and religious retreat in 1460-70. Its location is 3000ft above the Urubamba River canyon cloud forest. Its hard to imagine that this panoramic view of ancient pieces of rock, cracked and weathered, set in an organized jumble was once a bustling city. From a distance it looks stratified rock.
Its truly an amazing civilisation and empire that was an important part of one of the greatest empires of all time. At its glorious period, it stressed from Equador to the North to Santiago in Chile in the south with each main highway meeting back in Cusco. Machu Picchu definately lived up to its well earned name as 'the lost city of the Inca's'.
What an amazing four days. Our guides were the best and the tour was so well organised so if any of you are planning on making this fantastic trip I would certainly recommend SAS Peru. What luxury while camping. I´m sure those two words shouldn´t go together! We walked 39km with 490 different species of orchids and begonias for us to admire. We walked from 2380m above sea level to a max height of 4200m at Warmiwanuska.
We retreated back to Agua Calientes to relax in the hot thermal baths, just the medicine we thought for our weary bones. All was fine we thought. Eimear got a sting from an insect on the way into the baths but we thought it was just one of those things. After we had our Pina Coladas and Sangrias, Eimear noticed a rash all over the top of her body. What a fright we got. So off we went as fast as we could back to our hotel who had a doctor with us in 5 minutes. The Irish health system could take a few notes out of the Peruvian system. The doctor was fab. She said that Eimears Sangria had enhanced the reaction to the sting so after a few injections, Anne and I were on watch to ensure Eimear would drink 3 litres of water in 2 hours. The doctor called back that night free of charge to check up on Eimear and was back at 7.30 to give her her next injection. We were glad to see her on the mend. Hard to imagine how a supposedly relaxing afternoon can change so quickly! Anyway, alls well that ends well.
We returned to Cusco the next day and got ready to say goodbye to Anne. I can´t believe that her six week holiday has passed so quickly. We couldn´t have fitted much more into it. What a great six weeks!