|The most impressive way to reach Machu Picchu is via the centuries old Inca Trail that winds its way from the Sacred Valley near Ollantaytambo, taking four days. I decided to create this journal entry in the form of a diary so you can experience the highs, and the inevitable lows of the Inca Trail with me!
Tuesday 12th June - 8.30pm
Today we travelled from Cusco to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We visited Pisac and the Inca fortress there before heading onto Ollantaytambo. The ruins here were probably the most impressive we have seen so far, but it was absolutely crammed with tourists - you could barely climb the steps to the top without treading on the back of someone's heel. I really hope the Inca Trail isn't like this otherwise I am not going to enjoy it at all. We have now been allocated our campsites by the administrators of the trail. The bad news is we have been allocated Llulluchapampa camp for the first night which is the furthest of the 3 options. This will make day 1 the hardest of the trek. However, looking on the positive side, it does mean that the ascent up to Dead Woman's Pass (the highest point on the trail) is split - half on the afternoon of day 1 and half on the morning of day 2. We have each been given a duffel bag to pack the gear we will need for the trek - these will be carried by our porters so we will only need to carry a day pack with water, sunscreen etc. It was like packing for a festival - a few t-shirts, some boxer shorts and plenty of wet wipes!! Anyway, time for bed, 6am wake up call tomorrow. I just want to get into it now, it is time for the talking to stop!! Bring it on!!
Wednesday 13th June - 6.30pm
Morning hike: 8.08am - 12.41pm
12km covered - ascent from 2720m (8923ft) above sea level to 3000m (9842ft)
Afternoon hike: 2.05pm - 5.10pm
4km covered - ascent from 3000m (9842ft) to 3800m (12460ft)
I am very pleased with myself for getting through today in one piece! The feeling of elation upon reaching the campsite tonight was very real indeed! We left Ollantaytambo at 7am this morning and drove to the KM82 marker that marks the start of the famous Inca Trail. The morning was relatively flat with a couple of small climbs but it wasn't easy with the sun beating down. It is the cool and dry season here at the moment which means very little rain but warm sun during the day and very cold nights - the temperature tonight is likely to get down as low as -7 degrees Celsius. There are 11 of us on the hike along with a team of 16 porters, 1 cook and 2 guides. The porters carry all of our duffel bags, along with all of the tents, sleeping bags, food and one of them even carries a gas bottle! They set off after us this morning and overtook us midway through the morning and were all set up at the lunch spot by the time we arrived. They had laid on hot water for us to wash with, cold water for us to fill our water bottles, pitched a tent (and laid the table!) for us to eat lunch in and there was even a piece of tarpaulin on the ground for us to put our day packs on so they didn't get dirty! These guys are amazing, it has to be seen to be believed. After a 3 course lunch, a cup of coca tea and a rest, we embarked on the afternoon session with a little trepidation. You can see from the times and distances above that it was much slower going this afternoon, mainly because of the relentless ascent! Some of the group struggled this afternoon but I felt fine. I think I must be fitter than I think I am. Mind you, I don't think I could have done this at the start of my trip, I am definitely a lot fitter now after an active 9 months than I was last September! We were again overtaken by the porters this afternoon - even after they stayed behind to clear the lunch camp away. When we arrived at the camp tonight, they were all waiting and gave us a big round of applause. All of our tents were pitched, matresses inflated and bags inside tents. These boys will earn every single sole that we tip them on Saturday. We have just had a snack of popcorn and crackers with a couple of hot drinks to warm us up - the temperature is already down to about 2 degrees. Dinner will be served at 7.30pm before we all collapse for the night ahead of another early start in the morning. I can't believe how well this afternoon went for me, although bringing my ipod along was definitely a good idea. The rhythmic beats of New Order definitely helped me whilst walking! We still have 29km to cover though, including a tough 2 hour ascent tomorrow morning up to the top of Dead Woman's Pass.
Thursday 14th June - 6.30pm
Morning hike: 7.38am - 11.51am
6.5km covered - ascent from 3800m (12460ft) to Dead Woman's Pass 4200m (13779ft) followed by descent to 3580m (11700ft)
Afternoon hike: 1.37pm - 5.27pm
7.5km covered - ascent from 3580m (11700ft) to 2nd pass 4000m (13123ft) followed by descent to 3600m (11800ft)
This trek is relentless and unforgiving! One of our group was up all night last night being sick, yet still she had to either carry on or go back to the start today. There is no way out once you have started. I am still faring pretty well, I feel good if a little tired now after 2 long days. The ascent from the camp up to the top of Dead Woman's Pass went ok, probably because it was first thing in the morning and we were about as fresh as we were going to get! Hannah was really struggling though after her sickness and she had to be carried to the top by her boyfriend Chris and one of the guides! Myself and 2 of the other lads in the group walked back down from the top to help to carry their bags and walking poles and the like for the last 15 minutes or so of the climb. There aren't many people who can say they have climbed to the top of Dead Woman's Pass twice in one day!! After a long descent we arrived back at the lunch camp to the usual round of applause from our porters. We have started to applaud them now as they inevitably pass us each morning and afternoon! Our porters do seem relatively well looked after - a few years ago it was not regulated and porters were exploited and carried ridiculous amounts. Mind you, they still carry 20-25kg each now. Our porters are definitely the best on the trail though - all are kitted out with a red t-shirt with a number on the back and also with name tags. They look an impressive sight as they all walk along the trail together. This afternoon we climbed to the top of the second pass which was not as relentless as Dead Woman's Pass but still pretty tough all the same. I can certainly feel the 30km in my legs now. The hardest part is definitely out of the way now though - there are no major climbs left and because we have covered so much ground in the first 2 days we are left with (just!) half a day of hiking tomorrow and then the last few kilometres to Machu Picchu early on Saturday morning. I feel pretty good still, better than I expected to feel at this stage. Bring on the last bit!
Friday 15th June - 9.00pm
Morning hike: 8.30am - 2.00pm
Distance covered 10km - ascent from 3600m (11800ft) to 3rd pass 3680m (12073ft) followed by descent to 2680m (8792ft)
Today was tough. Not because of the undulations of the trail - it was mostly downhill today - but because I can feel every single one of the 40km we have covered so far in my legs. I have got muscles aching in places I didn't realise I had muscles! My calf muscles in particular are giving me some serious grief! There were some tired bodies being dragged along the trail today, but we have all made it this far and nobody is giving up now!! We had a proper ceremony with our porters today - and we gave them a big tip tonight to show our appreciation for their efforts. The one guy is 38 and he has been working on the trail for 17 years - just imagine how many times he has covered the ground!! They told us they have got 1 day off on Sunday before they start again with the next group. Unbelievable. The local company that Intrepid use for the trail is called Llama Path. They ensure that the porters are treated well, particularly with the history of exploitation of porters on this trail. They also recruit the very best porters from those working on the trail - the other porters look on enviously as the red machine glides by! If you ever decide to put your body through immense pain on this particular pilgrimage, I can fully recommend Llama Path. The guides have been fantastic too. You will have to book several months in advance though with the popularity of this trail and the regulations limiting numbers to just 500 per day. We have passed several Inca sites along the way, but this afternoon we visited the most impressive yet - Winaywayna. It was huge, with vast agricultural terraces. There are apparently many more terraces around the area too that are still covered by foliage. Anyway, I had best get some sleep. We have a 4am wake up call in the morning before a 1 hour hike to the Sun Gate and a further 1 hour descent to the Lost City of the Incas - Machu Picchu.
Saturday 16th June - 5.00pm
Morning hike: 05.05am - 07.15am
Distance covered - 5km - ascent from 2680m (8792ft) to 2730m (8956ft) followed by descent to 2400m (7873ft)
No amount of photographs or books can prepare you for that first glimpse of Machu Picchu. After completing a 4 day trek along an ancient trail built and used by the Incas themselves, the feeling when you arrive at the Sun Gate and see Machu Picchu below is indescribable. Despite it being short, this morning was still tough as the first hour was in the dark and it is also a bit of a race as all of the tour groups try to get to the Sun Gate before sunrise. The view from the Sun Gate was fairly misty so we managed to make it down to the next viewpoint before the sun appeared over the surrounding mountains. The size and scale of the place is breathtaking. The ancient citadel straddles the saddle of a high mountain with many steep agricultural terraces falling away to the Urubamba river below. With the green jungle peaks surrounding the area it is a majestic scene. For centuries it was buried in the jungle before Hiram Bingham stumbled across it in 1911. The ruins consist of staircases, terraces, fountains and the famous Intihuatana (the so-called hitching post of the sun). There are around 250 rooms in the citadel, leading experts to believe around 500 people were living here. We spent several hours exploring the site before catching the bus down to Aguas Calientes town for a celebratory lunch. After that we caught a train to Ollantaytambo before a bus back to our hotel in Cusco - I've just had a nice hot shower!
The Inca Trail was a fantastic experience and I now have a real sense of achievement - it is good to be able to say you have been there and done that! It was tough but ultimately well worth it. The scenery along the way was stunning and the crowds were nowhere near as bad as I had feared. I am looking forward to a celebratory beer - believe it or not I've only had one beer in the last two weeks in the run-up to this! Tomorrow we have a free day in Cusco to relax before we head to Puno and Lake Titicaca on Monday. Before that though we are going to one of the best steak restaurants in Cusco tomorrow for a proper celebration. Well deserved I think!
Photographs now added...