Six months ago when we booked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu we didn't have a clue what we were letting ourselves in for. Sure we are used to camping (we love it in fact) and the cold (we are from England after all) but hiking? It's just like walking up and down a few hills right?! Wrong. Here's a excerpt from my diary:
Day One: 12km
The bus isn't here! It's 6:45am, it should have been here half an hour ago. They said at the briefing they would pick us up from our hostel didn't they? Shit, better call them. It's okay, they're just late. So we wait, on the hostel steps, with our snack backpack and plastic bags containing 5kg of 'personal belongings' each. So glad we paid extra so they could go into the porters' backpacks. It's cold. A couple of street dogs walk past scouting for breakfast. Yay! The bus is here! We pile on. Some tit makes a sarcastic comment about us having plastic bags - instant dislike. Hope the rest of our group is alright, it's going to be a long 4 days if not. It was going to be a few hours to the trail start but we stop halfway in Ollantaytambo for brekkie and to pick up the chef and porters. At the trail start it's taking ages with people unpacking and repackaging bags. I think we're never going to set off! J provides some amusement by bending down to tie his lace and ripping a massive hole in his crotch! We didn't bring the sewing kit. Eventually we get on with it and within minutes the sky turns dark grey and it starts to rain. 'Ponchos on everyone' the guide shouts! Great, it's going to be a soggy 4 days. But as we start to climb the rain slowly eases, the sun reappears and we are greeted with the magnificent snow capped mountain Veronica. After a few hours of medium exertion we stop for lunch. The chef and porters had already ran ahead to set it up. Having cooked often whilst camping ourselves we didn't expect much but what we received was practically gourmet - fresh fried wantons, how on earth?!
After a delicious lunch it was mint tea and siesta time. Very pleasant. Then off onto the 1st inca ruins that were built at the junction of three valleys with the sacred Vilcanota river running alongside - Llactapata. It was stunning to the point that it was hard to believe it was original! A few more hours of hiking on what our guide, Fransisco, called the Andean flat (which isn't flat at all) and we arrived at our first campsite in Wayllabamba just before sunset. Again the porters had ran ahead to get the tents up. Interesting campsite with dogs, ducks, chickens and Guinea pigs running around but most importantly they have beer! Just what we need after a long day hiking. Only it wasn't quite the end of the hiking completely. The toilet was very much what you would call a brick shithouse...up on a hill! The 1st squat toilet we've encountered and what a treat. Not. I'm definitely peeing at the back of the tent! Early nights all round as our guide, Francisco, warned tomorrow's climb up dead woman's pass was tough. Not before a gaze at the stars though - without any light pollution they were simply incredible. We slept like logs.
Day Two: 11km
We awake at 5am to a rapping on the tent from the porters: 'Buenos Dias amigos, coco tea!' If you know me you will know that I hate all mornings especially early ones but the cup of tea helped. Somewhat. Treated to omelettes and porridge for breakfast, bags packed and we were off shortly after sunrise. Francisco announced a meeting point halfway up then it was over to us to climb at whatever pace we liked, within reason of course, the allotted time was 5 hours. It's relentless. So. Many. Steps. But increasingly spectacular terrain through the steepening woods. With burning thighs and our lungs trying to escape from our chests we press on. Stopping regularly to drink water and have snacks from the dried fruit and nut supply we brought. One of my pet hates is slow walkers so this actually worked in our favour. I repeat the cliche to myself - just think about your next step not about the mountain in front of you. It's all in your mind I chant to myself. Before we started a friend told me it was the hardest thing she'd done and I thought, 'meh really?!' This is the hardest thing I've done. Seemingly never ending and exposed to the scorching sun. Upon seeing the summit I want to sprint, I can't. Wahoo! The top! We've made it! A massive sense of achievement washes over us! It's 4268m above sea level and FREEZING. Such a rapid change in climate. We quickly take a few snaps and start our descent over the other side. The steps on this side are even bigger! Each one feels like you're jumping off a mini cliff.
It's not until that evening we find out the mountain is called dead woman's pass because the rock face outline resembles a woman's body lying horizontally - wish I'd had known that this morning before thinking at numerous points the climb might realistically kill me! By the time we arrived at camp in Pacamayo we were well and truly knackered BUT despite being the 2nd oldest on the trek we were actually first?! Yay! Very chuffed with our stamina! Then when I saw the squat toilets I nearly cried. My thighs almost couldn't take it and I nearly end up in the hole! The campsite was literally in the middle of the mountains. We sit on a rock overlooking a valley for an hour or so with some rum we grabbed on the way up dead woman's pass and try to take in the enormity of the view and that fact that we were ON THE INCA TRAIL! I feel like squealing it from the top of my lungs. On the climb back down the rock J has his second trouser mishap and rips his 2nd and only other pair right up the crotch. After another delicious dinner and a ghost story from Francisco about a bloke pushing his wife off a cliff and her now haunting the camp we crawled into our tents. It was eerily quiet. It's 3am, man I need a wee! Better wake J to come out with me in just in case the ghost appears. He's chuffed. I fall back to sleep listening to thunder cracks in the distance.
Day Three: 16km
We are woken again at 5am with coco tea and whilst getting dressed J manages to split the only pair of shorts he has! Now he's completely crotchless! After chocolate and apple pancakes for brekkie Francisco instructs us to collect a small rock to take with us to the next rest point where we make wishes to Patchamama (Mother Earth) for more good weather. We'll need them if the thunder last night is anything to go by! We arrive at more spectacular Inca ruins. Runkaracay, small circular ruins overlooking the Pacamayo valley and Sayacmarca, which means 'inaccessible town'. It's easy to see why with a stone steep stone staircase lending to it and protection from three sheer cliff edges. It's incredible to walk around them trying to imagine how people lived here. SO many steps. Again. I had totally underestimated the point of walking sticks before actually hiking and probably wouldn't have bothered if they hadn't been free. They were lifesavers! I think to myself I might need them for everyday life walking around after this. At lunch time I'm so tired I'm literally falling asleep onto my plate. Yesterday took its toll. Luckily there's time for a quick siesta before we set off again.
This afternoon has the best views of the trail so far, I hardly have the camera out of my hand. A magnificent forest in the clouds full of orchids, hanging mosses and tree ferns passing through an impressive Inca tunnel carved into the rock. Just crazy, spectacular snow capped mountain, can't believe your eyes views! After climbing yet more steep steps we reach Phuyupatamarca ruins, meaning 'town in the clouds'. They are very impressive. The trail then descended into the jungle so feeling refreshed after napping we did a couple of hours of trail running to our last campsite. It was exhilarating and awesome fun - you just needed to watch the edge as it was at least a 200m drop to your death. We get to some more inca ruins - Wiay Wayna - and stop to admire them for a while. We are running low on water and it will start to get dark soon. We set off and make it 1st again! Madness! There are showers as at the last camp but they were pretty skanky and cold so we opt out again. Another wet wipe wash in the tent and we are feeling on top of the world. We want a cold beer, so bad we start to get grumpy (they don't sell beers in the middle of the jungle). The chef did however dish up popcorn and hot chocolate which nearly made up for it. Nearly. Not quite. Francisco announces a 3:30am start as the porters need to leave camp to catch a 5:30am train! (Check out J's post on Porter welfare - or lack of it.) So we're early to bed again after dinner and treated to an all night thunder and lightning show which as spectacular as it was doesn't help towards much rest unfortunately.
Day Four: 6km
It's 3:30am and coca tea time. I've been awake a while and it's pitch black. Head torches on! We pack our bags quickly and stumble out of our tents into the cold early morning air. Shit where's my hat! We are handed packed up breakfasts to eat later, water bottles filled up and we are off into the darkness feeling our way with our hiking sticks. The porters are frantically packing the tents. After 5 minutes hiking we stop. It's 4:00am and Fransisco announces we have to wait at this check point until 5:30am. WHAT THE ACTUAL F**K?! It's freezing and I'm in the worst mood ever. Really black. I hate everyone and everything. I didn't think it could get worse then someone in our group starts playing Ramstien. I hate that bloody music. I might kill them. Finally it starts to get a little light and we start the last part of the trail. I warm up within 10 minutes and with it my mood lifts. We're on our way to Machu Picchu baby! Woop! We reach some steps, by steps I mean virtually a wall. They are called the monkey steps because you have to climb using your hands they are so steep. It's fun.
At sunrise we arrive at the sun gate and Machu Picchu appears. It's simply spectacular. I can't believe we're here. GET THE CAMERA OUT! Some people are standing dangerously close to the edge to take their snaps. It's making my stomach flip. After a short while taking in the view we start our final hike to the place itself and it just appears in front of you, spread out in all its glory. A truly spectacular sight. Who knew that street dogs lived at Machu Picchu! And lovely they are too. Not at all unexpected but food and drink is expensive - we want a beer to celebrate getting here but not at these prices! Fransisco gives us a guided tour of the famous city in the sky for a couple of hours and then we are let off the leash to explore. Shattered from the last few days we find a patch of grass to sit on and enjoy the glorious view. Once rested we climb up further, I didn't think the view could get any better. It just did. We do abit more exploring then head off to get the bus to Aquas Callientes for lunch and a relax in the hot springs. They are good for aching muscles but pretty disgusting looking. Brown water! Who cares - we've just been in Machu Picchu! We relax, beer in hand, thinking about how incredibly lucky we are to have experienced the last 4 days.