Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Our post post posh jungle reintroduction to backpacking life did not go smoothly. As the strikes were mostly over we decided to bus it back to cusco for our Inca Trail expedition... Big mistake. Not only were we on the most budget of buses (economy service) we got stuck behind a landslide for 9 hours... So 20 hours later once we finally arrived in Cusco I was exhausted and not ready to start trekking in a day and a half!! Luckily we treated ourself to a recovery papachos (the best burger place I have ever been too) which probably help a little bit at least!  


Burger time at Papacho's

The next day after spending the day packing and getting our stuff together for the trek we had our pre-trek meeting. Our guide Mike was very funny and enthusiastic and his assistant Henry was great too, I was a but scared though as although our group seemed lovely they all looked very fit and healthy (and everyone had opted to carry there own belongings and not hire porters as is the norm).

So worried but not deterred the next morning we set of the next day bright and early and running late as usual to start our Incan adventure. First we all bundled onto a bus to get to the start point of the trek, kilometer 82 just past a town called Ollantaytambo. This was where our four days of fun would begin, we had to register and then the trekking could start (after a compulsory pre-trek group photo of course). 

The first day walking was pretty good, mostly Peruvian flat (as our guide Mike called it), which basically means a mix of up and down hill with only a few steep sections. It was great starting to get to know everyone in our group (there were 13 of us so it did take a couple of days) and getting a feel for carrying our big bags again. As I had suspected out group was very healthy and we definitely walked at quite a speed! The trail was much busier than our previous treks, especially with the porters running past with the biggest bags you can imagine (those guys are some of the toughest people I have ever met). Our first Incan ruins that day were pretty impressive and starting to learn more about the Incan and Peruvian culture was great (I just wish I had known more to begin with). The biggest surprise of the day was the food, if the Santa Cruz trek had been luxury, this was a 7 star service, I genuinely ate better than most of our travels. The only downside was feeling so full after lunch, walking was actually a struggle! That evening we Mike and Henry introduced us to our camping crew, which was a really nice touch, there were 17 people; our porters, a chef and a sous chef.

Mountain view at campsite one

The Photographer posing at the top of Dead Womans pass 

I look awful but I made it!!!

The next day we had to face the dead woman's pass at 4250m. I was not looking forward to this, after finding our last pass a bit of a nightmare the idea of carry my big bag a similar height was frightening. The majority of the day was uphill and it was definitely very steep in parts, the worst part being the steps which I personally hate! Luckily after a break for lunch I managed to get into a nice rhythm so the last hour up actually felt pretty ok. Once we were had the top, we played photo time for quite a while before performing a short ceremony to Pachamama as a group.  The walk down from the pass was another couple of hours which was a little tough on the knees. As a big bonus Our campsite that evening had stunning views of the mountain range. The clouds were coming and going so quickly it was great to have the time to catch a glimpse of them! That evening we celebrated with a hot toddy (which was an amazing mix of spiced apple tea and rum) a ghost story (which perhaps was a bit less amazing and may have caused at least one nightmare). 

Incan steps at Phyupatamarka 

At Phyupatamarka

Doorway at Winawyna

Terraces at Winawyna

From our little ceremony at Winawyna

Day Three was the longest we had to walk, but also the day with the most Incan ruins. Our maps described it as unforgettable, and in many ways it was! The ruins we encountered along the trail were really cool, nestled amount the mountains. However, had to contend with another smaller (but steeper pass) and pretty much continuous rain and fog. This did mean our views were a little covered in places, but I still found it beautiful nonetheless. The highlight if the day came after we had arrived at camp. We set off for a 10 minute walk to our last Incan site before Machu Picchu, Winawyna. Mike and Henry made us close out eyes before we could see the site and when we all opened them together it was amazing, lots of terraces and a small cluster of buildings. By this point we had all become a little family and together we preformed a little ceremony at the site led by Mike which was actually pretty emotional. Afterwards we explored the fountains and terraces till tea time and our last night together. The last meal was fun involving cake ('for my birthday') and some very poor cutting skills. It was also time I say goodbye to our lovely porters and chefs with lots of clapping, cheering and a few words. 


Our little llama family at the sun gate (from top left Barry, Jeremy, Dustin, Pedro, Dave, Jane, Steve, Carrie, Steve, Mairead, Mindy, Me and Mark - unfortunately our guides Henry or Mike took this photo so aren't present)

Group picture with the 'classic Machu Picchu view

Selfie time (yes I look ridiculous), thanks to Mark for this picture

Finally the big day had arrived and after the previous days weather I was a bit nervous. We got up at 3:30am as the porters had to rush down to the trains and I was happy to see it looked pretty clear. We had to wait till 5:30 to pass the last control and actually start trekking, but a couple of impatient hours later we were there at the sun gate. Seeing Machu Picchu for the first time was amazing, its setting among the mountains is breathtaking and it's so much bigger than I imagined. After a couple of group pictures, we walked the final half our to the site, stored our bags and Mike gave us a little tour. After that we were free to explore for a couple of hours (which I mostly spent taking photos, well having photos taken of me) before a few passion fruit sours and farewell lunch at a hotel in town. As a few of us were staying the night we enjoyed an afternoon of drinks, chatting and being back in civilization. 

At the sun gate (proof I carried my own bag)


A Cheeky Machu Picchu selfie
The Photographer and I were crazy enough to decide to spend another day in Machu Picchu in order to do more walking and climb Huayanpicchu (the mountain in the background of all classic Machu Picchu shots). I have to say I was feeling very tired, but we still managed a 5:15 start to get there as early as possible. The start of our second day was entirely different to our first, the whole place was covered in fog and had a mystical vibe. By 7:30 am when we were on our way up the mountain the fog had completely cleared and we had another glorious day. Climbing Huayanpicchu was actually ok, much easier without big bags and only about 45 minutes of pain. This was all worthwhile for the great views at the top, with the possibility to almost see the 'condor' shape of the city. Our only mistake was taking the long route down via a 'great cave' (it wasn't so great) which involved quite a big of uphill and some pretty scary cliff side steps. Making the most of our day we ended up staying till about 2pm (I had a lot of photos to take), getting back to town just in time for a quick lunch and to catch our train. 

We finally arrived back in Cusco at 9pm exhausted but happy. Grabbing a quick but amazing sandwich before a well earned sleep.

At the top of Huayanpicchu

Morning mist and a well timed hair flick

Llama photobomb

Profile picture time

Possibly the most Peruvian photo of the trip so far

Summary

Location: The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu.

Highlights: Our wonderful trekking group (the sexy llamas), Winawyna, the food (special mention to the cake), our guides and of course seeing Machu Picchu from the sun gate. 

Lowlights: The rain, Machi Picchu does get feet quite busy, not running into One Direction (oh Harry Styles) who apparently visited the same day as us!! 

Top tips: To avoid the crowds go very early, or probably even better very late. 

Profile pictures: Of course.

Epiphany's: 0 

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