The famous Inca Trail. The popular Machu Picchu. How good could it actually be after all that I’d already seen? Exceptionally good as it turns out and one of the highlights of my entire trip.
I’d booked the four day trek six months in advance as required, because the permits often sell out due to high demand and the government restrictions on the number of people trekking at a given time. I paid the expensive but standard price of $605 USD and then hoped it would be worth the money.
Pick up time was 4.30-5.00am and in true Peruvian style I was picked up at 5.15am. The 16 of us didn’t even exchange introductions as we slept for most of the two hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo where we had breakfast and collected last minute essentials like chocolate bars and plastic ponchos. We then continued to km82 where the trek officially begins.
The first day wasn’t too difficult. It was a relatively flat trail that ran through the valley following the Urubamba river. Half way through the five hour hike we came across the ruins of Llactapata sitting at a split in the valley. The beautiful terraces and foundations of houses and temples was an Inca community until the Spanish came and chased them out on their looting spree through the Sacred Valley, a reminder of just how close the Spanish came to finding Machu Picchu. Our first camp was at Wayllabamba village at 3000m. We filled our evening in by watching a soccer match being played between local villagers and some of the porters from the trail.
The second day was the most difficult. We had a big breakfast ready to power us up Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point of the trek. Before we left we had an introduction to our 22 porters. They all came from villages in the Sacred Valley and had been born at high altitudes meaning that they naturally had more oxygen in their haemoglobin and larger lung capacity than we did. However, it didn’t stop us from feeling sorry for them lugging the 25kg packs up and down the trail, the packs were even bigger than they were. They spoke indigenous Quechua language rather than Spanish and so instead of porters we were told to call them ‘chaskies’, which is a title of importance and makes them feel proud of what they do. The youngest chaski in our group was 22 and nicknamed the ‘heartbreaker’ because he apparently made “women cry”. The oldest was 63 and we called him Papa, he was a tiny man and wore sandals for the whole trek!
The ascent began almost straight away and continued for a few hours up to where we stopped for lunch. The chaskies had all passed us on the way and prepared a three course meal as they did every day for us. As we were getting higher the views were getting better and we could see snow capped mountains in the distance.
We set off again and for the next two hours made the push up the pass. The path was made of stones and formed into what they call ‘inca steps’, or basically awkward and painful odd shaped stairs that make your muscles burn. We finally made it up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 4215m where we performed a ritual to Pachamama (Mother Earth) involving stones, coca leaves and rum!
Today was meant to be the “unforgettable day” due to the amazing scenery along the way, however, our ritual to Pachamama the day before was clearly not good enough because we had terrible weather and couldn’t see a thing! An hour into the hike we stopped at the ruins of Runkuracay which was one of many lookouts and resting places built by the Incas along their trails.
The trail ascended again up to the second pass at 4000m before descending into a valley where we stopped at some more ruins called Sayacmarca. We continued along the uneven, Inca-laid, stone trail through a ‘cloud forest’ which was a fitting name because it literally was so foggy and cloudy we could only see a few metres around us instead of the beautiful valley we were told was below us.
The third pass of the trail was our lunch stop where we all huddled in our dining tent to get out of the rain. Before we set off again I tried one of the chaskies packs on for size. Our guide had been joking that I could be the first female chaski because I was fit and strong so I wanted to see how I’d handle it. I had to sit down and get the pack strapped to me first and then in order to stand up I lent forward on all fours and used my hands to push myself upright. Once I was standing it didn’t feel too bad and I walked around for a minute. However, my legs could feel the extra weight and there’s no way I could walk for four days carrying it up those hills! It made me appreciate their job even more.
The last two hours was a steep descent over a thousand Inca steps. It continued to rain and in fact decided to pour for the most part of the descent meaning the path became almost like a waterfall with all the water gushing down with us. We were so glad to finally get to camp that we only spared a few minutes to admire the amazing terraces of the Winay Wayna ruins along the way.
We were woken just after 3am, although most of us had been lying awake listening to the rain for the previous few hours praying that it would stop for the most important final day. However, we’d clearly given Pachamama too much coca and rum at Dead Woman’s Pass because it continued to rain for the rest of the day. We were at the gate lining up at 4.30am with the other Inca trail groups. We were let in at 5.30am and we all walked the last two hours to the Sun Gate at the top of Machu Picchu. We emerged triumphantly at the gate to find a complete blanket of white, no sign of the ruins below all of the clouds. We climbed down closer to the ruins to where the iconic ‘post card shot’ of Machu Picchu is taken from but still we had to use our imagination because all we could see was cloud.
We were given a two hour tour by our trek guide of the ruins which we were able to see once we were actually walking amongst them. It was all so incredible; the houses, the temples, the sun dial, the sacrificial alter, the terraces and of course the perfectly shaped and placed stone blocks used for the entire site. Clearly an intelligent civilisation and one that blows me away as much as the Egyptians do.
By the time we’d finished our tour the rain was still falling but the clouds had cleared just enough to get a half decent ‘postcard shot’ before we all went down to the town, Agues Caliente, to have lunch and wait for the train back to Cusco.
‘Unofficial day five’
I’d been so lucky with my group for the trail. We’d gotten along so well and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so much. Therefore, it was only fitting that we all catch up again the day after the trek at a pub. We met at 2pm and shared our stories of how glorious a hot shower and soft bed had been and then relived many moments of our four day trek together. After a few Pisco Sour’s (Peru’s national drink) I didn’t get home until 2.30am. It was safe to say it had been a memorable few days.
*post adapted from my trip here in November 2015 and from my previous blog elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com