Inca Empire: earning the view of Machu Picchu after four days of hiking
Before the Machu Picchu Inca Empire trek:
The day after Habib’s birthday we were meant to go to Cusco from Puno during the day. It takes 7hrs by bus and we were going to split in 4 hours in the morning, stop for lunch and then 3hrs in the afternoon. Unfortunately luck wasn’t on our side, because the Peruvians of Puno decided to strike as the government was meant to clean lake Titicaca and they didn’t maintain the promise. So all buses were on strike and the entire city of Puno was locked down, road blocked and demonstrations everywhere. So we had to waste a day in Puno, and take the night bus at 9pm. Che palle!!! We got to check out from our hotel at 11am even though breakfast was served only until 8:30am so didn’t allow for a lie in. Even if in this altitude you don’t really wish for a lie in because you sleep so badly every night that you just wish for it to be over as quickly as possible. After checking out we left our luggage in storage and headed out to the condor view point where you get a good view over Puno and towards the lake. The stairs up were knackering but a good training for the Inca Trail which is coming up very soon! After arriving at the view point we took some photos and stayed there in the sun for a bit, taking in the views and talking about global issues as you do.
We then walked down to a cafe called Corrigador where we had alpaca burgers for lunch and we ended up staying there for most of the afternoon playing card games such as “shit head”, poker and swap cards. Bruce and I at some point took a break to go and buy a sim card for our portable Wifi. It took ages and we had to go through three counters trying to explain things in Spanish, my Spanish is getting a bit better now after a few weeks! We had dinner at the same bar, and went back to the hotel at 8pm to get our big bags and got the bus to the bus station at 9pm. Our night bus departed at 10pm. It was cold in the bus, with slippery leather seats, and the road to Cusco was very bumpy and off road most of the time. I had pretty much no sleep, and Brucey had some but very broken.
We arrived in Cuzco at 5am, and had a mini van transfer to our hotel. When we arrived our rooms were luckily ready, since we should have been here from last night. Today in Cusco we had a few additional activities to choose from, and we had originally signed up to go rafting with other 3 couples, but I felt so rough after the night bus and had a stomach ache all night and bailed out and so did Bruce. We entered our room to find out that we had a single bed that was made and a double bed that was unmade. The lady that did the rooms wasn’t there yet so we had to keep
It that way despite my complaints to reception. We slept very well from 6am to 9am, when we woke up to get our included breakfast. After breakfast we met up with Jimmy and the ones who remained in town, Paige and Maddy, Carli and Dell, Danielle and Harry. We had a nice city walk around Cusco, which is a very fascinating town. The sun was shining, we had good coffee in a pretty coffee shop, walked along Avenida sol, the central old
Town squares with beautiful churches, visited the chocolate museum and tasted lots of different types including tasty chocholate tea made with the cocoa bean shells. We had a decent lunch at Jack’s Cafe where we had to queue for a bit to get in and after lunch Bruce and I did some shopping to get ready for the inca trail, bought some rain ponchos for emergencies and Bruce bought a green jacket. We had to meet everyone at the hotel at 5pm to go to our inca trail briefing so we got back at 4pm to rest for a bit. But as soon as we got back Brucey realised that they left the security tag on his jacket and so he had to go back to the shop to ask them to take it off. The problem was that he couldn’t find the shop! In the end he wandered for 40 minutes and had to get back to be on time for the meeting, still with his security tag hanging on his back. To go to the G Adventures office where we got our inca trail briefing we luckily had to pass in front of the same shop, and he got his tag out, finally! Turns out that he walked all the way back earlier but he stopped 10 metres before the shop because he thought that was too far! The inca trail briefing got us all excited about the trek, and it was nice to meet Chino, our guide for the walk. We then had dinner and learnt how to make our own Pisco Sour, the typical peruvian cocktail that apparently needs to be shaken for 3 minutes! We had a competition of who would make the best one, and the final winners were Andy and Tamara, Timara and I only made a huge pisco shower since our shaker started to leak, and Rob and Kane thought they won but they were tricked as they only came second. After dinner we had to pack for the inca trail, from tomorrow we are leaving our big luggage in Cusco in the hotel, and only bringing our small backpack which should weigh 7-10% of our own weight, and in the duffle bag that the porters will be carrying we are only allowed 6kg, 1.5 for the air mattress, 2 for the sleeping bag, and 2.5 of our personal belongings, clothes toiletries etc.
We met at 8am in the hotel and got on a private bus to visit some beautiful inca ruins called Piscat, and a Planet terra project funded by G Adventures to help the local community. It was interesting to see the women knitting and to be told how the dye the different natural materials to make the alpaca and lama wool colourful. After that we went to a fantastic restaurant, another Planet Terra project, where we ate a lot of different courses from typical peruvian cousine including stuffed chilli peppers. We also tried the chicha, a drink made with the black purple corn. After lunch we drove to Ottawanambo, where we checked in to our hotel before going to visit another super impressive inca site in the small town. After that we had the last shopping to do before starting our trek tomorrow, so exciting! We enjoyed a nice hot shower knowing that it’s one of the last ones for a few days. We went for dinner all together at 6:30pm in order to finish early and have an early night. A street puppy followed us into the restaurant and fell asleep on the seat next to us for the whole night.
The Inca Empire trek starts
Day 1 of the inca trail
We had the LAST shower for 4 days and then breakfast, before we met at 8am ready to go. All quite excited but also a bit scared. We had a 40 minutes bus drive to reach km 82 which is where the trek starts. As we got there we met our porters and saw the huge bags they need to carry. We then had to show our passports and tickets at the checkpoint, and then officially started the trek! The scenery was breathtaking from the very start, massive majestic mountains surrounding us, the river and the valley under us dancing to get through the mountains. The biggest mountain called Veronica accompanied us throughout the day with its snowy peak and glacier. The morning went fairly quickly with a few climbs but all quite short. At lunch we had some very nice trout and veggies, and camped near a lovely river again with breathtaking views. We were in good spirits, since the first half day was done, and the views and sceneries were all so worth it! Incredibly beautiful, and the inca sites that we saw along the way were made even more impressive by the surrounding nature. It’s incredible how they managed to build such beautiful cities and sun gate and terraces over the mountains that lasted untouched for over 500 years and without the wheel and other techniques. After lunch we only had two more hours to walk, and even if the last 10 minutes were quite steep we all made it in the end and arrived at our basecamp at 4pm. We got settled into our tent and had a cusqueña beer to celebrate. When we saw the local lady coming with a basket with beers we couldn’t believe our eyes, and were ready to pay anything for the celebratory golden nectar! We are still in a semi-village today, while as of tomorrow there’ll be nothing but our basecamp. The tents are really nice, and the lovely porters also inflate your air mattress for you and make you find your tent ready which is such a treat! We also got a bowl of warm water to wash our face and feet which are full of dust from the walk. After recovering from the day we had tea and dinner and played a bit of cards. The main game we learnt to play in this trip is called Shit Head, good fun. The view from our tents is amazing, and the stars at night are so bright and clear that you can easily see the milky way. It’s truly priceless to hear nothing around us as we lie in our cold but not freezing tent surrounded by nature, stars and silence. Tomorrow is the hardest day, with a climb from 3000m to 4200m, and five hours uphill. Wish us luck!
Day 2 of the inca trail
Wake up call was by Chino at 5am at our tents. He greeted us with a nice hot coca tea and a hot water bowl to wash our face with, such a nice treat in that cold dark morning. We slept ok during the night a part from waking up a couple of times by the sound of the donkey munching grass exactly next to our tent, it felt so close to us that it seemed like he was going to eat our tent! At 5:30am we were served a rich and tasty breakfast with quinoa porridge to warm us up, bread and also a second course came when nobody was expecting it, pancakes with dulce de leche on top, so tasty. Recharged and energised we started to walk at 6:30am. The first hour uphill wasn’t too bad, we stopped after one hour at the first check point but we were all feeling fine not too tired yet. The hard part started then. We had two hours uphill on stairs that seemed never ending in the cloud forest. Beautiful trees all around, and the whole way we were accompanied by a pretty stream and the sound of water kept us on the right path. The main problem of that first part was the cold. Our hands felt frost, and we were shaking with cold. It was only 8:30 at the time, and the sun didn’t come out of the high peaks of the mountains yet despite it being clear, it was still very cold. We reached the second check point after the third hour of walking, but we didn’t really stopped to rest there much since it was freezing and the sun part was only 30 minutes away. We just about had time to buy from the local vendor the most expensive ever pack of Pringles £3.50, and polished it off super quickly before we had to start walking again. I don’t think it was a great move since digesting in high altitude takes ages more than at sea level. Anyway we were hungry and tired and needed a treat. Stupidly I left my gloves with the bag that the porters are carrying so I had to borrow Brucey’s and we had to keep swapping them to avoid having to chop off our frozen hands. We were almost in tears of joy when we finally reached the sunshine. From the second check point to the third it was another two hours to the peak, the highest point of the trek, what’s called the Dead Woman Pass which stands at 4200m above sea level. That was the hardest part, the killer, the murderer and all the other swearwords we used on the way up. In those two hours we went up 1200 metres in altitude and the lack of oxygen really fucked us up (excuse the colourful English). The last 500 metres were so hard that we had to stop pretty much every ten steps to catch our breath and sit down. Our legs shaking, knees aching, lungs struggling, we still made it to the top at 10:45am, which is apparently ahead of schedule. Arriving was such an amazing feeling with the rest of the group cheering and finally being able to look back down the valley where we came from instead of having to look up at the peak that somehow didn’t seem to get any closer! The views along the way and on arrival made it all worth, so breathtakingly beautiful. No inca sights today, just nature, high peaks and majestic mountains, rivers, small waterfalls, streams, wind and all the power of bright sunshine lightening it all up. A spectacle really, that made the trek worth it and made us feel only like small drops in the big ocean that is mother earth, or pachamama as they call it here in South America. We tried to capture some of the beauty with photos, but it never seems to do justice to the real thing. That’s why I guess walking it is so worth, google images wouldn’t do the trick. Once we reached the top we waited for everyone else to arrive, took some photos and of course a group photo, and then started going down at about 12:15pm. A bit annoying thinking that we reached the top and it was so hard, and we then had to come all the way down again. Felt a bit like loosing progress, but that it is what is like to hike in the mountains.
The way down was 1:30hr and much better for the lungs, but much worse for the knees and legs that were already sore after the 5hrs uphill and stairs this morning. At least our sticks helped a bit on the way down, but it was still quite painful. At 1:00pm we arrived at out basecamp for the night, greeted by the cheering and clapping of our porters who are the ones that really deserve most of the clapping! Our camp is right next to a river so the first thing we did was to put our swollen and sweaty feet in the freezing cold river water. We then had a nice lunch at 1:30, well needed since we were all starving after the hard workout. Only 12km, but of which 0 were flat, 8 steep up, and 4 steep down. Poor legs, let’s hope they can recover for tomorrow, we have 16km to go through, the longest day, although apparently not as hard as today – fingers crossed. Lunch consisted of a warm corn soup, a main with quinoa, mashed potatoes and a small steak, and the real treat was warm apple pie to finish! I don’t know how they manage to prepare such good meals for 16 people with a small stove in a tent. This morning the porters and the cook left after us, picking up our tents and our sleeping bags one by one, and managed to arrive – with 25kg on their backs – before us and have lunch almost ready by the time we arrived. We learnt that some of them have been doing this job since they were kids, and some of them are over 50 and still running up and down the hills of the inca trail to make tourists like us have a better experience. It’s incredible how strong they are!
After lunch it was siesta time, Brucey is snoring next to me while I an writing this. At 4:30pm we are meeting again to meet the porters one by one, then we’ll have afternoon tea and dinner at 6:30pm.
It was great to be introduced to the porters one by one, learn about their age, where they are from, and what they are carrying for us and for how long they have been doing what they do. They have a lot of banter and good laughs amongst themselves which is nice to see cause it makes their hard job a bit more enjoyable. We played cards until dinner time, and then all went to bed and passed out before 8pm. Tomorrow another wake up at 5:30am, half an hour more because apparently we are walking faster than expected hence the nickname of the group became Speedy Lamas!
Day 3 of the inca trail
Again same treat with coca tea and hot water bowls delivered to our tent to help the wake up be less traumatic. The breakfast was also delicious with toasted bread and scrambled eggs with cheese, small bits of sausage and fried plantane and tomato, so tasty. After breakky we had a bit of time for brushing the teeth, refilling our water and put sun screen on – all things that have already became automatic on our third day. Chino, our guide, told us from the start that day 3 was his favourite so we had big expectations. The first two hours uphill went fairly quickly and weren’t too hard despite our sore legs. Less easy for poor Kane and Timara, one of the two couples from Queensland, she has a terrible chest infection and he broke his entire toe nail last night and had to walk all day with one flip flop and one boot. But anything compared to yesterday’s ascent at 4200m feels easier. Along the way we saw some beautiful inca sites, and despite the clouds and a bit of cold air we enjoyed every second. In the morning we also had a couple of hours in a rain forest with amazing vegetation and stunning views over the steep drops next to the path. Today we are walking only on real and authentic inca trails, and it really made us wonder how they built this trail in such steep mountains with not much equipment nor machines. The jungle part was incredible, I walked on my own for about an hour and really enjoyed the silence, drifting in my own thoughts, going at my own pace and stopping to contemplate and take photos whenever I wanted. We stopped for lunch at 12:00 after 5 hours of walking (including rests). Unfortunately in our lunch spot which was meant to have amazing views we found lots of clouds and even some drops of rain. Luckily the rain didn’t last for long. We had an amazing lunch with several courses and a beautiful cake at the end with the name of our group on it, Speedy Lamas! Impressive how they managed to bake a cake in camping stoves! We were so full and heavy after lunch and still had 3hrs of walking to get to our camp. All downhill, dropping from 3600 to 2600m. As we walked down the very steep stairs, with our legs more and more wobbly and sore, the clouds got less, and the temperature got gradually warmer. We saw a few inca sites on the way down, the most impressive were the terraces where we took a million photos. On the way to our camp Chino told us to start going that he would wait and come last so as we walked down alongside the inca site, we found him at the bottom waiting for us… How did he do it?? There are stairs (very steep) in the middle of the terraces and he must have run them down super quickly. He was a porter before this job so we weren’t too surprised about his crazy skills. After all he has done the inca trail to Machu Picchu 315 times in the past 10 years! We got to the campsite greeted and clapped by our porters at 5:00pm. Chino was right, it was such a spectacular day. We had one hour to chill out, wash our feet with the bowls of hot water provided by our porters shortly after we arrived and all the girls got braids made by Timara who has a real skill for it. We then had a quick game of shit head (I won for the first time ever!) then had our dinner, and after we had a little speech with the porters and cook to say thank you for their hard work and give them their tip. The most funny moment was when the head porter, who’s nickname is nina carru (which means playboy) did a little speech and said that if we want we can leave a comment in the feedback form to help them by saying that porters and cooks for group 4 (our group the speedy lamas) did a great job, and I said that it might be better if we don’t put his nickname nina carru in the feedback form as it wouldn’t go down to well. We all laughed before heading to our tents for the last night of the inca trail.
Tomorrow we wake up at 3:00am to try and get a bench to wait at the entrance of Machu Picchu, gates open at 5:30, it’s going to be a long day.
Day 4 of the inca trail: arriving at Machu Picchu, the trek ends
The wake up at 3am wasn’t pretty, especially since we didn’t sleep much. Maybe because of the sore legs, or because the mattress was slippery and the tent inclined, or just because we were excited about finally getting to Machu Picchu. We had a small breakfast at 3:30 and then left at 4. By that time the porters had already packed up all our tents and nothing was remaining of our home for the night. They had to do everything quickly because they had to catch a train at 5:30am, the only train that had enough space for all their bags because after that time the trains are packed with tourists getting to Machu Picchu. Only 200 hikers get there every day, but 2500 visitors come to the site every day, most of them by train to Aguas Calientes town and then get a bus up to Machu Picchu. We left at 4am with our head torches on, for what was a very short walk. After 10 minutes we got to the office gate, and had to queue up for one hour and half in the dark and freezing cold. We put our rain poncho (which we were SO lucky not to have to use for their real purpose during the entire inca trail) on the floor and sat down reading to try to kill some time. 5:30 never seem to come and when it finally did we had to show our passport and ticket at control. Once we passed the gates, Chino, our guide, started walking quickly without stopping for almost one hour. Everyone was silent and walking fast, and as the sun came up I felt so thankful about this amazing journey, thankful we had no rain, thankful we almost made it, thankful we saw such incredible landscapes and sights along the way, and all with very good company to share it with.
After one hour and a half of walking, including some very steep steps where some people almost had to climb up with their hands, we got to the sun gate and had our first sight of Machu Picchu. We knew that the best view would be from closer, but that was our first view, our reward after days of walking. And it was spectacular. Hard to give it justice with words. As we slowly started to walk closer to the sight the sun slowly illuminated the tip of the mountain and finally the inca city of Machu Picchu was shining in the sun amongst many beautiful peaks. We had time to take the first pictures and take in the view for ten minutes and then we had to get out of the main gate. By that time it was 8am, and we didn’t have a toilet since we woke up 5 hours earlier. As we got out of the main gate, we all went to the toilet and were quite happy to see a normal clean toilet with paper and soap, and with the normal wc instead of the stinky holes we had to use for the past four days. After the toilet relief we had a breakfast at the cafeteria of eggs and bacon which tasted like heaven. At 9am we got back from the main gate with our tickets and got a Machu Picchu stamp on our passport which felt like the ultimate recognised reward of our journey. As we entered we realised the amount of people that come here every day but the sight is so big that it didn’t feel too crowded luckily. Although every time we saw someone looking fresh and clean, straight out of the train, we looked at them with hatred thinking they deserved less to be there than us. Having said that, what made it special for us was the journey to get there, so we didn’t really care about looking crap and smelling badly. Chino took us on a tour around the sight for one hour where he explained more about the inca and Machu Picchu town. After that we had some free time to explore by ourselves until 12pm when we had to get a bus to Aguas Calientes town where we had a nice lunch (alpaca steak with mushroom sauce and a well deserved Cusqueña beer) and an ice cream before getting our train at 3pm to Ollyantaytambo and then a bus back to Cusco. We are all tired and happy, and our main objective tonight is to have the longest and hottest shower in history, eat a big pizza, and finally go to sleep after this very long, very special day.
The shower was the best thing ever. We were laughing with happiness as the hot water reached our skin and hair, and stayed in for as long as the hot water lasted. We met on the top floor of the hotel to eat our take away pizzas and after a few minutes of silence everyone finished their pizza very quickly and crawled to bed at 8pm. What a day, one we’ll never forget!