Camino Inka and Macchu Picchu

Trip Start Mar 16, 2009
Trip End May 29, 2009

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Peru Treks - Camping

Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Monday, April 27, 2009

Friday 24th April - Monday 27th April

We had duly signed up many months in advance for the Inca trail, knowing that there are limitations on participants coupled with high demand. We had chosen Peru Treks as our company for this trail, and we weren't disappointed. Without wanting to reminisce too much, I'd done this before with Chris, completing the trail in 2.5 days carrying our camping equipment in our rucksacks, going at our own pace and not paying for entrance to the trail. This time round, it was all official; passport checks, trail entrance fees and strict park regulations were now imposed (mostly for the better of course).

Angela was quite apprehensive; she wasn't initially convinced that she could complete the trail, but was determined not to give up. She had brought a walking stick to help her up the mountains. I decided to follow behind her throughout - the point was for us to have this experience together. We were a group of 16, and were accompanied by two guides (Cesar and William) and 21 porters, including the chef from Peru Treks.

The first day's walking was comparatively he easiest - it was a slow upward ascent which began in the afternoon (due to our arrival time). I'd forgotten how beautiful and scenic the walk actually was - with us weaving along both banks of the River urumbamba in the valley and pressing upward into mountain terrain. On top of a cliff side, we were amazed to see Llactapata, a rest-stop for Incas going to Macchu Picchu, which had been well preserved and restored. We introduced ourselves to the other trekkers and the guides during the course of the day, and worked out who the pace-setters were quite quickly. We were impressed that an American couple, Dale and Yvonne (Dale in his late fifties) were doing this walk, and even more so that they had recently flown into Cusco, hence were not yet fully acclimatised. After about 5 hours of walking, we reached the first camp. The amazing porters had walked ahead of us, set up the tents, flooring and sleeping bags for us, and had made a start in helping the chef with the food preparations already! The food itself was fantastic, 5-star treatment, as we got three-course carb-rich meals as we all got to know each other. That night was one of the clearest and most beautiful I remember; clear and presenting of every star that cared to make an appearance in that hemisphere.

Day 2: the toughest day of the walk, which included the steep ascent to the dead woman's pass at 4,200 m altitude - about a 1,200 m vertical ascent. We had a filling breakfast including porridge to help see us through. Cesar also gave us some interesting tips for the ingestion of coca leaves - by catalyzing their effect using a small piece of charcoal in the middle and slowly chewing and sucking the juices produced whilst in your mouth - this would give a good energy boost, whilst reducing the effects of altitude, especially when it came to breathing. The walk was testing however, and our group dispersed according to ability. Angela really impressed me - fueled by coca leaves and with her trusty walking stick in hand, we made it across a two-stage uphill climb to reach the dead woman's pass, with stunning views en-route and finally at the top, where we re-
grouped. Dale and Yvonne found the effects of the altitude more telling than many of us, but they incredibly made it to the top as well. We later found out that the dead woman's pass name was given from a spook story about a 'ghost woman' that porters claim they saw trying to get some sleep at this point many years ago, and never came down from that point, despite the porter's attempts to coax her out of it. Her body was never discovered. At least that was the ghost story we were given that night by Cesar - the shape of the pass was actually that of a woman lying down apparently! The descent from the pass revealed another change in the scenery, as the flora changed and plant life became more abundant. We finally camped at Pacaymayu at 3,800 m.

Day 3: The loudest frogs you could ever hear interrupted our sleep before daybreak, and for me this made this day particularly exhausting, coupled with the 9 hour walking stretch ahead of us, a combination of ups and downs. All of it rewarding however, as we passed multiple Inca sites and discovered some of the finest walking scenery and flora by way of change of the trail into a jungle-like environment. First was the restored Inca lookout site of Runkuraqay, after which  we passed a series of lagoons on an uphill ascent. We collected a piece of rock each for a tributary ceremony to the Inca god of the Earth - Pachamama (considered their supreme God) at the summit pass of Laguna Cohcapata. Considering that we were amongst the 500 travelers allowed to do the Inca trail every day, we started to recognise people from other groups as we maintained a similar overall
pace. Next was the Inca site of Sayaqmarka, a town cleverly built on a slope to harness the water supply for the Incan sewage system, as well as a lookout point to both our Inca trail and a separate trail from the other partner site Conchamarka (Shell Town), just below it. Our trail turned into cloud forest, as we navigated up and down through lush arched greenery - and made a checkpoint campsite for lunch. We were greeted by a round of applause each by the porters as we arrived, a nice gesture. Next came the touted "gringo killer" - a downhill descent of 1,000 m. If the dead woman pass was going to knacker out our calves, this was going to do the same to our knees, especially as it was a steep descent down the steps (did I mention that the trail was almost entirely made of steps built by the Incas!?). We reached an Inca site called Phuyupatmarka, of astronomical significance and containing fountains. The trail descent gave way to jungle terrain and the vegetation revealed more interesting flowers and bird life. The gringo killer was taking effect on the knees, as the evening approached, though I had enough energy to stop
by at a mini-museum of stuffed animals of the surrounding environment. I finally got a look at the critter of a frog species that kept us awake the preceding night preserved in one of the jars! Our last night camping was nice as we were sung to by the porters, and had the job of working out the tips to give to everyone.

Day 4: The descent to Macchu Picchu. An early start to the day and our farewell to the porters, as their job was now complete. As we were part of a large group doing the trek, we had to make the Macchu Picchu ticket entrance gate (wasn't there 10 years ago) as early as possible (it opened at 0530) in order to get to the site without too many other groups arriving at the same time. We succeeded in being the second group there. This would have been worth it had it not been for the really poor wet weather that became obvious as we set off. I guess we should have been grateful for the past good weather on the trail. The rain made the trail slippery, so we had to be cautious as we walked along. We eventually got to Intipunktu - the Sun Gate of the Incas, where in theory the sun shines through and illuminates Macchu Picchu in the valley beneath. Except this weather
didn't allow us to see a thing, so we continued further down to the lost city itself. We were reminded once we got there that we had successfully completed the trail, even though we couldn't tell from the swathes of clouds around us we were in Macchu Picchu. Nonetheless it was a moment to savour, and a vindication of all the preparation Angela and I had gone through to complete this. I felt really proud of Angela, one of her dreams of this trip had finally come true. And more good news was to come, as the sun started to burn through the clouds, and they gradually parted over the subsequent hours to uncover the marvel that was Macchu Picchu itself.

It is regarded as "The Lost City of the Incas", as it was abandoned by the leader of the Inca Empire, Manca Capac, shortly after the Spanish invasion had begun in 1533. Sections of the trails to the city were either hidden or destroyed, preventing the Spanish from ever discovering it until Hiram Bingham's discovery in 1911 centuries later. It is amazing as it was the largest intact Inca site to be discovered to date. we saw the many aspects of this city, from the districts where the Inca nobility, priesthood and general populous lived to the Intihuatana stone (a sacred astronomical clock), the Temple of the Sun and the Room with 3 windows. We were also warned of the environmental damage suffered at the site due to a combination of weather erosion, earthquake fault lines (causing buildings to split) and most of all, our tourism. Sadly with over 400,000 people visiting every year, the site is likely to become increasingly restricted to access. We continued to tour around the site for another two hours before we (temporarily) said goodbye to our guides and our fellow hikers. We were exhausted, but well aware of the splendor of where we were, and so we explored further on our own to behold this place - before heading off for some R&R at Aguas Calientes...
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