Inca Keens on the trail to Machu Picchu
Trip Start May 03, 2011
23Trip End Mar 22, 2012
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An early 6.30am start and a bit of a panic. I had no qualms about my ability to complete the trek, but for some reason, (known not even to myself), I had decided that we didn't need an extra porter to carry our rucksacks. It hadn't seemed like a lot of stuff; sleeping bag, sleeping mat, change of clothes and some cold weather gear, but once packed it seemed like it weighed a ton. With promises from Cliff that "I'd be OK" I reluctantly capitulated and went to meet my maker, in the form of Percy, a lively,young Quechuan guide who would be responsible for getting us to our goal.
The Inca trail is 42km long, takes 3.5 days and has a limit of 500 who can join the trail each day (comprising roughly 200 tourists and 300 guides, cooks and porters). In our case the two of us had Percy, a cook Armando, chief helper Freddy and 2 porters so we rather skewed the ratio
Getting started on a trek always takes some time, what with getting the porters loaded up, last minute purchases and with the Inca trail, a pre-nominated time when the party can go through the checkpoint. Eventually at 12noon we were just about ready to go (and I am delighted to say, after the porters had volunteered to carry our sleeping bags and mats), most of the other groups were ahead of us. Obligatory photo under the signpost, passports checked, across the suspension bridge and we were off. With 500 people on the trail you expect it's going to be a bit of a bun fight, but in actual fact we were mostly walking alone, or bumping into the same few groups of people (in particular a lively group of 12 American ladies aged from 54 to 71 some of whom seemed to permanently be springing up the passes with surprising ease).
The first day was an easy 4 hour walk, gradually winding up through the valley from 2700 to 2900 metres. The day was sunny with not a cloud in the sky and the snow-capped mountains soared around us. Each group is assigned a spot in the campsite (which on day 1 was strung along about a mile) and we arrived to find our tent pitched with a perfect, uninterrupted view. It gets dark early on the trail and the temperature drops quite fast, so by 5.30 we were well wrapped up, in the dining tent stuffing popcorn and drinking tea
Inca Trail Day 2 - Dead Woman's Pass
Up, washed (after a fashion), breakfasted and on the trail by 6.30am. It was still cold and only just light. Mercifully the sun would not appear over the mountains for quite a few hours yet. If you talk to anyone who has done the Inca Trail, without fail they will all grimace and pull a face when talking about day 2....so hard, challenging, a killer.... The pass is at 4200 meters and it takes 5 miles to climb those 1300 meters; most people are expected to take 4.5 to 5 hours. The first 2 hours were unrelenting steep steps, after which it's more of a slope until the last 20 minutes when it's back on the steps again. Of course when you get to the slope, you start to get a bit complacent but it's the altitude that gets you. I was fine until about 20 flights of steps from the top. My rucksack (which only weighed 4kgs), suddenly felt like a sack of potatoes and I had to stop to catch my breath every few minutes. My gallant husband offered to help carry some of those potatoes, but I had come too far to acquiesce at this late stage and was delighted to reach the top. It had taken us 3.5 hours of tough slog and I think Percy was rather surprised at our relative speed (he would quickly find out that going uphill is my strong point, going downhill is another matter altogether)
It was another clear, sunny day and the views from the top were amazing, stretching for miles across the Andes. We spent about an hour at the top relaxing, taking photos and watching the rest of the groups toil up the long slope. Then it was time for the first big downhill stretch (600 meters). The Inca trail is not a dirt path, but a paved way. The Incas were not tall people, but in some places the steps were built for giants. Slowly, slowly we crawled down to the camp site feeling hot and exhausted but happy to be over the worst. It was 1.30pm and just time for a nice cold shower before Percy broke our bubble with the news that day 3 was going to be much harder....
Inca Trail Day 3
By now we had settled into a routine, another early start, another pass, smaller this time (a climb of only 400 meters) but with more clear blue skies and superb views. Percy was a wealth of knowledge and pointed out the different types of flowers, including orchids, identified distant peaks and kept us engaged in lively conversation on a diverse range of topics. We had an understanding that he would talk to us in Spanish, but like naughty schoolchildren we quickly reverted to English as it was so much easier. The porters laboured up the hill with their 20kg loads, but on the downhills it was an entirely different matter. We were warned to "keep to the mountain side of the path" and we soon found out why. While I gingerly picked my way down the stone steps, the porters ran, with a seemingly unstoppable momentum. With their big loads they could easily side-swipe you off the path if you were on the wrong side.
The day turned out to be one of stupendous views, deserted Inca sites (5 in all) and the hardest two hours of all - a descent of 1100 meters down an endless flight of stone steps. By the time we reached camp it was 5pm and my legs were almost turned to jelly....but what a fabulous day.
We were still high above the river, but in front of us was Machu Picchu Mountain, behind which nestled our goal....
The final night was slightly surreal as the campsite had a small bar and cable TV, so suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a whole bunch of people (who we had never seen along the trail) who just wanted to make a lot of noise drinking beer and watching the sports round up. Unable to cope with the sudden change we quickly retreated outside and spent the evening stargazing instead.
Inca Trail Day 4, destination Machu Picchu
Day 4 continued to feel surreal as we had to be out of our tents by 4am so that the porters could pack them up, make us breakfast then rush down the mountain to the train by 5.15. There are many trains during the day, but for some reason, this is the only train that they are allowed to catch with their big loads (the only way back to civilisation is by rail)
In the end I could walk no further and was reluctantly persuaded that we could see no more. I felt very sad to leave; in all my travels, Machu Picchu rates as one of my all time favourite places and most memorable sites. It really is the location that you can't appreciate from photographs; the trail had built day on day into a crescendo culminating with the arrival from high above the ancient city. A perfect trip in every way!