Machu Memories

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Thursday, September 2, 2010

This long awaited day is finally here and an early one it is, we got picked up at 6pm by our tour guide (Richard) and the other couple we are trekking with, (Tanya and Chris from Australia) we drove 2 hours to Ollantaytambo where we all had breakfast and a coffee,we bought any last minute ponchos, hats, gloves etc. Because it was raining we all bought a poncho we didn't have any waterproof trousers.  When we all got back in the minibus it was full with 6 porters, 1 cook and an assistant cook.  6 porters for 4 people seemed a bit much but when we saw how much they had to carry it wasn’t.
We then headed on for another 45 minutes to the starting point.  I was a little apprehensive as to how hard this would be, would my knee be ok and how will I deal with the altitude, so I was  eager to get started.  The night before we all met up and Richard talked us through the itinerary for the 4 days and how hard each day will be, so we all had a general insight to the trail.  We all passed through the checkpoint and off went. It was a fairly easy day, we did climb 1000 meters but it wasn’t too difficult the hardest thing is the altitude, it sets my breathing off course.  We passed Wilkaraka ruins and Liactapata ruins where we all stopped for photos,  the Incas were so creative in their designs and the reasons why they build in a certain place Liactapata for example was shaped like the sun as if the rays were shooting from it as they believe in the sun god .  We stopped for our lunch brake about 12.30 at a small farm for delinquent animals, and while the lamb was trying to get in the tent, the dog was trying to have sex with the other dog, the bull was having sex with a cow we ate the most amazing food a starter, main and dessert and an endless supply of tea this gave us the energy to head off up a steep hill. As we were walking we passed other tour groups some as large as 16 people, it was nice just the four of us as we all kept the same pace, in fact we arrived at camp for the night at 3.45 instead for Richards estimated 5pm so we were all ahead of time.  No showers so just baby wiped ourselves clean and rested before out first tea or `happy hour’ as Richard called it.  The porters are always ahead of us and they were carrying 25kg of weight which was amazing, so they always ended up at camp ahead of us with the tent erected and the cooking underway.  Happy Hour was all of us in the tent with popcorn tea, crackers etc now with this being the first night Justin thought this was his tea so he pretty much cleared the decks, so when the meal came his face was a treat.  In the Happy Hour before our tea Richard talked to us about the day, about the following day and what to expect and he also taught us about the Incas, their religion and history, it was so interesting to get an insight into the people who build this trail and the amazing empires.  Because we were having early starts we were pretty much in out tents by 8.30 to sleep, but before we did that we had bough a couple of bottles of rum to share with the porters as a nightcap, they loved it!   Richard also lined us all up on this night staff on one side and us on the other, he went along the line and all the porters stepped forward and introduced, age, how long they have done the job and family/married etc, then we did the same.  It was a great way to get to know everyone, the youngest porter was 19 and it was his second trek and the oldest was 49 and he had been a porter for 7 years, it was quite sad to see someone that age doing such a physical job to keep his wife and two children and he did it in sandals which cost about $5.  It certainly gave me something to think about on the first night!
Day Two, the dreaded day. Everyone I spoke to tells me it's really tough,  and yes it was!  6am start but what makes this nice is that the porters bring us a cup of tea to the tent so we can warm up before we have to leave the tent.  It was uphill from the word go, we climber Dead Woman's Pass to 4200 meters and yes there was a lot of steps. I found it a struggle as we reached to top with my breathing due to the height.  What gets me is the size of the steps and the Inca’s were so small it is amazing to think they climbed up the trail all the time.  We made it to the top of Dead Woman's Pass and sat down to rest for a while and take in the views of the snow capped mountains, then two condors came swooping overhead, now until this point I hadn’t been lucky enough to see one.  The Incas considered this a good luck so it made us all feel really to take on the descend down the other side of the pass through the valley.  We stopped at the bottom of the valley for lunch which as usual was fantastically filling, but what put a dampener on it was the view of the other mountain we had to climb after lunch, again steep steps leading to the top.  The incentive to want to get up there was Runkurakay Inca ruin which was at the top  of the pass, it offered us amazing views over the valley we had just climbed.  When we got to each ruin and looked back on the ground we had covered it makes it all worth while.  We also passed Sayaqinarka site which was in the clouds, we couldn’t see the views but it certainly made it more mysterious with the could hanging over us.  We eventually got to Chaquiqocha campsite which apparently had amazing views too but again we were in the clouds, so we ate, played cards and drank rum to celebrate day two.  I felt  such a sense of achievement at this point it was quite overwhelming.
  Day three and we all awoke quite relaxed knowing that day two was over, but our legs at this point started to ache.  As I climbed out of the tent I was blown away by the view, as it was cloudy when we arrived we didn’t get to see it, but the clouds cleared overnight to display snow capped mountains and deep valleys of green everywhere, we could also see the last Inca site we visited the day before.  Because we dropped down 1500 meters today we headed into the jungle which was excellent the trail was up and down with trees and bamboo everywhere, we walked through an Inca tunnel which the carved through the mountain and at this point we got to see that they don’t just put their trail of blocks down, but they actually build them up from the ground, so what we are actually walking on is a massive amount a blocks piled up alongside the mountain edge rather than the trail being cut into the mountain....incredible.  We stopped at Phuyupatamarca which had been preserved very well.  You become very imaginative trying to work out what each room would have been used for and to imagine living there yourself,  so high up and so peaceful, you start to realise why they chase that stop to build. Richard got very excited about taking us to the next site on the trail as it is his favorite it is called Winay Wayna which was mainly used by the Incas as an agricultural site.  It had terracing all around the main building which they used for growing different crops, he left us there to spend some time and that we did, we all went our own way to enjoy the peace and quite as there was no other tourists there, it would have been perfect to have a picnic or just sit and read a book, whilst butterflies flew all around us and the birds were singing.
This was our last day and we finished about 1pm so we chilled in the sun, and of course day three is shower day so we ran to get our well deserved shower  which felt so great.  Before we all had our last supper the four of us met in the bar for a couple of beers to celebrate the end of day three.  The porters would leave us on day four to head back home so we all said goodbye to them and they wished us well, we all gave them individual tips to thank them for making the trip so amazing.  The cook had baked us a cake, god knows how he did it as he only had a gas stove, it did taste good.  The food we had on the whole trek was better than any food I had anywhere else in Peru, it really was good.
Day four  the final day, we awoke at  4.30, had breakfast and headed up to the checkpoint which opened at 5.15am, we only had to walk 2hours to get to the `Sun gate’ which is the first point that we would get our view over Machu Picchu. When we did get there we couldn’t see a thing as there was mist everywhere, so we all sat down for 20 minutes to see if it would clear and it didn’t.  At this point we were all thinking the same thing...Will it clear?  Richard took us down to Machu Picchu itself which took about 50 minutes and on the way down we were praying for it to clear and when we arrived at the bottom lone behold it did, it lifted to reveal the sight I’ve waited so long to see, and it was truly as amazing as I expected it to be if not more.  Richard took us round the whole site and gave us all the history behind each part then he left us and we arranged to meet him in the next town - Aguas Caliente.  We spent a total of 5 hours walking round this sacred city, it is what I imagine heaven to be like, it is hidden away surrounded by mountains which made it easy to see why it hadn’t been found for so long.  And the fact that we had trekked four days to see this wonderful  place made it all the more special.  This knocks the glacier into second place and holds the title for most amazing sight so far this trip, such a huge achievement which I will hold special memories forever.
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