Today was our first day of officially joining the GAdventures group. We set a precedent for the rest of our trip by waking up early at 6:15 and out the door by 7:30. We met the group for breakfast, checkout out of the hotel and loaded into a van headed to Ollantaytambo, where we would stay the night.
We hit a few attractions along the way. First stop was Christo Blanco. We’d already seen this monument high on a hill looming over us for the previous week, but now we had a chance to view it up close and take in the beautiful view of Cusco. Next stop, another weaving community (they sure to takes tourists to like these places!) This one had quite a few llama’s and alpaca’s we could feed and pet. I also finally found a jumper to my liking!
After an hour or so on the bus we drove up the winding roads to Pisac. Alejandro gave us a quick guided tour and then we had an hour on our own to explore the ruins. Hungry after exploring, we hoped back on the bus and headed to Prawa Restaurant. This is a restaurant that is set up by G-Adventures that gives locals a chance to gain experience in a restaurant environment. The food was gourmet and delicious. After lunch we carried on through the Sacred Valley of the Inca’s to Ollantaytambo. We arrived into our hotel mid-day, relaxed a bit and headed into the town for some more history. The Ruins at Ollantaytambo sit directly above the town with a view of they entire valley, they were amazing. As the sun set we headed back into town only to realise that as it got darker, it got really dark. The power was out in the city. Apparently that was normal and they do it to conserve energy. The lights didn’t come on until it was fully dark out, but this made for great stargazing.
On our way to dinner we popped into a little art shop where we met two artists, husband and wife. We fell in love with a few of their paintings especially two paintings of the town, one from the wife and one from the husband. After dinner we all headed back to get an early night sleep so we’d be fresh to start the trail early the next morning.
The big day finally has arrived! Today we start the Inca Trail. We were up early for breakfast and to check our duffle bags, each had to be under 6kg for the porters to carry. Then onto the bus to head to KM82 where the trail begins. Here, under the blazing sun, we met our porters who we’d be spending the next 4 days with. After a bit of faffing with bags and sunscreen we were off on the trail! Although before we could officially begin we had to queue up at the passport check where we’d get our passport stamped at the first of 4 checks.
The trail officially begins across a narrow bridge over the Sacred River. The trail started off very flat, all dirt with cacti dotted along the sides. Looked like this was going to be easy! (insert foreshadowing) After a few KM we reached our first Incan site, Patallaqta Quechua, we viewed this from high on the hill above the site. We continued on passing more ruins and terraces, and the trail began to climb. During this time we passed and hiked with many other trekkers and were always making way for porters to come through with their huge backpacks. The porters ranged from very young to middle aged men. Some were in uniforms with new looking runners while others looked worse for wear, wearing sandals held together by duct tape.
After 11km of hiking, we reached our campsite for the evening at Wayllabamba. Our tents were set up with bowls of hot water for washing set out side and the smell of lunch was enticing. GAdventures didn’t skimp on the food. We had a 3 course meal of soup, main and dessert followed by cocoa tea. After dinner we properly met all our porters, each introducing themselves and telling us a bit about their lives and families. Before we knew it we were ready to eat again – dinner time.
As the light faded and everyone began to drift off to their tents, Mick and I stayed up for a bit of stargazing. This was one of the the things I was looking forward to the most on the train and the weather was cooperating this evening. We could see every star in the sky and the entire milky way, it was breathtaking.
An early start again today, up at 5:30 for our breakfast. Today was set to be the hardest trekking day of the trail as we were heading up Dead Women’s Pass. The trail started off steep coming out of the camp, were first thing we did was pass our second Passport Check. Then we continued to climb. Before long I lost sight of Mick who had headed off with the faster people in the group. Myself and Joe matched each other’s pace and encouraged each other along the way. Finally we would see the Pass ahead, and I could see Mick in his yellow jacket at the top. He was waiting for me, and I was waiting for Joe, as I didn’t want to leave him on his own for the final push.
When we reached the top a few of the others were up there and we all took in the view together. It was stunning. However at that altitude, the air was thin, so we didn’t want to stay too long. After the pass it was all downhill, lots of stairs and was hard going for everyone. After 12km and 8 hours of rigorous hiking, we reached Paqaymayo Camp at 2:30 just as lunch was being served. This is when Mick started feeling bad, he couldn’t eat his soup and had to head straight to bed. Our guides concluded that he had stayed at the top of the pass too long, resulting in altitude sickness. Full and tired, everyone retired for a bit of a nap.
I woke up before everyone else and sat listing to the birds and nearby waterfall, taking in the surroundings, very zen moment. Unfortunately Mick was continuing to feel worse. He missed dinner and was very sick. At dinner, we all anxious to hear news from Alejandro; The camp we were to stay at the next day, Wiñaywayna, had been partially washed away in a landslide. There were two options:
The rangers had decided we would be doing option 1, hike the 16km, as after all the range the downhill would be treacherous in the dark.
Snug in our tents we listened to the mountain top come alive at night with the sounds of frogs and bugs. Late into the night thunder and lighting lit up the whole range, which was exciting and annoying because it made it hard to sleep. I fell asleep to the sound of the rain hitting the tent.
Another 5:30 start (these were becoming routine!) The rain had left everything damp and a low mist hung on the mountains. With bellies full of pancakes we all suited up in our rain gear and headed up hill again, out of the valley. After an hour we reached the ruin of Runkuraqay, a circular ruin where Alejandro gave us a bit more history. The rain was coming down hard, we visited several more Incan sites but the views were dampened by the clouds and rain.
By the time we reached our lunch stop, we were all soaked to the bone, gore-tex was useless. The lovely Carol loaned me an extra dry fleece she was carrying which helped immensely. The porters had also prepared a surprise for us, at the end of our lunch they came into the tent with a fully baked cake, icing and all! It was delicious.
The hiking after lunch was very steep downhill. One of my biggest worries for this trip, was some knee pain I’d been having hiking downhill, this really put it to the test. But my brace seemed to be doing the job, I found my rhythm and was soon hoping down the steps. The weather was also starting to clear up and before we knew it we were peeling off layers and looking for sun cream.
We reached a fork in the trail where we were given 2 options, to head to the camp (1km) or head to another Incan ruin (2km) away. Of course we chose the ruin, and boy were we glad we did. Intipata – The Place of the Sun – were the most stunning ruins we’d seen yet. Huge terraces over looked the Sacred River below. We had the place to ourselves for the better part of an hour while the rest of our group made their way there. We sat on the edge of the terraces and watched birds flying high above the valley below, taking in everything and loving the moment. For me I felt that this was the climax, not even Machu Picchu could top this.
Eventually the sun started fading and we had to head to the camp site. The campsite at Wiñaywayna was very crowded (due to the landslide) tents were pitched directly next to each other and as far as you could see. We had dinner and gave a huge thank you to all of our porters. The porters would be heading off very early 4am to make their train back to Ollantaytambo. There is only one early train at 5am for the porters, so they get a cheaper fair before the ‘tourist trains’ start to run.
Our wake up call was at 3:30am, seems I had only just fallen asleep. We quickly packed up all our stuff and the porters were on their way. Flashlights in hand, we all headed down to the trail gate to wait an hour and a half for it to open, at 6am. When the gates finally opened, all 200 campers flooded through and hit the trail running. We were on the final leg, and our prize at the end awaited – Machu Picchu. The trail for the next 5km rolled up and down. Midway we all stopped to look at the view, Mick stepped in for a closer look and before he knew it, the rock he was standing on gave way, he toppled over the edge, off the trail, thankfully landing in a bed of leaves and twigs (next to a shear drop). The guides acted very quickly to pull him back up to a safer position. I was very shaken and Mick was a bit bruised, but we moved along quickly to calm everyone’s nerves. Mick was now the talk of the trail! Word must have spread, and as people passed they said “Hey! are you the guy who fell off the trail!?”
We pushed on. We finally reached the infamous “Wall of Pain” a set of stairs that were so narrow and tall that it was more like rock climbing that stair climbing. Knowing that the Sungate and Machu Picchu lay just beyond gave me a quick surge of energy and propelled me up the wall.
Finally we were there! We reached the Sungate! And we couldn’t see a thing. The clouds were thick and we could only see about 20ft below. We ate our second breakfast and hoped for the clouds to lift to reveal our first glimpse of the Ancient City. No luck. Eventually we headed down the path into the city itself. Even when we reached the Guardgate and entrance to the city we couldn’t see it – knowing it was just in front of us!
Alajandro took us for a guided tour around the ruins of the city. The clouds began to lift as we headed further in. The history was fascinating and scenery breathtaking with the clouds weaving their way through the mountain tops, revealing glimpses of ruins nestled in high peaks. Two of my favourite attractions were the Temple of the Sun and the Southern Cross. We wondered around the place for another 2 hours, exploring and learning. The tiredness was setting in, my legs and eyelids were getting heavy. At 12:30 we caught the bus down to Aguas Calientes the picturesque little town below the ancient city above.
We were the last of our group to arrive for lunch. Where we all reminisced over the previous four days. We all boarded the train, which has to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world (or that I’ve been on!) headed back to Ollantaytambo where ewe picked p our bags. From here we boarded a bus to Cusco. Nearly everyone slept on the way back, but I was wide awake enjoying the journey.
Back in Cusco we had our final dinner with the group. We all exchanged contact details and said your goodbyes. This was the last time we’d be seeing most of them, as most were flying home the next day. We however had the next adventure to come…
Bring on the Amazon Jungle!