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Inca Trail Day 4

Day four was our earliest start yet, I don’t know what time it was and I don’t remember drinking my coffee. I know there must have been coffee because something got me out of my sleeping bag. It could have just been two yellow Chaskis shaking me out of it and leaning me against a tree though. But then that doesn’t explain how I got out of my pajamas. Getting to Machu Pichu as early as possible is the aim on day four. In order to achieve this we all had to be at the passport control for the moment it opened. Obviously all 500 people on the trail are doing the same thing so there were some 180 gringos in a queue, in the dark, waiting to begin.

I think I fell asleep again at some point because the next thing I knew we were off. Our final Inca trail passport stamps obtained and we were accelerating along the path. It was only a short walk that day but very crowded due to all the groups leaving at the same time.

The sign that we were almost there was a set of steps ascending almost as steeply as a wall in front of us. These were the steps to the Sun Gate, where we would finally stand and look down upon the Inca city of Machu Pichu.

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Obviously we weren’t disappointed. The view from the Sun Gate is spectacular and you can see the whole of the complex laid out before you.

We just had to hike another couple of kilometres and we were down in the city itself for the famous tourist photograph!

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Big smiles on our faces our bodies finally began to let us know exactly how upset they were with the last 4 days. At this point you have to leave Machu Pichu by the main gate so that you can officially arrive by coming in again. I was fine with this as once again we got a passport stamp, the fifth and final one!

We officially entered Machu Pichu and began to explore the city. Manny really came into his own here and gave us a great explanation of the city, individual buildings and explanations of Inca life.

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After this we were free to explore until we would meet up again for lunch in Aguas Calientes, the town below. Obviously we had a great time, but pictures describe it far better than I can.

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After exhausting the last of our strength we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes. You can walk up or down this part, but since the path follows the road, we’d suggest the bus.

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When we reached the town the only things on our minds were food and a celebratory drink, or six. Pizza and Pisco were consumed in slightly excessive quantities and everyone settled back content.

We had a few hours to kill before our train left so we decided to check out the hot springs for which Aguas Calientes is named. Whilst they were hot and helped our muscles, we felt less clean than when we got in and that’s after not showering for four days. Hot yes, hygienic, no.

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Our final expedition was the tourist train that would take us back along the valley to Ollantaytambo, where we’d had breakfast on day one. From here the bus took us back to Cusco and dropped us in the main square at about 11pm. We struggled back to the hostel where they had thankfully already moved our bags out of storage into our room, little things like this feel so good when you’re tired.. A hot shower to rinse off the hot springs and our Inca Trail was done.

 

Inca Trail Day 3

Day three saw everyone getting into the routine. We were woken by coffee being wafted outside the tent, which was then again dismantled and heading up the trail before we’d even has a chance to notice. Breakfast was a delicious porridge to warm up our limbs. Manny once again motivated us with promises of awesome vistas and a bit more caffeine. Within 45 minutes the group was ready to go.

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The walk out of the campsite went straight up 200m to the top of the next pass. After 100m we stopped at the Tambo (resting place) on the route. These stops were part Inn, part watch tower/customs and part house on the trail. This one had spectacular views down to our last campsite and back up to dead woman’s pass.

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We headed on up the pass for more views.

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At this point in the trail Manny explained how offerings were historically made at the top of the pass. We offered some coca leaves (traditional) and some Haribo (because we could).

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The next part of the trail was down again, steeply to the Inca city of Sayacmarca. This is definitely one of the most impressive ruins on the trek. Similar to Machu Picchu it sits on a high ridge looking down into a valley, apart from the roofs, the buildings are excellently preserved.

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From here we could see down to the lunch spot. Once again indicated by the distant yellow dots!

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Manny explained that the rest of the day would see us ascending one final pass before a very steep and long descent that would put us within sight of Aguas Calientes.

The path up to the pass was beautiful, the mountain rising above us to our right and cliffs dropping down to our left with views of the forests below.

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There were also some Inca tunnels, places where the trail builders decided it would be better to go through the rock than around it.

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And then the storm arrived. We had avoided rain on our trek so far and technically it still wasn’t raining. The hailstones were large enough to be painful and the path turned completely white with ice balls in minutes. We struggled on in to the wind with the lightning flashing all around.

At the top of the pass Manny was waiting and asked if the group wanted to wait for everyone before heading down. Very aware of the 2 metal poles strapped to my back as lightning rods I checked if I was the tallest gringo. I was relieved to see that another trekker should be struck by any lightning before I was. But not wanting to hang around, we valiantly decided it was every man for themselves on this occasion and headed off the mountain top.

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The descent for the rest of the day was treachorous and breathtaking. We passed through series of complex ruins along a narrow winding walkway. At places the Incas had cut tunnels in the rock and at one point around 30 stairs had been carved directly into a huge boulder. The path was difficult until the hailstones melted and then we just had to deal with the water flowing down the trail.

Towards the end of the trail we emerged into a series of Inca farming terraces, these beautifully formed marvels were the most extensive we’d yet seen and the roaming llamas meant there was some great photo opportunities.

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Here’s a photo of Lauren and I in our ponchos…

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The best bit of the terraces was that when we looked down them along the path we suddenly realised we could see the yellow dots! Our trusty Chaskis were only a short distance away and we could almost smell the hot chocolate from where we stood.

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We hurried down to the campsite and happily pulled on some warm clothes. We’d made it to the final campsite Winay Wayna.

The fourth and final day is up next…

 

Inca Trail Day 2

We woke early on Day 2 to a beautiful sunrise and clouds hovering just above the peaks of snow capped mountains. This vista (and the triple strength coffee) just about took the edge off being woken so early. We were expertly coaxed out of our warmish sleeping bags by our guide with the promise of a hot breakfast. No sooner was a tent vacated than the porters descended on it in a storm of efficiency that reduced it to a small bag in under a minute. We did worry that one of the group hadn’t got out in time but luckily she had escaped at the last second.

Over breakfast Manny clarified that we were indeed heading up the steep valley to the top of the pass that was level with the snow capped peaks that had just been the focus of our attention. The overall plan for the day was a 1200m ascent to 4200m then a rapid descent to 3600m. By the time Manny has explained this (3 minutes) everything except the stools we were sitting on had been packed and most of the porters were yellow spots far up the valley. Confident in our inability to match their pace we gathered our much smaller bags and set of after them.

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The first stop was of course to get our Inca trail day 2 passport stamps! After this we began the climb, quickly splitting into speed defined groups. Lauren and I were happy to take things slow and enjoy the views.

The climb followed a fairly consistent gradient that saw us passing through some beautiful forest before emerging above the tree line. On a couple of occasions we had to make way for llamas coming the other way. It was perfectly clear from their faces that they weren’t going to make way for us.

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A brief stop in a clearing for lunch after a few hours, was a welcome respite and gave people a chance to wrap up against the lowering temperatures of altitude. From here the path to the top was visible, as were the yellow pixels of our porters at the top of the pass. With the goal in site we pushed on for the summit. The views were well worth the climb with mountains behind and ruins down the valley ahead.

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We regrouped at the top of the pass to appreciate the views together. The rest of the day would be a short but steep descent down to the campsite, we could already see some yellow dots assembling tents! With relatively good weather overhead we all felt pretty good at being able to literally see our tents ahead.

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The campsite was on an Inca farming terrace, just wide enough for a tent, they are common for campsites along the Inca trail. Just wide enough for a tent, of course meant that you had to be careful getting in or out. Tripping over a rope at this point would send you through the top of a tent on the terrace below.

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The rest of the afternoon was free for relaxing as the next day would be the hardest and longest.

Day 3 coming soon…

Inca Trail: Day 1

Our Inca adventure started on a cold Cusco morning in September. The hostel had made us breakfast but it was nearer to 4am than 5 and we packed it as a snack for later. The Peru Treks guide escorted us in a dreary state through the damp streets to the bus that would take us to the start of the trail. We nodded greetings with similarly bleary eyed gringos and promptly fell asleep.

We were jostled awake a couple of hours later as the bus entered Ollantaytambo. The town preserves as much of is Inca heritage as possible, including an abrupt transition from tarmac to cobblestones. As Lauren and I had already done a sacred valley tour we hadn’t felt the need to stay awake for the scenery.

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The main square was filled with groups of under caffeinated gringos being gently ushered into their tour operators chosen breakfast establishment. After 3 black coffees we were ready to finally face the day. Firstly we rented some hiking poles to help us out if our knees decided they’d had enough and as a last minute decision we bought some “poncho plastics” or rain ponchos. These are really useful as they cover your bag as well as yourself.

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With everyone looking a bit more human we got back on the bus to go to the start of the trail at kilometer 82. On the way our guide introduced himself again (we must have slept through the first one) as Manny and he would be our father for the next few days. We got an an in depth explanation about what to expect as well as some history about the company.

We all got out of the bus at km.82 as the sun broke through the clouds! This was the first opportunity to see the porters or Chaskis as they’re called on the trail. Usually small (even by Peruvian standards) middle aged gentlemen they easily picked up bags up to twice their size and headed off to the trail security check. Recently the Peruvian government has put strict weight controls on what the  Chaskis can carry and they all get checked before being allowed on the trail.

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Despite Peru Treks issuing all its porters with stout clothes, good waterproofs and boots, most of the porters don’t use them. The home made leather sandals are the preferred footware, whilst a poncho plastic is lighter and more versatile. The bright yellow Peru Treks overcoats are however still worn, making our porters the most visible on the trail.

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Whilst these small men don’t look like typical marathon runners, the Inca trail is 26 miles long, the same as a marathon. The highest point is at 4200m, with around 4000m of total vertical change. This isn’t even to mention the treacherous footing and extreme weather conditions. The current record holder can do the whole trail in 3 hours 23 minutes. Not bad for a man in sandals.

The first thing we did was the most important to Lauren and I, our Machu Picchu passport stamps. With this firmly in place we crossed the bridge that marked the start of the trail.

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Day 1 of the Inca trail is definitely the easiest. It’s of few kilometres of relativity flat trail with only 400m gained across the entire day. The highlights are the excellent ruins you pass along the way.

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We had lunch, which was excellent, on some Inca farming terraces. These terraces are so prolific, especially lower in the valley, that the local communities live on and among them even today.

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Lauren and I were as usual not in a hurry and enjoyed the sights as the gradient rose towards the end of the trail.

The local villages you pass through at of course offering snacks to help you on your way. We quickly noticed however that the prices were rising far quicker than the path, so we stocked up on some water and Pringles.

When we got to the campsite that afternoon, the porters had already set up the tents and had hot chocolate in hand for us. An enterprising businessman was selling beers at around 3x the normal price, which we haggled over half heartedly before giving in. A few of us went to the nearby Inca watchtower which stood sentinel over the valley and drank our beverages as the sun set.

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That evening as we crawled into the tent, we noticed that whilst the height was excellent the length was clearly designed for someone of a far shorter stature…

Tune in soon for Day 2…