The Inca Trail

Wow, what an experience!

The trek started on Wednesday when we were picked up from our Cusco hotel at 5:20am!  It was freezing cold (Cusco is at 3500m) so we were wrapped up warm in the llama wool hats, scarf’s and gloves we had bought!  After picking up the other people in our group from various hotels around town  the bus took us to the town of Ollantaytambo where we had breakfast and bought supplies for the trip ahead.  After another 45 minutes we arrived at the start of the Inca Trail at about 9am – or rather about a km short as the road was blocked for repairs so we had an extra bit to walk!  Here’s Russ and I, raring to go, at the very start of the trail.

start of the inca trail

Day one was relatively easy the going was mainly flat and we walked about 12km to our first campsite at Wayllabamba.  It was a nice day and visibility was good, which meant we could take in the excellent views en route.  Highlights included the Inca ruins of Patallacta, which we viewed from high above.  My guidebook describes day one as a warm up for the rest of the trek and I would say that’s about right, it was more of a stroll than a trek but a good chance to get used to the altitude and meet our fellow trekkers.  The campsite was nice, great views down into the valley below.

Day two (noted by most guides as the toughest day) started at 5.30am, after a big breakfast (we ate well over the four days!) we started with a steep uphill climb.  This was to be the trend for most of the day as we had to go from 3300m to the trails highest point at 4200m over about 7km.  The trek up to the highest point is known as ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ and it was certainly pretty tough with some very steep sections and lots of steps!  To give you an idea this is me at about two thirds of the way up, we had to climb up to the directly up from by backpack.
Still a bit to do on day two

It was interesting to see the change in vegetation and climate as we climbed, changing from cloud forest to highland scrub.  I was getting hot and cold depending on if I was walking or standing still – hence the woolly hat!

There were 12 in our group of mixed fitness levels – somehow I made it up to the top first!  I much prefer walking uphill to downhill, its like mountain biking just get into a rhythm and keep going!  The last 100m was probably the worst as you could see the top but the trail went really steep – so close but so far!  I made it though and got stuck into some Inca Kola (a fizzy yellow drink that tastes like Iron Bru) and chocolate as a reward whilst waiting  (about 20 mins) for the rest of the group and admiring the views.  Russ did really well, he was feeling the altitude again and was struggling towards the end, he made it up third in the group though!  Here we are celebrating making it to the top.

At the top!

Having got boiling hot walking up we soon got pretty nippy (hence we are wrapped up in the photo) as cold winds were blowing up from the valley on the other side.  What goes up must go down and we had to descend sharply into the cold valley.  From 4200m we descended down lots and lots of steps to  our second  campsite at 3500m, a place called  Paqaymayu.

At this point I should mention the porters, or should I say superhumans!  There are no vehicles or mules on the Inca Trail to carry the supplies and equipment required to support a group of 12 trekkers.  Therefore there were 18 porters to carry everything for us, including if you wanted your personal gear (you had to pay extra).  We hired a third of a porter between us (to carry 6kg) to hump our sleeping bags and mattresses.  Not only did they carry everything they also setup camp, everyday they would leave after us, overtake us on the trail and then have camp setup and food ready when we arrived.  They carried a lot of stuff too, mainly they were little guys and they carried packs nearly as big as them, walking very fast too usually in shorts and sandals.  There was also a cook, we ate extremely well and healthy over the trek – the food was really good given the conditions.  Lunch and dinner were three course meals, usually a nice soup followed by a decent main meal with a dessert to top it off!  Although we were working hard I think we put weight on!  All of this was brought to us, the only thing we had to do was walk the trail.  Respect to the porters!

So we arrived at Paqaymayu feeling a little weary (walking downhill is harder for me than uphill – it hurts my knees!) to be greeted at camp (Russ, he relishes the downhill,  and I were first to arrive) with a cup of coco tea and our tent setup ready to crash out!  After a hearty dinner we went to sleep at 7pm!

The reason we were in bed so early was because we were up at 5am to start day three.  Surprisingly throughout the trek I dealt with the early mornings well, in fact Russ complained more than me, perhaps I’m a changed man – I don’t do mornings usually!  We had been lucky with the weather for the first two days, they were sunny with good visibility, unfortunately the third day was the opposite – foggy, wet and cold 🙁  The third day is described as having unforgettable views – all we saw was the inside of a cloud!

After an initial climb most of the days trek was downhill, down some very steep and slippy steps.  Not my favourite day, not too keen on downhill as it hurts my knees and the weather wasn’t agreeable!  However we passed some interesting places including a lot of Inca ruins, although the fog and wet limited their appeal.  I’ve been carrying my thermal top for months and had never worn it – I was glad of it that day!

We also passed through the famous Inka tunnel, which are paved tunnels through the rock of the mountain, pretty cool and a nice place to shelter from the rain!

Inka Tunnel

Eventually we got descended under the clouds and got finally got some visibility of the scenery around us.  In fact the sun came out quickly and we soon got pretty hot and our clothes dried out – made things much more enjoyable!  We also got our first view of the Machu Picchu Mountain (not the site) and the town of Aguas Calientes in the valley below.

Somehow at this point, think I lost concentration and got too close to the edge and slipped on a rock, I  fell off the trail!  One minute I was on the trail, the next I was in the bushes holding on for my life!  Luckily it wasn’t on a steep section as they were some scary bits!  I ended up a few meters down caught up in the bush, much to Russ’s amusement – he took photos before helping me out!  The worst I came out with was a grass cut on my thumb – pretty lucky!

We also passed the ruins of Inipata, a very big Inca site just outside our third and final campsite at Winya Wayna.  We arrived into camp around 2pm, by then the weather had totally changed the sun was blazing – good to dry the clothes!  The view from our tent was probably the best yet:

third campsite view

We spent the afternoon playing cards, relaxing, and eating a lot!  Again we hit the sack early, although it was hard to sleep as the campsite was busy due to it being 6km from Machu Picchu, and we were camped right  by a load of loud japs – much to Russ’s annoyance!

The forth and final day began at 4am!  Bobby (our guide) recommended we start early to avoid the rush to Machu Picchu, and be able to enjoy time there with not many people.  So we were the first group at the check point for the final trek to Machu Picchu when the gates opened at 5.30am.  Bobby advised us to walk the 6km as fast as possible to get as much time on our own as possible.  He told the fastest walkers in the group to go first as the trail was narrow – guess who that was!

It was like the start of the grand national when the gates opened!  Russ and I shot off!  It was dark for the first 15 minutes so we were walking by torch light, the path was up and down with plenty of slippy rocks, but I don’t think I have ever walked so fast in my life!  The hardest part was the section known as the ’60 steps’ leading into the final km to the ‘sun gate’ that overlooks Machu Picchu.  I scrambled up them double quick, which was pretty knackering, Russ started flagging at this point and got overtaken by an American in our group.  I was sweating and breathing hard but was determined to make it to the sungate first (it was a male testosterone moment!) so I pushed on.  I made it into the sungate at 6am (half an hour to cover 6km – although I’m not convinced it was that far!), and it was great being first up and having the amazing view of the Machu Picchu ruins to myself – albeit only for a minute or so!  Russ made it up third and the three of us had about 10 minutes to admire the view before anyone else showed up.

Overlooking Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

Of course the peace was soon shattered with the arrival of the 200 or so people heading to MP that day – it was good whilst it lasted though and a good way to end the Inca trail.  When all the group arrived  we headed down to the MP site, which enabled us to view the postcard  view of MP.

Postcard view of Machu PicchuÂ

Pretty spectacular and worth the aches and pains from the four days of trekking!  After taking lots of photos we headed down into the site itself where Bobby gave us a two hour tour.  Bobby has been working the Inca trail for 20 years so it was great to hear his experience and knowledge about the history, construction techniques and layout of Machu Picchu.

It really is an amazing place, the fact it is still there for us to see after thousands of years, and more than a few earthquakes,  is remarkable in itself – although for me the location of the site is the best thing.  Surrounded by gargantuan mountains, rivers, and valleys its spectacular!  Good effort by the Incas building the thing up there, must of been tough!

By 11am we were knackered so we  caught one of the many buses  down to the town of Agua Calientes (translates as Hot Waters, unofficially Machu Picchu town), which is the closest settlement to the ruins.  It was our first taste of civilisation for four days!  It’s a quaint town with a very boisterous river and a train line running down the main street!

Aguas CalientesÂ

After a nice pizza lunch we headed straight to the thermal pools that give the town its name – a fantastic way to relax and rest our fatigued legs!  We didn’t shower before we got in too, oops!  The rest of the day we chilled out, a few well deserved beers in the evening.

The next morning the train, which was directly out of our window, woke us up at 5.30am!  After an hours snooze I was wide awake at 6.30am (told you I was a changed man!) and I thought I’d make the most of an early start (Russ stayed in bed!)  and head back up to MP to climb the Wayna Picchu mountain that overlooks MP from the other side of the postcard photo.  It’s a 400m climb up really steep steps, pretty tricky and tiring, to the top.  I started the climb at about 8.15am and made it to the top by 9am, at which point MP was covered by cloud.  However I could see the cloud rising as the sun came up to full power and by 9.15am MP came into view.  I sat up at the top for an hour just taking in the view and reflecting on the past four days – one of the best bits of the trek for me.

At the top of Wayna Picchu

Coming down was arguably harder as you could see how far it was to fall!  After a quick look round MP (by 11am its full of tourists – not my bag) I headed back to town to meet Russ for lunch.  We then caught the mid afternoon train back to Quillabamba where we caught a bus back to Cusco.  After a much needed shower (which was cold, – really annoying) – we met up with some other folks from our group last night and had more than a few beers in the highest Irish bar in the world (there’s a claim to fame!).  Today we had a massive fry up (sausage, bacon, beans, tomatoes, eggs – Russ ate mine, toast, coffee, and juice – superb!) and for the rest of the day I have been sat here on the internet (sorry I know I’ve gone on for ages, there’s a lot to tell!), which is nice as it gives my legs a rest!

Tonight we are going to catch a night bus to the town of Puno, which is located on Lake Titicaca.  Surprisingly I’m meeting my Dad tomorrow, he’s flying out for a holiday in Peru at short notice – will be good to see him!

I took over 300 photos over the five days, but I’ve whittled it down to 100 here.  Read the next post for Russ’s view of the trek!

4 thoughts on “The Inca Trail

  1. Phil

    Wow, awesome stuff Shep / Russ. It really bought back my my own memories of the trail and MP from reading your blog – I knew you’d love it!

  2. frostystoo

    I’d just like to say Shep, your my new hero after being the fastest walker in your group. You’re rubbish at football, computers, drinking and fashion so must be great to find out you are talented at something 😉 .

    Looks an amazing trek. Will definitely have to do it at some point in my life although that might be on the tourist train as an old codger in 30 years time.

  3. Alex

    Yep, I fear that I may be on the seat behind soiling myself in incontinance pants when I finally make it to that particular wonder of the world!!!

  4. Pingback: Sheps Round the World Travel Blog! » Travelogue Entry » How being back home feels!

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