4 day hike to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu
08.05.2015 - 12.05.2015 18 °C
So normally we both write individual articles and then merge thm together to form one blog, however, with the Inca Trail we decided to post each of our experiences separately, as they were very different to each other. As it was the pinnacle of our trip and had been long awaited, we both had different feelings and dealt with the trekk in different ways. So here is it!
Boy had we no idea what we were in for. Over 45km of stones laid down by hand more than 600 years ago to allow the Incan civilisation to cleanse themselves by walking to Machu Picchu. Although the ancient city of Machu Picchu sits on a lower altitude than Cusco (by about 1000m), the first 2 days of trekking were up hill. Steps and steps, and seeming like we were getting nowhere it was pretty tough. As it was a 4 day trek we had to carry all our gear on our backs which for me added, about 15kg. I also got the tattoo the day before leaving which, yes, perhaps wasn't the best choice I have ever made, but hey, you only live once! So with leg burning, back burning and sweat dripping from every inch of my body, I had realised we'd only been 15 minutes into the trail. It was at about this time that it dawned on me what I had signed up for!
It wasn't all doom and gloom though at all. As we began to ascend on the first day, we quickly realised why the Incas had chosen this place to lay their trail. It passes through the sacred valley, an area so called due to it's extremely rich soils and beautiful fertile land. With steep mountains on either side of us, we walked over the "Inca flat" as our guide liked to call it. Inca flat is not flat. Inca flat is up and down apparently but I swear it was mostly up! Stopping for lunch we realised why other travellers had raved about the food on the Inca Trail. Each group have porters whom carry the tents, food, tables, chairs, in fact, everything that you would find in a well stocked kitchen and dining room - they carried it! There were 19 porters for our 14 strong group of hikers and they passed us out during the first 15 seconds of the hike. We were greeted with mountainous amounts of food (haha mountainous...), and luxury and service you'd expect to find in a hotel. After stuffing our bellies full, and before we had 5 minutes rest, they had all the dining and kitchen tents down and back in bags and off they went to set up the next camp for the evening. We did a lot of research about the Inca Trek prior to booking and we chose our company because they take care of their porters and only allow them to carry maximum 20kg, 6kg lighter than the government regulation of 26kg. Before the regulations came in, porters were severely underpaid by trekking companies and often carried loads on their backs of upto 50kg. They do work very hard!
After finishing the first day of the hike, and the sun set behind the backdrop of the beautiful mountiains, our guide told us of day 2, the hardest day of the four. 11 hours of hiking in order to reach the next camp before dinner and the trail led us over 2 mountain passes which meant up hill all day. That morning we got up before sunrise and set off. If we thought the first day was bad, this was some serious hiking. As porters pretty much ran passed us, we just gawked at them in surprise, and envy! Day 2 was very tough and I had to push boundaries in my mind that I had never reached before. It was a very challenging day and once we finally made it to the top of the first pass at 4200m, we had an overwhelming sense of triumph. Kathrin's face in the picture below sums up our feelings about that day! After group pictures and a short rest we trekked on to the second mountain pass which was a little lower. Day 3 and 4 would be pretty much down as we had to descend to 2400m to where Machu Picchu lay. God knows why the Incas wanted to go so far up before going down. Cusco sits at 3400m which would have meant only descending 1000m to reach the ancient city!
On our way over the third day we passed by many small "look out" remains and resting houses for the people who used to walk the trail. Our guide told us moore and more info about the Incas and there way of life which was really interesting. The trail on the third day was flat and mostly down, which was a nice bonus with some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. Lush green mountains covered in misty clouds and bright blue sky, I cld have stayed there forever. On the end of the third day we finally made it to the last set of steep stairs that ended in the Sun Gate. We almost ran up as we knew at the top we'd get the first glimpse of Machu Picchu which meant the end was nigh. And what a beautiful site it was. We spent ages sitting there watching the city and taking pictures - we'd completed the Inca Trail! Or so we thought. We stilll had to walk for about another hour or so to reach it! After passing a herd of llamas, with whom we took some cheeky selfies (see pictures) we made it to the iconic viewpont of Machu Picchu. It was amazing and we made sure to take some time to enjoy this amazing once in a lifetime opportunity. It was really special.
That night we stayed in the little town of Aguas Calientes, at the bottom of the mountain (MP sits at the top). We actually slept on the floor of a restaurant in sleeping bags that night, aong with another couple from our group who didn't want to spend extra to stay in a hostel. I slept like a log, even though the trains would rattle passed outisde well into the night. Yeah there are no cars in Aguas Calientes. The streets are train tracks! Was pretty cool. The next day we headed up early with the group and had a tour of the ancient city with our guide. It's an amazing place, with soo much history that is both known and unknown. One of the reasons it is so special is because it was one of the few Inca sites that the spanish never found when they conquered South America. I am not surprised though, I couldn't imagine a spanish army clambering up and down all those steps for 4 days!
The spanish destroyed most Incan temples and buildings, supposedly because they didn't believe they could have been made by men. The Incas were a very smart race for their time. Sure they carved a city out of a mountain! The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu was the highlight of our trip, and I'd happily take all those steps again just to get one more look!
Let me just start by saying this was one of the most challenging things I've done, and I was so far from prepared for it!
We signed up for the trek 6 months or so ago, and I didn't think much of it at the time. It would be 4 days of walking, with breaks and food along the way. Easy peasy. I was wrong.
Our trek began at "kilometer 82" after a few hours on a bus and breakfast of course! But before the trek could start we had to battle the swarms of locals selling straps, hats, bandanas etc. and waterbottle carriers (which I bought). It was crazy and I almost felt I had to swat them away as they wouldn't leave and gave me no space to pack my bag. As well as clothes and supplies, we had to carry our sleeping bags and mats which made my total bag weigh around 8kg including a 2.5l water bottle. It was heavy but not too bad. However my newly acquired backpack broke as soon as I tried to strap the mat to it...NO FUN! All packed and ready our group queued up, got our entry stamp, took a group photo and finally started the trek.
Day one wasn't too bad; 3 hours of "inca flat" which in the Andes means mild ups and downs as there is no "flat" there. I managed this part fairly well, getting used to the pack on my back and the sun on my face. I was also getting used to new shoes which I had rented for the hike, they were a good choice even if they did give me blisters.
After three hours we got to a camp where our porters had set up a kitchen tent and a dining tent fully set with a tablecloth and all. Lunch was an amazing 3 course meal: guacamole with chips, soup and finished with rice veggies and meat. The place were we were having lunch was teaming with animals, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, cats, dogs, ducks etc. It was almost like a farm!
After lunch I accidentally used the men's bathroom, a disgusting hole in the floor which you have to squat over and try not to fall in to! Unfortunately the ladies toilet was identical and the same throughout the 3 days! Technically it's like peeing when your camping, except you have walls and can flush the toilet, so really I should have been pleased. It was definitely an experience and one I will not miss!
The second part of the day was a bit harder, especially the last part which was partly up a mountain to our first camp. Stepping, or rather collapsing in camp, it was so nice to have all our tents already set up and dinner on the "stove". It was quite cold on the mountain after the sun disappeared, so Tom and I huddled together in a tent playing cards with a Canadian couple we had met. Before even starting this journey I had heard from other travelers that day two was really tough and our guide confirmed that it would be the longest and toughest day. He told us we would be walking for 11h, the first 5 being a steep upward climb followed by 2 hours of steep steps down, lunch, then another tough 2 hours up and 2 down before reaching camp. Needless to say I went to bed with an uneasy feeling that night!
Day 2 started with a wake up call at 5 by our porters serving us coca tea, then we all gathered for a big breakfast in our dining tent. Fruit, granola, yoghurt, bread, tea, all was consumed in preparation for a big day. The night before we had been informed of the rough day and were given the option of buying the service of a porter. I teamed up with a British couple and we left our sleeping bags and mats at a fee to lighten our load for the day. And then the trekking began.
It was an excruciatingly hard first hour and a half. Steep upwards climb, lots of steps and just no flat at all. I was at the back with a British girl and an Australian girl. We struggled together, taking it slow and breaking every few minutes to catch our breath. It wasn't just that it was steep and loads of steps, we were gaining altitude as well which meant we were losing oxygen, making it even harder. It was really tough, I was sweating and freezing at the same time. Finally, 10 min before the first stop, Tom came jogging down to meet me, the saint that he is, he took my bag and helped me the final bit. It had been such a tough hike and the prospect of another 3 hours of it made me breakdown and embarrassing as it is to admit, I cried a little. But freezing, miserable and trying to catch my breath, we were informed that because we were so much faster than the average group (even me and my pals in the back) we would only have about 1.5 more hours to go. Relief flooded me and I regained some motivation.
The final part to the top was just as tough, but not as steep. Slowly we climbed, the top now in our sights. We stopped at times to regain our breath and enjoy the spectacular views. The nature is so stunning, the mountains and valleys are massive and covered in lush greens. The sky blue with mysterious fog and clouds creeping forward. It was stunning. As we collapsed at the top, the fastest group members clapped and congratulated us. Happiness and a lightness filled my body, I had done it! I was exhausted, but I felt strong and even a bit invincible. We had made the journey to the first pass, which an average group normally uses 5 hours to reach, in just 3.5. It was definitely a win in my books.
Although the next 2 hours were all down, it was steep steps down. It wasn't as tough as up, but still tiring and hard on our joints and tips of our toes. As we descended the sun came out, the climate changed and suddenly nature seemed a bit more Amazonian. We had reached the start of the rainforest. We saw beautiful butterflies, a lovely bird in its nest, llamas and a few deer too. It was wonderful, like nature was awarding us for completing that first horrible pass.
Throughout the hike, our 19 porters and the porters from other groups, would frequently pass us. The small men with massive packs (often the size of themselves) on their backs, carrying tables, chairs, food, tents, water, sometimes only in sandals, would fly past us, running at times both up and down. These men, mostly aged between 20 and 52 (although, we were told the oldest man still working was 72!!!) were extraordinary to watch, not scared of falling, not tired from hauling, hurrying to reach camp before us so they could set up and prepare for our arrival. Absolutely insane and amazing, but honestly, I felt quite bad and sorry for these men at times. I know they supposedly enjoy the work and get paid quite well, but seeing some of the porters and the stuff they had to carry, seeing them exhausted but pushing on and then having them serve and clean up after me, I felt pretty guilty. Because of these wonderful, shy, hard working people, we reached camp just in time for dinner, tents and toilets all set up. Food was again tasty and plentiful, soup was always the starter, followed by bits of steak with yummy veggies, potatoes and pasta. We even got dessert, jello and peach. After dinner we were introduced to our porters. They stood around our table shyly telling us their name, age and home town. A lot of them were farmers who work as porters during high season. Tired faces, rough hands, but always kind and helpful.
Another early night and another early start. Because we were such a fast group, we were allowed an extra 30 minutes in bed, so wake up call and coca tea was served at 5.30. I had informed the guide the day before that it was Tom's birthday, so when I stepped out that morning to get a light from my tent, the guide approached me with a big cake made by the chef. I got to carry it in to the tent and we all sang for Tom. With our bellies full of cake, day 3 started. A gentle uphill hike was first of the itinerary, followed by inka flat (so, not flat) and stunning views. I honestly can't get over how beautiful the surroundings were. Imagine those amazing nature and scenery scenes from movies; breathtaking and unreal, that's what it was like.
After the 2nd day, everything seemed easy. I was happy and light, even though I was carrying more that day then day 2. We reached cloud mountain which normally is cloudy, but luckily for us was stunningly clear. We could see Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu mountain (not the city behind), several ruins and just pure beautiful nature. Downhill again it went, for hours we banged down on sore knees and ankles, stopping to explore ruins and get history lessons. The weather stayed brilliant and we made it to our lunch camp in good time. This particular camp was supposed to have been our camp for the third night, but due to heavy rain and land slides in the previous weeks, the camp was unsuitable and unsafe. So after lunch we had another few hours of walking before the day's end. The final hour to the sun gate was particularly steep and nasty with several false summits!
We reached the sun gate sweaty but happy, and laid our eyes on Machu Picchu for the first time. I can't quite explain how I was feeling, MP was still quite far away so it didn't look like what I had imagined. I also felt weird because I felt the journey was over, even though we had another 40 minutes to reach the entrance and a whole second day to explore the site. But the feeling was fleeting and I was soon filled with joy, excitement and a sense of accomplishment. Right before getting to the entrance of Machu Picchu, we were joined by a few llamas. Unsure of their intentions, we got stuck behind them snapping selfies as we tried to sneak past. It was a hilarious 15 minutes and one I'm not going to forget any time soon. But what awaited us passed the llamas was our prize. The goal, the reason for the pain and torture of the past 3 days.
Machu Picchu, almost empty, sun shining and just a sight for sore eyes. Wonderful, mysterious, historical and perfect. We were at the top of the site, viewing it from the typical picture angle with the Wayna Picchu mountain in the background. It was pretty surreal finally standing there after several months of planning, waiting and traveling. The famous, mysterious Machu Picchu at our feet - our tired, blistered and sore feet.
Pictures were taken, our passports were stamped and darkness was approaching. But we were not done yet! As the price of the trek only included 1 bus ticket, we had to chose when we wanted to use it. We had three choices, take the bus down to Aguas calientes that evening, the next morning back up to MP or down after or second day of MP exploring. I had absolutely no desire to walk two hours the next morning at 6, on steep nasty steps, so we walked down to town. My feet were wrecked and my body covered in dirt and sweat, but we made it to our meeting point, a restaurant right next to the train tracks.
The restaurant was also the place were we slept that night, however the only people who chose this (free) option, was the Canadian couple and us. I passed out right away and awoke to yet another early start, but at least it was the last one. We rode the bus up to Machu Picchu and had a fabulous tour, viewing of the sun rise, and an all around awesome day at the ruins. It was fantastic, such a great journey and such a great end. Great weather all along, great people, great food and great tour. I am so happy and proud of myself for completing the trek. I wouldn't do it again right now, but I hope to do it again in the future, when I am a bit more fit haha.
So that both our experiences of our amazing 4 day Inca Trek. We had the time of our lives and will cherish our amazing memories and photos forever!
Thanks for reading,
Tom and Kat