The time had come to take on the Inca trail. I think it’s fair to say that Jess and I had done relatively little research into what the trek actually involved. We knew it ended at Machu Picchu and involved some walking and camping etc… Having just come back from our 7 day adventure I can now confirm it was 10 times harder than we thought and also 10 times more incredible!
We met up with our G Adventures group the night before the trek and sized up the people we were going to be spending the next 6 nights with. It was an eclectic mix both in terms of nationalities (Canadian, Australian, British, Danish etc…) and age. First impressions were good and everyone seemed keen to get stuck in.
We received a briefing from our G Adventures guide, a lovely Peruvian man named Elias. The briefing started to give us a glimpse of what was ahead. 42km of trekking, climbing and descending over 1km in just 1 day to a peak altitude of 4,200m above sea level (to a place called ‘dead woman’s pass’ and through various sections of track the locals call ‘gringo killers’. Awesome.) We also found out at this point that our main bags (which would be carried by super human porters) needed to weigh less than 6 kilos. Goodbye personal hygiene for 6 days!
We set off the following morning to the Sacred Valley with a quick stop to view the White Christ that stands guard over Cusco city. Our trip to the sacred valley involved taking in various Incan archaeological sites which sit above the Urubamba river that leads all the way to Machu Picchu. We also visited one of the projects that has been developed by the company we did our trek with, G Adventures. They are supporting a local community with funding for a weaving project. We saw the ladies weaving using traditional methods and Jess also tried out her weaving skills. Apparently women in the highlands of Peru prove themselves to their future in laws by mastering weaving and cooking – men by becoming porters, cooks or guides on the inca trek. Jess was really very good at the loom. Whether my chocolate ankles were going to stand up to 42km of hiking was yet to be seen! This day culminated in the town of Ollaytaytambo where we took in another site that has a fantastic sun temple at the top (3,200m above sea level) and was also where we were spending the night before starting on the Inca trail proper the following day.
Unfortunately my night in Ollaytaytambo didn’t go exactly according to plan. I must have picked up some sort of bug in Cusco and ended up with a fever and ‘doing the double’ as I believe it’s known in traveller circles. Thankfully Jess and our guide Elias were on hand, and stuffed full of antibiotics and some violently coloured electrolyte potion, I began my journey back towards a steady tummy!
The following day we drove to ‘kilometre 82’ which marks the official start point of the Inca trail over the mountains to Machu Picchu. This first day was not too hardcore (11km – 7 hours – 700m in elevation). We were treated to some more archaeological sites on route and eventually found ourselves in an amazing camp site with mountains on all sides. That night we sampled for the first time the sensational food that our travelling cooks rustled up for us. For guys who have a couple of gas rings to cook on they produced amazing food, with 3 courses every night! We also had a chance to get to know our porters a little better. They introduced themselves one by one in either Spanish or Quechua. They were genuine, humble, decent people who worked as farmers mostly but come to the Inca trek to earn some more money for their families. They ranged in age from 18 to 67 (!) and each carried 20 kilos. They ran ahead of us at every stage, putting up our tents and preparing food. They clapped us when we got to camp each night despite the fact they’d worked 10 times as hard. Amazing people.
Day 2 of the Inca trail was hard. Fact. We’d been forewarned that it was a tough day but I don’t think we quite realised just how much. We only walked about 12km but this included the ascent to dead woman’s pass at 4,200m (we climbed over 1km that day) and the descent to our camp site (we descended over 1km as well). Our lungs felt like the size of tea bags on the way up and our knees got an absolute pounding on the way down. Had it not been for a truly brilliant Canadian friend called Duane who lent Jess and I his hiking poles, I think knee surgery would have been a certainty. We camped that night at cloud level and started to get used to the long drop toilets, which was tough – squatting after 9 hours trekking is not easy!!
And so came day 3, the longest in terms of trekking distance, featuring lots of ‘Inca flat’ sections as our guide affectionately called them! This turned out to be arguably the best day on the trek. We must have been through 3 different ecosystems in one day and despite some persistent rain the views were once again spectacular. Our lunch stop was made extra special when our cooks produced a cake for Jess and I to wish us a happy honeymoon! How these guys managed to produce a cake at 3,400m with a gas ring is beyond me. Jess and I were really overwhelmed by the gesture and the delicious cake lasted about 30 secs among hungry Trekkers.
We got an amazing view of Machu Picchu mountain as we neared our final camp site and stopped via an area full of farming terraces and llamas! These marvellous creatures weren’t too bothered by us humans but did take a slightly aggressive shining to a dog which had followed a couple from California right from the start of the trek.
The final night of camping was again marked by an amazing meal and by a bottle of pisco sour which Duane had been carrying all along. Talk of hot showers and beds were starting to creep in but most of all we were buzzing at the prospect of seeing the great Machu Picchu.
We got going at 3am the following day so we could queue up at the checkpoint for Machu Picchu and make sure we arrived at the sun gate overlooking the site without 5000 fellow Trekkers. We all had so much adrenaline pumping round our systems that we nailed the final trek up to the sun gate in 45 mins less than was scheduled!
And of course it goes without saying that Machu Picchu is phenomenal. Any picture you’ve seen just doesn’t do it justice. Getting to that sun gate was an emotional experience for all and we were then taken on an hour and a half guided tour around the site to explain the intricacies of this amazing place. I think it’s fair to say that we all felt as if it wouldn’t have been as special if we hadn’t shed the blood, sweat and tears to get there. You feel quite virtuous (albeit you’re aching and smell awful) when you walk past the people that have taken the train up there!
Having taken in every ounce of Machu Picchu we then started the long journey back to Cusco via bus and train. The train down from Machu Picchu is amazing with large Perspex panels on the sides and on the roof giving you panoramic views of the mountains. Our return to Cusco was marked with a farewell dinner organised by our incredible tour guide Elias. Pretty much the only bad word I could say about this brilliant man is his choice of celebratory meal. Let’s just say Jess and I are unlikely to order a whole roasted guinea pig as an appetiser ever again. Watching Mr Duane Krikke rip open a guinea pig head will haunt me for the rest of my days. Apparently it is a Peruvian delicacy. I think we’ll leave that to the Peruvians 🙂
Jess and I would like to say the biggest thank you we can muster to the following people for making this trip so unbelievably special:
– Elias, our guide. A nicer, more generous, more knowledgable, more passionate guide you will never meet. Thank you brother
– Edwin aka Chino or Little Chinchilla, our second guide. Again a truly lovely man with an amazing spirit
– Bruce, Laura, Patsy, Danielle, Shannon, Duane, Sara, Charlie, Shaun, Claire, Kasper, Mark, Jennifer and Andrew – our fellow G Adventures Trekkers aka the ‘Black Llamas’. You guys are all brilliant and we enjoyed every minute of the trek with you. Thank you for your company and we really hope our paths cross again in the future. Any and all of you are welcome in Bristol any time.
Love to all