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The Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes, Peru


Trekking the Inca trail – like my trip to the Galapagos – is another hard-to-describe experience. It started early (5am) but I seem to be getting used to these early morning wake up calls. I was fairly rested by this stage anyway, as I'd been in Cusco a few nights. I'd needed to chill out after my quick dash through northern Peru.

I was picked up from my hostel, and we took the 3 hour bus trip to the start of the trail. We had breakfast, and checked in to the trail (they have strict controls on the number of people allowed to trek it). As we had our photos taken under the sign at the beginning of the trail, the train taking a load of tourists directly to Machu Picchu breezed past. I don't think I was the only one in the group wondering why I wasn't aboard, instead of spending 4 days walking there.

There were 14 other tourists in the group, from the UK, Aus, US and Canada (I was the token Kiwi). There were also two guides, and lot of porters (more than 20, including the chef). Each porter carries up to 20kg, including all the tents, equipment, and a dining table (!). That left the rest of us to carry our own clothes, sleeping bag and bedroll (unless you want to pay for an extra porter, and only carry water, but I figured I'd rather carry something myself). I'd packed pretty light, and all up was carrying not a lot more than 5kg.

The first day was pretty easy. There were a few hills to get us prepared for what was to come. Although they were short, they were pretty steep (usually with steps), and at that altitude (well above 3000m), most of us were breathless by the top. As we reached our picturesque lunch site, the porters applauded us for our fantastic achievement. Kind of embarrassing, given they'd got there far enough ahead of us to setup two tents, the dining table, and cook the food for us, not to mention the fact they were carrying 4-5 times as much as we were.

After a 3 course lunch, we trekked a few more hours to our campsite, and got an early night. It'd been a long day, and we all knew the second day was the hardest: 5 hours walking uphill, going from our campsite at 3700m to the highest peak of the trek at 4200m.

So, after a good night's sleep, we were awoken to a brilliant sunrise, and got ready to take on the mountain. The first half was relatively easy, partly because the altitude wasn't too high, and partly because we were in the cloud forest, and covered from the strong sun. The second half of the day was a lot tougher, above the tree line. I was definitely starting to feel the altitude at this point, and had to stop every few hundred metres to catch my breath. But I made it to the top in good time, and we stopped long enough to enjoy the view and get a group photo.

Until that point, we'd mostly been enjoying the natural scenery (besides a bird's eye view of a spectacular ruins on the first day), but the third day was littered with the remains of many different Incan buildings. Both the natural and man-made sites on this day were amazing, making the hard work of the day before worthwhile. We also got our first view of Machu Picchu mountain, from where the ruins takes its name.

That day we'd had to traverse the “Gringo Killer”, a long and steep downhill section. I actually found this a lot easier than the uphill, although some people find the opposite. It was all easy for the porters, however, who ran. Actually, they ran whether the path was flat, uphill or downhill. It made the gringos who treated the trail as a race (and there are a few) look pretty stupid.

The third day's campsite was one of our favourites, as it had a bar. We all had a couple of beers, although not too many, as we had an 4am start the next day. (The bar was only open until 11pm anyway – in previous years it'd been open all night, causing a few issues for some trekkers who'd needed to get up early as well).

Our final day, though much easier than the former 3, was still a 2 hour trek to Machu Picchu. And this was the first day where we'd had rain during the day (although we'd had some heavy downpours overnight). It wasn't too bad until just after we got to the Sun Gate, the first view of Machu Picchu. We had just long enough to snap some photos before the clouds rolled in, and the skies began to open. By the time we got to Machu Picchu, we were all cold, wet and tired.

We huddled under the umbrellas of the cafe for about an hour, hoping the weather would clear. Luckily it did, and our guide took us around the ruins as we slowly regained some body heat. It was interesting to see the difference between us, and the large groups of 50 that'd come for the day. By this stage, the group had gelled really well, so we were cracking jokes, etc. while the big groups seemed to be having much less fun. I was definitely glad I hadn't just taken the train.

After our tour, we had some free time to wander around. I found a spot away from the legions of tourists, and took a moment to take in the scenery. It's not hard to see why the Incas built a city here. It's surrounded by many beautiful mountain peaks, and encrusted with clouds. It was very peaceful, and it must have been even more so for the Incas, who believed the mountains were gods.

As I was staying an extra night in Aguas Caliente, the town near Machu Picchu, I needed a clean t-shirt for after my much needed hot shower. For next to nothing, I found one proclaiming “I survived the Inca trail”. So for once, I've done something and literally bought the t-shirt.


permalink written by  Sam_C on October 19, 2009 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: Epic Detour
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Nice work, looks like you're having a great time - keep having fun!

permalink written by  Andrew Baird on November 1, 2009


haha bought the shirt! love it!

permalink written by  jeydub on November 15, 2009

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