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Inca Trail Trek - Day 2

Cusco, Peru

The day was off to a fine start when Solay brought hot chocolate to us in our tent. With a full belly of pancakes and porridge we set off uphill for 500m to the infamous ´Dead Woman´s pass´at 4215m. The push uphill from our camp was challenging but we made it in about 45 mins. It was rather chilly up here and all the layers were quickly put on. To celebrate, Solay brought out some Peruvian rum, and we all had a shot to warm our bellies. After a quick break, we then descended to 3500m to our lunch spot. This was hard going on the knees as it was very steep. At this point we were very happy that we had rented trekking poles in Cusco.

After a much needed lie in the sun, we headed uphill again climbing to 4000m where we passed the ruins of Runkuraqay. We then descended again to Sayacmarca ruins at 3580m. They think this is where the Incas would have stopped and rested overnight on their pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. It was then a short downhill walk to our campsite. We had a great night playing games round the dinner table and then headed off to bed as 8 hours of walking up and downhill at altitude had taken its toll.

permalink written by  chrishoorweg on September 13, 2007 from Cusco, Peru
from the travel blog: and one last trip before we come home.........?
tagged IncaTrail

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Inca Trail Trek - Day 3

Aguas Calientes, Peru

Again, our guide woke us with hot chocolate. We were in for an easy day of walking as we had done the hard part in the first 2 days. In total we walked only 5.5 hours before we stopped for lunch and set up camp for our 3rd night. Firstly we walked uphill to the ruins of Puyupatamarca ruins at 3640m and then downhill to Winaywayna - elevation 2650m. After lunch we checked out the ruins of Winaywayna. We were really lucky as we had the place to ourselves. The other trekkers had not arrived to camp yet. We had a really relaxing afternoon drinking a few beers and chatting. In the evening we thanked our porters as this was the last time we would see them. Another early night as tomorrow we would be woken at 4am to reach the Sun Gate for Sunrise.

permalink written by  chrishoorweg on September 14, 2007 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: and one last trip before we come home.........?
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Inca Trail Trek - Day 4

Machupicchu, Peru

In the pitch black we packed up our things, had a quick breakfast, put our head lights on and started our final trek to Machupicchu. It didn´t take us long to reach the Sun Gate for Sunrise. Absolutely spectacular! We sat and watched the sun come up behind us and over Machupicchu mountain before descending down to the ruins themselves. We all felt really proud of ourselves for making the journey and earning the right to be at such an amazing place in the world.

Solay showed us around the ruins with fantastic explanations. We then took our own time to appreciate being here and to soak it all up! We were really lucky to have such a clear day and to have the ruins almost to ourselves for a couple of hours before all the tourists arrived.

We reluctantly headed down to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then our train back to Cusco. We were certainly ready for a shower and a rest but felt rather sad to be leaving. What an incredible and amazing 4 days.

permalink written by  chrishoorweg on September 15, 2007 from Machupicchu, Peru
from the travel blog: and one last trip before we come home.........?
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Inca trail - Day 1

Ollantaitambo, Peru

After a bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, we are ready to start our 40 km trek in 4 days (better said 3 as the last one will be in Machu Pichu)

Today is a gentle 10 km trek up from 2682m to reach 3100 for our first camp night at Wayllabamba

On the way, the first inca archaelogical site: Salapunku

permalink written by  thetourist on October 25, 2007 from Ollantaitambo, Peru
from the travel blog: No news, Good news! in Peru & Argentina
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The Inca Trail

Ollantaitambo, Peru

The night before the start of our Inca trek Josh fell ill. I knew it was serious when he announced that he didn´t want any dinner; I left him to sleep and hoped that the early night would sort him out. It didn´t. Early the next morning as we made our way up to the start of the trail his head hung heavily and it was clear that the so called “easy” first day would be anything but.

The path was fairly flat and asked little of the various tourist groups who plodded along cheerfully. I was expecting a fairly large group but our entourage was immense – an army of 30 porters, all heavily laden with oversized packs, joined our group of 22 (not including the 5 or so guides), striding past (sometimes jogging) in order to get ahead and prepare our next rest stop. At first I resented this pampering and I wished we could have had a small group with a couple of tents and a camping stove but from the first meal (cooked by our personal chef and eaten in our dining tent at a long table with stools) I felt nothing but grateful for their efforts. By the end of the trip they would be heroes.

With Josh feeling terrible, our guide took the two of us on a slightly shorter route to see the first of the large ruins. In fact this was the best part of the day as we separated ourselves from the densely populated path and were given very interesting lessons about Inca history and the local flora and fauna. The ruins themselves (Patallacta) were well preserved and set spectacularly at the bottom of the valley alongside the river Wilkamayo (or Uru Riobamba) which we followed for most of the day. That evening we ate well and retired to bed early in preparation for the infamous climb up to Dead Womans Pass the next day. During the night Josh shouted happily to himself and I hoped that the rest was doing him good.

The second day is known as the biggest challenge of the Inca Trail and I couldn’t have been more up for it. After the relaxed pace and frequent stopping of the previous day I couldn´t wait to push myself a bit harder. Thankfully Josh seemed to be back to normal and we set off at an impressive pace, eager to distance ourselves from the crowd. With long strides and measured breathing we climbed steadily through the mossy “Montane Rain Forest” where the exotic looking Unca trees twisted their way up to form a cooling canopy and eventually we emerged onto the steep, sunny steps which led up to the pass. I marched up them, maintaining a steady pace and stopping only for photos and to offer water to the sweating porters- their packs looking impossibly heavy as they trudged up.

Inspired by the strength and pace of the porters I soon reached the top. The views on either side of Dead Womans Pass (so called because the mountains are shaped like a woman lying on her back – nothing sinister) were dramatic and rewarding. I spent some time at the top taking photos and trying to breath normally again. Our guide had suggested that we take two stones – one for Dead Womans Pass and one for Machu Picchu – which we would then leave as a traditional Inca offering to the mountains and to Pachamama, the Inca equivalent to Mother Nature. I liked the idea and I proudly perched my stone at the top of a pile. Josh had fallen behind and, although I had intended to wait for him, after fifteen minutes or so I was getting cold and decided to carry on alone.

I dedicated the journey downward to Michael Jackson, dancing quickly down the rocky stairs to a lively mental megamix of all his hits. I had just completed a complex merging of You Wanna Be Starting Something and Another Part of Me when I realised I had already reached camp! I had even beaten most of the porters down! The camp had incredible views in every direction and I washed in a cold, clear stream while the tents were being put up. Directly in front of the camp was the deep Pacamayo Valley ; The Inca Trail wound up the mountain to the left of the valley and gave an enticing glimpse of tomorrows walk. It was only 11.45am but we were done for the day so I made myself comfortable, watching the clouds floating in and filling the valley and enjoying more of our chefs delicious cooking before a chilly night of llama clad lethargy.

We were woken early with tea (a very nice touch) and after a filling breakfast zigzagged our way up to the first set of ruins. This was to be a very informative day with lots of ruins and although we were eating and sleeping with the large group it had become apparent that we had our own guide, Selsa. This was perhaps because the other group were all part of a larger tour of South America and they were worried we may not fit in. In any case, being able to distance ourselves from the group was a definite advantage as we could walk at our own pace rather than in a frustrating cluster and have interesting discussions about anything we were curious about. On this occasion we were taught about Inca architecture, particularly in relation to the social politics of the time. It was good to be able to see more than just a ruin.

Later, as we continued our trek up the mountain, I found myself in a predicament. We were hours away from the next toilet stop and I sensed that I might not make it. Also the toilets are so bad that waiting for one seemed a bit pointless really. I was far enough in front to sneak off the path and find a suitable rock to hide behind… A miserable pair of boxers told me that I was not the first. Watching my step, I decided to proceed. I was, after all, a man of the mountain now.

Happily relieved, I caught up with Josh and Selsa and made it to the top of the mountain. The views were mind blowing and made even more satisfying by my recent excretory accomplishments. After a short rest we stomped our way down the familiarly steep, rocky paths and stairs until we reached the complex and interesting ruins of Sayaqmarka. Another lesson followed, this time about the Inca kings and the history of the Inca trails themselves. It amazed me how recently a lot of the trails and ruins had been discovered. Feeling well informed, we continued down the mountain side and into the “Cloud Forest”.

Although there were no clouds (at least not at first) the transition as we entered the Cloud Forest was clear. You could feel moisture in the warm air and dense vegetation suddenly appeared on each side of the trail. Soon we were enveloped in trees and bushes which created a beautiful and atmospheric walk. Every now and then the foliage would give way to incredible views of the mountains, the most memorable being from the top of Phuyupatamarka where we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu . There were also some agricultural ruins visible from this summit. These sites are always spectacular as the farms made use of iconic Inca terracing – huge, perfect steps which climb down the mountain.

The walk back down to our campsite, via the ruins of course, was an endless rocky staircase with more of the same leafy vegetation disguising steep drops on one side and the jagged mountain wall on the other. It was the most scenic walk so far, although the steep steps were cruel to our feet. One of our group, a hilariously competitive guy whose name I never learnt, decided to run all the way down. Knowing that this would be the main topic of conversation at dinner that night I was disappointed not to find him crumpled at the bottom of some of the trickier stairs but when we got back I was pleased to find that, in his haste, he had missed the final ruin, WinayWayna, which had an amazing row of thirteen water fountains and the best looking terraces so far.

That night we had a “ceremony” whereby the porters all came and stood uncomfortably in front of us – telling us their names, ages and whether they were married or single (the main guide, Julio, had an irrepressible sleazy streak and enjoyed playing translator/ cupid for the porters and the younger girls of the group. We then handed out tips. It was a bizarre and uncomfortable ceremony for all concerned and I felt bad that Selsa, our own guide, had not been particularly involved. Afterwards we made sure that he knew how grateful we were for his personal tuition and he in turn expressed how lucky he felt to have such receptive students who he was able to be so open with. I got the impression that he didn´t often reveal his religious side so openly and I was glad that he felt comfortable enough to do so with us, particularly as religion is such a key part of understanding the Incas and the reasoning behind these spectacular mountain constructions.

We were also told the plans for the next day. We would be getting up in the middle of the night and walking the 6km to Machu Picchu for sunrise. We asked whether we would have any chance of climbing Huayna Picchu, the mountain which rises over the lost city affording amazing views, Selsa explained that the number of daily visitors is restricted to 400 and these tickets disappear fast. In order to have we would have to move very quickly. We both agreed it was worth a try.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on July 3, 2009 from Ollantaitambo, Peru
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged IncaTrail, Porters, Poo, Packs, Pachamama and Illness

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Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes, Peru

The final day of the Inca Trail was one of such heightened emotions and vivid, surreal moments that I know I will never, ever forget it. We woke at 3.15am and quickly stuffed ourselves with a pancake before making our way to a checkpoint. The large wooden gates were closed and would not be open until 5.30am but it was important to get to the front and we had managed to be the first there. We sat huddled in the cold darkness, looking up at the clear sky and the billions of bright stars which covered its entirety. I could see why the Incas were such passionate astronomers with that over their heads every night.

Eventually a bulb broke the darkness and the wooden gate was opened. Floating head torches filled the path as we marched excitedly along the rugged trail. As we moved, the stars began to disappear and a faint glow crept up from behind the mountains. Josh and I were near the front of the group and I heard Selsa approaching behind us. In a low voice, careful not to excite the rest of the group, he whispered:

“Anda now we are gonna ron.”

It took me a moment in my sleepy state to work out his accent and in that moment he was gone. Running away from the group. The excitement as we ran off in the dark towards Machu Picchu was incredible – it wasn´t an easy path and we ran up and down treacherous steps with our torches flashing across the path in front of us. Gradually the glow from the mountains grew stronger and we were able to see without torches – the path was narrow and to our right hand side a sheer drop fell to the valley below where the early morning train clunked its way up, filled with tourists. This spurred us on.

Then, disaster. From behind me I heard Josh shouting desperately. I looked back to see the contents of his backpack strewn across the path. The zip had worked its way open. But Josh was only interested in one item. The single item which had gone off the edge.

“My fuckin passport..!”

His voice was filled with fear and panic. I felt it rushing through me. It felt like the worst thing that could have happened at the worst possible time. We were all in shock. Selsa repeated our swearwords and it was clear from his expression that he was as traumatized as we were as we peered over the edge into the bushes.

The path was built into the mountain side and was reinforced with a stone wall of around 8 or 9 feet. Below this wall was a small mossy platform around two feet wide which dropped into bushes and trees. The vegetation made it unclear how steep or how far the drop was but it was clear that the slope was far to steep to attempt climbing down. It was almost vertical. The ledge seemed a long way down but Selsa was already starting to lower himself off the Inca trail and down onto it, with the ominous words, “This is my first time.”

He seemed to think he could see it in the bushes. We were all terrified. The longer I saw him down there on his own the more useless I felt and when he asked me if I would come down and help him, I didn´t hesistate. I climbed down, ripping my trousers as I stretched desperately to find the mossy patch where I could secure myself. Adrenaline pumped through my whole body. I was still scared that Selsa would fall as he crept further and further towards the bushes but now at least I had hold of him. I held on to the wall with my other hand and, lying back, dug my heels into the ground.

He reached further and let out a cry. He had it! He pulled it out of the trees and we all shouted with unrestrained relief! It was an amazing feeling. We pulled each other up to safety. There were no words. Strangely no sooner were we back on the Inca trail than I was thinking of the time we had lost and wanting to get going again. Others from the group were catching us up! We dusted ourselves off and the run to Intipunktu continued. With my heart pounding and my head spinning I dragged myself up the last few steps to Intipunktu (The Sun Gate). I sat down heavily, laughing and dizzy with exhaustion. When I looked up I saw Machu Picchu.

Taking photos every few steps, we walked gently down towards the ruins. Along the path Selsa showed us a huge boulder reaching up into the sky like a mountain. Beneath it were piles of stones – offerings left by those who had arrived safely to Machu Picchu before us. We dutifully drew out our stones and created a small pile along with some of Selsa´s coca leaves. He prayed out loud and in English, thanking the Pachamama for helping us to reach Machu Picchu and although neither of us said a word, we both thanked her too. Whatever you want to call those invisible forces of nature which are beyond our control, there was no doubt that they had worked in our favour and we were extremely lucky to be there on that clear morning. Especially the passport.

With more button pressing than an Australian casino, we snapped our way down into the ruins. I will not attempt to describe them as everyone knows what the famous Inca city looks like but I will say that they were more beautiful than I had imagined and in the dim light of the morning they looked calm and undisturbed. For a while. Then I noticed the tourists. I do not mean to sound arrogant but after three days of trekking, sweating, broken sleeps and undesirable toilet experiences you feel a million miles away from the clean and colourful groups with their North Face fleeces and elaborate bumbags who come puffing up the stairs from the bus stop. To rub salt in the wounds which these people- with their confused and pitiful glances towards the flapping crotch of my filthy trousers- had opened up, we were told that the 400 tickets to climb Huayna Picchu were already sold out.

It was 6.50am. We had been up since 3.15am and had RUN along the Inca Trail risking life, limb and passport to get here first – now we find we had been beaten to the ticket office by 400 Americans wearing matching tour group t-shirts who celebrated by jumping or pretending to push the mountains in order to get the ultimate facebook profile picture. Selsa went to get a drink, Josh went to the toilet and, left alone, and I suddenly found myself in a very real state of depression. I stared in disbelief at the extravagantly expensive hotel, built only 100 yards or so from the ruins. I watched more and more tourists climbing complaining off the buses and I found myself in disbelief, hating everything around me.

In retrospect this was clearly the result of a comedown after the massive release of adrenaline that morning combined with the exhaustion of the early starts and I do appreciate that not everyone who wants to see Machu Picchu should have to walk for three days and do chilly, scenic poos. I do think, however, that a small percentage of tickets should be reserved for those who invest time and money in the Inca Trail. And there I will end my beef. Incidentally, my depression didn´t last long. As we climbed back up p the top of the ruins for our first lesson of the day my mood lifted immeasurably. This was no doubt helped by the well timed appearance of the sun which, as it climbed slowly from behind the jagged mountains, cast spectacular beams of light onto Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. As Selsa taught us about the history of the city, it lit up slowly behind him.

We toured the various points of interest and significance, waiting patiently for other tour groups to finish taking photos before we moved in to take our own. Luckily the city is interesting enough that the swarms of tourists do not detract too much from your appreciation but after a couple of hours, with more and more groups arriving by the minute, we had seen everything and were ready to leave. We thanked Selsa for all his knowledge and passion and for going, so dramatically, beyond the call of duty as our guide. Our tips seemed pathetic but he seemed moved and genuinely thankful for our time together. It was a sad goodbye but his final words “Look after your passport!” were well chosen.

We got a bus down to Aguas Calientes where we ate well and relaxed in the hot natural springs which give the town its name. Then we hung around waiting for the big group and the three hour train ride home, every now and then reminding each other exactly what had happened that morning. Ironically it had been the expensive Berghaus backpack which had been at fault while my ridiculous Peruvian manbag (I was dressed completely inappropriately as ever) handled the challenge without any complaints. On the long journey home, tired from the days emotions, I thought about my life back home and especially Shion. I had never wanted a bed and a cuddle so much in my life. I couldn´t wait to talk to her and tell her what we´d been doing.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on July 8, 2009 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Tourists, IncaTrail, MachuPicchu, Passport, Selsa and HotWaterSprings

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Inca Trail Prep

Cusco, Peru

More exploring of Cusco by going down to the market where all sorts of local food and crafts visited by locals and tourist alike.

We take care of the rest of the arrangements to start the Inca Trail on Sunday. After renting sleeping bags and walking sticks we head to the first briefing for our trek, where we meet our guides and the rest of the campers with whom we´ll be spending the next four days.

permalink written by  paco on October 24, 2009 from Cusco, Peru
from the travel blog: High-Altitude Peru
tagged Peru, Cusco and IncaTrail

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Inca Trail - Day One

Aguas Calientes, Peru

We start the day waking up at 4:00am to meet up with the crew at Llama Path who put us on a bus and hit the road for a two-hour drive to Piscacucho where we have breakfast and start off on the trail.

We check out some of the ruins across the river and some more again when cresting the first big hill before settling down for lunch.

We find a big tent already set up by the porters in which there are tables and place settings, from which we receive a five-course lunch that was pretty tasty after the long morning. I can´t say as I´ve ever had a complicated meal like that while camping!

The skies open up and we have to pull out our panchos to keep our packs dry as we continue on the trail. By day´s end we have finished 14km and climbed 600m (2000 ft).

Another five-course dinner is greatly appreciated and we do our best not to think about the day-to-come, where things get hairier.

permalink written by  paco on October 25, 2009 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: High-Altitude Peru
tagged Peru and IncaTrail

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Inca Trail - Day Two

Aguas Calientes, Peru


We are awakened by our guide who gives us tea to enjoy in our tents, but we then have to quickly pack up before breakfast and we hear what´s ahead of us for the day. Not one, but two passes, both above 4000m elevation!

The sun is shining this morning and we head to Abra Warmiwañuska, better known to gringos as ¨Dead Woman´s Pass¨. I´m reminded of Tolkien´s description of the path from Minas Morgal to Mordor, where all you can see are stairs carved in the side of a steep mountain that disappear into the mist.

A very long morning later everyone is still in good spirits as we reach the high point at this pass. At 4200m (13800ft) we take time to catch our breath and head down to the campsite below at 3600m for lunch and a brief siesta.

Our siesta is cut short as the heavens open up once again and we get ready for the second pass. Part way up we check out the ruins at Runkuraqay and continue up the endless staircase until we finally hit the other pass at a mere 4000m (13100ft) elevation followed by a steep down-climb.

Just before approachig our camp site we check out the ruins at Sayaqmarka. Just before we´re ready to leave we hear the warning ¨There´s a bear coming your way!¨ I couldn´t understand what the joke was, but looking over at the 24-inch wide staircase that leads to the ruin was a 5-ft 300lb bear!

This being the only way out of the ruin you´d think the logical thing to do was hide, but curiosity took over and the foolhearty crew (myself included) ran towards the staircase to get a decent picture of the bear. Unfortunately my pictures did not turn out, but more importantly the bear decided not to engage us and shot up a tree and over the hill beside the ruin.

Back at camp everyone was relieved the toughest day was over and enjoyed another great dinner and compared bear photos. In the end we completed another 16km on the trail. The rest would all be downhill. Later, most of the campers agreed this was the best day on the trail despite the strenuous hike.

permalink written by  paco on October 26, 2009 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: High-Altitude Peru
tagged Peru and IncaTrail

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Inca Trail - Day Three

Aguas Calientes, Peru

A lot of down!

The final pass is a mere 80m higher than the morning´s camp site, and then it´s down another 1000m for the rest of the day. A lot of sore knees creek down the steep staircase and I´m very glad I was talked into renting walking sticks, as the steps are also fairly slippery.

We make it to the final campsite at Wiñay Huaya early in the afteroon, where folks have a chance to shower and sleep off the rest of the afternoon (and drink beer!). Later our guide takes us to the nearby ruins at Wiñaywayna which is about 1/10th the size of Machu Piccu without the crowds.

Later that night we have the chance to thank our porters one at a time for all their hard work as our paths diverge the following morning.

permalink written by  paco on October 27, 2009 from Aguas Calientes, Peru
from the travel blog: High-Altitude Peru
tagged Peru and IncaTrail

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