Hiking the Inca Trail: Mountain passes, high jungle and Inca archaeological sites
We're up at 4:45am and it's getting light already!! We run around madly getting ready for our 5:20am pick up and then wait until 5:45...Peru time...On the drive to Ollyantaytambo the rain starts - typical, it had only been hot and sunny for the last week. So at breakfast we all buy ponchos and waterproof trousers in addition to some high energy treats to keep us going.
Our group consists of six people, M and I, an Italian couple (Daniella and Gloucho), a lady from Oz (also Daniella) and a fella from Northern Ireland (Barry). And our guide, Hilbert. We're very happy that we haven't got a group full of kids (OK, I know, age is getting the better of me with these things...), but then M realises that he's the oldest in the group, he he. Anyway, all appear to be the sort of people we'd be content to hang out with for a few days, so that's a good start.
The remainder of the drive to the start of the trail is narrow. Two buses wouldn't have attempted to pass on this road in the UK, but here they seam content with 2cm spare...
We start the walk (and wait in line while bureaucracy grinds it's cogs) in the rain. But after a couple of hours the sun comes out and the ponchos, raincoats and waterproof trousers are peeled off.
Tummies grumbling, we all start tucking into some of the chocolate we bought earlier. But then we're told our lunch stop is about to come up. Wow! We're all surprised by our lunch - the dining tent is erected, bowls of water for us to wash in sit ready and a porter waits with a towel. We're served soup, then a smorgasbord follows - avocado, meat, veggies, there's tonnes of choice and large quantities too! I could have had a siesta before starting hiking again...
Before long the scenery start to change, becoming lusher and more mountainous. And the Ponchos stay off
We camp a couple of hours further along the trail than most trekkers. M and the boys storm the last hour while us ladies chat and take a more sedate pace. When we arrive the camp is all set up for us and we are greeted with high fives and calls of "congratulations" and "well done" from the porters and Lois, the co-ordinator. Dinner was just as great as lunch and then we all headed straight to bed - M and I were all cosy in our sleeping bags by 8:30pm.
This morning's wake up call was at 5am, and we were very happy to see a fairly blue sky to start us off. Today it's 'Dead Woman's Pass' at 4215m, the highest we will go on this trek.
M and I keep a steady pace while enjoying some scenery, photo and chocolate breaks. We made the top of the pass in a little under 3 hours and were later told it takes most people over 4 hours - we hadn't tried to be fast!
Over the pass it was all downhill on big, stone steps to lunch at 3600m. Lots of other trekking groups were stopping here for the night here, but we had another pass of 3985m, and an important archaeological site, to do first.
By the time we summitted the second pass it was starting to rain. All the waterproof gear went on and we had a slippery decent in front of us - and we were very grateful that we had the walking poles.
Another archaeological site was to be visited before camp, but as the rain was still coming down we weren't so sure about it. M and Barry headed straight onto camp while the rest of us visited what would probably have been a really beautiful site if we could have seen it through the mist and rain...
And then the hail came down...I was very happy once I finally found the kitchen tent and had M let me in. Shelter and hot chocolate, oh yes! We waited the storm out and tried our best to dry the waterproofs off, but the rain continued so we were lulled to sleep with rain pattering on the tent and the porters digging trenches to prevent us from being flooded (they were so attentive!)
At 5am we were woken with tea, hot water for washing and the quietness that told us the storm had passed. I stuck my head out the tent and caught the first glimpse of the mountains! We were surrounded by snow capped mountains - WOW! So pleased to have had the early start as before long the clouds came down obscuring the view and after an hour of walking the rain returned, although thankfully a fair bit lighter this time.
Stopping at another archaeological site, Hilbert informed us that we would be here for an hour's lecture. Not what I tend to want on holiday, especially when huddled under ponchos with rain slapping down on the plastic covering our tired bodies, but luckily it was more interesting than most lectures (although I wasn't too sure about the accuracy).
We approached our last camp site before lunch and, praise the sun gods, the sun came out and the jungle showed its beauty to us. Swathed in mist, colourful begonias popped out of the rocks and cliff faces, Inca ruins appearing and disappearing out of the mist.
We had a rest afternoon and so returned to the ruin near our campsite to explore it at our own pace. A small group of lazy llamas were hanging out on the terraces and suddenly two of them started getting it on - it gave necking a whole new meaning! We also found a spring on the site to take some sparkling clear, refreshing water from (and purify it with the steripen of course).
The only mar of our afternoon was due to the tipping...we were told that we had to tip the porters, chef and co-ordinator. They had all been great and we were very happy to tip them, especially the porters who had worked so hard. However, the line up and demand from our guide to hand over the money felt a bit off, and then we were told that the way we had planned to divide the tips (evenly across them all) wasn't "the right way" - so as treasurer I had to think on my feet to split the cash. Unfortunately that meant that the others got a little more than porters. But there wasn't much in it and luckily that all seemed happy...
Tipping duties over it was time to crash - our wake up call was at 3:30am!
Our wake up call didn't include a tea or hot water for washing...no, they hadn't been offended by the tipping fiasco, apparently the porters just had to be packed and down the mountain for the morning train. And we got to stand in a queue to get though Peruvian bureaucracy...hmmm - lots of jumping around to keep warm (chika es poco loco...?) and enjoying the sunrise through the trees as the expectation of what would come next grew. It was a beautiful day!
Once let through we had a 1 1/2 hour walk to the sun gate, stripping off layers of clothes as the day warmed.
And there it was through the Sun Gate, MACHU PICCHU!
Walking down to Machu Picchu from the sun gate, M spotted a hummingbird - and from the gold necklace it sported, we recognised it as the 'Gould's Inca' hummingbird. Rather appropriate
In Machu Picchu proper, Hilbert took us on a tour of the site, giving us lots of info about the significance of "the most important Inca archaeological site". This time we tended agree (although don't get me wrong some of the smaller sites were ace too).
By 11am the clouds came over and the first spots of rain pushed us towards the bus down to Aguas Calientes. We didn't mind though, we would be back again tomorrow and right now were tired, dirty and hungry and knew that there was a shower, food and hot springs waiting for us ;-)
Day 5 - Wanyu Picchu climb
The hostel came to life at 4:30am and despite having set the alarm for 5:30, so did we. We were shrouded by mist in the valley, but by the time we reached Machu Picchu it had thinned and the swathes of mist added a mysterious dimension to the landscape.
M teased some American tourists who were exclaiming "these llamas are so spaced out, do you reckon they've drugged them?!" "My girlfriend told me that tree over there (Datura) is hallucinogenic. Maybe they've been nibbling on it?" "Gee - really!" Or maybe they like the coca leaves...
Our slot to climb Wanyu Picchu was 7-8am, and there was more queueing...but by 8am we were climbing the steep and narrow rock stairs. Luckily there were some railings to hold onto...And the views from the top were magnificent!
Our decent took us around the grand cavern, through the noisy jungle and down steep log ladders to the 'temple de la luna' (temple of the moon).
We checked out some more of Machu Picchu, including a long walk out to the Inca bridge - the cliff face path was impressive, the bridge not so much...And then the rain came down! Everyone seemed to be heading for the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, but luckily the queue moved fast and we were on a bus without getting too wet and with time for a quick bite of lunch before our train back to Cusco.
M had been looking forward to this train ride - there aren't many running in South America any more. The train had big windows and skylights so the views along the river, through the jungle and up at the mountains were great. Plus it went super slow, averaging only 40km/hr, so we could take in the scenery at leisure and in comfort. A lovely way to finish an awesome five days