We arrived in Cusco pretty late at night and rushed to the office to ensure we were still leaving on the trip on the Monday morning and all seemed good. We spent Sunday having a look around the city, which was nowhere near as bad as what I was expecting for a stop-off for travellers hitting Machu Picchu. Our hostel was up on the hill in the San Blas region and looked over the city, when it wasn’t lashing it down. We settled in for an early night on Sunday to prepare ourselves for the early start the next day and the beginning of the Inca Trail…
The bus came and collected us at 5:30am and we were pretty out of it and rather antisocial for the next hour and a half that it took to get to the pueblo where we were stopping for breakfast and last minute supplies. We nipped in for some much needed breakfast and coffee, where Andy somehow managed to gorge on a full meat spaghetti meal (perfect choice for a ‘vegetarian’, which was what we had registered as for the trip!). Still we hadn’t managed to speak to anyone yet, as it was taking a while for the caffeine to work it’s magic and probably everyone thought we were proper antisocial.
After a wee while longer in the bus we got out and organised our rucksacks so that we now had sleeping bags and sleeping mats. I felt bad as I was carrying a day sack with all of our water etc in while Andy carried his rucksack with all of our stuff. Everyone else in the group also had their rucksacks with them, but we had had to leave mine with all the clothes we weren’t going to need for the next few days at the hostel.
We were introduced to Mani and Raoul, our guides for the trip, and set off for the first part of the trail covering an hour or so before we stopped for formal introductions to the rest of the trekkers in our group. It turned out that Andy and I were the only ones not from the States: we had a couple from Arizona, another from Hawaii, two guys from DC and a group of friends all travelling together from San Diego. There was a mix of ages and it soon became apparent that we had a pretty good group; very fit and keen to support one another through the hike.
A lunch stop later on demonstrated 2 things to us – 1) the food was going to be pretty amazing on this trek and 2) the toilets were going to be absolutely vile! We used this opportunity to really stuff our faces for the next part of the hike until camp. This day wasn’t too bad in terms of the trekking level, more that it was quite long and was a mix of up and downhill sections. The scenery was beautiful, despite the pretty dire weather we had at times, and the campsite we finally finished at really was stunning, set amongst the backdrop of the green hills. A few beers were drunk and a yummy dinner had, before visiting another set of horrific toilets and snuggling down in the tent for the night. We were all shattered but what a great day!
A rather unexpected wake up call startled us on this fine morning at around 5am in the form of a cockerel, which I swear walked up to each and every tent individually before letting out a full throttle “cockadoodledoo!”. Thankfully this was followed twenty minutes later by Raoul knocking on the tent with cups of coffee; tent service??! Amazing!
The yummiest breakfast awaited us and we were quickly off again with our packs on for the renowned worst day of the trek, as we were to spend the whole morning ascending to 4200m before a steep descent to camp. The first climb was pretty tough and, although I was still up the front with most of the guys, I felt that I was holding Andy back from the pace that he would normally climb at, so at the next stop I said he should go ahead with some of the other guys. He agreed and he and his new “let’s thrash any expected climbing time” buddy, Brandon, set off to take on the 2 hour ascent before second breakfast. I found this stretch a little difficult at the start but once I was able to find a rhythm and stick to that, the uphill became a little easier, still it was an effort. Thankfully I made it to the top within the hour, to find that Andy had thrashed it in 41minutes, with Esther monstering up the hill not far behind…good effort guys. We had to wait a while longer for everyone else to gradually come on through and then wolfed down a second breakfast, which was much needed for the next part of the ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass. During this section you could really feel the effect of the altitude and a few of us pretty much stuck together, which meant I had to try and keep up with the guys by powering it up!
The woman from Arizona was really struggling today, as she had really bad stomach problems, and was clearly dehydrated. However, nothing was going to stop her and how she pushed on up those steps I have no idea. I certainly don’t think that if I was in the same situation I would have been as resilient as she was.
The view at the top really was something…we were at cloud level and they parted for a while to show us the wonderful views of the valley below. We took the opportunity to sit and take in the views for a while, before Andy and I decided to head down the steep descent ahead of the others as my huge boots were inevitably going to hold me back. We made it to camp in time for lunch and had an afternoon siesta. Thankfully we were not going anywhere else that day; seven hours on the go was enough for me! We woke up in time for dinner and then it was sleepy time again. Not before Andy had visited the toilets and taken a pee in what he thought was the urinal, but in actual fact turned out to be the sinks the porters use to clean the dishes in…nice! (After some discussion with the other males of the group at camp on the final night, it emerged that Andy was one of 5 of our team that had made the same mistake!).
We woke up early this morning and headed up to the local Inca ruins about an hour up the hill. On the way we had to pass by a check point, where Andy and Brandon took the opportunity to weigh their rucksacks. The local porters, known as chasquis, are now only allowed to carry 20kg maximum and must weigh in their bags at various checkpoints on the way. Brandon was a little disappointed with his 16kg, while we were all stunned to find that Andy had been lugging about 24kg! This gained him new respect with the chasqui community, and whenever they passed us at different spots they pointed at ‘The Gringo Chasqui’ and encouraged Andy to enter the Inca Marathon next year. It was so funny to see how impressed they were with him, especially since they do the whole route in their sandals with ridiculous things on their backs, whist passing pathetic westerners with poles and hiking boots moaning away at every step. I suppose Andy and Brandon must have been a refreshing change.
This was by far my favourite of the hiking days as it was a good mix of uphill, part flat routes and some very interesting downhills! We hiked on for a few hours before stopping at some other Incan ruins, where it was easy to see the dramatic change in scenery as we entered the jungle and more mountainous areas. Brandon, Andy and I then set off at speed for the next part of the hike, desperate to make it to the lunch spot as soon as we could. We passed caves, tunnels, cliff edges descending into deep forest chatting the whole way. It was gorgeous. Apparently we could see orchids, unfortunately the boys were going so fast there was no chance of seeing anything!
Our lunch spot was truly magnificent with views over the valley to Machu Picchu mountain (when the clouds and rain cleared). After lunch we began the descent to our final camp spot. This began as a series of ridiculously steep steps, before stopping at another ruin. Here Mani informed us that to go to camp via the Incan Terraces, would take around three hours. He let on that once he had managed it in 29 minutes, without a bag…needless to say Andy and Brandon were off in a puff of smoke!
I made the descent with Trey and the Arizonan couple and had the loveliest afternoon, despite being desperate for the toilet and holding it in for 2 hours! We chatted the whole way and I learnt a lot about them, as they did about me and wanted to hear tales of my travels. I felt so lucky to have such a great group of people to share the experience with. After a while we reached the terraces and spent quite a bit of time there taking photographs and just marvelling at the beauty of the area; imagining what it must have been like all those years ago when the Incans lived there. As the sun began to set, we headed off on the final descent, looking out for any evidence of Andy and Brandon having flown off the hillside, beaten each other up in a bid to reach the bottom first or blood and bits of bone from inevitable injuries…thankfully there were none and it was great to see them safe and sound at camp having made it in 31minutes, to be exact !
A quick trip to the loo clearly identified the fact that these were by far the worst toilets on the whole trail, with splashes of poo in all manner of places I cannot even imagine it possible for them to end up. I was most startled that night by the full log lying parallel to the back of the stand up loo. I can only imagine that someone started it off then thrust their hips to the side before letting it lie…not really worth thinking about, but Andy was scarred for life after his experience in one of the toilets from hell that night! As it was our last night all together, we spent the last supper sharing memories and scoffing down a delicious cake ready for our early departure in the morning to Machu Picchu itself. Only one more night in the tent with Andy’s smelly trainers…yippee!!!
A 3:30am start without tent service didn’t lead to the best of moods from me, however, the excitement at making it to Machu Picchu soon cheered us all up. We ensured we were at the gates for the 5am opening and then spent the next hour speeding past all of the other groups which were ahead of us, in a bid to reach the Sun Gate before everyone else. After flying up the monkey steps to the gate, it turned out we were the 2nd group there, only to be met with fog and no view of Machu Picchu below.
After a while, too long in my opinion as our legs were starting to seize up, we began the final trek to the ruins. Unfortunately we began to pass numerous tourists who had taken the train up for the day, looking fresh, smelling good, smiling faces…pretty much the total opposite to us; we were covered in grime, sweat and no doubt had swarms of flies feasting off of our skanky unwashed bodies. All of a sudden my zen started to fade away with the mist, and the reality of the fact that we were going to be faced with hordes of people after so much tranquility set in.
After about an hour or so, the mist lifted and Machu Pichu mountain came into view, followed by the ruins of the city, It was absolutely stunning, just like you imagine from all of the pictures you see. I couldn’t believe we were here, finally this place I had seen and wanted to visit for so many years, was now real and in front of me.
We were all so happy and were directed to the rock for the postcard photo. This is when everything changed for me…the 5’3”and 50kg level-headed girl turned into Fiery Scot Raging Bull! Basically, sitting on ‘el postcard rock’ was a rather large girl obviously taking in the beauty of the surroundings. She had found a lovely step of the rock to sit on and looked like she was posing for one of those ‘pensive at Machu Picchu’ shots. Unfortunately, her rather large head and part of her body intruded into the postcard shot for everyone else on the rock. Assuming she was unaware of this fact I leant over and asked if she could possibly move a little, as we were all trying to take photos (bearing in mind we were one group out of about 100 descending into the ancient city). I was met with a rather interesting grimace and grunt as she shuffled her bum half a centimeter to the right, essentially proving to be a useless manoeuvre. Henceforth, this girl then appeared in all of our photos. I was not impressed! But oh no, the icing on the cake was still to come. Whilst she was still sitting, pensive and ruining every photo, one of the couples on our tour got engaged on the rock. Now if this happened in front of me, I would shuffle out of the way in a bid not to impede on such an intimate moment…not her! No not only did she stay sat on her throne, but she turned her head around and pretty much got involved in the whole shenanigans; clapping when Veronica said yes.
I imagine she must have ruined a good 1000 people’s photos before she finally un-beached herself and moved on. Yes that is her face you can see between Andy’s legs in the top shot of us there but we cropped her out as much as we could.
Unfortunately I have to admit my mood never really improved from here on, as we passed pushy tourists shoving their way through small passageways and paths with no acknowledgement of the fact that we had hiked for 4 days to get here. I am not saying we were legends but I absolutely think that they should not let day visitors to the city until those that have completed the trail have had a chance to soak up the serenity and beauty of the place. It turns out that whilst Machu Picchu is a truly stunning place, the Inca Trail is by far what makes it.
Needless to say, we didn’t hang around long and after a few hours of walking around, headed to Aguas Caliente where we had a ‘family’ lunch before we ventured into the hot springs (where I resembled a Russian weight lifter in Andy’s cycling shorts and my sports bra). That evening we caught the train back to where we began the trail and then took the minibus back to Cusco. Sad times followed…after our sad goodbyes, we disgusted ourselves by stopping off on the way at MacDonalds! I cannot believe it, but we were starving and too tired to think straight. It tasted crap and was freezing cold but filled a hole. Finally it was time for bed at the end of an incredible 4 days of leg aching fun and good times. We met some amazing people and I cannot explain how brilliant the Inca Trail is. It is just a shame that so many people are allowed to flood the beautiful city of Machu Picchu which is waiting at the end of it.