Well it finally arrived the point that I had been looking forward to my entire time in Peru the 4 day inca trail through the Peruvian mountains to arrive at the one of the new seven wonders of the world just as the sun rises. Like seemingly everything in the last couple of months this was not without its only little difficulties though as country wide strikes (not uncommon here in Peru apparently) closed off the roads and burnt down the only bridge making road transport from Puno to Cusco impossible. A short flight to and from Lima though got me there in time to hit another strike this time by the independent guides on the Inca trail! Alas some quick talking here and an extra nights camping circumvented the strike - A happy ending for some very nervous people indeed!
The extra night of camping provided us all with the opportunity to get to know each other and framiliarise ourselves with how we would be living for the next few nights. First of all the tents we are staying in are not massive and myself and my tent buddy will definitely be friends by the end of it but otherwise the living conditions are simply outstanding with coffee/tea/hot chocolate accompanying the wake up call in the morning. Camping the extra night also enabled us to get an early start and we walked through the entrance by ourselves which allowed some complications with passports to be sorted out very quickly.
With the concerns over the amount of people using the inca trail (the amount therefore being restricted) there is also a limit on how much you are allowed to bring onto the trail. I found that the 6kg duffle bag plus a day pack was ample and would have struggled to fill much more than 6kg overall. The only thing that i would pack next time would be a pair of thongs as well Some people however struggled with this and my extra space was comfortably and eagerly taken by other people and their tuck shop supply of snacks.
The early start also afforded us a gentle first day (about 2500mm to 3600m) to allow some of our less aclimatised group members the opportunity to experience the altitude and deal with the day before we hit "Dead Womans Pass" at 4200m the highest point on our trek. The first day involved us hiking for only about 5 hours which gave us plenty of time to get to know each other and ease into the trek before settling down comfortably at the campsite around 3:30. The first and most impressive thing that you notice (after you wake up that is) is that you are walking through some of the most spectacular and untouched scenery that you are likely to see that immediately makes the hiking uphill worthwhile.We also had the joys of passing over the top of our first ruins which despite viewing from afar looked quite incredible and helped wet the apetite for further ruins along the journey.
I found the first day incredibly easy and would have had no issues with continuing for another few hours up to the highest point to make the second day slightly easier on us all (something everyone was keen on) but alas the guides decision was to camp lower and prepare mentally for tomorrow. After the porters set up our camp we were greeted with afternoon tea followed by an early dinner and we have all come to the conclusion that we are not going to starve at all on the trip. The food is really good and there is plenty of it and the only hinderance being that after a massive lunch you realise you still have to hike for a further 2 hours.....lessons were learnt!
The group for this trail is a mixture of three other intrepid groups that have arrived in Cuzco at the same time on varying itineraries. We have two couples in their 50´s, a family of four with two young teenage girls, a guy in his early 20´s, another girl turning 30 and myself. A fairly diverse group to spend four days hiking with. The group really got along well and with little else to do cards were played pretty every night with full attendance.
The conditions were really ideal for hiking with the nights and mornings being a little on the cold side (especially the second night). However once you got moving in the morning it warmed up quickly and was actually quite hot when the sun came out in the middle of the day.
The second day was by far the longest day of the trek calling for a wake up call at 6am to start hiking by 7am, finally reaching our destination in the late afternoon about 5pm. This day also included a visit to three seperate ruins on the way which helped to break up the uphill hiking, although with plenty of time allocated it was not an overly stressful pace. The first lot of ruins were not as impressive as others and were little more than an observation/communications base with quarters for sleeping. The second and third ruins however were really awesome, the second set high up on a hill but making the steep climb all the worthwhile. These ruins were surrounded by cloud forrest views and came complete with spiritual rooms and several hidden incan steps. From these ruins on the hill you could also see the third set of ruins that lie in the valley far below. The third set of ruins were not quite as big as the second ones but still maintained a large city type feel complete with the religous temples and defensive garrison.
Personally I didn´t find the second day too overwhelming but it was atleast slightly challenging. With one of the teenage girls Maisey as my new climbing buddy we flew up both passes with ease arriving at the top in time to enjoy the scenery and watch the remainder of our group complete the climb (although she did manage to leave my behind for a few minutes nearing the top of the second pass, a very fit young girl!). The views from the top is really quite spectacular with mountains and rivers as far as the eye can see broken up only by clouds with little more than a campsite or a set of ruins off in the distance providing any evidence of human presence.
Tonight was our highest campsite and therefore also our coldest night and it certainly was nice to have the sleeping bag to call on but it was nowhere near as cold as the night in Cibay. With a long day behind us we were all ready for bed about 9pm ready for a bit of a sleep in come tomorrow morning.
Whilst we were glad for the slight sleep in the morning was freezing cold and we were all thankful that our wake up call comes to the tent with a choice of hot drinks!. Once out of a bed a full of breakfast the priority for me was to keep moving and move fast. Feeling no ill effects from the previous day i was able to fly up to third pass in very good time giving me more a chance to catch up on some diary notes and check out the interesting scenery. My climbing buddy didn´t back up quite so well today so I was left to go solo but was still quite strong and managed to meet a few other groups along the way as I passed them en route to the third pass and final decent climb of our hike. The best bit is that I feel like I am slowly starting to recover some fitness which is not bad considering I have done very little for the previous three months!
The best bit of todays hike was the opportunity to hike some of the original incan trail, a road made of granite around the mountains with some sections built up to 10m high. We also saw two impressive incan tunnels that were carved out of the cliffs in order to allow the horses access to the trail.
The other thing that you notice as you progress along is that the incan buildings still remain in tact however the spanish buildings that were put up are all but demolished. This speaks volumes about the structural techniques of the Incans that their buildings have survived so long especially during repeated earthquake and volcanic activity around the country. In fact most of the damage done on the Incan trail was apparently done by the final Incan in a bid to destroy and thererfore preserve this sacred area from the conquering spanish.
The valley that the path leads down is between two significant mountain ranges in Peru and gives rise to both jungle and plains type environments. As a result there is a diverse range of fauna and flora to peruse as well as you progress through the picturesque scenery, absolutely perfect for hiking. At the third pass we even managed to see some hawks that were circling around the mountain attempting to find some food, not quite as majestic as the condors but quite good none the less.
The food quality has remained nothing short of remarkable and we all well and truly over catered in regards to bringing along snacks. By the third day we were all in the process of pulling out snacks at every opportunity in a bid to get rid of the mostly (and for some people to lighten their loads). The problem however has been that despite the regular presence of snacks we are all really struggling to finish even one meal let alone the four on offer on a daily basis.
Once we arrived at our campsite on the third day both the guys and girls were overjoyed. The reasons for the immediate increase in spirits was the presence of a developed campsite which provided the first opportunity in three days to have a shower and buy a drink at the bar. We were all very happy about this but I suspect that noone was happier than Molly for whom the presence of shower rated perhaps second only to Nadal in her present wishes! The campsite was also lower in altitude and would have warranted shorts if I had bought them.
After some time to settle in it was off to see our final set of ruins before heading to Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world. These ruins were arguably the best that we have seen and were very well preserved and were also very large. With the campsite nearby and no more hiking for the day this afforded us the opportunity to take our time and spend a good couple of hours walking amongst the ruins. The views from the ruins on the top of the hill through the valley to Machu Picchu mountain and the nearby town of Aguas Calientes were also quite spectacular if ruined only slight by the constant whistles of the train.
I think the english parents must either love me or hate me by now because the girls seem to follow myself and the other young guy wherever we might go. Whilst it definitely helped them both get up the mountains without much complaints (well atleast not that many complaints anyway) I suspect they are probably not so impressed when we head off the beaten track up a peak or towards a cave. But oh well the girls are enjoying themselves and we are making sure we look after them so all is well.
Later that night it was time to enjoy a warm shower and a few beers and some more cards. This kept us going until we were ready for bed and our early morning wake up call tomorrow at 4am to make it to the sun gate by sunrise. We are all looking forward to tomorrow and the three days of hiking will make it all the more worthwhile.
As we set off early in the morning we had a very short walk to yet another checkpoit where we were validated entrance in Machu Picchu. After this short wait we had a gentle 1.5 hour stroll to the sun gate as the sun rose you arrive and take in the views as you first set your sights on Machu Picchu. The site at first glimpse is incredible so much bigger and grander than you would could ever expect.
Exploring the site is a real priveledge amd impresses you the more you wander through it taking in all that Hiram Bingham found almost 100 years ago, years after it had beem looted it for all its gold and jewels. Hiram Bingham for those that don´t know is mooted as one of the most likely inspirations for the Indiana Jones character.
The site itself is simply incredible both in its magnitude and and in its detail from the design to the lay out. The design is quite remarkable and you can see the most important buildings by the detail that is put into the brickwork. The most important are the sun temple and the temple of three windows is specifically set up to recieve the suns rays for both the summer and winter solstace interacting with the sun gate. This combined with the Intihuatana stone which is famous for supposedly providing you with energy are the main attractions at the site other than the site in its entirity. Sadly owing to the instability of the volcanic activity the site itself is endanger of being destroyed and I can only say that the appearance of this site transgresses words and that anyone wanting to get there should get there as soon as possible whilst the opportunity exists and certainly before the suggested resort or helicopter landing sites make their way in there.
After walking around for over 3 hours I decided to stroll off some of the less used pathes finding my way down the to the road back to Aguas Calientes which provided stunning view back up the mountain towards the site. Finally it was time to head back to Cuzco where a day of white water rafting awaits before heading off to the might amazon. Goodbyes to the group were a little easier as most of them are continuing on the same path as us for the next couple of days and with the girls and parents joining us for rafting tomorrow.
Honestly this trail was nothing short of spectacular and one of the best things I´ve done. The hike itself is not overly challenging and I could have comfortably done it in two days so four days is more than enough time for most people to do it. The record time for doing the trail for anyone interested is just under 4 hours which is quite unbelievable given the size of the both the rises and decents which do not make running very easy at all. The hiking is made so much easier by the ruins and scenery that you get to take inalong the way. The trek went as well as you could possibly wish with the help, the food and everything being quite spectacular definitely one f the top highlights of my trip thus far.