Nowhere in the world can one find a path better trodden than the Inca Trail. 500 years ago Incan kings fled the Spanish invasion to their jungle hideaway known as Machu Picchu nestled deep inside the Cuscan mountains. Accessable (then) only by the challenging 4 day trek, today severeal hundred gringos set off daily to replicate this pilgramage.

Picked up droopy eyed and cold at 6am from our Hostel our trek began on the 19th of November. We were driven from our respective Hostels to a point on the map simply known as kilometre 82, from here our walk began, tho the inca trail officially did not. After a quick stop in which we all stocked up on ponchos and walking sticks (best 4 soles 50 centimos ever spent) we had our passports stamped and were on our way. Excited and surprisingly energetic the 13 trekkers (including 4 poms, 3 Irish, 3 Americans, 2 Australians and a South African) and our two guides Washington and Herbert (not really Incan names) set off for the four day adventure. From here Im going to break it into four different descriptions, one for each day. Its easier this way…..

p.s – each day has the description we were given by the tour company in our briefing.

DAY ONE: EASY

After the passport checkpoint we walked for approximately 12 kilometres over varying landscapes and passed a couple of Incan ruins. Tho stopping for photographs the pace was maintained and we made good time. The easy walking made for an undoubted appreciation for the trail we were following as well as the beautiful landscpae in which it was framed. Stopping for lunch (we ate like kings) the group chatted as we got to know each other a little better, before packing back up and walking the remaining several hours until we reached the campsite of our first night. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the campsite Nathan, Andrew and myself had ventured accross to the local ¨soccer field¨ and were incue for a game with our guide, cook and head porter. Overseen by the police (who were also the time keepers carrying machine guns) the entire community was out to watch the afternoons kick-about. After 10 minutes I selflessly (ha) subbed myself off to allow another guy to play (but really it was cos I would not breath whilst running around at the altitude). Tho we lost 3-1, I attribute this to my leaving the game, it was great fun and really emphasised the lack of oxygen at 2800 meters. It was only after dinner (3 courses, of course) that we were informed that we hadnt actually started the Inca Trail, so far we had only ventured to the beginning of the path. Tomorrow the pilgramage began.

DAY TWO: CHALLANGING

Tho I had been informed day 2 was like 5 hours on the stairmaster nothing in my mind could have prepared me for the challenge at hand. In some instances it certianly is true that ignorance is bliss. We began our day at 5.30 and I can say I had just woken from the best sleep of my trip. Fresh fruit and pancakes brought smiles to all our faces, least of all our Irish contingent. Once we´d eaten we began our walk, tho it is more accurately desribed as a climb. From the first step we began our steep incline which did not stop for a further 3 hours. Climbing and climbing we attempted conversation eventually deciding to save our breath for breathing until we reached our midway point where we were to have ¨elevensis¨ or morning tea. It was at this point for me that my respect grew immensly for the porters who were carrying twice as much as any gringo at well over three times the speed. Anyone that does this for a job had my undying respect. Popcorn, cheeserolls and hot milo saw us refueled and ready to start the climb and after we had waited out the rain we began whats known as ´dead womans pass.´ Two more hours of the steepest steps EVER and we were at the top. Another two hours down (which I must say leaves you feeling like you could have just gone around or straight through) and we were at our campsite for the second night. As I walked into our camp tired, wet and hungry I saw it fully set up with tents, washbasins and porters running around preparing our lunch. At that moment thier stock went up even further in my book. That night I nearly froze to death.

DAY THREE: UNFORGETTABLE

Convinced the majority of climbing was behind I awoke day three with a bit of a cough resulting from the chest infection I was still getting over (not helped of course by the -5 night we had just had). With only 2 hours sleep under my belt my temper was quick and my fuse short. Never-the-less I was ready in the designated 40 minutes, breakfasted after an hour and at 6.30 we set off for the longest day of walking in the 4 days. 15 kilometers began with another 2 hour climb (not a good start to the day) where we passed an incan ruin took photos, and had more history explained to us.

By this phase of the trek the pace had definately slowed for a number of us. Though continuing at normal pace (gringo normal pace that is) there was a select group of us whom all seemed to rest in equal portions to the amount of walking we were doing, atleast for the first couple of hours that day. It is easy in hindsight to put my finger on the most annoying factor of our trek. For every mountain we walked up, we seemed to walk straight back down the other side. At the end of the initial 2 hour climb I was convinced we had completed the uphill section of the trek. I was wrong, we walked straight down the other side and then up another mountain all over again.

Passing another two Incan ruins and having the history and mystique of the trail outlined for us more we walked through Incan tunnels where rock had been bored through to continue the path.  A final two hours of climbing at a gradual rise with a panoramic view of the expansive mountainrange around was walked with quiet Dave (nicknamed  such because of his tendancy to tell stories and express his opinion on anything) and lifted my spirits (helped by the 2 nurofen Sylvia had given me for my headache) before we breaked for lunch. A good meal, and we began the 4000 step descent (yep, back down the otherside) knicknamed The Gringo Killer, to our camp for the last night.

Warm showers, cold beers, a bad cough and the promise of medications upon return to Cuzco from our trekking doctors saw me in bed that night stright from dinner. I fell asleep that night wondering how the day before was challenging and this day had been unforgettable, then I remebered; today had involved actually seeing stuff and busting balls.

DAY FOUR: UNIQUE

3.30am is an hour no one should ever be awake unless of course they have not yet been to bed. Never-the-less it was at this hour that our final day began and I cant say I wasnt excited, even if I was tired. Today we see Machu Picchu. Ready in time we set off from camp at 4.50am only to wait 40 minutes in the rain until the checkpoint opened. An hours walk and we were at the Sun Gate, the actual gate the Incan royal families walked through in thier first entrances to Machu Picchu. Nicknamed the cloud gate by us, due to the fact we couldnt see anything but clouds from this altitude we descended the hours worth of stairs down into the actual Machu Picchu complex.

Oh my god!

My eyes had been trained with Anchor Wat to appreciate the complexities and mysteries of ancient ruins but as I descended those steps and caught my first view of Machu Picchu from a good height I was in awe. This is what I had walked up 15000 steps and back down another 12000 for, this was what the sweat and tears were for. Instantly forgetting my aches, pains, fatigue and coldness I could finally see Machu Picchu, and what a sight it was.

It is hard to describe Machu Picchu with words. If you know Incan architecture then across a mountain top lies housing, temples, guardtowers, a sporting arena, and agricultural landscaping. The sight is amazing and the stonework is perfectionist to say the least. Troubled by the Spanish, it is obvious the site was never completed as the Incans were forced to return to Cuzco for a last ditched battle in the 16th century. However the legacy they have left behind is amazing. We had our guide walk us around Machu Picchu for two hours identifying and explaining the history behind The temple of the Sun, the guards quarters, The Sun Dial, Hyuanapichu (a massive mountin in the background), the Kings Quarters, the sporting arena, crop gardens, the ancient stone quarry (where all the rocks used to build came from) and the Temple of the Condor. All was steep in tradition and all was flawlessly constuctred and completed with meticulous detail.

After the tour my fatigue got the better of me and I snoozed in the guards quarters whilst fat americans walked all sides of me panting at the steps and complaining of the climbing they had to do in thier tours of Machu Picchu. I took in a final moment of where I was and a bus and a train later and the 13 tired and accomplished trekkers were back in Cuzco.

Sylvia, Emma and me (all staying at the same hostel) simply dropped our bags, showered and changed without even looking at our beds through fear of sleep. We met  another 8 trekkers at the Irish pub before we went for a final dinner together. After the dinner they all went out, but my cough had the better of me and I thought bed was the best option at the time. That night I slept like a bear through winter.

 just before trek

 

resting half way up BIG climb, day 3

 

 

 

Machu Picchu

 

 

Machu Picchu, Hyuanapichu background

THE GANG, waiting at train station to go back to Cuzco

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