Monday, October 22, 2007

Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

Hola a todos,
Just back from the Inca trail and Machu Picchu.

We began with a day trip to the Sacred Valley before we started the trail. We had an excellent local guide for the trip, Miguel, who grew up in this area and just has a huge enthusiasm and knowledge about the mountains and the local area. One of our first stops was the Inca site at Pisac. We are just at the beginning of the rainy season in Peru and unfortunately it looked like that day was going to be the start of it - there was an absolute torrential downpour whilst we were on the mountain and we were all cold, wet and miserable within 10 minutes. We were all wondering what on earth it would be like if we had to hike for four days on the trail in weather like this! We also went shopping for emergency plastic ponchos that night (very attractive) and didn´t feel much better when we woke in the morning to rain and travelled on the bus for an hour to the start of the trail in another complete downpour. After we passed through Passport Control (there are strict regulations on the numbers allowed on the trail these days and you have to have booked at least 5 months in advance to get on), Miguel made an offering of coca leaves to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for good luck. Well, it seemed to work as within a couple of minutes the rain stopped and the sun came out and set out on a lovely day up to our first camp. The going was fairly gentle on the first day as we were on the lower slopes of the valley along by the river. Along with our guide we also have a team of 16 people supporting us! That´s two cooks and 14 porters to carry everything including our bags, tents, cooking equipment, food, chairs...everything. These guys are amazing in how they manage to carry such heavy stuff up the mountains but at least the Peruvian government now regulates a limit of 26kg per porter so they are not carry up to 50kg each like they used to a few years back.
It rained during the evening but our tents held firm and we woke to the most beautiful clear morning with a clear view from our tent door out to the surrounding glaciers.

Day 2 was the tough day with the famous Dead Woman´s Pass to get over. We started from camp at just above 3000m and had a long, steep climb to get to the pass at 4215m. Probably one of the toughest hikes I´ve done as close to the top you can really feel the altitude just making you pant your way up. But we were hiking up through the loveliest river valley following the trail through a steep valley so there were plenty of excuses for stopping for photos or a quick rest. We all made it up in good time in the end and enjoyed a photo session at the top. The rest of the day´s hike was a fairly leisurely downhill to our second camp. There had been an option of continuing for a further three hours that afternoon but we were all very happy when our guide said we would be staying put for the afternoon and continuing the next day. So we all had a massive lunch, then an afternoon nap, followed by tea at 5 and then dinner at 7! Just as well we are doing some exercise as we are eating so well. It´s amazing the food that the cooks manage to whip up on a simple camping stove. Very impressive set up all together. Everytime we arrive the porters have already set up the kitchen and dining tents as well as our sleeping tents (2 per tent) and have bowls of hot water ready for us to wash our hands. Again Pachamama was very good to us as although it rained overnight when we were tucked up in our tents and a very chilly night we awoke to another beautiful clear morning at the early hour of 6am.

Day 3 began with another steep but much shorter climb to the top of our second pass but after that continued with a beautiful walk along the high valley with amazing views all around. There are lots of different Inca ruins along the route. Some are agricultural centres where the Incas were able to grow different crops on the terraces at different altitudes. We arrived at the final pass which had an amazing view down over the whole valley of the river Urabamba. Then it was a very long downhill to get to our camp - about 2 hours of walking down stone steps which was pretty rough on the knees. But we eventually arrived to our camp which had hot showers and cold beer! Oh it´s the small things in life that keep you happy. As we´d been hiking for the past three days without showers and limited clothing changes (each person is only allowed 7kg including sleeping bag and mat) then the shower was great. Again it downpoured in the evening and really didn´t think tent would hold that night but survived ok.

Day 4 very early start with wake-up at 4 in order to try and get to the sun-gate above Machu Picchu as early as possible. The porters had to pack up very quickly and run down the mountain as there was a census on in Peru and they all had to try to get back to their homes. It was about a hour´s hike to the sun-gate with tired legs but it was a beautiful view right down over Machu Picchu when we finally got to the sun-gate. Again we were graced with a beautiful clear sky which is unusual as often Machu Picchu is shrouded in cloud.

From the sun-gate is about another 20 minutes down to the city itself. Luckily the census meant that a lot of buses were not running so there were less day trippers than usual. We spent a couple of hours learning about the city and the Inca people from Miguel. Very incredible place.
Train back to Cuzco very tired but having had an excellent trip.