Archive for the ‘Machu Picchu’ Category

Days 65-68 – 30 June – Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

July 6, 2010 4am in 2010 trip,Machu Picchu,Peru,Travel | Comments (0)

Alright, time to go! Machu Picchu and Inca Trail here we come!

Sure enough we got picked up at 6:30am. This was to be the latest wake-up call in the coming four days! Yikes.

Machu Picchu is normally reached from Cusco by train, but the floods in January wiped out part of the train track, which hasn’t yet been fully repaired, so it’s necessary to drive some of the way. And clearly, the road was not built for mass traffic because there was about 30km of single-track roads which are big enough for only one car with the odd passing place here and there, kind of like England’s back-country roads. I thought “no doubt they’ll have some system for dealing with this”. Nope – the first 30km were okay by luck, but with 2km to go on the road we reached a standstill, with people out of their cars yelling at each other in Spanish and nobody being prepared to move.

So Livos (our tour guide) used his local connections to get one of the local families to allow us into their piece of land and we can prepare everything and set off from there. Hey, the Inca trail was about 42km, what’s an extra 2km! We saw this local family’s collection of guinea pigs, and it didn’t take us long to work out that they weren’t pets, but rather food!

There were lots of woman walking around the roads trying to sell items for the trip, like hats, walking poles, sunscreen, etc. They were very persistant, but I still didn’t buy a hat because I don’t like wearing hats. It was very hot and sunny today, so I thought maybe that was a bad idea.

The first day of the walk was not too steep, we saw a few Inca ruins, and the temperature was really pleasant, the sun was out in full force but because it was winter it wasn’t unbearably hot… well that was my opinion, other people thought it was too hot – unusual, normally I’m the one complaining about the heat.

Our guide Livos was very knowledgable, and he seemed to know everyone in the area that we came across on the walk and in all the little towns. Everyone had heard of him.

We walked about 6 hours today, and halfway through we stopped at a really nice little campsite where the porters had set up the tent and were cooking up some fish for lunch. I don’t eat fish, but they knew about this beforehand and they had separately made me some eggs. We couldn’t believe how sophisticated the meals were, and usually there were three courses for both lunch and dinner! It was amazing, and everything was very tasty. In fact, for most of us, there was just too much food. We wondered how they kept all the food fresh on a four day walk and cooked it all for 18 people on just two portable gas rings – incredible, they’ve clearly done this before more than once, we thought.

We left the porters behind at the lunch site, and continued walking. After a while, the porters zoom past with all the stuff, and set up camp further on, so by the time you get there, they’re all set up in a new place. This time when we arrived at the last campsite for the day, all the tents were set up, and dinner was underway. We only had a small light lighting the dinner tent, and once dinner was over, it was 7:30pm and dark, and since we’d walked so far and there was not a lot to do in the dark, most of us were asleep by 8. Well, we needed to, because the next two days were going to be 5:30am wakeups and the day after was going to be 3:00am!

I slept in a big jacket that I had bought the week before in Lima, and long pants in my sleeping bag. Other people complained about being cold but it wasn’t too bad once you got used to sleeping in lots of layers.

Day 2

Last night we were told that today would be 5 hours of going up steep steps. And that wasn’t wrong – wow. We climbed from 2,700 metres above sea level to 4,200 in 5 hours – it was TOUGH going. Because I had a cold, it didn’t help. Last week with a cold, I walked the 30 minutes from my Spanish school to my house and was exhausted, and that was flat land. This was a killer! When I said on Saturday “I won’t be the slowest one on the trip”, I guess I was wrong!

We naturally split into two groups today – four people (including Ian and Richard) went ahead, and I stayed behind with two other people and we went slower. It’s the only way I could have gone up five hours of steep steps – I would do 20-30 at a time, then stop and rest.

To make it worse, the weather wasn’t kind to us today. It started spitting when we woke up, and rained all day. Not heavy rain, but all day long. We bought some plastic ponchos from the locals for 5 soles each (£1.25) which helped a bit.

Our porters managed to keep most of our stuff dry – clearly another thing they’re skilled at. The stuff I carried in my own small pack stayed largely dry, but that’s because I’d put important stuff like money and passport inside three plastic bags. I was so glad that I brought two jackets – a warm one and a waterproof one. I didn’t bring two pairs of shoes because that would have made the porters carry too much, but shoes stayed dry enough with all the walking and enough changes of socks. I felt like I made a very good choice of what clothes to bring.

Our hard day (well, the day of the slow three of us) ended at 3:00pm in the final campsite. We were immediately given three courses for lunch, and then we had afternoon tea at 5:00pm, followed by dinner at 6:30pm which was another three courses. It was so much food!

Tonight was the coldest because we were up so high in the mountains. I had all my layers on including my warm jacket and some thermals. Everyone complained about being very cold at night, except me – I thought it was okay, but then I wore the most layers to bed by far. By this point it was starting to get uncomfortable sleeping at night – a sleeping bag and a tiny mat weren’t particularly comfortable. I would start lying on my side so I could sleep, but then once that got too painful I would wake up and then move to a different position. By the end of each night I had to lie on whichever part of my body wasn’t hurting – or was hurting the least.

Day 3

Of course, if you have 5 hours of uphill the day before, you need to have 5 hours of downhill to get back to the level where you were. It was definitely better than uphill, but it’s steps, not simply downhill. And they’re big steps!

The porters, though, managed to run at top speed down the stairs, with all the stuff that they had to carry. We wondered if they did it because they were made to, or because they’re freelancers they won’t get picked next time if they take too long to get to the camp.

No rain today though, woo! But… fog. The first two days we were spoiled with many absolutely stunning, breathtaking views. Today – nothing – you could barely see 50 metres in front of you, let alone the stunning mountain ranges and valleys. That was a bit disappointing. But what you could see though, is that some of the paths have been built on the side of cliffs – the edges of the paths dropped immediately down hundreds of metres below. Although this didn’t seem to stop the porters running! It stopped us from time to time though, and made us very careful. I wondered how many people had died on Machu Picchu, but I thought it was a bit out of place to ask.

Today was the only day where I needed to use the bathroom so bad that I couldn’t wait for a campsite, so had to go in the bush. Overall, I was quite happy, except for this one time I got away with using the toilets in the campsites every time which was great.

The sleep tonight was quite a bit warmer as we’d gone down quite a way. There was also a much more major campsite, with electricity, a small bar and restaurant, and hot showers. But it was in a very confined space, and our tents were set up with less than 50 centimetres between the door and a sheer drop. I hope nobody wanted to go sleepwalking. Here’s a photo out of the door of the tent:

Tents by a massive drop

Even though other campsites were nearby, and the closest one contained a large group of Canadians who were extremely drunk and loud, we all managed to get a good sleep.

Day 4

So, today is the big day that we get to see Machu Picchu! We had to wake up at 3am, so that the porters could get down to the train by 5am. The checkpoint to Machu Picchu doesn’t actually open until 5am, so after having breakfast and getting ready, it was 3:45am, and we had nearly 2 hours of waiting around. It wasn’t that cold though, luckily.

Apparently you used to be able to walk in the dark, then you could see the sun rise over Machu Picchu, but they stopped that because walking at night was too dangerous and there were too many accidents. So at 5:30, when the checkpoint opened, we walked on. The sun was just coming up by this point and it was another 90 minutes or so before we reached the Sun Gate – this is the first point where you can see Machu Picchu. Unfortunately though, we saw this:

Sun gate

Yes, we’d walked all this way and we couldn’t see anything because of all the fog! Some people were grumbling but hey, there was nothing we could do about it, so we just walked on. Thirty minutes later, we made it down to the tourist centre where all the people who don’t walk the Inca Trail arrive at by bus. It was still cloudy at this point, so we went and had some food in the cafetaria.

Thankfully, after two hours or so, the cloud did lift, and we were able to see Machu Picchu! Yay.

We got the guided tour by our Inca Trail tour guide, but if I’m honest I’d stopped listening by this point because he’d been talking so much over the last four days!

The views from here were just stunning. It was pretty much impossible to take photos that showed the sheer scale of everything. And Machu Picchu the city was built on really steep land, out of thousands and thousands of stones, we couldn’t work out where all these stones came from. The Incas must have been really fit, because these steps around the site were steep and there were many of them.

Machu Picchu I Machu Picchu II
Machu Picchu III Machu Picchu IV

You just couldn’t get enough of the views – they were just incredible.

After we’d seen enough, we caught the bus down this very winding road down the mountain to the town of Aguas Calientes (“Hot Waters”). It was a real tourist town, but unusual because no cars were in the town (there were no roads) except for the buses to take you up the mountain; you had to arrive by train, or by the Inca Trail.

We had lunch at a restaurant and then spent a couple of hours in the nearby hot springs. Well, it was more the “lukewarm” springs but it was still a nice relief after walking for four days.

Then, on the way down to the train station, we were accosted by all the restaurant owners trying to get us to go into their restaurants. They all offered “happy hour” – four drinks for 15 soles (£3.50). This of course seemed far too good to be true, and we figured that they’d make up a whole lot of taxes, or they’d add a massive compulsory tip, or there’d be some other catch. But we did go into one place and order four drinks, and this is what we got:

Miniscule drinks

Miniscule drinks!!!!!

We got two miniscule Pisco Sours and two small Mojitos – at least the Mojitos had a bit of alcohol in them. We thought the size of the drinks was funny, but we were a little annoyed because we wanted a full size proper drink by this point. But we paid our 15 soles and left.

We now had to get the train home. Well, the train part of the way, and then the bus the rest of the way down the evil one-way road that we got stuck on in the beginning. The train journey was beautiful, but we had again the same problems on the one way road with all these huge buses trying to get in and out at the same time. We were stuck for ages, and we had to pass on the narrowest of places with sheer drops into the river on one side. Plus it was night – that was scary, and I was glad when we were off that road.

Although once we were off the one way road, we were on the normal two-way road, but because the drive seemed to have no idea how to work the air-conditioning, the van all fogged up, and he could barely see a thing out the windscreen, which made the ride a bit frightning. I tried to sleep in the van the whole way, but wasn’t able to because it was so bumpy.

And, to make it worse, they were due to open the train on 1 July (tomorrow) ! If we had’ve been a day later, we could have caught the awesome train all the way to Cusco, which would have been luxurious, and saved us a few hours as well.

We left Aguas Calientes on the 4:22pm train and got back to Cusco about 9:30pm. It was nice to be back in civilization. The hotel in Cusco where we stayed was the Royal Inka Hotel right in the centre of the city and it was really nice.

I’ve only included some of the photos here… there’s heaps more here: PHOTOS OF MACHU PICCHU ON FACEBOOK