I’m exhausted. But I’m exhausted because I’ve been all different kinds of awesome on the Inca Trail for the past 4 days, so it’s a proud and special kind of exhausted… and the exhaustion is my excuse for my current lack of creativity, so please accept my apologies in advance. Here lies our adventure, an adventure that will remain ingrained in my mind forever…
We left Cuzco for the Inca Trail with our group at 6am on day one. Although we were on a bus full of people, our group consisted of only 4, my travel buddie and I and two 18 year old Canadian guys, Keith and Zac. This translates to 3 tall, bustling, strong, fit men and me… little, petite, 5ft4 me… in my head I was already struggling to keep up. For just the four of us there were nine porters (!!!) and a tour guide named Roberto.
Day one. We went through check point one, got the stamp in the passport and the photo underneath the entrance sign. We walked for about 7 hours to our first camp. We stopped off for lunch half way which was amazing. We were expecting sweaty sandwiches, we got a 3 course meal set up in a cute little tent, who would have thought. The lunch stop came complete with 4 small bowls water, soap, and 4 small hand towels. Not the kind of camping I’m use to, but definitely the kind I could get use to.
The first day of hiking wasn’t too hard, and as it turns out it was a lot easier having just the four of us rather than a large group. Evening one and dinner was better than lunch. . Paying $550 for a 4 day hike initially felt like a lot, but after day 1 it was completely understandable. The porters and the chef were incredible, the food was brilliant. We really felt like we were looked after.
The biggest lesson I learnt on day one of the Inca Trail, Sandflies. Sandflies are invisible, Sandflies are everywhere, Sandfly bites last FOREVER, and they itch like an absolute bitch. For those that come after me, my first lesson is this: Take Insect repellent, or if like me you’re allergic to it, take long trousers. They will be your saving grace.
Day 2: Dead Woman’s Pass.
Day 2 was the toughest day. Dead woman’s pass is the highest part of the trail and the summit is at around 4215 meters. We started out at about 6.30 am and made it to the top by about 9.30am, thanks again to having a small group. It was tough, and about 5 meters from the top each step felt like it took forever, I had no idea how the porters managed to do this while carrying all the gear. Finally reaching the top was an incredible feeling, and even better that we were the first ones of the day to make it and had it to ourselves.
We took in the views through the fog, breathed the cold air in deeply…. it was such a stunning place to be.
Of course, after reaching the top of Dead Womans Pass there’s the other side… the steep decline… the steps upon steps, mixed with the scenery. Once we made it down the other side we had yet another hearty lunch stop. On day 2 we also stopped at spectacular ruins throughout the day. We finally finished this most grueling day at about 4.30pm, the camp site was in a gorgeous spot in the mountains. And as per the day before, we arrived to our tents ready, bowls of hot soapy water, and food cooking. We couldn’t have asked for much more.
Day 3. I put on the same clothes I’d been wearing for the past 2 days. They were filthy and stank like… like clothes that smell really bad (note previous apology in advance for lack of creativity). My socks however, didn’t smell at all. Smart wool, amazing, the man in the Kathmandu store in London was right. On day 3 we walked from about 7.30 am until about 11.30 and that was it. Although this did include descending 3000 steps. I’ve never had knee problems before, but after this I felt like a 90 year old woman! We finally arrived at the final camp site at Winaywayna, which also has some incredible Inca ruins right beside it.
Our tents were off on a tiny cliff edge which, which was absolutely incredible and had a spectacular view. We ate lunch and then got to take a cold shower, which I was incredibly thankful for. The porters were kind enough to lend us their soap and we rented a towel to share. I had my first experience with the ‘South American Electric Shower’, which I will elaborate on later (but for now, as you can imagine it is the potentially death defying move of mixing electricity and water to produce a luke warm shower…). I had saved one clean t-shirt for this moment. Later that afternoon we sat in the ruins of Winaywayna and had a history lesson from our guide Roberto. What an experience. The views were spectacular and Roberto was full of knowledge. The last night we had a huge dinner again and the cook made a cake. Over dinner we made our plan for the next morning and checked it over with Roberto. We all wanted to get to the Sungate for sunrise and get a good glimpse at Machu Picchu before the front gates opened, letting in hoards of tourists. We knew that to do this, we would have to be at the check point before it opened. We discussed it with Roberto, and got our plan together. We said our good byes to the crew and did the tip business, the porters really were brilliant and so so lovely, we couldn’t have asked for better. That night it rained. It rained so much I was awake most of the night fearing a mud slide would wipe us over the edge.
Day 4: The final day started out like a big race. We aspired to greatness. We had all been de-briefed, and being a small group we were more than prepared for what would be required of us to have a successful morning. Aim: to get to the Sun Gate, and finally Machu Picchu first. Why?? Tourists. Plain and simple. The ones who don’t trek arrive by the bus load… and they rubbish up the photos. And we had come a long way for this moment and the four of us along with Roberto had a plan, which we executed to a tee.
We got up at 3.30am and packed our gear. We had a quick breakfast and walked the 10 minutes to the final check point. It was 4.15am and we were second group in line. Good work. The first check point opens at 5.30am, so we took up our piece of cement and waited in the dark. Within about 20 minutes all the other groups had joined and there was a massive line behind us… still an hour prior to the check point opening (take note fellow travellers). Perfect timing on our behalf.
The sky became brighter as 5.30am came around and we were second group through the gate. Now, the walk to the sun gate is usually about another 45 mins. We ran, and when I say ran I mean we bolted. We passed the other group and made it to the Sun Gate within about 25 minutes, I think Roberto was secretly impressed by his group. It was tough, and it started raining part way through which meant that when I finally made it to the Sun Gate I was sweating profusely inside a plastic poncho. From the Sun Gate you can have your first glimpse of Machu Picchu, depending on cloud cover. We waited for a while and managed to see it, although still covered in clouds. Roberto then took us a further 20 min walk down to get to a viewing area… but Machu Picchu was still covered in cloud. Roberto assured us to wait a few minutes and watch, we weren’t exactly sure what he was talking about but in Roberto we trusted… and so we waited. Over about 10 minutes the cloud lifted and there it was… Machu Picchu in all it’s beauty. Incredible isn’t even close, it was an awe inspiring moment that I’ll never forget, and made even more precious after hiking for 3 days to get there.
We all took a stupid amount of photos, and after 30 minutes the place was crawling with tourists. Mission accomplished. Go team.
We spent the rest of the morning walking around Macchu Picchu and getting yet another history lesson from Roberto. The day became incredibly hot and everyone wearing shorts again got copious amounts of sandfly bites. After my earlier lesson I was spared any new bites thanks to my trust long trousers (sweat over sandfly bites any day). At about midday we headed down to the closest town called Aguas Callientes for lunch. Roberto presented us all with certificates, which was kinda cool, and he showed us a small museum with photos of Machu Picchu when it was first discovered. Again, Roberto’s knowledge of the area and the history was brilliant.
As for Aguas Callients… well….Aguas Callientes is a town made entirely for tourists. It’s quite a cute town, full of little stalls and bars and is well known for it’s hot springs (hence the name), so we thought we’d check those out for the afternoon. The hot pools were… interesting… they were hot and aparently natural… but the top coating of dead skin didn’t sit too well with me, and then there was no flowing water to speak of… which I pretended to not notice because I wanted to experience the hot pools of Aguas Calientes. Now, I’m not entirely that was a good decision… and a few days after I still feel dirty from the experience.
We caught the 6pm train back to Cuzco, all piled into the ‘backpacker carriage’. There were Australian accents everywhere, I felt at home. We got off the train at the wrong stop with some others from the same tour company, and ended up walking through the dark streets of a small town with no clue of how to get back to Cuzco. A local guy took pity on us and phoned the tour company. They picked us up and we finally made it back to Cuzco at about 10pm.
The Inca Trail was an incredible adventure, and I’d recommend it to everyone. The cool kiddies hanging out at Loki in Cuzco don’t know what they’re missing out on. There are many other options of getting to Machu Picchu but there’s nothing quite like hiking for 3 days and battling your way through to the Sun Gate at sunrise. I achieved something I’ve always wanted to do, it really is an incredible experience. Thanks Roberto, and thanks to all the Porters for making our experience a truly awesome one, it will stay close to my heart forever.