Following in the footsteps of the Inca's
29.03.2008 - 02.04.2008 22 °C
For quite some years now Ali had dreamed of walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and was one of many reasons why we decided to come travelling in South America. However, over the years the paths have decayed somewhat and as such the number of people allowed to do it at any one time has rapidly decreased and using a guide and porter(s) has become essential. As such we looked into it late 2007 and booked ourselves up with a company called SAS for whom we had heard many good reports.
On the Friday evening we took in the short briefing and collected our sleeping bags and mats as well as meeting the guys and girls we would be trekking with for the next few days. It all went swimmingly well and it was great to see everyone looked in fairly good shape. We were to have two guides as the group was relatively big at 17, although in the end one person failed to show. The guides were Ruben, an amazingly passionate and knowledgable guide, and Edwin, his apprentice.
Saturday morning came and we were up and away come 6am with a drive of several hours in front of us before the start of the trek. As we left town I couldn't believe that I saw 2 or 3 football pitches full of kids playing the beautiful game. Ali rightly quips that kids in the UK don't even know there are two 6 o'clocks any more!!
By the time we got to the start point the sky's had opened and the rains came. Not what I had imagined, or hoped. Soon we were lapping up the poncho's on sale along with some wooden walking poles which proved invaluable come the end. The initial days trek is pretty straight forward on the trail itself but we just took our time taking in all the beauty surrounding us. We passed through several small settlements which was the first surprise for me. I hadn't realised so many people still lived on the trail itself. Still, it was salvation as it saved us from carrying essentials such as water for any great distance. We ended day 1 with a 1 hour ascent on top of what all the other agencies had their customers doing (the reasoning becoming more than apparent the following day). Camp was set up, an amazing dinner served and it wasn't long before lights out.
Day 2 and by 5am the sun was shinning through Ali and I's tent and we were up. Here came the first option to hire a porter to carry our gear. Day 2 is notoriously tough and many give in and cough up the extra 50 Soles. Not I though, too damned stubborn. I was carrying 4 days clothes, my sleeping mat and most importantly some bottles of cola for the rum and some bottles of beer. An excess some said. An essential I would reply. Soon enough it kicked in as to why we had got the first hour out of the way the previous evening. We were now amidst a 3.5 hour walk up hill every single step of the way. It was over 4,000 meter's and lots of people were running short of breath now. Meanwhile porters were skipping past with tents and the likes on their backs, with packs often up to 2 or 3 feet above their heads. Made a fool of many. Come late morning we finally hit the heights of Dead Womans Pass at 4,200 meter's. The views were stunning. I managed to crack open a beer and took a few envious looks. I had blooming well deserved it though! Long gone were the Peruvian ladies selling bottles of water and cola now!
The afternoon consisted of an hour downhill, another 2 hours uphill and then an hours descent. At the very end of the day we arrived at some ruins where the Inca's had held their University. This was Ruben's time. He was at his absolute best when we were somewhere he could talk about his anscestors. It's been a long long time since I have heard someone talk so passionately about anything, holding the attention of each and every one of us as he drew pictures on the ground and got more and more animated. For us the trip really was made by Ruben. Without a shadow of a doubt the best guide I have come across on the trip.
That evening we celebrated one of the guys (Goody) birthdays. It wasn't much but we scrambled together some rum and a hot fruit juice to make a punch. Pretty good on a cold night out in the middle of the inca trail!!
Again on day 2 SAS had made us do an extra hour on top of the other agencies. Not only did this mean we were always at the front but we also got the best camp sites which was nice. As such day 3 was to be relatively short and somewhat easier. After a few hours we arrived at an area the Inca's had used as an astronomical site in the past and again Ruben got on with the show. Everyone loved it when he talked, and people would eagerly talk about it in the lead up. The talks often involved a lot of laughter too so it wasn't all facts and the likes. By lunchtime we arrived at our camp for the night. It seems a little early but remeber we were getting up with sunrise and before each day. Day 3 also saw the first sighting of a shower. Ali and I braved it and took the free cold showers on offer rather than queuing up. Still not sure if that was the right decision!! Cold does not bgin to describe showering in water from the mountains.
There were to be several treats for us at camp 3. First up we were taken to a 'mini machu picchu' which I don't think anyone even knew existed. We spent quite a bit of time looking around there. Unfortunately being on the inca trail didn't prevent us from seeing an idiot. There is always one. Some guy started climbing the ruin so he could have his photo taken up there. As anyone could see he ended up knocking several loose stones down. Rightly so he was lambasted for doing so, but really, where is the need? After this we found a waterfall which was beautiful. Only Cookie, the token Australian in the group, dared get in under it. Colder than the shower probably!! No thanks.
Finally there was a large indoor area at the campsite which sold snacks and beer so a small celebration was had in reaching this far. It didn't last long though as the bar shut at 9.30pm with the day ahead in mind.
Day 4 was here now. It's what we had been waiting for all this time. Mind you, at the time of booking I hadn't realised just how much we would see or learn en route. We left camp at 5.30am in the dark which is as early as you are allowed. The weather was coming and going as we spent the next hour or two walking to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is the first point at which you can clap your eyes on Machu Picchu itself. When we got there the fog was so thick you literally could not see a thing. Dissappointing beyond belief. People started to pour away towards MP itself leaving us behind. Then, as if by magic, or Ruben blowing, the fog lifted and we saw MP for the very first time. It was truely stunning, almost more so in the fashion that it came about as it rose out under the mist and fog.
We soon hurried down the last 40 minutes of the trek and arrived at MP. Hundreds of group photo's were taken in the "photo position" overlooking the ruins with our new found friends and then we were off into see them close up. Of course Ruben took us around for the first 2 hours. It was bliss and you could see he was emotionally moved at times. The visit was first class not least because there were very few people around at that time in the morning. It was also my birthday so it was a nice way to spend it. Ali and I decided to take ourselves off to the Sanctuary Lodge which is a hotel a few yards from MP itself. A treat of a drink and some cake would go down well on this amazing day. Sadly they would not let us in unless we took a full meal. A bit of a shame but after seeing the place I really wasn't too bothered. For the most expensive hotel in South America it really wasn't up to much at all.
Instead we celebrated in the local town of Aguas Calientes. First of all we saw Manchester United gloriously ease past Roma 2-0 away from home and then we went out for a good few drinks. The evening ended with just myself and another guy from the trek in a bar as others faded away. On walking up the road we came across a few kids playing football in the street so we joined in only to have rings run around us. Drink, altitude or just plain lack of skill?
The following day Ali and I boarded the vistadome train which was a train with windows all around and overhead so you could see the terrain en route back to Cusco. If truth be told it wasn't that great other than the snack provided and the fashion show on board, and certainly not a patch on the 4 amazing days we had just spent fulfilling one of our dreams.