Anthony on the Gringo Trail 2005 travel blog

Highpoint of bus journey back to Cusco

Alpaca - a type of llama, like my very warm jumper and...

Looking back down Inca Trail from lunch stop Day 1

First ruins at Llactapata - Inca Trail Day 1

Early morning mountain mists - Inca Trail Day 2

Climb to Dead Woman's Pass - Inca Trail Day 2

Our group on Dead Woman's Pass - 4200 metres - Inca Trail...

Erica and I on Dead Woman's Pass

View forward on Inca Trail from Dead Woman's Pass - campsite hidden...

Photo taken from in bed, morning Day 3 Inca Trail

From ruins back towards camp for night 2 (invalley bottom) and Dead...

Ruins in cloud forest on Day 3

Inca Trail Day 3 - through cloud forest

Hummingbird in cloud forest

View from third pass towards Machu Picchu Mountain

Inca trail descending steeply to last camp - Day 3

Erica modelling latest Trail wear

View from Camp Night 3 - Inca Trail

Machu Picchu (at last!) from the Gate of the Sun

Classic Machu Pichu view

Llamas helpfully posing

Erica - International vet

Triumphant (and smelly) group poses in front of the goal

Machu Picchu detail

Great stonework underneath the Temple of the Sun

View from above the Temple of the Sun

More Machu Pichu stonework

Erica`s hair panicking at the thought of the drop to the river...

Machu Picchu terraces

I should have done this in two sections - sorry!

Sep 30th: So here we are back in Cusco, and back in out cute hostel with fabby views over our cute square and Cusco. Another bad night's sleep, and then by bus back the way we came on the train, even stopping at the same highpoint, now 4,300 metres or so. Great views, and a lot quicker than the train. Having trouble sorting out our jungle trip. There are flights for me, but not for Erica! We are having to hope our travel agent can sort it out while we are on the Trail. We have quite a good plan B ready though. We had a nice curry for tea, and then to the bar below us, to wake up with a bit of a hangover. Altitude gets in the way of proper drinking. Interesting to note that very few people indeed here seem to smoke.

Oct 1st: After a particularly nice breakfast overlooking the square as usual, we toiled our way up the hills to Sacsayhuaman again, at least partly as training for tomorrow. I put a pic from this with the other Sacsayhuaman ones. After some particularly cute llamas, we walked to Qenqo, more interesting ruins, and then back down into Cusco, to various convents and other old buildings. All in all a pleasant and relaxing day. Shortly we get a briefing on the Inca Trail, and then early tomorrow off to the trailhead by bus and then four days walking to Machu Picchu, as much as 12 hours a day, as high as 4200 metres. Can't wait! So no more updates until probably Oct 6th. Here's to another lifetime ambition. Hasta la vista!

Oct 2nd: Up early, walk to the bus for some reason - so much for hostel pick up - and then drive around picking up more people and porters. In the end there are ten trekkers, two guides and eight porters. Most of our porters speak Quecha rather than Spanish, and our guides' English is variable. Our fellow walkers are two youngish blokes, whose antics I personally find very amusing, a youngish girl who has travelled with them for the last few months, the sister of one of the english guys and her partner, a German Professor of Microbiology and an older Belgian couple who both teach types of art. At first we naturally group by generation, but get more mixed as time goes on.

So we get the bus to Ollantaytambo, where we buy walking sticks, water and coca leaves. The latter are de rigeur for the Andean trekker. They do the business, but are frankly foul, especially with the nasty black stuff you are meant to chew with them to increase the effect. It is so horrible that I only use it for half a day, and Erica gives up on it on the third day. The porters seemed use to this, and are happy to take it off our hands. So we walk from Ollantaytambo at what is called Km.82, with a few dozen other people, and lovely it is. I lose my stick at the first lunch stop, but as it only cost 50p, no worries. The porters are ahead of us and have set up a tent for us and cooked huge amounts of food, in what becomes a pattern.

Basically, the porters pack everything up and then overtake us and set it up again, partly for lunch, completely at night. Their weight limit is 25 kgs, but some of them run with this, quite something at high altitude and on these paths. Apparently there is a porter's race every year, and the record is the Inca Trail in just over 3 hours, which beggars belief frankly. As does the food. Breakfast is being woken up with coca tea in bed, then get up to as much toast, marge and jam as you can cope with, plus weird cereals, like biscuits with yoghurt, or watery porridge. Lunch is pasta-like soup and bread, and then usually pasta of some kind, and an awful lot of it. Then tea is unlimited popcorn and biscuits, shortly followed by dinner, which is more pasta soup, and then huge amounts of main course, invariably biased towards pasta, rice and various kinds of potatoes. The Atkins Diet it isn't. And we get snacks to eat if we are likely to be more than two hours away from carbohydrates.

So we leave the scenic lunch spot, with huge snow-capped mountans up the valley, and walk on up and up. At one point we are looking down on a fine set of ruins at a place called Llactapata, which looks great, but you would never see unless you were prepared to walk some. And then we get to our camp, all crammed in a small field with great views and the worst toilet I have seen yet in South America. And huge amounts of food.

Oct 3rd - Wake to the valley full of mist that lifts to reveal the awesome views. And then off we walk, up and up. Today we do the same as climbing Ben Nevis, and then partly down again, but at high altitude, peaking over Dead Woman's Pass at 4,200 metres. Erica and I are doing fine at first, but the last few hundred metres is hard, and we all slow down, and I get a headache after 3,900. Quite a feeling of triumph to go with the great views at the top though. And then a walk down to a very crowded campsite for lunch and to stay. And then there is some monumental thunder and lightning to go with the dramatic and awesome views from our tent, and it pisses with rain mightily, though thankfully stops before the morning.

Oct 4th - Coca tea at 5.30, but I had been up since 2 anyway, camping is not good for my sleep, and was stressing about my youngest. It was amazing though to open the tent and look out on the most awesome views while we drank our coca tea. Huge green lost world cliffs covered in cloud forest reach up to snowcapped peaks. We visit this nice set of ruins on the way up to the next pass, where the guides do a little pantheistic Inca ritual with coca leaves to get support for our journey. And then down again, another great set of ruins, and slowly work our way up to the third pass on our route, the last few miles being relatively level along a ridge with great views, includng at last Machu Picchu Mountain. The cloud forest we have been walking through most of the day is really atmospheric, like a slightly cooler jungle, hummingbirds and all. Unfortunately I have been bitten a lot, and these have blistered and are leaking orange goo! Yuk! And then a very steep downhill past another set of ruins. A few of us detour to yet another set of ruins, now in the pouring rain again, and then we are at our last campsite, somehow even more crowded than the last one. But there are showers here, and beer! So I have a shower, well overdue, and we all have a few beers. There are over a hundred trekkers camping here, many British, and it is all a bit of a culture shock. The views are even more awesome than ever, and the stars are everywhere at night.

So we have our last meal, where the cook pulls out all the stops. And then there is a rather excruciating event where we thank the porters and tip them. We all troop outside for this, and our eight porters line up looking sheepish and intimidated by the posh people, and as the best Spanish speaker I had to give a speech, which I hated doing. Not helped by the fact that Spanish was their second language too. I don't think they were that impressed with the tips though, as no tea in bed the next day.

5th Oct - Woken at 4 - without coca tea - though I had been awake since 1.30. A rushed breakfast, and than a rather surreal few hours on the last stages to Machu Picchu. At 4.30 we were in a queue at a control point that didn't open for another hour, with at least fifty other early risers. And once it opened we were off at high speed along a generally level, but damp and narrow path with huge drops, as fast as we could to get to Machu Picchu before dawn. It was not what we were used to. After 40 mins or so we reached the Sun Gate, and looked down on Machu Picchu for the first time, still in shade, but looking great. Basically a vey large version of many of the sites we had already seen, but perched on this high mountain surrounded by huge deep green cliffs and vallies. The setting is probably its main feature, and is ceaselessly awesome, though we were all a bit shot away by this point, and very smelly too. We were sharing this with about 200 other early risers, but it is a big place. So the guide did his stuff and then left us to it. Erica and I promptly went and had a nap in the shade, and then looked around again at our leisure, though it was getting a bit busier by then as the day trippers turned up at a more normal time.

And now I type this in the small village of Agua Calientes that serves Machu Picchu as we wait for a train and then a bus to take us back to Cusco, showers, clean clothes, a proper bed, and a meal that isn't all carbs! The train went through some great scenery and then for reasons unclear, didn't complete the journey to Cusco, but stopped at Ollantaytambo, where several hundred people tried to get on dozens of buses in a narrow lane, most of which then tried to do three point turns. It was bedlam. Meanwhile the Belgian couple and us were trying to find our ride, who was meant to be holding a sign up. Several minutes later, no joy, until asking around revealed this bloke with a piece of paper smaller than his palm with our names written normal size. And he wasn't even holding it up in the air. Anyway, the good news was this was a taxi rather than a bus, and not surprisingly there was an accident and the whole street was blocked, though with his car on the right side of the accident, so off we sped to Cusco with a fine sliver of a new moon and lightning flashes, back to our nice hostel, warm showers, salads and a comfortable bed.

Oct 6th: Finally managed to coonfirm our flights to and from the jungle, so tomorrow morning, off we fly to Puerto Muldanado in the Amazon Jungle for six days, there to take a boat upriver to a jungle lodge in the Tambopata Reserve where we stay for four nights, dodging piranhas and anacondas, etc. So I may be quiet for a few days. Both feeling a bit peaky today, probably the Inca Trail catching up with us, so just took it easy round town and lazing around our hostel. See you post jungle!

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