|The Inca Trail is of course something that we’ve both been looking forward to for a long time. Indeed, some would say one of the highlights of South America. So, with high expectations, it began with an early morning bus ride from Cusco with our guides to our starting point. As most of you know, you are not allowed to do the Inca Trail now without guides, and we figured we would put some more money into the local economy by getting porters too. This didn’t make a huge difference day to day as we were travelling light anyway but they certainly came into their own in the evening, but more on that later.
The first days walking followed the train track that goes up to Machupicchu, but since the recent land slide some of the track was destroyed, so buses are used in places for the non hikers. We followed the river and began to climb up into the hills. We passed several Inca sites along the way, most notably Q’Entimarka, which was way down below in a valley (we’ve attached a photograph with it in the background). As we got into the mountains good and proper, we made camp that evening and this is where the thirty dollars worth of porters came in well. They run on during the day and when you get to camp, they have put your tent up and prepared an awesome three course meal served at a table in another tent. Over the four days we ate steak, chicken, different soups, tasty deserts, pasta etc and it was all delicious. It made a huge difference just walking and enjoying the scenery and then coming back and someone has made you a tasty meal which you don’t even have to wash up. We felt like we were almost cheating having it so decadent, but this feeling was considerably fleeting!
The second day was supposedly the hardest, only a 7 km walk but all up hill. You basically walk up a mountain (Abra Warmiwanuska) which is only 4201 metres but is the highest mountain on the trail, then down the other side. We did this much quicker than anticipated and finished by mid afternoon, so had a rather chilled out rest of the day in preparation for our three course dinner by tent candlelight! The walk itself was much more rugged and mountainous that the first day with snow-capped mountains all around and some great scenery.
The third day was our favourite. It moved towards misty jungles, where we passed more Inca ruins and sights, some hidden in the jungle, others perched high up on hills overlooking the jungle. The trail itself is a rocky winding path and as it went through jungle and winded up the mountain, you had jungle punctuated with bright flowers on one side and a huge drop over the other, most of the time into a sea of mist which was spooky and cool. It went through caves and up and down steps and the whole thing felt like one was stuck between a Tin Tin book and an Indiana Jones film, suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed it as did Georgie. Our camp site in the evening was right next to an awesome sight called Winaywayna. It was right next to waterfalls and jungle with huge mountains towering up around it. It was very well preserved and is meant to be one of the best preserved of all the Inca sights, even more so than Machupicchu which has had lots of work done to it and apparently only has about thirty percent that is original and untouched. The best thing about it was the peace and quiet. Georgie and I spent over an hour there and had the whole place to ourselves and to be able to wander around such an incredible sight without any sight of other tourists was amazing and in this manner probably the best sight we’ve ever been to.
The fourth day was the trek to Machupicchu. It wasn’t a very long trek, and the whole Inca Trail that we did was only 42 km, but harder to gauge when it’s up and down mountains. We got up at 3 in the morning to try to get to the Sun Gate by sunrise. This is the top of a hill that looks over Machupicchu. However, the whole system is a bit of a cluster. Basically if you do the trail they don’t open the first checkpoint until 5.30 am. You then have 6 km uphill to get to the Sun Gate and then about 45 minutes downhill to the sight. People were getting up at 2 am just to get in the queue. We had over two hours there and we still had at least fifty people in front of us. The trail is so narrow you can’t overtake and there is a steep drop on one side (several porters were killed here in the recent landslide, knocked clean off the ledge into oblivion. Typically some of the early birds in front of us were slow so by the time we got to the Sun Gate it was almost seven and past sunrise. Unfortunately when we got there you couldn’t see anything as it was covered n mist. We continued down getting to Machupicchu for about quarter past seven. You still couldn’t see anything.
The really annoying thing however, is now all the train times and bus times have changed so they get in from about 6. So, you get up in the middle of the night and walk over the mountain to get there, the culmination of a 4 day hike and when you get there first thing in the morning there is already hundreds of people who have just got a bus or train and strolled in as if they were going to get a snack in Burger King! There is also a mountain that you are now allowed to climb up. It’s the big one in the background of all the machupicchu shots. They only let 400 people a day climb it (everything is restricted – there are no more than 500 people allowed on the Inca Trail at any one time and 1,800 people in Machupicchu per day to obviously avoid erosion etc.) By the time we got there all the tickets had been bought at 6 am by fatty punks that had just stepped off buses and trains in large tour groups. Half of them didn’t even look bothered or able to climb it and clearly got tickets because it’s free. Really very annoying and a very unfair system that seems to punish anyone who walks to Machupicchu rather than gets a bus. Anyway, death to all fatty tourists etc...
Machupicchu, however, still manages to impress. The mist had cleared by about 8 am and it was sunny and blue sky. It really is true what they say that no matter how many times you’ve seen the photographs or how jaded you are with all the tourists scampering over it like malignant ants (of which, despite what we may like to think, we were part of) it still takes your breath away. The site itself is awesome and the view around it is stunning. Large sugar loaf mountains covered in green jungle jut out of the ground and tower into the sky, rivers flow in between them but from the height you are they look tiny. We spent the best part of the day just wandering around lapping it up. The most amazing thing is that when you get down (we got a bus down – no shame in that, we weren’t about to walk back the way we had came!) you can’t even see it from the ground it is so well hidden. It really is a lost city in the clouds. Georgie must have taken literally hundreds of photographs (actually that might have been me, I was in a feeding frenzy and things went slightly blurred).
Overall, it was an excellent four days. They had predicted rain yet we had sunny blue skies for the whole time. It was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip so far and one of those iconic sights that you worry may be diminished when you finally get there because of all the tourism and hype, but this one delivered. We had slightly sore feet and went back to Cuzco and celebrated with a steak and good bottle of red wine. And lots of sleep...