At the foot of “50 steps of hell” to the ‘Sun Gate’, and with 40ish kilometres behind us, our Tour Group was promised that our opportunity for a Decent Profile Picture was within reach.
We were coming to the end of the Inca Trail, a route discovered in the mid-1910s after American Hiram Bingham ´found´Machu Picchu a few years earlier (see 9.4.1) The total distance was around 25 miles and is usually done over 4 days, with 3 nights camping.
Due to it being wet season, we powered the first couple of days to arrive on the third afternoon. Not quite as impressive as the Porter who once did it in under 4 hours..
As the Trail has strict regulations on who can go, it has to be done through a tour operator. Mine was booked months in advance, and has given the whole trip structure.
On top of ‘just’ doing the hike, we saw some sites around Cusco, and visited a local village where they specialise in local crafts. Presenting a few photo opps, we could feed some llamas, learn about how the local ladies dyed and weaved the wool, and generally appreciate how they lived.
On the road, we stopped for a view over the Sacred Valley that we would be trekking through and afterwards went up to an important archaeological site in the hills. Then it was lunch, checking in to a hotel, and a visit to another site.
I don’t have too much too report on this however, as my time was spent drinking Powerade and napping after a bout of food poisoning from the night before.
Come morning time, I was feeling a bit better, and by 9am we had reached the base of the Trail and began mounting up our bags.
Our guides (Jose and Groto) were on hand to take photos of us with all the cameras at the entrance. This trend continued throughout the course, and provided a welcome excuse to take a break from walking, often by a particularly stunning spot.
Nonetheless, if there had been a nominated photographer for our group, who knows how much quicker we’d have covered the ground.
The river was particularly angry at this time of year, and once over the bridge, we began the trek in earnest.
The first day was spent at a gentle incline before reaching the normal campsite and deciding to make inroads into Day Two’s hike.
This was our first introduction to the work of the Porters, who rushed passed us to set up tents and cook up lunch. The food was incredible given the remoteness of our location and the feat became only more impressive as the days went by.
Time was passed breaking a mental sweat too, with a number of riddles going back and forth:
What is the only English word to have the letters “a, e, i, o, u, y” in that order?
What is the only country that ends in an “h”?
Which five countries have only one syllable?
Answers on a postcard please..
We also began discussing the somewhat perplexing tastes of Willy the Whale. It took some longer than others to work out his preferences, but announcing to the group what Willy liked, and didn’t like, did serve as entertainment throughout.
Willy the Whale likes ‘press ups’ but doesn’t like ‘push ups’
There were also interjections of First World Problems, and Famous Last Words where appropriate.
After a pleasant evening meal at the end of Day One, we retired to our two-man tents. Morning was met with porridge and coca tea (a staple drink to counter altitude) and we left to make the hour ascent to the highest point of the course.
Tents and some of our luggage were gathered up by the Porters, who soon enough overtook us plodding up the steep steps.
At the top, we waited for a “family photo” and so had some time to kill to look around and take some pictures. Being quite exposed, and at 4,000ish metres, it did call for some llama apparel to come out.
Once the snaps had been taken it was a bumpy descent down to lunch. Here the riddles and suppositions took a more musical turn, and over our staple of quinua soup (great food) and omelette we fueled up for another climb.
There was a stop at an Incan lookout building where we learned a bit more about the communication methods.
Inca Fun Fact #2: as Quechua has no written form, messages were sent and spoke via runners who would cross the Empire and rest in these houses
At the top of the next peak, we were able to get a good lookout before being joined by cloud; a common occurrence for the rest of the day. Again, it was a lovely pass through the green mountains to our next stop, as always, marvelling at how all of the stones had been laid there so many years previous.
At the campsite for Day Two, we sat above the clouds. With legs beginning to ache, it was an early one after another cracking dinner, and coca tea for a digestif.
At dawn of Day Three, we had breakfast of pancakes and were more formally introduced to our Porters, learning how many were in their fifties. This job is a good form of income for them, in addition to their farmwork, and supports their children through education.
The hikers then set off (only to be overtaken again) and we were rejoined at lunch. As it was the final day, we took our time and basked in the scenery. There were naturally a few photo opps along the way.
Because Night Three was to be spent in “civilisation” the Porters and chefs left us after lunch. There was time for them to bring out a well-decorated cake (quite an effort) and for us to relay our gratitude financially.
I’ve yet to mention our group member, “Ian” Lee.
In one of his many highlights of the trip, Ian took it upon himself to photograph each of the Porters in turn as Jose, our guide, tried to instruct us of our final part of the trip.
In fact, I think Ian warrants a Top 5 of his own:
1. “Ian, were you listening? What did I just say?” “English”
2. Being introduced to the Porters as Bruce Lee
3. Having other group members have a photo with a picture of his girlfriend
4. Reading everyone’s palms
5. “The” dancemove
Number 5 literally had me in tears on Night Three. Ian’s from Korea; it could go viral like Gangnam Style…
Once we’d had our cake and eaten it, it was a winding road down to some steps.
And this was the moment we reached earlier … close to the Sun Gate.
This was our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. More information on the city is detailed in 9.4.1, but for now, everyone’s main priority was to maximise the first real opportunity for a DPP.
The night was spent in the nearest town, Aguas Calientes (Hot Water), however the hotel showers must have missed the memo. We had some food, and a couple of drinks in a nearby bar and deliberated against a 5am start to see the sunrise. The clouds would have made it worthless.
After 9.4.1 it was back to Cusco (via train and bus) for a night out with everyone from the adventure.
The final day was spent beginning to catch up again with the real world, and generally not exerting too much energy. After failing with a new mp3 player, it was drinks in a Monastery (which is now a hotel) and then a walk back to my hostel before a bus in the morning
Finally reaching Machu Picchu
Highest point of Trail
Through the Sacred Valley
It’s Machu Picchu
Feeding llama at village
Final day breakfast
Ancient Incan pylon
Ian snapping the porters
Jose/ Groto: official photographers
Angry River Urubamba
Day One camp
Resting at Highest Point