Machu Picchu 2016

Inca Trail  & Machu Picchu, Peru

We do plenty of walking back home and we do plenty of things for charities, but we decided we would like to do an awsome trek which didn’t have any other motive than to be our holiday for 2016.  We chose one that Trish has had her eye on for a few years and we decided to go with Explore, the travel company.

Wednesday 22nd June

We're off!

Early start this morning, 06:00, up and ready, breakfast and then off to start our real journey, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

There are too many of us to hold up the traffic on our little back street this morning so our hike starts out from the b&b to meet our minibus at a better part of town where parking isn’t met with the sound of quite so many car horns.

After a few minutes walk we see Yozef and Marketa rushing to catch up, the first and hopefully last head count mishap.  (turns out it WAS the only counting misshap and he did count us on to the bus so would have caught it before it was too late)

Boarded, we fight through the hectic Cusco morning traffic and drive up steep-sided mountain roads for 30 minutes before hitting countryside, finally leaving Cusco behind.  For a little over an hour we continue what is predominantly uphill, finally descending just 15 minutes into the tiny living museum village of Ollantaytambo.

It’s just that, a Living Museum.  The village has 50% of the original Incan architecture, one house we visited had been lived in by the young lady since her birth and the house had been in her family for 600 years, we found at least 3 of the skulls of her family who now watch over her – on her mantlepiece.

Guinea Pigs scurry along the floor in the living quarters, if only they knew their fate, maybe they’d flee to the surrounding hills.

We travel along the rivers edge along a dust road, crossing the railroad a few times.  Passing places are few a far between but the driver negotiates his terms forcefully with the oncoming traffic, even the local priest had to go on the wet edge.

We arrive at the roads end – no more vehicles past here, we meet our porters at 12 noon and they divvy out our bags.  They ply us with food, we haven’t even started and they have soup and snacks for us to get down.

After a short walk down to the train track for our ‘before’ photo we stroll along the Urabamba River down to the entry gates to the Inca Trail, everyone is in great spirits, with any altitude enduced headaches being temporarily releived by the majesty of the environment.

We check in at the entry point at KM82, the start of the trek, showing our tickets and passports, then we set off, over the old iron bridge and on to dirt track.  Gently uphill following the Urabamba River, the temperature is 22 degrees and the track is dusty, we’re soon covered in the iron filled clay dust.

Along the track, we pass through tiny villages, some with just a couple of mud houses, some with maybe 15 or 20.  Little old women carrying sticks for their fires and the odd donkey being walked through the track. Hector gives us brief talks as we walk to tell us how the people are living day to day.

We are just being tested today as this is only a 4-mile trek, the guide can judge our pace and abilities as a group. We arrive at our first camp Llaqtapata, the camp at 2600m sits below a huge ruin which once housed around 300 villagers.

Our tents have already been erected for us and we gather our porters bags and freshen up before venturing out to further admire the whole camp, we have the camp to our own group, just 18 of us and we are joined by children from a nearby village, one of our group produced a bottle of bubbles which kept them amused while a couple went and kicked a ball around with some of the older ones.

We had a quick refreshment of Milo, yes Milo! So glad to see that was on the table. Along with crackers and some good banter amongst the group, then after being stuffed with crackers and Milo, we’re told tea will be in an hour.

Tea was pretty awesome, vegetable soup followed by fried salmon and chips, all cooked on the trail. An early night and we are out cold, waking with the sounds of chickens and dogs.

Thursday 23rd June

Llaqtapata to Llulluchapampa

Breakfast was interesting, omelette with coca leaves. That wakes you up!

After a formal introduction to all our porters, chefs and guides we set off walking through the ruins and on into the mountain, we are part way down the valley so the ruins are being steadily lit by the sun rising over the mountain behind us, dark and light right in front of us.

8:00am on the trail and pretty much uphill through the centre of the mountains 2400m up to 3000m for a short break at Wayllabamba where Mount Veronica is towering over us even from a distance and on to 3800m for our highest campsite at Llulluchapampa.

The sun is making a huge appearance today, temperatures are around 24 degrees, but it feels much hotter without any tree cover.  I can only imagine how hot it would be at sea level, the altitude really drops the temperature but sunburn is easy up here.

A tough haul for everyone, even Elvis, one of our guides is heavy breathing at the pit stops. The local pooches however are loving it.

We reach our camp at 4:00pm and set up before stretches and a rest. The views here are awesome, Mt Veronica is still peering at us from the distance.

Trish has picked up a stomach bug, we think from the fruit or boiled water, and isn’t feeling good, maybe the water needs an extra 5 minute boil?  A few are now suffering from this.

Tea is spaghetti stir fry and is pretty good but Trish can’t face it, the mountain guide, Hector, has a concoction brought, basically a ton of twigs in boiling water, apart from burning her tongue we’ll have to wait and see if it makes any difference.

We get a chance to stargaze for a few minutes and while the sky is surprisingly lacking shooting stars, we have an excellent view of the Milky Way, it’s awesome and I’m regretting not bringing a more heavyweight camera.
We sleep, this site is 3800m so when the sun goes down the temperature goes with it. From 5:30pm the temperature rapidly drops and by 10pm we are down to just 1 degree Celsius in the tent, it remains there for the night. If I had the energy I would check the external temperature.

Friday 24th June

Llulluchapampa – Dead Woman's Pass to Phuyupatamarca

I’m guessing it to be just under 0 degrees as bowls of water are brought in the morning and I notice there is ice around the lip.

We are up at 4:45am, washed, packed up ready for food at 5:15am. We have Genoa and Apple made like porridge, with sweet corn pancakes, a bit like American pancakes but a distinct sweet corn taste, very nice.

Trish is still ill but feeling a little better now, she feels OK to carry on.

We hit the trail at 6:00am and it’s uphill right away from 3800m to 4000m where we have a short break to watch the sun break the top of the distant mountain horizon before continuing to 4215m at Warmiwanuska.

At 4200m we get to Dead Woman’s pass, the summit silhouette apparently taking the form of a woman lying down. Personally, I think the guy who named it must have spent a lot of time alone on the trail! With a little imagination you may be able to make out an upright boobie on the last third of this horizon, but mountain fatigue may have struck.

We stop for a group photo before heading on.

What goes up must go down and we start the descent down knee breaking steps for around 1 and a half hours, the views are amazing – like IMAX mountain scenes that fill every corner of your vision, you can turn in any direction and it is there, it’s a site that can make you feel so insignificant, the sheer scale is enormous.

We arrive in the valley of the Pacamayo river with its tropical vegetation surrounding our temporary site where we have lunch, chicken and vegetables, very basic but when you consider that this has just been cooked fresh in the middle of nowhere by our chef Marcus then it’s pretty amazing, oh and more coca tea.

We set off back uphill once more, stopping at ruins to collect stones as offerings at our next stop.

The trek continues uphill for around an hour and we arrive at a ritualistic area where the Incas are said to have left offerings to the gods in the form of stones and prayed for the safe passage to Machu Picchu, they could leave other gifts to prey for personal requests.

We left our stones and also coca leaves (an acceptable offering) and made a prayer for safe passage and and we continue to descend and pass vine lined paths, exotic trees, orchids and steep ridge drop offs, you don’t want to wander off trail around here.

We drop down through a tunnel – another pinch point that would hinder any invaders, there is no way they would get horses or carts through any of this trail but the tunnel would even hinder large loads being carried.  This really is a trail that is designed to be difficult and not convenient at all.

We follow the ridges above the Urubamba river to the lovely Phuyupatamarca ruins at 3579m.

The trek ends at 5:15pm and this has been a long tough walking day for everyone.

We arrive at camp at 3700m and the views are awesome, the temperature has already started to drop so the clouds are rolling in and we have cloud formations appearing below us like pillows and mist rolling around as if dancing. This is what a cloud forest looks like.

Llamas are strolling around camp and don’t seem to mind the tourist attention too much as they pose for a few photos.

We have tea and the chef brings out the last culinary surprise out here in the wilderness, with a travelling kitchen he’s made a sponge cake topped with wild fruit berries, I like to cook bacon and egg sandwiches at summits but this is another level.

Our tents are perched on an edge, we aren’t going to tumble to our deaths but getting out of the tents in the night is going to be fun, the mess tent better be comfy to land on because it’s prime target.

Saturday 25th June

Arrive at Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate

We say goodbye to our porters, we divvy out tips to the various guys, there is a hierarchy, the Chef, the Assistant Chefs, the Head Porter, the Portaloo guy and then the Porters. All look quite happy with our tips.

We head out of camp into the cloud forest, the views are amazing as we descend through the clouds.

We drop down further and further through the valley with never ending steps, winding around cliff edges which suddenly open up to fantastic open valley views.

We descend through even more Incan stairways and finally arrive at the ‘Gringo Killer’, a set of 50 very steep set uneven stairs that will take the breath out of the fittest, we scramble and I can’t help but race up them finding a sudden internal challenge moment.  I wait at the top and bringing up the rear is our guide Hector who also has a jog up the stairs and I’m unusually happy that he’s breathing as heavy as I was when he got to the top.  I’m equally glad that when I jogged up them there was nobody there to see me…

A short time later we arrive at the Sun Gate. The views are iconic, we can see Machu Picchu village in all its glory, sprawled out beneath a very majestic Huayna Picchu mountain, the mountain we should have climbed Sunday had our travel agency correctly booked it, however, we’ve managed to secure passes to climb the far higher Machu Picchu mountain at 3050m. But that’s for tomorrow.

We hang around at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu for an hour taking in the views and taking group photos before descending to the Machu Picchu ruins, to call them ruins at this point seems to discount them as derelict but they look like if the thatched roofs were rebuilt then the whole village could be revived.

We’ll be back tomorrow.  We have a night of celeration before we come back in the morning to climb Machu Picchu Mountain and then decend once more to the Machu Picchu Village for sightseeing.

We take the surprisingly long bus trip down in to the village, Agua Caliente the road winds down increadibly tight bends weaving down the mountainside and to our hostel – Marco Wasi for the night. We are settled quickly into the hostel and become acquainted with porcelain once again.  It’s basic but cozy – the hostel, not the porcelain.

Showered, rested and revived we travel as a group to a local restaurant, the Apu Salkantay and I decide it’s time try the Peruvian delicacy, guinea pig, I had already checked out the breeding, storage and slaughter method and wouldn’t entertain it if I thought there was unnecessary suffering involved but the guinea pigs are bred, stored and slaughtered in a more humane manner than UK chickens.

My dish arrives and I honestly don’t know where to start, it’s looking at me.  It tastes a bit like rabbit, but is so fiddly to eat, it’s all fiddley bones, like trying to knaw through fish bones to get to the meat, although quite filling, Hector did tell me they brought a large one.  Good night.

Sunday 26th June

Machu Picchu Mountain  & Ruins

Back up at 4:20am, it’s a shame to leave the comfy bed so early but the gates to the mountain open at 7am and we need to be back at Macha Picchu for 10am for our tour of the ruins with our guide Hector.
Washed, deeted, sun creamed, dressed, packed, breakfast.  Luggage stowed for safekeeping at the hostel and off to the bus stop that offers the lift to the start of the ruins.

On our way direct to the bus stop, a guy approaches us and asks us if we are getting the bus, when we tell him that we are he says “it’s this way” and gestures down a dark side road, ever suspicious and wondering how many of his friends are waiting in the alley I tell him “No, it’s OK we are good at the main stop”, that’s when he tells us “No, you don’t understand, the queue is down there, if you go to the bus stop you will just need to walk back through the queue”. That’s when I noticed his clothes were pretty fresh and tourist like.  We thanked him before tentatively starting on down the alternate route.

05:40, the queue is already around 1000 deep.

06:40, we’re on the bus and 25 minutes later we arrive at the gate, a quick toilet stop and we join another queue with entry tickets and passports in hand. We presume the passport numbers are tied to the tickets to prevent touts buying them. I count six street dogs just wandering around waiting for scraps in the entry area alone, unfortunately, I have nothing for them right now.

7:35 and we pass the additional check gate for Machu Picchu Mountain and we’re off. We are only 35 minutes later than expected, we were told it would take two hours to climb and an hour and a half to descend.  That would put us at around 11:00am even if we didn’t hang around at the summit.  We decide to venture forth and figure we can still stroll around the village if we miss Hectors tour.

The route is steep, the majority of the path is Incan laid stone sets, these guys were good but crikey they could never expect to roll wheels on their roads.

The steps are very uneven and incredibly steep, some only 5 inches deep, others 3 feet, some 5 inches high and some 2 foot high, this all makes the climb tough on the knees and the lungs.  You just can’t find a rythm to your step.

A small sandy mongrel dog who I called Montana, trots happily past us seemingly without a care in the world, not skin and bone but looking like he’s seen a few cold nights. He lets us stroke him and he trots off ahead at three times our pace.

I have satellite positioning available and I assure Trish every 50 vertical metres that she’s doing great, the information isn’t lost on the other curious English speakers and I’m often thanked for the overheard information. Smug geek moment.

The views below are covered in swirling cloud and the photos may not do them justice as the village below shows through from time to time but the cloud is lifting and we’re starting to get beautiful views below.

09:20 we reach the summit, 15 minutes to spare.

The first object you come across at the summit is a huge rock slab and who is there, sprawled out sunbathing? Montana. He looks completely at home and has quite obviously been here many times.

We get out the cameras and the snacks and I take a bite of my flapjack before feeding the rest to Montana, he doesn’t snatch, he gracefully tucks in and looks content, he doesn’t even search for more, I think there must be many dog lovers befriending him today.

The views of Macha Picchu ruins are still cloaked in the cloud we just climbed through but it’s breaking up to offer us fantastic glimpses of the huge 5km square site.  It looks small from up here.

Unfortunately, we’re aware we must make a move and have to head back down but not before we take more photos and say goodbye to our friend.

9:35 we set off back and the steps are treacherous, the muscles used in downhill walking are completely different to uphill and while we are no longer out of breath, negotiating the uneven track down proves tough on the knees.

Around a third of the way down Montana joins us, he jogs along, looks up as if seeing old friends and slows for a head stroke before plodding on. He’s one content pooch.

10:34 We sign out at the Mountain gate.  We have made great time, with the twenty minutes we spent on the summit and the 35-minute start delay we should be hitting the ground around 11:20 but Trish’s fantastic pace has meant we can join Hector our guide for a tour and rush as much as we can to join him.

The tour is very informative, our guide knows a surprising amount of intricate detail about the Inca buildings, the theories as to why the Incas abandoned the village and the archaeologists ideas about the usage of the buildings.

We spend a short time looking around the ruins before returning to the village for food and to meet up with the other members of our group before our departure from Macha Picchu.

At 16:40 We all group together, collect our luggage and set off on our final trek – the train station, our guide issues our tickets and we promptly board, everyone on board has pre-assigned seats and nobody on the train is standing.

The train is quite elaborate, with far more space than a standard UK train, tables for every single person and the seats even offer a small degree of reclining.  To make things even better they brought a selection of drinks and a cookie, all complementary.

We are back at our original hostel in Cusco now and we say goodbye to some who are not travelling home to the UK but are continuing with further journeys but not before everyone has contact details for the whole group.

There have been many friendships formed on this trek and we all look forward to a reunion walk soon.