I apologise in advance for my spelling and grammar :-)
After getting used to the altitude on our 2nd day in Cusco we decided to do a tour of the Sacred Valley just outside Cusco. The Sacred Valley tour consists of visiting several small towns where Inca ruins have been excavated. Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Urubamba. The weather was thankfully on our side so we go a bit of a tan, and the food was yummy too.
The 3rd and 4th day in Cusco we just spent exploring the many little streets and squares in Cusco, and obviously resting in preparation for the 4 day Inka Trail hike.
Friday morning was a very early start, we got up at the delightful hour of 5am, to be honest it wasn’t a big issue as we went to bed a 9pm on Thu and we are still on UK time (5 hours ahead). The trek requires you to get up early and go to bed around 8pm after dinner so there was no point in trying to change our sleep pattern.
So we rose early with a promise to be picked up between 5.20am – 6.00am, but at 5.15am we were quickly ushered out of our room with the hotel owner screaming at Paul asking where I was. I think she was very annoyed about being woken up at such an ungodly hour.
So, we were the first Gringos on the bus, we were driven around Cusco’s tiny streets for about an hour picking up all sorts of Nationalities that would be our group for the next 4 days.
After everyone was picked up we had a 2 hour bus journey to Ollantaytambo where we had a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bread with lots of butter and jam, and a strong black coffee, all you need to start the day.
After breakfast and shopping for Coca leaves and plastic ponchos we got back on the bus and had a rather bumpy ride to the start point of our trek at 2,600 m.a.s.l (meters above sea level).
Once all the formalities had been done at the start check point we were off! We crossed a bridge over the Urubamba River, which eventually runs into the Amazon and started trekking up a fairly steep hill. The first half of the first day was quite easy, we stopped every 20 or so mins for our guide to explain about the nature or some ruins that we passed. We stopped for lunch at about 1.30pm, and OMG! The food was amazing! Bearing in mind that on our trek we had 16 trekers, 20 porters to carry EVERYTHING, all the tents, camping equipment, all the food etc, there was only 1 cook and 2 guides.
1st course was avocado with a refreshing salsa, 2nd course was a delicious soup, and 3rd course was amazingly cooked trout with rice and a Russian salad, yum!
After our lunch had settled we hiked up another few hours with stops to take in the views but mostly to catch our breath.
At about 5.30pm we had finally reached our campsite, a few of us chilled out having a beer as the weather was so nice. Dinner was at 7pm, another slap up meal from the Chef. We were all really knackered after that so were all in our two man tents and asleep by 8.30pm!
The next day we had a 5.50am wake up call with coca tea in bed, 5 star service!
We were told by many people that the 2nd day was the hardest by far due to the constant uphill walking and the thousands of steps, not to mention the altitude but we were all really looking forward to it as it was another beautiful day. We camped at 3,000 m.a.s.l and needed to reach the 1st pass at 4, 215 m.a.s.l. The highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc at 4,810 m.a.s.l so you can imagine how high we were.
The first few hours of climbing were challenging (I always found it more difficult to breath in the morning due to the altitude), I think most of the group were ok, but we all knew the hard bit was to come. Before we started walking up the steep part of the trail our guides taught us how to chew the coca leaves, you get about 7 leaves, roll them up and stick them between one side of your back teeth. You have to almost continuously lightly chomp on the leaves but they must not be swallowed. The taste was rank, I don’t mind the tea but the chewing on the leaves brings out a very bitter taste that made me gag if they were left in there too long. Needless to say, I still used them as they helped get the oxygen around my body and helped me breath while I was climbing thousands of steep steps at a high altitude.
So, at about 9am we started up the first half of the steep part of the trail. It was hard! Paul and I had a similar pace and so did 2 other guys from our group, two Americans called Thomas and Joey. It was good to be in a small group as we all had turns as pace setters. We were all chewing on the coca leaves with our headphones in climbing to the beat of the music. Most of this part of the trek was in a sort of small forest, we couldn’t see many nice views, just a few cool tumbling rivers.
At about 11am the 4 of us were the 1st to reach the ‘camp’ where we would have 2nd breakfast (yes, that is how hard it was! We required 2 breakfasts). We had to wait quite a while for the people at the back but it was nice to have a break.
At this point we were 3,800 m.a.s.l, so it had taken us about an hour and a half to climb 800m.
The weather can change within seconds at this altitude. When we arrived it was baking and cloud free, but within a few mins a thick cloud had rolled in and we were all freezing! Luckily we had all prepared for the 4 seasons in 1 day.
Once 2nd breakfast was finished we got ready to climb the final path to the 1st pass called ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. The 4 of us started off ok then a local porter carrying over 25kg of weight fell over in font of us. We were very concerned so tried to help him but he seemed out of it. I’m not sure if he was hypoxic or drunk but he just wanted to keep walking. I gave him my water but not speaking much Spanish there was only so much we could do. A bunch of Spanish people were shouting at him telling him to rest but he wasn’t having any of it, his eyes were almost rolling round the back of his head. After a few mins we decided to go on as there was nothing more we could do for him. One of the guides later told us that he was still drunk from the night before, but I am still not too sure.
Shortly after the crazy porter incident an Australian couple from our group joined us, called Belinda and Andy, we all had a good pace and were determined to get to the top ASAP. We started stopping every 20 mins to have a sort break but this was quickly reduced to every 5 mins until Paul, Thomas and Joey dropped back and I lead on. For some reason I am either mega fit or I wasn’t affected as much by the altitude (most probably the latter). I was the 1st person in our group to reach the 1st pass! Whoop!!!! I just got my head down, concentrated on my breathing and found the easiest way up each step.
Very shortly after Andy, Belinda, Paul, Thomas and Joey joined me. The sight was amazing but soon after we arrived at the top a very cold cloud rolled in.
The last part of the day’s trek was all downhill. I DO NOT like going downhill, it hurts! We knew we only had about an hour and a half more of walking before we reached camp so we started. After a few twisted ankles and wet bottoms from slipping we made it to camp. It was a nice feeling to have a sit down and a cup of hot coca tea.
After about an hour and a half the last of our team joined us and we had lunch.
Disappointingly our guide warned us that there had been a few landslides on the next part of the trek so the route may have to change, but that he would tell us for sure at lunch the next day. We all hoped the trek would go ahead as normal as we wanted to go through the Sun Gate to get to Machu Picchu.
After lunch we all had a siesta and then got up for dinner at 7. With full tummies we all went back to bed for a restless night due to the all night rain.
The next morning we woke at 5am, had breakfast and started trekking at 6.15am. It had been raining all night and it rained all morning, as we were so high, at aprox 3,600 m.a.s.l it was very cold, and it even snowed over night where we had walked the previous day. We were all soaking, cold and miserable.
We climbed up to 3,950 m.a.s.l to do an Inka ritual and then climbed down to 3,500 m.a.s.l. We stopped at many Inka ruins and we told how they lived.
The 2nd half of the morning was much more enjoyable as it stopped raining! Paul, Andy, Belinda, Thomas and I trekked together, this part of the trail looked like an ancient forest like but also on the side of a mountain. The path was mostly flat which felt great. We stopped for lunch at Phuyupatamarka, 3,600 m.a.s.l and then set off again. This part of the day I was not looking forward to as I knew it would all be down hill. We went 8km downhill from 3,670 m.a.s.l to 2050 m.a.s.l, that is a lot of steep steps! And at lunch we got that bad news that the last part of the tail was closed due to fears of a landslide. We had several options due to the landslide, we decided to walk an extra 3km downhill and 4.5km on the flat to get to a town where we could have a hostel to sleep in, and get up early in the morning to get to Machu Picchu when the gates opened.
The downhill part was treacherous, the first half was wet and slippery so we had to take our time, but after a while the ground dried up and we were able to bounce down. Half way down Paul had a twinge in his stomach, I think lunch didn’t agree with him and he had to literally run down these steep stairs to the next toilet, he just made it. Phew!
After we reached the bottom we again had to wait for the rest and then walked 4.5km along a train track dodging the trains to the town where we were staying. We had dinner (not Paul though, still feeling a bit sensitive), a few drinks and went to bed, dreading the 4am wake up. That night I closed my eyes and all I could see were the steps coming towards me, weird!
In the morning we had breakfast and half of us walked up 2km of solid uphill steps to Machu Picchu, the rest got the bus - I think all who walked instantly regretted it.
Finally we were at the gates to Machu Picchu, the weather was great! We took some cool pictures, had a tour and walked around for a bit. It is truly a magnificent sight!
So, the trek was almost over. We had walked 11km on the 1st day, 12km on the 2nd day, 22.5km on the 3rd day and 2km on the 4th day. A total of 47.5km with a lot of steps.
After, we decided at go back down to the town, taking the bus this time to grab some lunch before we got the early train back to Ollantaytambo, and then a bus to Cusco. It was a nice feeling having done the trek with no problems. We had a burger and beer and then headed back. The train was massive! About 2 times the
width of the ones in the UK.
We got home at around 6.30pm, unpacked our bags, had a shower and went straight to bed as were had an early bus booked for Puno in the morning! Fab!