Firstly, we made it! Secondly you will be pleased to hear our photos are now up on facebook (Parents get the boys to show them to you!)
What can we say about the last four days? Emma would say challenging, surreal and exciting. Laura would beg to differ! Whilst we both are extremely happy with the achievement, Laura found it slightly more physically challenging than Emma but worthwhile nonetheless. Day one began at km 82 both of us with smiles on our faces and shocked by the quantity the porters were carrying and jumping from rock to rock in sandals. Laura, initially impressed by her fitness, felt confident with the pace and intensity and led the group with the guide at the front. This was soon to change! By the end of the day, Laura and Hannah found themselves at the back b****ing about the entire group being so quick especially Emma who arrived at the campsite half an hour before everyone else! By the time Laura arrived, sweaty and moody, Emma was happily changed for bed and had arranged the tent ready for the cold night ahead.
Day two. Emma woke up unable to breathe after no sleep and freezing temperatures having slid to the bottom of the tent lying across the doorway! Laura was perfectly content having had a good night´s sleep thanks to her 4 pairs of trousers, 2 pairs of tights and 3 pairs of socks. Everyone happy at 6am after a hearty 3-course breakfast with GAP ADVENTURES written in caramel accross our pancakes, we knew food would be the motivation for the most physically demanding day ahead of us with 15km and two high peaks, one of which, Dead Woman´s Pass, at 4200m was the highest we would reach.
Emma set off again at the front of the group and arrived at the peak 2 hours later in high spirits that the steep uphill steps were over and enjoyed the scenery whilst jumping for pictures. Slowly the rest of the group emerged and one hour later Laura appeared limping up the path having an old knee injury flare up on the steps. Emma, aware Laura´s face is rather expressive, pre-warned the group to stay away and hold off the applause. Having reached the peak Laura collapsed in a heap next to Nancy, the most hated tour guide EVER and whilst crying and begging to be air-lifted off the mountain she was told she had two choices: walk for two days in one direction or two days in the other. Emma, defending her injured friend asked what usually happened when people broke their legs or have heart attacks on the trail. Nancy retorted that if Emma had been a better friend maybe this situation would never have happened to which Emma, normally so calm, raged and shouted she was not bloody telepathic and Laura had not been injured when they set off. Knowing there was no choice, we continued together, Emma cheering Laura on with her positive thinking and soon had her laughing as she decided to make Laura stand guard as she pooed at the highest point on the trail in nature - if you´ve gotta go, you´ve gotta go!
By the time we reached the second campsite, Laura was well and truly "over" the Inca Trail and discovered her other knee was now more swollen than the first! Having got over the hardest day and both surviving (just about!) camping seemed easy in comparison as Roddy, the assistant guide, gave Laura a knee massage whenever she requested. Day three and we were beginning to see more Inca ruins which were better preserved, even having the chance to lie in the sun overlooking Urubamba (The Sacred Valley) as there was only half a day walking before reaching the third and final campsite. Laura, who had been doing well up until this point, had an angry moment and stopping at a lagoon in front of the entire group, purposely knocked down a sacred offering of rocks with her hiking pole, which had existed since Inca times and where the guide had told us to wait as she was going to talk about them! Emma seeing this as an opportunity to run away and avoid confrontation, made Laura run to the next checkpoint which ironically she was happy to do, despite it being uphill and a sheer drop oneside!
The final day we were woken at 4am without the cup of tea in bed we had become accustomed to from our porters. We stumbled in the dark over rocks to a gate which was not opened until 5.30am which, on any normal day, is flocked by tourists at this point just coming to see Machu Picchu. It was unusually quiet but we thought nothing of this considering the time. Eventually arriving at the Sun Gate, the final point of the Inca Trail where most postcard shots of Machu Picchu are taken from, we were astonished to find nothing. Absolutely nothing! We could not see more than a metre in front of us thanks to the thick fog which seemed to have formed as we reached the end much to Laura´s dismay. Eventually we both saw the funny side and took photos of the white nothingness to prove we had actually reached the sun gate!
Re-charged with energy and just desperate to finish the trail and get to Aguas Calientes, the hot spa at the town beneath Machu Picchu, Laura started running downhill to the bottom, her aching muscles overpowering her knee pain. As we got lower, we convinced ourselves the sunrise would appear and Emma excitedly remarked how strange it was the moon was still out, only to be corrected that the moon was in fact the sun behind the thick smog! Eventually Machu Picchu emerged and we took an hour tour around the ruins which deserve their title as one of the seven wonders of the world.
Relieved the 45km hike was accomplished, we were looking forward to the 3-hour train ride back to Cusco and hot showers on our return. Unfortunately our hopes were shattered when we discovered there was a national transport strike throughout Peru and we needed to walk a further 15km down a train track carrying our heavy duffel bags before reaching a bus which would take a further 9 and a half hours to reach Cusco! Nobody was particularly impressed by this news, especially Cleo as she was celebrating her birthday - surely not one to be forgotten!
All the toilets on the Inca Trail were simply holes in the ground so Laura had decided to control her bowel for 4 days. At news of this further walk, she was pushed to her limits and found herself squatting between two rocks on a railway line, praying the strike would not end then and a train load of people would get an eyeful!
Reaching the bus after climbing a barbed wire fence having taken the wrong train track and a bridge that could only withstand one person at a time due to its rusting and wear, we happily collapsed onto the bus relieved it was all over. Little did we know that the coach would break down, have to offload some passengers to balance better on cliff edges and re-arrange our seating pattern before stopping in EVERY SINGLE village to ask people about the traffic and move the boulders that had been put in the road by protesters.
Thinking our day could not get worse, the coach was stopped by the police and inspected fully. Emma was slightly concerned as she had seen the driver loading packages onto the bus at an earlier stop whilst everyone was sleeping but we were given the all-clear before FINALLY arriving in Cusco, only to be told we had to change bus as the one we were on was too big for the narrow streets!
At 2am after 4 days hiking, 3 days camping and no showers or electricity we rolled into clean sheets after scolding showers and longing for our 4 hours of sleep before waking up at 6am for our flight to the Jungle. Was it worth it? Most definately! Good food, good company and experiences never to be forgotten!