Cusco & Machu Pichu
We arrived in Machu Pichu to a very cold hostel right next to San Francisco church. We used the few days to relax and refuel our bodies for the 4 day trek that we booked back in February and was pretty much one of the only things we had set in stone, date wise, for our whole trip. Wandering around Cusco you couldn't help but notice the abundance of trekking shops and tour operators. Coinciding with a Peruvian national holiday and European summer holidays, Cusco was packed with tourists.
We booked our Inca Trail trip with Lama Path distinguished by their red and white uniforms. Their porters would carry our food and camping equipment up the mountain and have it ready for us when we arrived. They were an amazing set of individuals and the trip wouldn't have been possible without them. They were our red caterpillar up the mountain. Our briefing on the 21st July introduced us to our tour group. 14 great people who Laura and I would get to know well over the next 4 days.
There was Johnny and Georgie with their 14 yr old daughter Robin from England; Samantha from the states whose friend unfortunately got sick the day before and was unable to come; Juan and Jen, parents of 3 girls, taking their first trip away alone together since their honeymoon and last but by no means least the three generations family of; Miky 9, his mum Melody, her friend Jackie and the stars of the show, Jim 72 and Margaret 71 or Mama and Papa Lama as they were to become known.
What I was to learn on this trip at no matter what your age or physical ability if you work together as a team you are capable of tremendous things.
So we set off early in the morning to kilometre 82 of the original inca trail. Armed with walking sticks, sunscreen, deet, sweets, coca leaves, water, ponchos and wearing all the clothes I bought from Decathlon 3 months ago, up the steady incline we ascended. The first day was easy going with regular stops up the mountain, our guide Casiano giving us history lessons on the Incan temples and dwellings we were passing on the way. We were walking the traditional Incan pilgrimage route up the sacred valley. At our first base camp Laura and I shared a beer and we were surprised by the 3 course meal supplied by the chef. It really was amazing throughout the whole trip how the chefs were able to trek up the mountain and then prepare a 3 course meal that tasted delicious, they even baked a cake on the last night!
Day 2 was a tough one. We had to summit the highest point on the trek of 4200m, reaching "dead woman's pass" and then descend into the cloud forest for lunch followed by another 2 hour ascent before finally reaching our 2nd camp for the night. I chewed coca leaves and found them a great help to deal with the altitude. We passed Incan watchtowers made from intricate stone work and walked on the original stone paved trail the Incans would have used 800 years ago. Casiano told me his opinion that Machu Pichu was both a trading post and a site of great religious importance to the Incan people. Meaning people would have walked this route and viewed it as their Jerusalem or Mecca.
At dinner we were treated to more amazing food before retiring to our 2 man tent. I can honestly say that I had some of the best sleep I have ever had that night.
Day 3 was the final descent down some amazing Incan steps (Machu Pichu is lower than our starting point) to reach base camp for our assault on Machu Pichu. Laura and I took a freezing cold shower as we were beginning to smell quite bad. Going to the toilet however was like that scene from Trainspotting. They were squat toilets as well and with our leg muscles being totally knackerd it made it a very dangerous and potentially messy experience that I would never like to repeat.
We got our obligatory lama pictures at an amazing Incan ruin with over 50 6ft high stepped terraces then descended a final time to base camp. It was packed with eager Trekkers who had made the pilgrimage at the same time as us. Because we had taken our time coming down the last set of steps we had a quick tea break then a short trek to wayna waya; a ruin with intricate stonework that Casiano told us was a botanical garden for testing how different crops would grow and differ at altitude up the side of the mountain. The Incans were master builders, each terraced step carefully built into the side of the rock with precision layering so as water could drain through and not wash the crops away. Again the stonework of the buildings blew me away as did the sun setting over the mountains. It is amazing to think people lived here at this altitude with luxuries of running water and an abundance of food.
Casiano was keen for us to be at the front of the queue in the morning at the check point to the final ascent of the Sun Gate (our first glimpse of Machu Pichu) so we got up bright and early at 3am! The whole group raced the 1 hour trek to sun gate, all of us full of excitement adrenaline and anticipation. We made it to the "gringo killers" staircase, panted to the top and there it was, Machu Pichu in all it's glory. After 3 intense days of trekking it was quite a surreal site. We got the obligatory Sun Gate picture and descended a further 2 hours to the sacred Incan site. We were warned about the hoards of tourists but we were still overwhelmed by how busy it was! Hundreds of people arriving the lazy way via the train. It felt good to be the dirty, smelly and knackered hikers.
Casiano gave us a tour of the ruins after we got our postcard pictures. The rest of the group were left to roam the ruins themselves whilst me an Laura took on our last challenge of hiking up the very steep Huayna Pichu, the big mountain at the back of Machu Pichu! We powered up the mountain and reached the summit in an impressive 40mins (recommended time is 1 hour). The views were even more spectacular and it was great to see the ruins from a different perspective.
After our legs couldn't take anymore we joined the rest of the group in the nearest town, Aguas Calientes, for our last lunch together. We celebrated our achievement with beers and pisco sours and slept the whole way back to Cusco. Thoroughly exhausted after an amazing and adventurous 4 days we said our goodbyes to our friendly group. We enjoyed our first hot shower in 4 days and slept like babies that night.
We spent the rest of our time in Cusco relaxing and sightseeing. We learnt how to cook the local cuisine at a Peruvian cooking course, rode on an open top bus around the city and experienced Cusco's lively nightlife. We were also lucky enough to be there during the Peruvian Independence Day bank holiday weekend. Traditional parades filled the streets and fireworks were never ending. Celebrating with the locals, we danced on the bar until the early hours. It was a great way to end our time in Cusco!