Wow, what an amazing few days we just had. Last Thursday we set off to do the Inca Trail. We had a meeting with our trekking company (Llama Path) the evening before and they´d told us that, due to a transport strike that has been going on here, they´d pick us up at an earlier time of 4am. Pure joy.
So Thursday morning we got up at 3.30am and were down in reception by 4am. They didn´t turn up until 4.45am! You can imagine how impressed we all were. Eventually we were on the coach and after about 1.5 hours we stopped for breakfast. Then we all piled back on the bus and drove for another 50 minutes or so to Kilometer 82, where the Inca Trail starts. We bought some trusty wooden polls and Snickers and then after loading our poor porters up with all our stuff, off we went.
We weren´t going for that long unfortunately though. Dan lost his passport about six months ago (since we booked the trek), and Llama Path hadn´t sorted out the change in passport numbers, even though we´d let them know about the problem when he got his new passport. Consequently we were stuck at the start of the Inca Trail for about 1.5 hours while we waited for some fax to come through or something. The rest of our group went ahead so we were pretty annoyed.
Finally we got on our way and I was delighted to find that the route was (Andean) flat (slopping but not steep). We had our guide, Flavio, all to ourselves and really enjoyed finding out about him, his life, Peru and the Inca Trail in a more personal way. We walked pretty fast but did stop a few times, including at a couple of beautiful Inca sites. I really enjoyed learning all about them and felt very excited about the fact that we finally doing the Inca Trail.
We caught up with our group at our lunch stop and were greeted with claps and cheers from them and all of our lovely porters. We then had the most amazing lunch, all four courses of it! We just couldn´t believe the amounts of food that kept being brought out, and there were even several different dishes available for lunch. Baring in mind that all the food for four days had to be carried by our porters, along with the means to prepare it, table, chairs, tents, sleeping bags and wash stuff, plus our peronal belongings, it really was impressive.
After lunch we headed off with the rest of the group, thankfully at a much slower pace, and the route started to get steeper. We discovered that we had a lovely group, that they were all about our age, and that there were a few Americans, a Canadian couple and another British couple. We had a few stops at farms along the way that afternoon, and there we saw live guinea pigs, other farmyard animals and we also saw some humming birds. The last 1.5 hours walking of the day were quite steep so we were all relieved to get to our campsite, situated at 3,300m above sea level and with amazing views over snow-capped mountains, and the jungled valley below. We had a yummy afternoon tea of popcorn, crackers and tea and then I crashed in our tent. I dragged myself out for the massive dinner but could barely eat anything so took myself off to bed early.
The next morning we were woken up at about 4.30am as we had a massive day or walking ahead of us. After being clapped off by the porters (they clapped whenever we left or arrived from/at a lunch stop or campsite) we started climbing uphill straight away. This continued for the whole of the rest of the morning, as we were on our way to Dead Woman´s Pass, the highest point of the trail at 4,200m above sea level. The start of the climb took us through jungle, which I really enjoyed, but as we got higher it became more exposed. I found that demoralising because we could then see the very top of the mountain we had to climb, which made it psychologically harder. Eventually we made it there and the views were absolutely incredible. After a bit of a rest we began our massive descent to our lunch stop. That was really hard because the steps were so steep, and each one upset my already sensitive stomach. Every jolt made it that bit angrier so I had to take it very slowly. Eventually we made it to our lunch stop but I felt so ill that I could barely eat.
When we got going again I was pleased to find that we were climbing up through jungle, which was much more interesting. Some of the steps were so steep that climbing them was like climbing a ladder, and you certainly didn´t want to fall backwards. We stopped at some little ponds and at an Inca ruin, where Flavio taught us all about how it would have been used. As he was talking though I felt myself go green and had to run off to find a little corner to be sick in. Sorry Incas.
Eventually we made it to the top of that mountain, and there Flavio told us a little more about why the Incas trekked along the trail and more about their religious beliefs. We then began our descent down to our campsite and the scenery then was stunning with its jungle, mountains and cloud forests, all being caught by the setting sun. We saw all sorts of wildlife on our way to that campsite including humming birds and orchids. When we finally got to the campsite we found that it was swarming with flies, but we were too tired and I was too ill to be too bothered about it. I barely ate anything again that night but slept well.
We were woken by our coca tea-wilding porters at 6.15am the next morning for a slightly mis-advertised half day of trekking. It was a little more than that but thankfully it was much flatter than the first day, and it took us through beautiful jungle. At our first stop we had a ceremony with our porters we all learned a little about each other. We learned that they were, amazingly, between 20 and 53 years old, and I mentioned that I would be 25 on the next day. The rest of the day´s hiking was all downhill and we stopped at some beautiful Inca sites along the way. One of them was set up amongst the clouds and I´m sorry to say I was sick there too. Sorry again Incas. I took all the downhills very slowly but eventually Flavio pointed at a nearby mountain and said, "That´s Machu Picchu Mountain". I couldn´t believe that The Lost City of the Incas was on the other side of the mountain, and it was suddenly all worth it. A little later we arrived at our final camp site where we all raced to the showers that we had been dreaming of for the last couple of days. It was the best luke-warm shower I have ever paid for, and I loved the rest of the afternoon because I just sat looking out over the mountains listening to my iPod. Just before tea Flavio took us to a nearby Inca site that was beautiful. While there I chatted to the doctor in our group said he thought that I had more than just a travel tummy, and that I wouldn´t shift the symptoms without prescribed drugs. Brilliant. He said that I shouldn´t trust Peruvian doctors though and to just wait until I got home. I wasn´t hungry again so had another early night.
The next morning the porters woke us up at 3.45am. Dan sang me Happy Birthday and when we got to the dinning tent I was chuffed to find two birthday cakes iced with "Happy Birthday Laura" in Spanish. I was so amazed that they´d managed to ice and make cakes on the top of the mountain. It was awesome. Everyone sang Happy Birthday and then at 4am we all tucked into the cake. It was great! Then Dan gave me a present of Cadbury´s (the best present he could have got), and a card from my family. That made me really weepy as I know they must have got and written it months ago.
Then we were off to join the queue to get onto the trail, as the gate to it didn´t open up until 5.30am. Flavio made us all queue-jump which made us very unpopular and uncomfortable, as everyone else was moaning at us. After a bit of a wait though the gates opened up and the mad dash to the Sun Gate began, as we were aiming to get there to see the sun rise. Even those amongst us who felt ill went for it, barely noticing the pain because of the beautiful mountains around us. We definitely did notice the ladder-steep steps though. We were soon there, but couldn´t see Machu Picchu for clouds so we all sat down to wait for them to lift. At one point a few people screamed when a rudely-awakened snake slithered out of one of the walls, but basically we just all willed the clouds to rise.
Eventually they did and there it was. The place I´d wanted to see since I´d heard about it, the place that had been forgotten by its country until 100 years ago, and the place we´d all hiked for a painful four days to reach. I don´t think I have the words to describe the sight spread out below us, and even photographs can´t do it justice. Machu Picchu is amazing. After admiring it from the Sun Gate we began the final descent down into the city itself. We then spent a few hours exploring it with Flavio and I was bowled over. It was so well made, and has such a sad history. It really is the most magical place and I still can´t quite believe I´ve actually been there.
After having our fill there we all got the (terrifying) bus down to Aques Calientes where we had a much welcome and deserved lunch. We all enjoyed the "proper" loos, soap and cold drinks, and I managed to speak to Mum which was great. We then made our way back to Cuzco by train and bus, and then had showers we´d been dreaming of for days.
Last night we had dinner at Los Perros, complete with potato skins and cocktails, with John, Rachel, Lisa and Shaun from our trek. It was a lovely end to a very unusual but extremely memorable birthday.