We got a minibus transfer from Ollantaytambo, along beside the really fast flowing Urubamba river, to the start of the Inca trail.The start was not commercial at all.It is along a dirt road, through a tiny village to a car park.We got out and the porters were loading up with our bags.We were allowed 7kgs of stuff in a red duffle bag which the porters carried for us.We had 11 porters plus our own chef between 6 of us.The porters were all local men of various ages.Our oldest was 65 and still looked incredibly fit.Most of them just wore sandals and had really sore looking cracked heels.They didn't have proper backpacks either.A lot of them stuffed whatever they needed to carry (food, tents, gas canisters!) in a sack with bits of rope over their shoulders as straps.The Porters run along the trail past the walkers and set up camp in time for the walkers getting there.
We started the trail stopped for a photo under the Inca trail sign.The part of the trail we walked was 42km long (nothing compared to the 54 miles of the Caledonian Challenge).There are checkpoints at various stages so they can keep track of the walkers.They also stamped our passports at the start and end of the trail.We weren't sure if this was allowed or not but now we have a stamp of Machu Picchu in our passports along with Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil!
The start of the trail crosses the Urubamba river then is fairly flat for the first hour or so.We were passed by several running porters at this point. Then we saw our first steep climb.The porters made it look easy.The walking was fine for us, the altitude does make you feel out of breath, but it feels like you are exercising which is good!
We didn't go short of food on the trip with a qualified chef cooking for us.Our first encounter was lunch on day 1.We came across one of our porters standing on the trail waving a gap vest at us to signal the lunch stop.It was at a little farm on the trail.There was a dinner tent for us to sit in at a picnic table (covered by table cloth!) and stools.And a kitchen tent where the chef, dressed in his GAP adventures white chef top and hat, cooked up fine cuisine with the porters scurrying around him helping prepare the food.We were served really nice garlic bread, soup and then chicken and rice.Washed down with coca tea (for the altitude!).
Totally stuffed we set off on the steep climb up to our campsite for night 1.The scenery was spectacular.Huge snow topped mountains.We got to our campsite about 3.30pm and the porters were busy again setting up our tents for the night. The porters seemed really happy, joking with each other all the time.We asked our guide, Victor, if they hated the gringos that make them carry stuff along the trail. He said they didn't mind and that is was a way of life for them, and reasonably good money.We still felt bad for them.
The campsite had an amazing view out towards the mountains.Toilets became a bit of a talking point on the trail. They mainly consisted of holes in the ground, "the public toilet squat" position and a good aim had to be adopted for use! For the girls this was not too much of an issue having squatted for most of the trip so far.For Brian however this was a whole new skill which needed to be learned.Recovering from a dose of Dehli (or should we say Peruvian) belly Brian was a bit apprehensive about the toilet facilities on the trail anyway.Having been to examine the facilities Brian returned to the tent with a hint of panic in his voice."You need to be a gymnast to go to the toilet! I just can't seem to balance, and keep falling over.I even had to remove my trousers to keep them clean!"The girls on the trip thought this was hilarious.After dinner we gave Brian a lesson on the squat and being a quick learner he never looked back from that night on!
Day 2 is the toughest day of the four days.We were woken at 5.30am by our porters appearing at our tent door with hot drinks. The view was stunning with the clouds down lower than the snow topped peak.They also had some agua callientes (hot water) for us to wash our faces with.Quite a treat when there are no showers for a few days.
After a breakfast of semolina porridge and pancakes with dulce de leche (really great caramel sauce) we set off to attack Dead Woman's pass.
Day 2 is tough because you climb up and down 2 passes in one day.Our first, dead woman's was called that because at the top of the pass it looks like a lady (well a breast) lying on it's side.From our campsite we had to climb up 900m to top of the pass at 4100m.It was fairly steep and we did get pretty hot and out of breath in the altitude.The Loves arrived at the top first though.The view was stunning.In front we could see the mountains we had seen from the night before.Behind us we could see down to where we were stopping for lunch and then up the second pass which we were to tackle in the afternoon.
After posing for a few photos and feeling pleased we had conquered Dead Woman's pass we climbed down the hill to lunch.Our chef and porters commented that we were walking very quickly when the caught and passed us.Victor said it would take us 6 hours to get to the lunch stop over the pass.We did it in 3 and a half ours and were at lunch by 10.30am!
Another fancy lunch was prepared for us, noodle soup, stuffed chicken and quinoa.Not quite the cheese sandwiches we normally have when hiking!It hail stoned pretty heavily while we ate so we were thankful for the tent over us!
We set off full again for the second pass of the day.The climb this time was only 300m so was pretty easy.It started to rain as we climbed so we got out our newly purchased ponchos.Brian thought he looked like obi wan Kenobi under his poncho!
Our campsite for night 2 was in the cloud forest.There were trees for as far as the eye could see nest to huge mountains and low clouds.We arrived really early at our campsite and settled down for afternoon tea (popcorn and crackers and jam), cards then dinner.We were never hungry at dinner time but felt obliged to eat since the porters had carried it and the chef had made it.
Day 3 was the easiest day.We woke up to a spectacular view of snowy mountains which had been hidden in the clouds the day before.The walking was fairly flat and then downhill on the 3rd day.We reached out campsite by 11.30am then had a siesta as we were pretty tired.
On the climb down to the campsite we got out first glimpse of the back of Machu Picchu mountain.We were really close to Machu Picchu.We could have hiked on to there but then we wouldn't experience the sunrise over the site.
The 3rd campsite had electricity and a hot shower for 5 soles.So now at least we were clean under the smelly clothes.There was also a bar there so we spent the rest of the day drinking beer and wine and playing cards.The altitude certainly has an effect on your ability to consume vino (that was our excuse anyway when we staggered back for afternoon tea).
After dinner we said thanks to all our porters and gave them their well deserved tip.They all shook our hands and some sneaked a kiss from the girls.It was an early night in preparation for the 4am rise the next day.
We were woken at 4am and not offered any hot drinks.Instead it was a quick breakfast of bread and jam and then off.We got to the final checkpoint in the dark at 4.50am.It was only about 5 minutes walk from the campsite and didn't open until 5.30am.Brian was moaning that we should have slept until 5am.We were the second group in the queue and then more and more people started to arrive behind us. The sun came up but it was really cloudy so we didn't see the sun, it just got lighter.We got through the checkpoint and 5.30am and headed off at a quick pace towards the Sun Gate, eager to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. The hiking was pretty flat until just before the sun gate where there was what seemed like a vertical wall of narrow steps which we had to climb up like a ladder.
We got to the Sun Gate all excited when Victor told us we could soon see Machu Picchu.Where!?!The clouds/fog was all around us and we couldn't see anything!Very disappointing after 3 days of hiking!
We climbed down further in to the Machu Picchu site to where you get the "postcard view'.It was still pretty cloudy when we got there.We got told off by another tour guide for jumping up and down for a photo.Apparently we could have knocked down Machu Picchu! We're not that heavy thanks very much! Victor told us the part we were jumped on had been reconstructed anyway so it wasn't an Inca ruin!
Victor gave us a tour of the ruins and then the option to climb wynapicchu the mountain behind machu picchu.Everyone else had had enough hiking but not us. We decided to climb right to the top.It was really steep and felt like hard work after hiking the Inca trail.The view from the top was worth it though.You can look down over the ruins which are laid out in the shape of a condor.They looked tiny from the top.
We were pretty tired so head in to the town Agua Callientes to wait for our train.GAP loving keeping us hanging around had booked us on the 5pm train (we got to Machu Picchu at 7am!) back to Cusco.