The Incas Strike Back
24.08.2010 - 25.08.2010 19 °C
Tuesday 24th August - Day 3
We awoke on the third day knowing it would be our last serious day of hiking and really looking forward to it as Miguel had mentioned it was his favourite day because of the views and landscape. We can see why he said this. The day´s hike began with the ascent of the second pass - `Abra de Runkuracay´- just under 4,000m. Halfway up, after about 45 minutes of hiking, we reached the ruins of an Inca fortress and look out tower where Miguel gave us some background info and history. It was just before we started the second half of the climb that Jaz began to feel really ill again, probably a result of her lack of breakfast. Miguel was on hand with his special solution that he dabbed onto some cotton wool and told Jaz to sniff when she felt nauseous. Apparently it was for insect stings but it did the job of keeping Jaz´s feelings of sickness at bay and became affectionately know as her `nausea rag´. It smelt like cola flavoured ice pops! Anyway, another hour of hiking got us over the second pass after a few `trick peaks´ where it looked like we had reached the top only to see the steps climbing higher and higher. We took a short rest and ate some of our snacks, provided by our porters (we love those guys), before descending down the other side of the mountain via some more very steep cartilage-eroding Inca steps. After about an hour of downhill stepping Miguel stopped us to give us some more info on the ruins of Sayacmarca above us, which translates as `inaccessible town´. We were given the option to climb another steep staircase (100 steps) to access the inaccessible or take the path down through the cloud forest to lunch. Running low on energy Jaz chose to head for the campsite but Liam and the others climbed up to the ruins and were rewarded by some stunning views and Inca architecture.
The short 15-20 minute walk through the Cloud Forest was equally as impressive. The path was surrounded by ferns, hanging vines, flowers, butterflies and other insects and through the gaps, as far as the eye could see, was lush greenery. Lunch was greedily lapped up by everyone, a good sign for the girls, and then we were right back on it, barely resting as Miguel warned us that we didn´t want to be reaching camp at nightfall.
Spurred on by that warning and the promise of a beer that night at the camp bar we marched onwards and upwards to the third and final pass on the trail. Obviously energised by lunch, the whole group picked up the pace, in particular Liam and Nathan who decided to try and keep up with the porters! They both managed it and felt better for it - walking at a quicker pace keeps your momentum going - and before they knew it they were at the first `Inca Tunnel´ where the path had been carved through an overhanging rock! They waited here for the rest of the group to admire the tunnel together before continuing uphill.
Infront of the Inca tunnel:
The climb to the top of third pass at 3,700m was by far the easiest and we were both at the top in no time, and before everybody else (Jaz didn´t even realise we had reached the top!). The views on this part of the trail are some of the best, as snow capped mountains dominate the background and towering green ones the foreground. What goes up must come down, down for three hours to be precise. Being honest, other than the impressive ruins of Phuyupatamarca, the trek down is extremely boring and laborious. Exhausted, we finally reached the campsite via the alternate route that takes in the ruins of Wiñay Wayna- huge terraces used for agriculture with yet more stunning views across the valleys. With the knowledge that we were now only a two hour hike away from our first views of Machu Picchu we were extremely satisfied by our work over the first three days and Liam treated himself to a well deserved beer, Jaz a full fat Coke! It was a good hour before any of the others (and Miguel) arrived, so a lie down in the tent was well received.
That night we had some more delicious dinner before the tipping ceremony for the porters. They lined up in the dining tent where we all said our bit to thank them, with Jaz translating. They then introduced themselves and told us their specific jobs on the trail and interestingly their ages (the youngest was 25 and the oldest was 51!). We then handed over our tips as a group to `Papa´ (the 51 year old) and applauded them for their hard work. They were all such friendly and humble people and thoroughly deserved to have that extra bit of money for their efforts. We went to bed extra early to rest before our 3am wake up call and the final stretch to the sun gate where we could finally look down on the lost city of the Incas.
Wednesday 25th August - Day 4
We were woken as promised at 3am, in order to give the porters enough time to pack up camp and walk down to the train station to catch their train to Aguas Calientes where our bags would be waiting for us. We were not actually allowed to start hiking until 5.30am when the gates of the campsite and the last check point were opened, releasing the hundreds of hikers, scrambling to be the first to reach Intipunku (the sun gate) in time for sunrise. We took our time as we had looked across the valley and noted the heavy fog covering the mountaintops meaning that visibility of the city early on would be very poor at best. However we kept a good pace and chatted excitedly along the way, and after just under two hours of gentle uphill hiking we reached the sun gate and were greeted by......FOG. Fog covering as far as the eye could see. In a way it was an anticlimax to all our hard work, but in strange way we were so happy. Even though we couldn´t see Machu Picchu, we knew it was there, hidden, just as the Incas wanted it to be. They knew how to pick their spots! After a while most of the other groups began the walk down to the city but Miguel made us wait five more minutes as he said the fog would lift....and it did. All of a sudden, like something from a film, the fog dispersed and the sun´s rays shone down revealing the lost city of the Incas. There it was. For no longer than fifteen seconds, before the fog fell again, we all stood amazed at the view and taking it in. It was another one of those special moments that we´ll remember for the rest of our lives.
First view of Machu Picchu
After our sneak look at the city, we snaked down the remainder of the Inca trail toward the top of it, passing some grand sacrificial alters and some cheeky llamas on the way. Miguel gave us some more info about the alters and the floating Inca steps but we were all really just eager to get our postcard pics of the site. After about half an hour of strolling downhill we reached the end of the trail and embraced our reward. There was still a bit of fog rolling across the ruins, giving it an eerie atmosphere and it wasn´t long before the non trekkers waltzed in smelling all clean and swamped the grounds taking something away from MP´s charm (bored of typing Machu Picchu). We kind of resented these people as we felt we had earned the right to see such a beautiful thing and they hadn´t, but we were mainly jealous as they were the ones who got to climb Wayna Picchu (the mountain that rises over MP). The Peruvian government only allows 400 people per day to hike the mountain and by the time we reached the entrance the tickets were long gone. It is impossible for anyone hiking the Inca Trail to also hike Wayna Picchu, something they really should address. We took our pictures and carried on down the entrance of the site laughing at the day trippers in their hiking gear along the way.
After a visit to the bathrooms to clean up a bit, we left our beloved walking sticks resting against a wall (a very sad moment) and re-entered the site getting our passports stamped en route (yehhhh!). Miguel then gave us a two hour tour of Machu Picchu, pointing out what the various buildings were used for, explaining the clever reasons behind the intricate building of the city and telling us the story of its discovery. He left us besides the `Intihuatana stone´, a sacred rock that points towards the sun at the winter solstice and is said to give people energy if they hover their hands above it. We kind of needed some. Miguel departed to Aguas Calientes giving us the chance to explore on our own. After another hour or so of wandering around visiting the different temples of the city we all wearily made our way to the exit and onto the buses waiting to take us to Aguas Calientes, the small town closest to Machu Picchu. With our remaining 10 soles with purchased a small lunch and then found some left over Bolivianos, which we exchanged and used to buy some snacks for the train ride. We met up with the rest of the group and Miguel at one of the many restaurants, where our bags were being held, and shared a few memories and laughs about the trip. We bid farewell to Miguel at the train station and boarded our first class train back to Ollamtaytambo, where we would be picked up by a minibus and returned to Cusco. The journey back was spent admiring the trail from a different point of view and reflecting back on what we had achieved.
That night we changed hostels back to Pariwana and were relieved to have a whole 12 bed dorm all to ourselves. After some glorious showers we retired to bed, aching and bruised from our four day adventure but with absolute satisfaction after completing a once in a lifetime trip.
More to come on two huge cities; Lima and Mexico City
Liam and Jaz