The sky burnt with an orange glow as the sun reflected off the mountain peaks of the Andes. Our view of the Andean sunrise was blocked by the towering mountain spires. It was apparent that somewhere, somehow a god of some sort, be it Incan or not was watching over us today. We made our way to the KM 82 checkpoint, however, something was not quite right. JAYDE’S CAMERA!!!!! After telling the rest of the group to keep walking and a frantic 1 hour search, we finally managed to find Jayde’s camera by fluke. As a porter passed with our duffel bags strapped to his back we just about tackled him as a last ditch effort before filling a police report. Apparently, somehow, Jayde’s camera had managed to roll off the bed and land in one of our duffel bags.
It was officially time to start our Inca Trail experience.
With the sun shinning, and the birds chirping, we stepped from the starting checkpoint onto the official start of the Inca Trail. Our group was made up of the 16 ‘tourists’ (us), 2 guides, Ali and Wilbur and 20 porters (each carrying a mixture of our bags, food, tents and furniture), it is fairly safe to say that we were well equipped for our journey.
Today would see our journey beginning at an altitude of 2750 meters and reaching a total of 3300 meters above sea level. Many people may say that camping with porters is not really camping, but my response to that is that having your tents pitched, receiving a mug of hot coca tea, a hot wet towel and a bucket of warm soapy water upon arrival into your camp-site is definitely camping at it’s best and one should not knock it, at least not until one has tried it. Short of getting a massage, this was definitely camping at it’s best. The walk today was a breeze, walking flat trails and enjoying watching humming birds flying about and cheering our porters on as we listened to tails of ancient Incan settlements.
It is said by many guides, that the Inca Trail makes or breaks a group. From a group dynamic point of view, today we were definitely “forming” as half of the group were getting impatient with taking in the scenery and decided to take the wrong trail up a mountain (fortunately we were not this group). We arrived into camp that night and experienced our second big treat for the day (the first been a hot cooked lunch served inside a food tent with tables and chairs), this treat was to be a bucket of hot steaming water for us to wash the “grime” of the trail.
Today we were awoken by the wafting smell of foot drifting through our camp-site. Our porters made the early bird seem lazy as they buzzed through our site like many bees in search of the next pollinating flower. As we sort to navigate through our camp-site to our Mecca that was our food tent, we rubbed our bleary eyes and attempted to take in the feast that was to be our breakfast this morning. Pancakes and maple syrup, toast and jam, coffee and tea, we wondered what the poor people were up to at this moment. As we left our camp site, we turned to appreciate just how lucky we were as the early Andean mist was burnt off a warm sun, to provide us with a spectacular view of the valley where we had come from and the pass that we were heading too. Today we would spend the majority of the day walking uphill to reach our highest altitude of the whole trip, 4225 meters above sea level.
It is definitely one thing to catch a bus to this type of altitude (which we did in Colca Canyon), however, to walk this with a 4kg backpack (only me to blame for this, due to the 2 bottles of “Inca Gold”, more commonly known as Inca Kola (a Peruvian national soft drink) left us with short breath and sucking down many Coca Candies.
After what seemed hours (as it most likely was) we finally made it to the top of “Dead Woman’s Pass” (which I felt necessary to rename “Dead Nathan’s Pass”) where we enjoyed one of our bottles of Inca Kola as well as attempting to take a series of photo in a poor attempt to capture the sheer accomplishment and beauty of our vantage point. Looking down the pass back to where we had came from, we watched the people walk along the trail like small ant’s following whom all seem to knowingly be on a trail to a bigger and grander prize… Machu Picchu.
It was time to move on, as the weather was beginning to take a turn for the worst and there was still another 2 hours to hike before dinner (everything was beginning to be measured in when our personal chef was going to make our next meal). After two days of great weather, it was definitely time for the weather to turn sour, as we began our decent to our camp, the cloud seem to encase us and we enjoyed the next 2 hours hiking in fog and rain with visibility reduced to about 10 meters. However as unfortunate this shift in weather was for a panoramic view, it gave us a perfect opportunity to appreciate the smaller fauna and flora that is so abundant on the trail.
Camping that night at 3600 meters seemed a piece of cake, and as the rain provided an entertainment second to none as people literally slid into the food tent, we all found ourselves in a deep sleep. Again, woken by food, we wiped our eyes and enjoyed a meal that we would probably only ever experience on the Inca Trail. We left camp for our longest day and our second pass. As we enjoyed the day, it became apparent that a clear separation had occurred in the groups as we hit the “norming” stage, similar to that which you might find reading “Lord of the Fly’s”.
As mate ship faltered, it was apparent that if you were slow, you be left behind. It was often mentioned at lunch that certain peoples sole goal on the Inca Trail was “to get there first”. Certain times in my life I wish I was conducting a thesis on human psychology, and this seemed to be one of those (the other is at bus stops when everyone is in a hurry to get on and lets nobody off) as they missed sights that would have only been seen by people that took their time. It can be said that many a time over the next few days the tale of the “tortoise and the hare” came to mind. The day held time for our (slow) hiking group to contemplate how lucky we were to be on the Inca Trail. Our stroll found us chasing hummingbirds only to later find them posing for photos next to the trail, condors circling above, and copious amounts of abundant flora that which would likely make a botanist green with envy. We arrived into camp that night after a total of 13 hours hiking. Needless to say, we all slept well.
It seems that at 4am, any wakeup call seems to be comparable with a 10,000 volt shot of electricity through your body. We sat upright in our pitch black tent and scrambled to find our now musty hiking clothes realising that we had left them outside the tent in the fear that our clothes after three days of hiking may provide a perfect setting for a Stephen King movie. We sat at our breakfast table and meekly smiled at our co hikers through tired eyes…. today tolerance would definitely be luxury addition. We cleared the starting point on our last leg to Machu Picchu, heading to Sungate in the dark. The weather had not cleared from the previous day, and unfortunately this morning we would not be making the final pass with clear weather.
As we reached the pass, we attempted to see Machu Picchu below, however, the cloud cover was extremity thick and the sun could not break through. Although the weather was bad, we made it to Machu Picchu with a smile and happy thoughts as the cloud gave the city an eerie feeling and gave us the distinct feeling that we may be completely alone in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The bad weather was not to last, and at 10 am, the sun finally burnt the clouds away and we were presented with the city in all it’s splendour. Today was a great day to be alive.
At 3pm, it was time to head to Aguas Calientes for lunch where we met up with our fellow hikers Kylie and Ian whom we had accidently lost in the maze of the city, and enjoyed a bit of lunch and a well deserved drink. I finally managed to purchase a peruvian chess board, which I had been in search of for close to a month and a half and as Jayde was displaying the intricate ceramic chess pieces to Kylie she managed to drop the pawn breaking it into two pieces. That evening we caught the train back to Ollantaytambo, then boarded a bus back to Cusco.
During the ride home, we had ample time to contemplate what we had just achieved. To be in complete awe as we left Machu Picchu with be a huge understatement. The feeling that one experiences as they walk into this city is nothing short of overwhelming and the feeling that you have as you sit at the guard house which once served as a checkpoint for all incoming and outgoing visitors to this great place is a feeling of surrealism. To explore every corner would, without a doubt take more than an invasion of a day. One cannot feel as though one is not spiritual enough to grace this place, but short enough, having a Japanese tourist walk past in knee high boots with hot pants and a designer handbag quickly brings us back to reality. We are not alone, nor will Machu Picchu be any time soon. This is a grand place to come and see, but I surely hope that, as they limit the amount of people whom walk the Inca Trail, they (Peruvian Government) enforce similar, if not stricter entry requirements into this holey of holey places.
Coming back to reality was nothing short of a shock, but we made the most of it as we went in search of a large fry up breakfast with our travel buddies, Kylie and Ian. After breakfast we experienced Cusco first hand from the window of a trolley tour bus. It had to be done, and it certainly had to be mentioned due to the interesting boarding technique of one of our group. As we left the main square, we looked back to see Jess (another trail buddy) come running after the bus and climbed up the back of the bus and over the rear railing. After our “informative” tour of the Cusco industrial area, we made our way to conduct our hands at bargaining in Spanish. Now it is important to note for anyone not familiar with bargaining in foreign countries, it is not relevant that you are attempting to shave off 50c, the important thing is that you save money. Needless to say, we definitely had a lot of fun today. I would even go as far to say that we out did the drunk party goers that were sitting next to us at a cafe. That night we went to one of the most expensive restaurants in Cusco, “The Fallen Angel”, where your tables are baths and full of fish. It is fair to say that after 10 cocktails we were having a great time. Tomorrow would be a bus day……