The Trek begins
We decided to do the Inca Trek as it was something Shauna had always wanted to do and Pat and Chris from Hobart had raved about the experience. I was a little apprehensive having had left knee surgery in July with further surgery required on my right knee.
I very nearly pulled out out the last minute, thinking about going on the train and letting Shauna do the Trek. Luckily I didn't do that.
Walking the historic Inca Trail is the most difficult and gruelling thing I have ever done in my life and yet every minute of it was amazing and many times were spiritually emotional. We had the best bunch of people with us on the Trek that made it so much fun and so rewarding. Everyone was fun, considerate, helpfull to each other and so full of life and the experiences we were all having together. Our 2 guides Carlos and Jimmy were also fantastic and Carlos in particular continually amused us with his humour and educated us with his vast knowledge of the Quechuan people and the Inca Trail. Being by far the oldest we thought we might not fit in but very quickly, the whole group became like a group of friends who had known each other for a long time. Quite a unique thing.
The first day we bussed from Cusco to Ollantaytambo where we had a great buffet breakfast and readied ourselves for the start. The start is quite official with a gateway leading to a suspension bridge and on the other side of the river the slow resonably easy ascent up into the mountains. Passing a few small local settlemenst as we climbed we were lulled into a false sense of easiness as far as difficulty was concerned. Beautiful scenery and native plants and strangely quite a few Eucalypts trees which were imported and planted at some stage, probably an Australian aid effort of some sort.
There are two distinct "Inca Trails". One, the "Commercial route" runs along the valley and is only about an 8 - 10 hour walk into Aquas Calientes, the city below Machu Picchu. Obviously the way the supplies were carried in in the past.
Ours was the "Spiritual Trail", up and down steep mountain paths, through deep valleys and acrosss some of the most breathtaking passes imaginable, over 4 days travelling 45 kilometres. Some of the trail is not original as parts of it have been destroyed by landslides and time and other parts are simply far too dangerous to trek upon. It becomes fairly obvious which parts are the real trail and I couldn't help but admire and be amazed at how all those hundreds of years ago, men built rock staircases way up in the Andes mountains up those steep inclines.
After the second day, most of the remaining trail is the original Inca Trail.
The first night camp was at Wayllabamba and when we arrived our tents were set up on thick grassy terraces and a lady was walking aropund selling cool beers from a bucket. This is easy we all thought even though we had been walking quite hard up some pretty steep mountains. Again the beer was a lulling into a false sense of security.
The thick grass was a blessing as the sleeping mats are only about 2 cms thick and don't assist much. (My advice to anyone attempting the trek would be to take a lightweight inflatable mattress and inflatable pillow, have a good adjustable aluminium walking pole, a hydration back pack, water bottle, zip off hiking pants, thermals for the possible cold nights and an absolute must, a camera to capture the mind blowing scenery and the overall experience.) Water is available for purchase during the 1st day from villages and stores and after that Peru Treks provide water as required.
My advice would also be to pay the extra money to have a porter carry your extras. It is hard at times just carrying a day pack let alone a full pack.
The first camp was only at 3000 metres and the weather was mild and the "bed" was very comfortable.
The second day of the trek was the most difficult and gruelling of the whole 4 days. We had plenty of warnings from Carlos to take it at our own pace and not to rush the trek to Dead Womans Pass, the highest point of the whole trek.
Every morning is an early rise and by moring tea, (yes the porters had set up morning tea for us on a terrace), about a quarter of the way up to Dead Womans Pass. We were suitably impressed and later realised we needed every bit of energy providing sustenance to get us to the Pass before midday! Sheesh the train was looking good at that point.
After a head dip in a glacial fed stream, we set off to what looked like the pass situated just below the clouds. It was that second day that really tested us all and I suffered terribly from the high altitude. It took me all of 30 minutes to climb the last 100 metres. 10 steps at a time and 2 minutes rest, 10 more steps and 2 minutes rest. I actually wondered at one point whether I could make it without assistance.
The genuine hugs of encouragement from my new group of friends when I finally got there made it all worth while and within minutes I was once again joking and feeling good about myself. And even at my age I wasn't the last there and made sure I gave the same encouragement to the last of our trekkers as they made it to Dead Woman's Pass (or Tit Hill as I named it).
Unless you have done it I realise it is difficult to fully appreciate the Inca Trail, the history, the amazing feats by the Quechuan people and the comeraderie that forms with your trekking group. Maybe we were just lucky to have such a fantastic group.
The second camp was at Pacamayo (3600 metres) and although on terraces cut into the mountain side, there was no grass so the stones and gravel poked through the thin mats all night. The weird thing is that it doesn't matter. It is like being on a high the whole time, nothing not even the rancid stinking toilets can get you down for too long. (The jungle became my toilet of choice and I felt very sorry for the females for whom it is obviously much more difficult to walk off into the bush to ablute. I was assured by Carlos that the coming wet season would erase any signs of toilet activity and it would actually assist the jungle growth.) Along with the disgusting toilet facilities there are no showering facilities whatsoever for the first 2 nights. I was so hot, dirty and smelly I actually donned my "budgie smugglers" and climbed into a fast running glacier fed stream for a bath. The coldest water I have ever experienced in my life but I felt a million dollars after and noted that a few more followed me in.
The food that the chefs prepared for each night was astounding. How do you could a wood fired pizza on a gas camp stove? How do you bake and decorate a cake.? The chefs, porters and guides are simply superhuman.
The third day was another gruelling climb up and down mountains and steps but not as difficult as that climb to Dead Womans Pass. The third camp was almost civilised at Phuyupatamarca. There is a rangers station and a university display centre. An early night after queueing for an icy cold shower and another rocky sleep to be awoken at 3:00 am for that final trek to Machu Picchu. The excitemnet of being nearly there quickly erases the grumpiness of a 3:00 am wake up amd we are off. It almost became a race to the finish as a few of our (younger) members decided they would beat another terkking group that had been giving some a bit of cheek along the way. A few of us slower trekkers took it a bit easier. Some steep climbs and steep downhills didn't help damaged knees but when we walked through the Sungate and looked down on Machu Picchu a few kilmoeters down the mountainside, the tears flowed in awe and amazement.
To see Machu Picchu get larger and larger as we got closer and closer made all the pains, dirt and sweat disappear. It is the most amazing architectural feat I could possibly imagine. You have to see it to believe it and you have to trek there to fully appreciate it.
Thanks to Shauna, Allie, Doug, Kelly, Peter, Anita, Tony, Gene, Damon, Damien, David, Brad, Soph, Marisha, Tjitske, Carlos, Jimmy and all the Porters and Guides from Peru Treks for the most amazing and life changing experience of my 56 years.