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Up in the Clouds
It was finally here, we were packing our 7kg duffle bags, ready to take on the challenge of the Inca Trail. There was apprehension and anxiety within the group, all of us doing this challenge for different reasons! Even though we all had gone through the trip notes with a fine tooth comb no one really knew what to expect or what to pack!
Our trek started just before lunch at KM 82, we were standing at the start of the trek waiting to cross the bridge and step onto the Inca Trail for the first time. There was a buzz of excitement as we hit the Trail. The walk started of gentle walking on an ungulate path beside the Urubamba river, taking a couple inclines getting our legs moving!. Some of the group were already feeling the altitude with the start of headaches and deepbreathing. We made our way slowly taking in the beautiful surroundings, still not knowing what tomorrow would bring climbing up “Dead Womans Pass”. Slowly the pathway started to climb and soon it was evident that the group were starting to spread out. After lunch we started to climb again, with the group spaces out (no one walking on their own) we all knew we had to keep going to get to our camp site. The first day was harder than expected, as no one knew how the altitude was going to affect them. After 5 hours of walking we walked into our camp where we would meet our porters clapping us into camp.
Everyone had a smile on their face. Our tents were pitched and waiting for us was a warm bowl of water to rinse our faces and relax. Dinner was at 7 and a 3 course meal was provided – if you thought you may lose weight on this trip you will be surprised – the food is excellent and plentiful! The toilet facilities were a block of 4 squat long drop toilets – remember your toilet paper! By 8.30 most of the group were already heading to bed. We had an early morning start in the morning starting the day at 5am to make the most of the cooler weather and less people on the trail.
An early start as we are woken up at 4.30am for tea and bread, breakfast would follow later. We start the walk with a climb to the checkpoint where we got our passports stamped for the second time – what a great way to be reminded of the Inca Trail Trek! A few of us were already struggling and it was going to be a tough day. All I can say is the guide, porters, group and my walking poles kept me going throughout the day. At 9am we met our team who had prepared our breakfast and then it was on our way again for the most gruelling part of the climb. There are many Inca steps throughout the journey that really play a big part in the demanding day. At points I really did not think I would make the highest point “Dead Womans Pass”, but hearing my group shout my name and keep pushing me on I finally reached the top at 4250m. What an achievement and so emotional.
From here it was all downhill to camp. This however was no easy feat, they are steep steps and can be very slippery, the rain came down we donned our beautiful ponchos (in a variety of colours). It was amazing to see the campsite appear and again the cheery faces of the porters. This campsite is fairly busy with lots of groups making there way in throughout the afternoon. We arrived at 2.30 in the afternoon 8 1/2 hours after starting out early this morning – we only covered 8km today but the altitude and incline makes a big difference to how you walk. Again there are 8 squat long drop toilets for the whole campsite – not the sweetest smelling of the toilets!
The penultimate day we start in high spirits after the achievement of yesterday, however legs are heavy and we started to climb towards Runkurakay Inca ruins. There are beautiful views of the surrounding area, from here we are already halfway through the ascent today, we reach the highest point of the day 2 hours after starting out. The scenery changes from this point forward. We have headed onto the Eastern , Amazonian slopes of the Andes, bringing the lusher greener landscapes. From the highest point we then descend for 1 ½ hours, having the option to visit the ruins of Sayaqmarka which is perched on a small mountain spur. Lunch is greatly received – 3 courses! The next stage was one of the most memorable stages of the walk, the paths are ungulated, walking through the cloud forest, through an Inca tunnel and watching the butterflies and humming birds!
Then you walk into the campsite. A camp site in the clouds with the valley appearing through the mist. This is the most unforgettable campsite, you have several view points that you can go to. You can see the rainbow flag of Machu Picchu Mountain and if you are in the right place you can see the town of Aguas Calientes. The rest of the afternoon is spent taking in the sights and sounds, watching the porters and guides play football on the highest football pitch I know of!
Our last day of the trek, everyone is excited about the prospect of seeing Machu Picchu for the first time through the Sun Gate. We are also sad as it is the last time we will see our amazing porters and cooks. They have looked after us so well. We start the day by walking to the highest point behind the camp site to watch the sun rise and then it is the sad goodbye. We hug and dance and they wave us on our way for the last time!
This is the BIG downhill day, we have approximately 4000 Inca steps to descend throughout the day. Our first part of the walk is 2000 Inca steps, it is a rapid decent through the cloud forest. It takes us about 1 ½ hours, then the trail zig zags down to a small Inca site with stunning views of the valley. You can see our lunch stop and Machu Picchu Mountain…we are so close!
We headed to our lunch stop zig zagging once again. Our final lunch and a great spread of food put on by the cooks – pasta, chicken salad, avocado salad and the list goes on!
We are reenergised and the whole group are walking together, lots of chatting about expectations and what we have endured over the last few days. The last couple of hours walking pass by very quickly. Soon we are on the very last part of the Inca Trail before reaching the Sun Gate. In front of us are the steepest steps I can imagine and all the group are on their hands and feet climbing these. Our final ascent and we are finally here after 4 days, 42 km, and an unforgivable amount of Inca Steps! Was it worth it – yes!
The views are spectacular, the next day when we arrived at the foot of Machu Picchu and realised the size, grandeur and simplicity of this old inca ruin – there are no words to describe your feelings. The best I can do is - WOW!
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