After a hearty, but very rushed since we still had important packing to do, breakfast our tour group and fellow hikers boarded the g adventures bus. We left at 7.30am with day bags full of snacks, hiking gear, water, layers, everything as we all had no idea what to expect. Lucky for us the first day didn’t actually involve as much hiking as we may have thought…
We first stopped at Saqsaywoman, literally pronounced sexy woman which Juliet and I found hilarious, for photos. There was a huge Virgin Mary statue overlooking the whole of Cusco allowing us to see the real scale of the city and also the Puma shape that it’s roads make within the city. (This is why the local quetuan name for cusco city means puma).
Our next stop was a weaving village that only the people travelling with g adventures go to. It is a remote village close to the sacred valley and the G adventures company provide the village with weaving equipment so that they can make beautiful clothes for the tourists and themselves. A local lady from the village talked us through what the different weaving symbols mean (with our guide translating the quetua) before taking us to their local market. Here we saw how the use a local tree root as soap to clean all the wool and then different natural stones and rocks mixed with lime juice or salt to make different brightly coloured dyes for the wool – it was amazing. The village was absolutely full of llamas and alpacas – hence the fact it’s a weaving village of their wool – and I held a baby llama! I also got taken in by one of the locals and told that I was to marry her son and then the whole village started calling me daughter and my supposed “mother in law” kept running over and hugging me and it all got quite weird and bizarre so we left soon after that!!! We then drove to look a out point right over sacred valley where we saw amazing corn fields and huge inca remains – here we had our first big group photo! (There were obviously many more to come)
Our next stop was Pisac, a huge inca cemetery with over 5000 tombs. It’s the largest in the world however all that is left are tombs, or huge holes in the mountain, as all the bodies have been stolen.
Then it was time for lunch in an amazing out door restaurant. We were given different types of bread, then mini potato and chicken starters, followed by maize and cheese soup. Then stuffed chiles with alpaca meat and veg, with veg and chicken quinoa and potatoes. Caramel flan for desert… Basically a HUGE meal.
After a forty five minute drive / sleep to inca bar full of guinea pigs, where they make an alcoholic drink using maize, we went to our town and rest point for the day. We checked into our hotel then hiked (it was so difficult) to the top of the archeological site which is shaped like a llama, we hiked all the way to the llama head where they used to keep golden statues to worship. Then we explored the town, did a bit of shopping and all went out for dinner! Now early night ready for the hiking to begin…
This morning breakfast in the hotel was at 7.30am, then we said goodbye to civilisation for the next five days and left at 8am. On this bus journey we also met our second tour guide for our journey. Our head your guide was Evert (or Spider) and our second guide was Jesus, Everts brother from the same town and they were both so excited to start the adventure with us. We drove for forty five mins before we ditched the bus for the rest of the inca trail. (!!!) When we got out we were at our first check point, here we needed to show our passports and got our first out of four inca trail stamps. We crossed the bridge across the Machu Picchu river and began the first day of our inca trail hiking – we started walking at 10am. At the beginning we were walking along side the train track and it was crazy to think those people would be at Machu Picchu in an hour and a half when we were going to be hiking for four days. We were also walking along side the river towards the mountains. The first place we stopped was to do a ceremony with cocoa leaves, we talked about their use and then sacrificed them to the mountains and Mother Earth, made a wish then put our three under a rock. Then we walked for about two hours before a banana break stop (after the most horrible and strenuous last twenty minutes up hill, the rest had been easy up easy down). Then walked for about another hour to lunch. We passed a patallacta which is an administrative center and ended up at Wilkallacay inca lookout point over some ruins. Here we also learnt about the fact that the inca trail we’re doing is actually the inca pilgrimage, across the mountains as a way of blessing the mountains and showing love to them. There actually is a different route from the sacred valley to Machu Picchu past the lookout we saw which goes along the river and only takes 7 hours, but ofcourse it is not the real inca trail. Then we climbed along the edge of the mountain, uphill, seeing the most beautiful views of snow capped mountains and ending up at a beautiful view overlooking them. When we got to our lunch spot our porters were already there and had set up a teepee type hut for lunch with a table and chairs, a table cloth and napkins in the shape of little houses. We were even greeted by a porter with our group number on a flag and then there was another porter in a shirt (!!) who would be our waiter. He gave us orange juice as soon as we arrived and hot water to wash. Lunch was soup with garlic bread and grilled fish with cheesy potatoes and veg, then the famous hot cinnamon and berry liquid desert. They even had a mat out for our belongings to go on so that they wouldn’t get dirty on the ground.
After lunch we had another two hours hiking, it was broken up with another break in the middle and lots of dusty shaded roads which opened out into beautiful scenery right over looking the mountains.
We arrived to camp at 4pm, 6 hours after we set off although it felt like much longer. Our tents were already set up and we were greeted by high fives from all the porters and hot water to wash ourselves. Our duffle bags that the porters have carried all the way up here as well as cooking equipment, tents, food and everything, were waiting for us and we put them into our tents and relaxed after a hard (it will for sure be the easiest) day of walking.
We then all sat round in a circle and met the porters as they introduced themselves and then we introduced ourselves, then afternoon tea, with games card games and magic tricks. Then dinner of noodle soup and chicken with rice and veg. Then more tea then briefing of tomorrow then bed – an exhausting but great first day.
We walked 11miles today.
Today we were woken up at 5am by the porters with coca tea. I felt anxious, nauseous and very sick, a combination of altitude and nervousness for today which is renowned for being the hardest day of all. We set off at 7 and from the moment we left the camp it was uphill on dirt tracks, and not just gentle up hill, actually quite steep up hill. By 7.30 I felt sick, the same sick as you feel when you’ve done a huuuuge work out but it was constant. Spider our tour guide got out some flower water which had alcohol in it that you smell and it helped a lot. By 8.10 we were at our first official break point, twenty minutes earlier than schedule so we were all happy. Although I was so nervous for the next section as I knew it was going to be uphill stone stairs which are much steeper. And we still had about five hours to go…
10.10am and we finally arrived at our second break stop after two hours of climbing stone steps on a trail hidden under the canope. My space in the group is between the keen fast hikers and the much slower steadier ones, there’s a big gap between the two where my place is and it’s so peaceful (when you forget about how strenuous it is) getting into a hiking rhythm along side the glowing river under the shade of the trees. Surprisingly my legs weren’t aching too much here however because the stomach strap on my bag is broken, my shoulders ached quite a bit – however I can’t even begin to complain a tiny bit while on the inca trail because every five minutes or so a porter will over take us wearing Sandles, sweating it out in the heat, carrying up to 26kg on his back of food, cooking equipment, customers belongings, tents, tables, chairs, you name it. We’re lucky because our porters have actual bags however some that pass us just have all their equipment bundled in a rug and tied around their neck.. All 26kg of it. I feel so bad for them everytime I see them but we keep being reminded that they don’t do this for the money, they do this because they love the inca trail and their heritage. Our chef Santiago walked passed us as we were having a break and we all cheered like we normally do for our porters, id just got out a snickers so I gave it to him as he walked passed and he was so so happy… We know whose going to get the best meal tonight!
When we were approaching our second break the canopy opened up and we got a clear view of the beautiful snow capped mountains with the stone steps beneath disappearing into the trees. And finally I made it! Two more hours to go until we’re at the top of the mountain…
And those two hours were probably the most difficult, strenuous and most challenge thing I have ever done and accomplished. Ever second I felt as if I was going to pass out or be sick. The path way was extremely steep narrow gravel leading all the way to the top of the mountain and although the view was great on the way up it couldn’t even be appreciate due to the sheer lack of energy. Every single inward breath I took didn’t feel like I was even getting any oxygen. I could take the biggest breath and it would feel as if id only inhaled a tiny bit. After two hours of sweat and actually nearly tears on multiple occasions (made much better by a lady from New York on our tour who left me coca sweets on rocks on the way up) I finally made it to the top. (!!!) Although the speedy hikers had been waiting for about 45minutes when Katelyn (from New York) and I arrived, we then waited for about half an hour for the rest of the group and had anther half an hour to actually appreciate the view and to take photos. Although the I’ve-over-exercised-myself-and-now-feel-sick feeling actually never went away, we were at our highest point of the inca trail at 4100m high and the view of the mountains was spectacular.
The last bit of our journey was down hill and although this was a MASSIVE relief, it was actually more difficult than we thought. Making our poles much longer for down hill trekking we set off and I just felt so ill and was so keen to get to camp I actually made it down first, an hour and a half later. Amelio was waiting for us with our group flag and led us, for actually quite a while, down a tiny pebble path that we’d have never found alone, through rivers, across a field, next to a waterfall and finally at our camp! I quickly washed and changed and got my horrible dusty hiking boots off and soon (THANK THE LORD) lunch was served (3pm). It was quinoa soup, followed by beef with cheesy veg, rice and mash, followed by Apple tart. I don’t even eat apple tart and it was absolutely delicious, the whole thing was. I practically inhaled it – a very much deserved lunch if I can say so myself. Now for an afternoon snooze before afternoon tea. At 5.30 we were woken up for afternoon tea of hot chocolate and popcorn! And it was the best popcorn ever, it was even hot!
I then had another snooze while everyone played games and then dinner of chicken soup and vegetable spaghetti. Then a much deserved sleep.
Even though today was physically and mentally draining it was made so much better by the fact that we have the most amazing tour group who are friendly, supportive and cheered each other on the whole way. Craig from New Zealand always led the pack followed by the two Chicago boys Tom and Peter, and Juliet and Fausto, and were always waiting at the top for us, cheering us on. Mario was also ahead and we could always hear his wooping and cheering and screaming of PACAPUMAS so we knew we were getting close, even if we couldn’t cheer back because we were so out of breath. Eric, Laura and John (the rest of the Chicago fam) were always close to me offering encouraging words and I’m so sorry they had to hike behind me and basically stare at my bum for five days straight!!! Then if I wanted a slow steady set pace with girlie chit chat and lots of photo breaks (to catch our breathe) I knew I could hike with Katelyn, Andrea or Rina Maria (who I could also always rely on to need a wee stop at the same time as me!!) such a great group and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Especially Spider and Jesus who never failed to start at the back and run past ready to cheer us on until the end. We originally named ourselves the Alpacas but the porters didn’t really see the joke that this is the most hilarious animal, and wanted us to have a strong team name like the Pumas, so Mario (from Vegas) the most hilarious guy I’ve ever met made it his challenge to combine the two and then the PACA PUMA family was born.
Today we hiked 8km uphill and 4 downhill so 12km in total.
This morning we were woken up at 5.30am. Breakfast was toast, and the most bizarre quinoa soup / drink which was really not tasty and then scrambled eggs with vegetables and hash brown however my plate flipped into my lap (!!!) all over me so I had to have seconds…
We set off at 7am to our check point to get our passports stamped and then hiked for an hour uphill, it was deathly due to the fact we were tired, stiff and having to hike up more steep stone steps but soon we came to some inca ruins which used to be a lodge for the inca people on their pilgrimage, so we learnt about their culture and history and how they, in a type of relay race, ran the inca trail we’re doing in five days, in five hours. (!!!) We then hiked for another forty five minutes, again up hill and deathly, however much better than before, and our last steep uphill of the inca trail – horray!!! At 9.15am we reached our second break point, right at the top of of Runkurracay mountain.
After our break I thought we were hiking for another hour and a half, so it was such a pleasant surprise when after 40 minutes I found some of my group at a break point over looking another much bigger incredible inca site called Sayac Marka which means available village. The view point stuck out and over looked the whole valley and crossing mountains. We saw a camp site on the mountain across which looked miles away but was a steady flat hike and took us about half an hour to get there. The rest point there was filled with llamas and after a much easier hike than expected everyone was in good moods. I spent the majority of this hike with Mario’s sister, Rinamarie and Andrea and we were chatting and laughing the whole way making the journey much easier and actually quite funny – especially when we went to have a pee stop in the trees because there was literally no one around and then, ofcourse, our tour guide comes running round the corner shouting HOLA CHICAS!! It was also a different type of hike than expected due to the fact that we are now on a jungle mountain and so the vegetation is much more vast and green than before.
I definitely spoke to soon with the ‘easy hike’ though, as the next half an hour was steep uphill… but then it levelled out to easy up easy down with some surprises on the way! The first was the huge mist like cloud that filled the valley making it hard to see the probably beautiful view beyond. It was also quite a good thing seeing as there was a sheer drop along side our walkway and we were hiking along the actual edge of the mountain. Then we came across a huge inca made cave with the steepest tiniest down hill steps that we had to climb down. Eventually at 1pm we arrived at a beautiful sunlit camp, ready for lunch. Today it absolutely exceeded itself, we had chicken noodle soup followed by the biggest buffet of pizza, empanadas, two types of mixed salad, stir fried rice with chicken and broccoli and then stir fried beef with vegetables. As if that wasn’t enough, after our huge buffet which I was overly happy with, they had a surprise for us and we all shut our eyes as the chef porter and the sous porter brought into our little tent the most incredible, absolutely huge orange flavoured cake – THAT THEY’D MADE FOR TWO HOURS ON THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN – and it was piped with pink and white icing and written across the front was “well done Paca Pumas”.
We were all so full and so happy and after cheering ridiculously loudly for our chefs and then our waiter (yes we have a waiter, in a shirt remember) and then all the porters, we had a huge group photo and a short rest before setting off again.
We then hiked for about ten minutes before arriving at an inca ruin site, here we learnt about how the incas sacrificed girls between the ages of 14 and 16 to “Mama patcha” or Mother Earth. The girls are brought up knowing that they have been chosen to be sacrificed and it’s an honour for their family. By the time they are of sacrificial age, they believe it is their duty, right and honour. In 1995 an explorer found a 14 year old girls body preserved in the ice with a 5cm gash in her head, after doing experiments on her in the Usa they realised she had hallucinogenics in her body still preserved. She had been a chosen inca girl to be sacrificed and just like the others as part of her ceremony she had been taken to the snow cap mountains as an offering for mama patcha however this particular girl had frozen and preserved. We also learnt that it is now animals that they sacrifice and heard personal stories and memories from our tour guides. One tour guide said that his whole family lived in one house with another family in the town and his father wanted to build a house for his family a bit further away. His grandfather threw coca leaves on the table and read them and discovered that Mother Earth was hungry and wanted an offering. Their family dog had just had seven puppies and so they dug a huge hole and burrows the seven puppies in the hole, as they tried to scramble out. Our tour guide said he was crying as he watched them die but Mother Earth was happy and so they built their house on top of the sacrificial site. It was very sad hearing the stories and also learning how much they all love the mountains and their heritage. They live to do the inca trail and although the porters have done it numerous times, most of them never actually make it to Machu Picchu. All the porters stop at Aguas calientes and head back to cusco so while working they will never see Machu Picchu. Our guides said they’ll make sure they bring their children here and they’re so sad their fathers and grandfathers never got to see the lost city. On a funnier note, while we’re hiking when porters are approaching, because they’re so much faster than us, we shout “porters!!”, so that everyone moves out the way so that they can pass. Today we learnt that in Qetchua, the local language, “porter” in an English accent doesn’t mean porter, it means prostitute so every time they’ve been approaching we’ve all been shouting “PROSTITUTE!” We were meant to be rolling our Rs.
We then hiked for an hour and a half before we arrived at the most beautiful inca farm, with tiers and layers of grass over looking snow capped mountains crossing with normal mountains, divided by a river.
We then hiked to camp which took about twenty minutes, but only after being tricked by our two tour guides into going the wrong way so that they could run down a short cut and beat us. Dinner was, as usual delicious, corn soup and then stuffed chicken with cheese, potatoes and veg for dinner, then for desert… Jelly!!! We then all put money in a hat for the porters as a way of showing our appreciation before they all came in and we thanked them for all they’ve done for us – they actually do do everything from carrying literally all of our belongings, tents, sleeping equipment, food, getting to camp hours before us to set it all up – even with their big bags they hike faster – greeting us into camp with a round of applause and congratulations for completing the day, bringing us hot soapy water to wash with in the evenings, waking us up with hot tea, waiting on us hand and foot, zipping up our tents so the mozzys don’t come in, you name it, they do it. Juliet and Andrea from our group then did a speech in Spanish and thanked them for everything and presented them with the tips and then Santiago the chef stood up to talk to us. The minute he started talking I felt myself tearing up, and when he said that they all wish us well tomorrow I was literally sobbing. These people devote their whole lives to the inca trail and their ancestors the incas, they love them and worship them. The porters work on the inca trail because they love their heritage and they love the fact they’re following the path of their ancestors, not for the money. Their life ambitions, dreams and everything they could ever hope for is to see the lost city of Machu Picchu and today we’re camping right around the corner from it, yet tomorrow morning when the porters have woken us up with hot tea and breakfast and we hike off to see something that they could only dream of seeing, they have to hike down to Aguas calientes with all our belongings, tents, food and then go home. That’s the end of their trip, tonight was good bye and they’ve hiked all this way and don’t even get to see it. Some of them work as porters their while lives doing the inca trail day after day and die never seeing Machu Picchu. I was literally crying my eyes out as the chef had to stand there, as he probably does week after week, and wish us safe travels to see the lost city of their ancestors, something which clearly means worlds more to them than it does to us, it’s just not fair and if there was a way that we could get all 18 porters into Machu Picchu obviously we would do it. On a more positive note, both our tour guides have worked as porters for many years before tour guides, our main one for 10 years and so for them every time they get to today they’re literally so happy when they remember that they’re not going home with the porters but coming to Machu Picchu with the tourists and it’s so great that we get to share that excitement with them. Juliet and I have made good use out of our poles but we no longer need them as the hike tomorrow is only one and a half hours and so as a gift I gave mine to Santiago the chef, and Juliet to the sous-chef Wilber as they have to hike with all their heavy cooking equipment with no support, plus the food was absolutely delicious. They were so so happy and said that they would treasure the gifts forever. So although it’s been an extremely tiring, long day, and even more extremely emotional evening, I’m going to bed happier – ready for our 3.30am wake up in the morning.
Today we hiked 16km.
DAY FIVE ARRIVING AT MACHU PICCHU!!!!
At 3.30am we were woken up in our usual way by the porters outside our tents with hot water and some coca tea. It was our earliest start to date and after putting on as many layers as we could, quickly eating some breakfast, we headed down to our check point. It took about a minute to get there and we arrived around 4.15am. The way that the Machu Picchu check point works is that it’s basically a race to get there, as the hike to Machu Picchu is quite thin so you can’t really over take. We decided we were going to hike together as a Pacapuma family and when we arrived at the check point we were the fifth group in line… Right behind the French… We then made it our mission to beat them to Machu Picchu! At 5.30am the marshals arrived and the check point was opened and we began our hike to the Sun Gate. As we were hiking all together it was the quickest I’ve actually gone while on the inca trail but we all managed to stay together – even after some argy bargy with the French tour group who wouldn’t let half our group pass after we stormed past them, breaking the no over taking rule. But soon after some serious paca puma chanting our group was reunited and after an hour of quite flat hiking, except a ridiculously steep climb up about 50 steps using our hands and feet, we finally arrived at the sun gate!!! On the 22nd November every year the sun rises exactly between two points in the mountain and the sun streams through the sun gate right onto Machu Picchu. From the sun gate we could see the lost city and it was unreal to think that we were actually there!!!
We then had another 45 minute hike before finally arriving in the most sacred place in Peru, the lost city of the Incas, MACHU PICCHU!
A photo speaks a thousand words and it’s impossible to describe how spectacular Machu Picchu is but hopefully the photos will do it justice. We took a million photos, had our last history lesson with Spider and Jesus all about Machu Picchu and the Incas then set out t explore ourselves. We visited the sun temple, the condor temple, the boys university, the girls university and even the llama fields. The whole of Machu Picchu is surrounded by a vast array of huge towering green mountains and it’s set right on a huge rock face so there’s a sheer drop to the river below.. Absolutely spectacular.
At 12pm we got the bus down to Aguas Calientes, an exciting town filled with tourists and buzzy street venders. Here we had our last lunch as the PacaPumas, said our thank yous with a few speeches to our tour guides and then got on the Machu Picchu rail back to the sacred valley. Our group were so happy and excited about the fact that we’d actually completed what we set out to do that even though we thought we’d sleep on the train we chatted and nattered the whole hour and a half long journey back. After getting off the train we then had a two hour bus back to cusco and again everyone was singing, shouting and we all even had a few celebratory drinks as we were finally back to civilisation after the best hike of our lives. After VERY needed showers, we headed out for our final meal, the dinner where we would be trying Guinea Pig. (!!!) I didn’t actually try it as it looked, well, like a guinea pig but our tour guides were absolutely loving it.
That evening I had an absolutely amazing sleep in an actual bed after being awake since 3am. My legs were actually hurting by the time I got into bed and I slept through right until the sun light came through the window as Peru has the most rubbish curtains in the whole world.
This morning our tour group have all been for extremely necessary massages (absolutely amazing), trying to help soothe our aching muscles… and after some much needed pampering and a buffet lunch we feel clean, full and ready to spend the day exploring Cusco!