I had been looking forward to doing the inca trail more than anything in south america, so it had a lot to live up to! We got picked up from our hostel in cusco at 5.30 in the morning and had a 2 hour bus journey to a local village where we could pick up last minute supplies. I bought a walking stick, which was recommended by others who had completed the trail, and a bag of coca leaves which are supposed to be good to help with the altitude and increase alertness. The stick was one of the most useful things I had with me for the trek, up there with a sleeping bag! And the coca leaves were left unopened (mainly because I had tried them on the salt flats and they taste disgusting!) Before we started the trek we were served breakfast before an easy introduction to hiking on the inca trail. We walked 12 km to our first campsite at Wayllambamba, climbing only 400m to a height of 3000m. We walked for about 6 hours with a stop for lunch however it seemed like we hardly walked at all as there were 16 people in our group to chat to and get to know.
As well as the 16 of us in our group, we also had 18 porters, a chef, an assistant chef, an assistant guide and our main tour guide Cesar. The porters were incredible, each carrying 25kg, they left each site we stopped at after us, and arrived in enough time before us to set up the next site and get tea and juice ready for us. The whole time the trail was busy with porters flying past you, be it running up an impossibly steep climb, or sprinting down ridiculously slippy downhill steps. We only saw one fall over and that was because he was having a race with our guide for a beer at the next campsite!
Every morning we were woken up by Jimmy, the assistant guide, and offered a cup of tea,coffee, or hot chocolate in bed. Then up for a huge 4 course breakfast consisting of fruit and yoghurt, pancakes, porridge and bread and jam. On the second day we stopped for brunch, about 3 hours after breakfast, with sandwiches, crackers, popcorn and more tea and hot chocolate. Then lunch follows a few hours later, with soup and a main course of either rice, pasta or noodles, and usually some form of meat with a sauce. Dinner would be around 6.30 again with soup, a huge main course of rice, pasta or noodles and meat and veg. For dessert we had flaming bananas cooked in rum, jelly and custard, something unidentified which was very good, and on the final night a cake cooked especially for a couple who were on their honeymoon. The food was some of the best we have had in south america and was amazing considering it was cooked on two small gas stoves that were on the floor with the chef having to cook on his knees. There was always far too much food for everyone to eat and i think i may have put weight on despite burning a ridiculous amount of calories!
The second day was the most difficult of the 4. Climbing 1200m from our campsite to a peak called "Dead Womans Pass". After 800m we stopped for brunch but as we started the final 400m the rain came down and we had to climb the steep steps whilst getting drenched. This was the most challenging part of the climb as it was at the highest altitude and the steepest stairs. Trying to follow the porters was a good idea as they take the most efficient route up, zig zagging to find the smallest steps. I managed to keep pace with 2 of our porters most of the way but they were too good for me! At the top was great views of where we had just climbed but the otherside we were decending into cloud. We decended a very slippy 600m to our campsite (the stick became very useful here) and arrived around 12.30pm, giving us plenty of time to dry out. On the first 2 days the rain started at 9 and finished at 1 like clockwork, I was hoping this wouldnt be the same for the next day as I had run out of plastic bags to cover my sleeping mat, sleeping bag and rucsack and my poncho was wet beyond recovery!
The next morning we were awoken to rain pattering on our tent, fortunately this didnt last and by the time we had eaten it had stopped. This was to be the longest day of walking, covering around 16km. The first 2 hours of which were uphill, however there were several inca remains to stop at which Cesar talked us through very animatedly. The clouds drifted in and out threatening rain all morning but fortunately none came. It was amazing how quickly the clouds moved, one minute you could see across an entire valley and 5 minutes later it would be completely covered in cloud. At the peak of the climb, we all waited for our group and Cesar performed a ceremony with coca leaves thanking "Pachamama" (mother earth) for helping to guide us safely. This was a ceremony performed by his ancestors, and by all incas, when travelling the trail. It is normally done using some kind of metal (gold, silver, bronze) relic so that it is warmed by the sun when it rises from the east, however we had only stones taken from a religious site we visited further down the trail. From the top we decended and climbed intermittently along the mountain edge, passing underneath natural tunnels on the way. Unfortunately it was too cloudy for any spectacular views but the walk itself was amazing along stone pathways built originally by the incas. At the end of the walk we took a longer route that took us to some massive terraces with an incredible view across the valley. We relaxed for a while looking at the view but then we could see rain approaching from further down the valley so we raced rain for the last 10 minutes down to the campsite. We arrived just as it started pouring down, avoiding getting soaked by minutes.
The last day we were woken at 3.45am so we could get up and get in the queue for the last leg of the trip. From the queue was a 2hr trek so the south gate in the saddle of the mountains. To get to the gate we first had to climb stairs on all fours before climbing up to the gate and catching our first sight of Machu Picchu through the clouds. We arrived 5 minutes before the rest of the group and by then it had completely disappeared in clouds, however 5 minutes later there it was again, it was an amazing view and an amazing setting, completely hidden surrounded by mountains on all sides.
We walked a further hour to reach the city, and had a 2 hour walking tour from Cesar before he left us to explore for ourselves. Its an amazing place which I cant describe so you will have to wait for the pictures!!
The whole trip met and exceeded my expectations and was definitly my highlight of the trip so far. Theres so much I cant write down but I suppose it just has to be experienced. We were very lucky with the group of people we were with and our guide who was so passionate and interesting and kept us all full of energy.
We stayed a further night in cusco when we got back and caught an overnight bus to Arequipa where we are now until Saturday when we have to move on. We have a few exciting plans for the next few days but I shall update soon!