24.04. - 29.04.2002: Inca Trail & Machupicchu - Cusco

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Wednesday, 24.04.2002: The Inca Trail - Day 1

Day 1 was an easy day, only 5 hours walking and 2 ascents which weren´t too difficult. Probably a good thing as we had to get up at 4am for breakfast to get on a bus at 5am to take us to the start of the walk. On the way we stopped to buy bamboo walking sticks and coca leaves. The coca leaves are supposed to help in the high altitude but the ones who tried them out only felt their tongues getting numb!

We got dropped off at KM 82 and had breakfast while the porters sorted out the heavy loads. We set off at 9-15am. The first bit was nice and flat along the river. Shortly before lunch it got a lot steeper and we had a rest while Kenny - our main guide - spoke about the history of the Inca Trail. The porters hurried passed us to set up the lunch spot. It´s amazing how fast they run up the thousands of steps with 25kg on their backs. The tents, gas bottles, cooking equipment etc. is strapped to their backs only with a single robe!

Our lunch stop was near the ruins of Llactapapa. We had to sit in the cook tent as it started to drizzle. The food was absolutely delicious - veg/noodle soup, cold roasted chicken with spicy veg salad and bananas and jam for pudding! We also had a loo tent but Tim went first and stunk it out for everyone so we had to use the bushes!

We got to our camp at Wayllabamba at 3pm. The spacious dome tents were already set up for us in a circle. We also got afternoon tea and popcorn. What a service!

Breakfast at KM 82 and Wayllabamba camp

We had a problem with 3 of the young lads. Tim, Andy and John decided they wanted to climb up a mountain by the side of our camp. It was very steep, no path and very overgrown. They were told only to go half way and at 5pm they had to turn round and come back because it would be getting really dark by then. Of course they didn´t take any notice of these instructions and the head guide sent 6 porters up to fetch them at 5-30pm. We were all getting really worried and watched them from the camp. The 3 lads had all split up and tried to get to the summit. The porters were not happy at all. Well they have to carry 25kg on their backs over 4 days so they don´t need any extra work!

Thursday, 25.04.2002: The Inca Trail - Day 2

Day 2 was the hardest day. 5 hours walking but 1200m ascent all in one go. We got woken up by the guides at 5-30am with a cup of hot tea. What a service! After breakfast and packing up the tents we started walking at 7am.

It took Kirsten and Helen less than 4 hours to reach top of Warmiwañusqa at 4200m (Dead Womans Pass - the highest point). The weather was perfect - not too hot, a bit overcast but with the sun coming out every now and then, and a slight breeze. The views and the scenery were wonderful. The path leads through a really nice forest and it was nice to get some shade from the boiling sunshine. The last bit to the top was very steep and we saw a couple of walkers who needed oxygen bottles to help them through.

We waited for an hour at the top of Dead Womans Pass for the 9 who were behind us to cheer them on. The fast walkers hadn´t waited and had carried on down to the camp, which was only 1 hours walk down.

On top of Dead Womans Pass - waiting and celebrating

We took a group photo to celebrate the successful "summit attempt" - although it was really hard work we all did it without any major difficulties! We left the top at midday and walked down the steep steps on the other side to reach the camp at 1pm - just in time for a yummy lunch!

There was a toilet and shower block at the camp and we were brave enough to have a quick splash in the freezing cold water. The rest of the afternoon was spent with talking and relaxing.

Friday, 26.04.2002: The Inca Trail - Day 3

Day 3 was only 4.5 hours walk and only about 400m ascent in total but with many steps to go up and down. We left at 7am and walked our way up to the ruins of Runkuraqay. It was another hot sunny day. After 1/2 hour explanations we were zigzagging up the steps for another 30 minutes to reach the second pass at 3860m. We saw three deer by a lake on the way up.

Then we went downhill to the ruins of Sayacmarca (except for the 91 steep steps up to get to it!). Kenny took us on a tour around the ruins and gave us a lot of explanations. From there we walked for another hour to get to our lunch stop.

We set off again at 2pm to reach our night camp next to the Phuyupatamarca ruins. This part was our favourite part of the Inca Trail. We climbed down through a tunnel and over a wooden bridge, saw a caterpillar in the bushes, enjoyed the beautiful flora and the clouds rolling up and down the mountains. On this stretch you also get to walk on the original part of the Inca Trail - the steps are much lower than the ones rebuilt by the Spanish.

We got to the camp at around 3-30pm. What a superb spot for a camp. The tents were set up on the top of a mountain so we had a 360° view.

Kenny decided to take the group for a little sidetrack. We walked down a couple of hundreds steps through the Phuyupatamarca ruins, then across to a lookout point where we were able to see Machu Picchu for the first time. Wow! It´s really impressive to see the ruins from such a distance. You certainly get an idea why the Spanish conquerors never discovered this sacred place.

It was hard work to climb all the steps back to camp afterwards - but worth it! We got to see a beautiful sunset on one side of the mountains and an amazing full moon rise on the other side. We were so close to the shining stars that one can understand why nature tribes believe in nature gods. Unfortunately 3 hours later it was pissing down with rain.

Fantastic camp site on Day 3

Since it was the last night on the Inca trail we collected a tip for the porters. The tip was given to the head porter who then distributes the money to all the other porters. There was a big huzzle and buzzle in the cook tent when this happened.

Saturday, 27.04.2002: The Inca Trail - Day 4

Day 4 was only 4.5 hours walking but we had to get up at 4am for breakfast and then left at 5am to descend thousands more steps in the dark and it was pouring with rain - very slippery and strenuous!!

It took 3.5 hours to get up to the Sungate - the first time to actually see Machu Picchu except that we couldn´t see it due to the clouds!!! All that effort for nothing! Fortunately the clouds did break for a few minutes so we could actually take photos!

Then we walked down to the ruins themselves and saw a long millipedes and lots of lovely flowers on the way. We got to the entrance of Machu Picchu at 9-30am. Since we were starving we went for the best French fries in the world!!!

By that time we had been literally ruined out and couldn´t face all the steps to go on the 1.5 hour guided walk with the head guide!! So we just took it easy and went on a little tour around the lower parts of the ruins!! Llamas were grassing in the ruins and Helen nearly got run over by two that came charging round the corner where she was sitting.

Machu Picchu

We joined the group when they came down again and took a couple of more photos of the fantastic architecture. The sun was out by that time.

Helen, Kirsten, Bridget and John couldn´t be bothered to walk down another thousand steps to Agua Calientes so we took the bus for 16 Soles each. A little lad in traditional Inca style dress kept shouting "Adios" and then running barefoot down the steps to meet the bus again as we drove zigzagging down the hill. He was incredible fast and we gave him 2 Soles for his efforts!

We all went to Los Viajeros for a buffet style lunch. At 4-45pm we went on the worst train journey in the world. It´s supposed to take 4.5 hours but took 6 hours back to Cusco and is unbelievably slow and very bumpy with the carriages bumping into each other all the time so you get jolted! Guess who owns the train??? British Rail!!! Need we say more!

So we finally got back to our hotel in Cusco at 10pm, and then had to call reception as our shower was cold and after 4 days walking with only chance for 1 cold shower on the way, we were definitely not going to bed without a hot shower! We finally got hot water and fell into bed at 11pm exhausted but clean!

Sunday, 28.04.2002: Cusco

Our hotel in Cusco

We spent 2 more relaxing days in Cusco and went for wonderful massages, checked our mails and had lots of great food. Vicky and Myles got engaged at Machu Picchu. Vicky took Myles off somewhere alone and asked him to marry her and had bought rings!! So Prue organised another engagement party in a top room of a restaurant called Macondos which had such a low roof that only people under 5 foot tall (about 1.5m) could stand up straight! Funnily enough the owner is 5 ft tall!!

The room was decorated with balloons and white flowers and we all got comfortable on the cushions while drinking the yummy Daiquiris. Chris, Pam, Sarah and Julie were there too and it was interesting to hear how they managed on their own since Santiago.

We all went to the Irish pub afterwards and later on to Mama Africa for dancing.

Monday, 29.04.2002: Cusco

We had a nice sleep-in and went for a very late breakfast to Yaku Mamas. The best breakfast place in town with home made bread, marmalade, yummy pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice (a litre each!). Since it was sunny today we had another stroll through the town and went into the Inca museum and the Convento de Santa Catalina.