It’s the Journey & the Destination – Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

21 Jan
The Sun Gate - Sunrise View of Machu Picchu

The Sun Gate - Sunrise View of Machu Picchu

We had planned for our last day in Cusco to be relatively relaxed and had only planned to meet our guide from Bamba Experience, Victor, at noon to get briefed on our upcoming 42 kilometre trek.

The day (and night) quickly got away from us as we made plans for our trip to Bolivia that would be taking place after the trek. Between booking our overnight bus ticket to Copacabana, Bolivia, trying to book our Copacabana hostel and our flight from Iguazu Falls to Rio de Janeiro, not to mention packing for the trek, it was soon 1am and we were waking up at 5am.

Day 1

Around 3am I woke up with terrible stomach pains. I had opted for a light dinner of vegetable soup but something definitely didn’t agree with me and I was up for a long while rejecting everything I’d eaten that day.

When our alarms went off at 5am I was still feeling pretty sick, but managed to hold down a Gravol,  get my things together, get to the van that would be driving us to the starting point of the trail and pass out until we arrived.

Thankfully Victor had told us that Day 1 of the 4-day trek was the easy day and before long the mountain air and gorgeous scenery was distraction enough to make me feel better. We spent much of the day chatting amongst the 4 of us, along with Victor and the 5th member of our group, Bjorn from Holland (or B.J.).

We stopped around 1:30pm for lunch and as Victor had told us, the porters already had our lunch tent set up, our food ready and juice in our hands as soon as we got there.

Note: Porters are the incredibly hard-working and some of the happiest people you’ll ever encounter. They carry your tents, sleeping bags, extra clothing, food and cooking and eating utensils up the mountain ahead of the tourists and have everything set up and ready as soon as you arrive. They are also the last people to leave the lunch site or camp site as they wash and pack everything up before hauling ass to get ahead of everyone again.

While I wouldn’t call Day of the Inca Trail ‘easy’, it was manageable, as there is a steep incline about halfway through the day and the last part of the day, when you’re most tired, is all uphill.

But as soon as we arrived at camp for the night, our evening tea and snacks were set up and dinner soon followed. At the end of the meal, we were briefed on what we could expect for Day 2: the shortest but the toughest of the 4 days.

We were sent to bed at 8pm, bundled up and slept like logs until our 5:30am wake-up.

Day 2

We awoke to our tent being shaken and a porter offering us coco tea in bed. 20 minutes later we were to meet in the food tent for more tea and breakfast, and then we were off.

Victor wasn’t kidding when he said Day 2 would be the toughest. Most of the hike was steep and uphill. The terrain varied from steep stairs, to a steep dirt incline, to a steep rocky path that we had to climb.

Most of the group found that pushing forward for 15 minutes and resting for a few minutes before carrying on was the easiest way, but I found small slow steps with very few stops to work best for me.

As we approached the summit for Day 2 everyone’s pace slowed considerably and it got much colder very quickly and also began to rain. Unfortunately this didn’t allow us to see the view from the highest point of our trek along the Inca Trail but there was a silver lining: the rest of the day’s hike was downhill!

We thought downhill would be a cinch, and while it’s easier to breathe (you can actually have a conversation going downhill), the steps are rocky and steep and made slippery by the rain. It’s also pretty tough on the knees and quads.

In short, Day 2’s hike was hands down the best workout I have ever had!

We arrived at camp which was also the day’s lunch spot around 2pm. My appetite still hadn’t returned but luckily we had 3 very hungry guys on the trip that were happy to eat whatever I couldn’t finish.

Our afternoon consisted of a 1-hour siesta followed by evening tea and snacks and a competitive card game of  President.

Before long it was dinner (Tal and I had to politely and quietly pass off our dinner of fish to the boys), our briefing for Day 3 (thank God it was going to be an easier day) and another 8pm bedtime.

Unfortunately, J.J. got sick on night 2 of the trek and was in and out of the tent much of the night. Needless to say, neither of us slept well.

Day 3

The day began much like it had on day 2: with our tent being shaken by one of the porters at 5:30am saying “Buenos dias!” and ready with hot coco tea for us to drink in our tents as we got ready for the day.

We had breakfast all together and we were off to begin our 8 – 9 hour hike for the day.

The terrain was mostly and was a mixture of uphill and downhill. The biggest challenge of the day was definitely the rain which made the rocks slippery, slowing us down as we had to walk carefully.

The rain really picked up about half an hour from our lunch spot where we arrived soaked and more than ready for the hot tea we knew was coming.

Big thanks to our favourite quick-dry brands that allowed us to be ready to go again within the hour: Columbia, Nike, Under Armour and Lululemon. (Seriously, the 4 of us look sponsored by these brands at any given time.)

About 45 minutes into our after-lunch trekking we saw an Australian girl slip on a rock and fall over the edge of the trail, saving herself by holding on, literally for dear life, to some long grassy plants. Once safely back on the trail we saw that aside from a few scrapes and bruises, she was relatively unscathed but it was terrifying to think of the other possible outcome had she not been able to grab on to the plants. The grounds keeper of that part of the trail even went down into the bush to recover her camera for her.

The theme for the rest of the day was proceed with extreme caution. Well, except for the porters, who literally RAN down the mountain. In sandals. Each time I saw a porter with a 31kg bag on his back, it blew my mind.

We arrived at camp unscathed and a bit damp but no real complaints. Because Day 3 is the longest day of hiking there was no time for a siesta so we got right to tea and snacks and then dinner, our briefing for Day 4, and off to bed we went.

I’m happy to report we all went to sleep in perfect health on Day 3.

Day 4

Our wake-up came at the ungodly hour of 3am so that we could get on with breakfast and line up to clear the check point which we would have to pass through before our first stop: the Sun Gate.

We were hoping to reach it by sunrise to get some amazing photos in (J.J. and I opted to only use our point and shoot Lumix and save our DSLR battery for the main events on Day 4) but we arrived shortly after.

Even still, incredible view from the Sun Gate. As the sun begins to rise higher and higher, Machu Picchu goes from being a distant vision in the shadows to being slowly uncovered by sunlight. Once fully lit up by the sun, it looks similar to taking an aerial shot using Instagram and editing with the tilt-shift to give it that miniature effect.

After an insane amount of photography, we began making our way to the main event: Machu Picchu.

Once there, we walked through many parts with Victor and he explained the discovery, the construction and architecture and the history. I feel like my writing it wouldn’t do it justice but it’s something for the bucket list if you’ve never been, or at the very least, worth a Google search.

I can’t describe Machu Picchu, other than to say that photos don’t do it justice. It is once of the most incredible things I have ever seen in real life, and the 4 days of hiking our way there along the 42km trail made it all the more worth it.

More insane amounts of photography and then it was time to take the 25 minute bus down to Aguacaliente for lunch at Machu Pisco, a restaurant right on the river, before catching the train and then the bus back to Cusco.

Machu Picchu was a challenge but I’m so happy to say that we did it!!!



2 Responses to “It’s the Journey & the Destination – Inca Trail to Machu Picchu”

  1. Erin Mutrie January 21, 2012 at 17:36 #

    Wahoo! you guys did it! good job 🙂
    Can’t wait to hear about your salt flat experiences!!

    Tip: chewing coca leaves are supposed to help with altitude!!

  2. The Cleggs January 26, 2012 at 00:11 #

    Way 2 go, guys. Toronto Marathon, next summer, methinks!

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