Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Peru Trip Part 3: Inca Trail + Machu Picchu

This was both the highlight and hardest part of the trip. Highlight because Machu Picchu is amazing and the views on the trail were incredible. Hardest, because the trek is not easy. It's full of steep, uneven stairs (both up and down) and punishing heights (Dead Woman's Pass, the first of two high passes, is 4200 meters).

We started at Kilometre 82, where breakfast was prepared for us. The walk starts with 'Andean flats', meaning there's a lot of gentle and not so gentle slopes. There were a few high stretches that first day, but nothing compared to what we faced on the second. It's a good preparation day, and our company (Alpaca Expeditions) had us walk further than most companies, so we'd have a bit less of a hike on day two.

Day two started early and we walked a gruelling 16 km. Yes, I know 16 km doesn't sound so bad. But we started at 3300 m, went up to Dead Woman's Pass at 4200 m, down to Pacaymayu at 3580 m, where we had lunch, back up to 4000 m for the second pass, and then camped at 3600 m. And trust me, you can't adequately prepare for altitude hiking when you live close to sea level. There was another Canadian couple that was huffing and puffing the last 100 m of the first pass, leap frogging me, counting off 20 steps before having a rest break. And all those fantasy novels of people running up mountains and/or having no problem with them are wrong. Our porters - who were from mountain regions and properly acclimatized, were also taking rest breaks and huffing and puffing along (and not just because they were carrying gigantic packs).

One of the photos shows our last public washrooms before our lunch location, a llama picture, and then there's a photo of the mountain we're about to climb, followed by a close-up showing that the minuscule coloured dots on the distance picture are actually people near the peak. Getting to the top of that mountain felt incredible. Though, around that last 100 m mark, someone else's guide came down and told some people ahead of me that the path down was worse, which wasn't what I wanted to hear when I wasn't even done this first difficult part.

He was right though, the path down was very steep, very uneven steps, and you had to walk with extreme care in order to not trip and break something. At lunch time our chef gave a demonstration of how to make lomo saltado (basically beef stir fry), which was pretty cool. The meals on the trail were a real highlight, though altitude made it so I couldn't do the meals justice. I didn't get sick (thankfully), but my appetite was down, despite the huge amounts of exercise I was getting.

Day two also had us entering could forest, which meant misty cool weather and lots of mosquitos at night. The mist cleared enough that we were able to see an incredible sky full of stars. The moon was half full, so it wasn't as starry as our guide wished, but there were a lot more stars than I can see from Toronto. We were all exhausted, so we didn't get to admire them for long.

Day three was the best. I was getting quicker on the downhill stairs - and it was mostly downhill stairs that day. It meant I was at the front of the group, instead of the back, and had stretches of time on the misty path where I couldn't hear or see any other humans. Bliss. Luckily the mist broke as we got to the first of the day's two gorgeous ruins, allowing us some lovely valley views. There were llama droppings on the ground and our guide quipped that they were 'llama beans'. The second ruins that day, Winay Wayna, were my favourite on the trek. They're quite large, and we almost had them to ourselves, which made photography a lot of fun.

We woke up early on the final day. It's only an hour walk to the sun gate, then another hour down to the site, but they don't let you start walking until 5:30, so by the time we made Machu Picchu it was full of day trippers.

The site itself is magnificent. Lots of interesting temples (the circular one is the Temple of the Sun, while the one that looks like a rock slide is the Temple of the Condor - the two big side rocks = its wings), sacred rocks, and architectural features. And again, that view! Absolutely stunning. We had a tour and then got to enjoy the site for a while.

Finally, we took a bus down to Agua Caliente, where we caught the train and then a bus back to Cusco.

Inca Trail + Machu Picchu from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

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