Thursday 28 October 2010

¡Vamos chicos! The Inca Trail

From Cusco, we travelled to Ollantaytambo, where we had just enough time to scramble up to the Inca ruins and see a spectacular sunset over the valley and archaeological site.

The next day we started the Inca trail from the point known as Kilometre 82.  We gave our 6kg of luggage to the Gap porters, and shouldered our day packs.  We watched the porters' luggage get weighed - regulations have been introduced to limit the amount carried by porters to 25kg, to protect their health.  Other regulations regarding pay and conditions have dramatically improved the treatment of porters on the trail.  Gap seemed to act responsibly as far as we could tell.

The first day is quite easy, and you see an inca site on the way.  We also got a chance to try a local chicha (alcoholic drink) made from ground-up cactus and fermented for a day.  We collectively decided it tasted like what drinking bin juice out of a rubbish bin would taste like.

When we arrived at camp each night, the porters had run on ahead, set up our tents, set up a marquee for dinner, heated water for us to wash our faces, and were ready with a cool drink.  They also all lined up and clapped when we arrived - probably with a heavy dose of irony, given what they had just achieved :)  For the 15 of us we had 18 porters, 2 chefs, and 2 guides!

All the lunches and dinners were three courses: usually soup, meat and rice, and a simple dessert.  We also had happy hour at about 4:30pm each day, which was popcorn and hot chocolate.  And the porters woke us each morning with a cup of cocoa tea.  And they baked a cake for one of the girls who had her birthday on the trail.  Easily the most decadent 'camping' I have ever done :)

To make up for that luxury, the toilets were uniformly terrible.  My favourite was the one with a regular porcelain toilet but no seat, so you had to decide to hover or hang onto the bowl, topped off with a giant pile of used toilet paper in one corner.

Day two and three were the hardest.  On day two we crossed Warmiwañusca or "Dead Woman's Pass" at 4198 m, so called because the pass looks like a woman lying down in profile, with a really perky breast.  It decided to piss down rain, which turned to hail at the top, and I managed to get a bad head cold overnight to make things just that little bit harder.

From the pass there was a knee-jarring descent to the campsite, and another big climb the next day.  Along the way we saw some more cool Inca ruins.

Lunch on the third day was at a spectacular spot with views over the Urubamba valley.

Em and I opted to go the long way and see one more speccy Inca ruin (Intipata), despite my cold combining with altitude sickness to make me fairly miserable.

The final campsite was next to a restaurant with electricity and hot showers (although the queue for the showers is so long it isn't worth it), and most importantly, cold beer.  In fact, the beer I got from that restaurant was the coldest I have ever had in my life.  There must have been just enough alcohol to keep it from freezing.  There were lots of people from other tours getting pissed, which would make the early start the next day a little tough...

The next day we were woken at 3:40am to join the queue to get to the sun gate.  This is the only time we saw all the other groups in the same place (a maximum of 500 people start the trail every day, and it is usually booked out).  It was an easy and beautiful hike through the misty forest to the Sun Gate, but the pace was amazing - everyone was busting to get to Machu Picchu.

When we got to the sun gate, instead of an amazing view of Machu Picchu we had a wall of cloud.  So after sprinting to the gate, we all sat down and waited about an hour for the sun to rise further and burn off the cloud.  To pass the time one dickhead Englishman decided to moon the crowd.

The cloud eventually lifted, we got a great view and heaps of pics, before walking the last bit down to Machu Picchu.

Our guide gave us a tour around the ruins, and then we wandered around on our own.  One of the guys on our tour snuck off with his girlfriend and came back engaged!

The trail and Machu Picchu were both amazing and made my number one experience in South America.

1 comment:

Lydia said...

I would love to see Machu Picchu. What an experience, and what a place for a proposal. I'm glad she said yes, otherwise the rest of the trip might have been a little uncomfortable.