Once we decided we had taken enough photos we headed back to Cusco. This was a 4-5 hour journey on trains and buses.
In typical fashion, we all decided instead of resting (which would have been sensible) that we would all go out on the town and get absolutely hammered. A lot of the other tour groups had the same idea and so the clubs we went to were pretty packed!
After a few pre drinks we went to Mythology for the 3rd time. The music they play in this place is incredible! The drinks are not overly expensive either.
It turned into a really messy night. We moved from bar to bar and most of us were out until 4am. Considering we were all pretty sleep deprived and tired from the Inca Trail it was a good effort. The night out itself was really good and everyone enjoyed themselves. Out of all the places we have been I think Cusco is my favourite – it has a bit of everything. Although that may be a bit unfair considering we only had one day in Lima and there are places like Minoflores which we did not get to see properly.
Hangover to follow I’m sure…
After taking the various selfies at the Sun Gate we wandered down to Machu Picchu. The scenery with Machu Picchu mountain is nothing short of spectacular. The Inca Trail showed me sights that I actually couldn’t believe were in front of my eyes.
We walked down to Machu Picchu and one of the first areas you reach from the Sun Gate is the viewing platform. This is essentially a man made platform overlooking the city of Machu Picchu. It is where I took the photo on Facebook of the group. The weather was amazing when we arrived and so this helped capture some photos that go some way to showing off the views we had in front of us. I’ve seen a number of pictures of Machu Picchu on google, instagram and Pinterest but nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes. It is literally a city in the sky…
For an ancient civilisation such as the Incas to create that it really does defy belief. In the city they still have running water and irrigation systems that have stood the test of time. They built their windows and houses in a slightly triangular shape to withstand the pressure caused by earthquakes. They also had various Sun dials which allowed them to understand which seasons were good for farming. In my photos you will see Machu Picchu is made up of different levels or terraces. These terraces are purpose built for farming. Each level has a slightly different temperature which lends itself to growing different foods.
Our tour guide gave us a tour around the city and told us some really interesting facts. There is only one Inca who was the “leader” and in the city there are certain buildings made just for this person. The door in these parts are twice the size and this links into the spiritual nature of this civilisation. The Spanish never found Machu Picchu when they invaded Peru and so today much of it remains in tact.
Some of the walls are starting to fall apart and there are many areas that have been restored. Our guide mentioned that because of the constant tourism and general wear and tear of the site in 5-10 years it may no longer be possible to visit the ruins close up. Again I feel pretty privileged to have seen this in person! After a 3 day hike it certainly added to the occasion and again as a group it was a great achievement.
This reinforces why this has been the best trip I’ve ever done in my life. On so many levels!
Alarms go off at 3am and we start getting ready in the dark. Final day and Machu Picchu. This what we all signed up to the trip for!
The checkpoint doesn’t open until 5.30am but we had to get up early so our porters could pack away the tents and get to their train. If they miss the train then there is no way for them to get back to their families until the next day. We were waiting around for a while but finally got through the checkpoint and started the final hike to Machu Picchu. This part was only 2 and a half hours but after 3 days and a bit of illness thrown in we were all a bit over the whole hiking thing. That being said we eventually reached the Sun Gate which is an 40 minute hike from Machu Picchu. Typically, the weather is not great in this area – it’s cloudy and cold. Our guide said of about 150 treks he has only had about 35 where you could see Machu Picchu from the sungate. It gets the jovial name of Cloud Gate for that reason.
As if by chance, luck or maybe fate when we reached the Sun Gate the sun was shining, there was almost no cloud and the views were spectacular. That single moment made the 3 days worth it… I rounded up our group for a photo together (which is now on Instagram) and everything started taking their own selfies.
After abit of time here we made our final walk to Machu Picchu. You could see people arriving on coaches from the train – without doing the Inca Trail – and whilst they probably felt fresh as a daisy you can’t help but think they have missed out on the whole experience. Machu Picchu will have less meaning to these people purely because of the effort we put in to get there but all the sights and history we learnt on the way.
Separate post for Machu Picchu to follow…
Day 3 of the Inca trail and another 5.30am alarm. We had been told Day 2 was the worst/hardest part so were all feeling pretty optimistic that the day would be pretty straight forward. Our legs were all hurting… we all felt tired but at the same time there was a buzz between the group. This sort of trip brings you closer together. On a personal note, I felt ALOT more healthy on day 3 and was keen to make up for the poor form shown on day 2 due to illness.
We set off hiking up some pretty steep steps and reach a number of Inca sites. They are all extremely impressive places and so high up. The photos I have on my camera are good but probably don’t do it justice to actually being there in the flesh and witnessing this with your own eyes. We were also starting to bump into people that we had seen on the previous few days. Everyone helps eachother out and it’s a pretty good experience!
Our group led the way for the whole of day 3. We were the first group to reach the lunch spot by about 20-30 minutes and we were definitely the first to reach the final campsite. There were still groups arriving about 4 hours after us.
Before arriving at our camp we turned a corner and were faced with a group of 8 llamas. These creatures are huge! It was amazing to get so close to them and although they are relatively harmless they have a pretty evil looking facial expression and eyes. Photos to follow…
As in traditional fashion, I bought some celebratory cigars for the group to share when we reached the final campsite. Our tents were already setup and at this campsite we had a shower… although it was freezing cold. The shower felt amazing afterwards! It was good to freshen up after 3 days trekking and sweating.
We shared the cigars between the group with an incredible view on the backgrounds. During dinner we had a ceremony where we thanked the porters and chefs for all their support. Evan in our group offered to do the speech and did a great job. It was a pretty unique moment.
We all got an early night because we knew there was a 3am wake up call . Before going to bed we were all in our tents talking about funny stories and experiences. It was hilarious and you could hear some of the girls in our group in the other tents giggling away as they listened in to the conversation. I can’t fit everything about day 3 into this post – incredible day and the majority of the Inca trail was completed. We’re nearly there!
After the anticipation, excitement and freshness of day 1 we were all feeling pretty tired in the morning.
In the morning we were woken up at 5.30am by our Porters. I had got up and 3am to go to the toilet and there were porters with their head torches on working in our little campsite preparing breakfast for us in the morning – they are truly incredible people! After a quick freshen up using a bowl of hot water we had porridge and pancakes for breakfast before setting off at 7am for the hardest hike of the whole trip. 5 hours steep climb, 2 hours down – it doesn’t sound too bad right?!
To make it slightly worse a few of us had fallen ill (myself included) so we were not feeling a 100%. One of the guys had been sick a couple of times, couldn’t eat breakfast and looked white as a sheet. He was in for a really rough day… it makes it 3x harder when you are ill and having to hike. My decision to also carry my sleeping bag on my back, instead of putting it in the case that gets carried, was also starting to look stupid because it added 1.5kg to my backpack making it 10kg of weight on my shoulders..
This is quite a long blog post, sorry… but it’s the most rewarding day of them all so I wanted to write down everything.
The hike begins and my body is feeling pretty drained, fatigued and washed out. My stomach was not settled either. The incline was pretty steep and we slowly but surely made up way up these huge valleys (see Facebook for photos) which were spectacular in nature but a right bitch to climb. Our group split into 4 separate groups…. the younger blokes (19-22) raced off ahead. A smaller mixed group was about an hour and a half behind them and then I was stuck about 20 minutes behind this group purely down to illness. We made our way slowly up to various checkpoints meeting loads of people and porters on the way. Everyone had a very sluggish and fatigued walk to them which shows how hard it actually was. You had to stop for a rest every 100 metres at least. This is the humbling part… porters are carrying about 25 kg on their backs and doing exactly the same trek. These are local people raising money for their families and they enjoy the work they do. Incredible people who I had no real appreciation or knowledge about until I started this trek. It makes you realise there are a lot of good people out there. The rest of the hikers were also really helpful… everyone’s in it together so people were sharing food and electrolyte drinks to help everyone get through it. When you get to checkpoints you were greeted with clapping from all the other hikers to keep spirits high… it’s pretty incredible.
We slowly made our way to the 5 hour point called Dead Woman’s Pass which is notoriously tricky. After a final checkpoint we had a 1hr 30 minute trek up to this point which looks like a 20 minute jog if you looked at it naively. It was the steepest and most challenging path I have ever walked on. It felt like after every 10 seconds my lungs were empty… the altitude really takes its toll at 3,500+ ft. Slowly but surely we made it up to this peak and even though you can see it…. every corner you turn the paths just get longer and more winding. It’s like that goal that becomes unachievable!
We made up it up at last and still stayed “within the time” that we were set by our guide. It was an amazing feeling getting up to the top and the views were spectacular… many groups stayed up there for 20-25 minutes. After spending so much time and effort to reach it I took a quick photo, gathered my breath and carried on down. The path down took 1 hour and 30 minutes and literally ruined my knees. I almost twisted my ankle about 3 times and you could see the day 2 base camp in the distance but again it was the impossible object to reach. Eventually we arrived at camp at 13.05 which means we made it in 6 hours and 5 minutes. That’s pretty good considering. I was annoyed that my whole second day was completely hampered by illness but I’m glad I achieved it. It was easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever done… no doubt about it. Tough Mudder does not come close. I felt broken when I arrived at our camp site…
We’re now in a giant camp 1 days walk from Machu Picchu. It’s a lot colder at this point and rains expected tonight – we’ve sorted out our tent so we are completely covered. Time for the final day of trekking!
Day 1 of the Inca trail has arrived. Our alarm goes off at 7am and we need to leave the hotel at 8.
We have packed the bare minimum due to the weight restrictions of what you can bring in your bags. The buses leave Ollantaytambo at around 8.30am and head to KM82 of the Inca trail where we begin or hike. KM82 looked like a smaller version of a trainyard.
So after getting all of our kit and taking the standard group photo with the sign we began our hike of the Inca Trail. We were all fresh and excited at this point. The scenery was amazing and it was pretty easy to start off with… we were all hiking together and having good fun. We shared food and drink etc and made up way up past some pretty spectacular places.
Half way through we came to a mini camp site where our Porters, who are local Peruvians brought in to help us, setup our tents and cook for us, had setup a small camp site where they were cooking lunch. It was incredible what they could cook on a “hill top”. They carry huge weights on their back as well. I was struggling with 10kg of weight but these guys all had 25kg on their backs. Unbelievable. And they are all there to support us as well. Although many only spoke the local languages you could tell they enjoyed our company and wanted to ensure we were all safe, well looked after and enjoying ourselves. A humbling moment early on.
Our group made it to our base camp in under 5 hours which is a pretty impressive time.
The porters had setup a number of 2 man and single tents at our first base camp. They also gave us a washing up bowl each filled with fresh hot water so we could clean ourselves and wipe off some of the sweat. They were serving “afternoon tea” which was biscuits, jam, popcorn and tea/coffee/hot chocolate. This was not even dinner yet… they had that being prepared for an hour or two later. After food and a few beverages we were all pretty tired and most of us went to sleep at 9pm in our tents on top of a hillside in the Inca Sacred Valleys… it is a pretty incredible experience and one I would highly recommend. As if it was scripted, the rain started to come down heavily and we soon realised we had got lucky with a tent that actually kept a lot of the moisture out! There was also a bit of thunder and lightning just for good measure which added to a quite cosy and unique feeling being huddled inside a 2 person tent.
For a first camping experience it was a pretty good one!
The bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo takes about 2 hours. It goes straight through the Sacred Valley, which the Inca Trail forms a part of. The “Inca Trail” to Machu Picchu is just one Inca Trail and there are many more but because of tourism and the backing of the government apparently this is the most widely known and trekked.
Ollantaytambo was a small, remote town that reminded me a bit of a “western” town with taverns etc. There were a lot of street sellers and markets and the goods they had on show were amazing. This town was also full of stray dogs – another big difference from the UK.
Our tour guide Elard showed us some of the key places around the town and it was an amazing and spectacular place to visit. He also knew a hidden Inca site that not a lot of the local guides knew and took us there. This was an old path that was really difficult to walk… I had flashbacks to the “Gravel Pits” which I used to walk around frequently back in the day when visiting my Grandparents in Shepperton. This path took us through to a relatively well preserved Inca site. It was incredible. Just when you think you can’t see any more cool things the trip surprises you again.
After this we all stock up on supplies for our trip, go for a meal out and then our CEO Elard organises a game of football against the restaurant staff. We get a taxi to a local pitch that is like a worse version of Fifa street. Pretty cool experience though. We won this game pretty easily but we were all struggling with tiredness and the altitude.
Tomorrow, the Inca Trail. Let’s do this.
After the fun of the zip lining it was only about 1-2pm. Our bus took us to a local house which had a number of quad bikes in their “yard”. Only a handful of the group decided to do the quad biking because it was pretty expensive. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up on and I’ve never done quad biking before. We all got our helmets, gloves and rain jackets on and did a few laps in the yard to get used to the bikes. As expected, me and the other guys were getting carried away and more excited as we got used to the quad bikes. They opened the gate and we had to follow a guide who was on a quad bike at the front. We were riding through small Peruvian villages on what I can describe as “B roads” (in the UK). The quad bikes could pick up some real speed and we were all trying to overtake eachother and go really fast.
Our trip on the quad bikes lasted a couple of hours and we visited various Inca sites. It certainly beat travelling on the bus to these places!
I was having a bit of a competition with some of the other guys when the guide wasn’t looking to see who could go the fastest and we would overtake eachother at high speeds – amazing fun! We are all drivers back in our countries so we kept it pretty safe and didn’t overtake before blind corners etc. However, the feeling of chucking the quad bike into 5th gear and nailing past 3-4 people in the group before cutting in just behind the guide was so fun. We visited a big Inca site called Moray and then we also visited the salt mines that are still in use today. It looks like a ton of giant Camembert built into a mountain side. It was raining, cold and wet so we did not spend too long at these salt mines before heading back to the quad bikes.
I could have spent a lot longer on the quad bikes but after a few hours and the lingering effects of a hangover we eventually headed back to our bus to get a lift back to Cusco.
Oh, and as is standard in Cusco… we went for another night out on the Monday. Got talking to some American group of girls that were travelling and none of us made it home until 5.30am. We were up early to get the bus to Ollantaytambo to get ready for the Inca Trail. In hindsight a night out was probably not the most sensible. But fuck it, you’re on holiday right?!
We’ve been planning a big night out as a group for a while. A few of the group have not been out yet due to illness, tiredness etc so this one was being bigged up as “the night out”.
Started pre drinking in one of the group hotel rooms… much to the annoyance of the hotel and other backpackers staying there. A bottle of whiskey, pisco and vodka later the group was feeling pretty smashed and headed into Cusco. We met and followed our CEO Elard who knew a local bar that was good. They had traditional South American/latin music playing and it was interesting to see some of the girls in the group being taken to the dance floor to “salsa” (without knowing what the actual dance was called). It got messy very quickly… I haven’t been sick from a while from drinking but within 2-3 hours of being out I had to go back to the hotel because I was so destroyed. My roommate stayed in because he was ill but I felt sorry for him having me bundle through the door at 1.30am chatting shit and having a personal debate with myself about whether I was going to be sick. In the end I was very sick and painted the toilet a new colour. I woke up in the morning feeling in a whole world of pain… only to then have to go to zip lining.
After the flight over the Nazca lines we were all pretty hungry so decided to head into the small town of Nazca to see what food we could find. For a really small town we managed to find an amazing place that did all sorts of incredible food. I needed something “normal” so decided to get myself a family sized Americana pizza… it was incredible but I couldn’t finish it all. After lunch we all decided to head to a local Necropolis where there are mummies buried.
The Necropolis de Chauchilla was literally in the middle of a desert. There was some wind and being the muppet I am I did not have my sunglasses with me so the sand was destroying my eyes. Anyway, I managed to see a few of the mummies. It was weird seeing mummies sat in the foetal position in the middle of a desert facing east. But this was the Nazca history and it was worth taking the time to hear about it whilst we are there. Again, it makes you realise how much history there is out there and that we live quite sheltered western lives…