Posted by: robinson2000 | March 11, 2011

Cuzco & the Inca Trail

1st-10th March – After the near 20 hour excruciating long bus journey without food to Cuzco, we left the terminal feeling absolutely awful. In fact the feeling was more like jet lag combined with the 3500 metre altitude that leaves you gasping after a few steps. We headed for Hostel Pirwa, situated on the Plaza San Francisco, one of the 3 main plaza´s in Cuzco. The city itself is magnificent, chocked full of churches, monasteries, cathedrals, palace´s & pre-Colombian ruins interspersed with countless hotels, bars and restaurants. Cuzco was the capital of the Inca empire many yonks ago so on every street you can find the remains of Inca walls, arches and doorways. What makes the city’s architecture so special is the perfect Inca stonework that forms the foundation for most modern buildings. The Inca´s were skilled craftsmen who were able to cut the stones into perfect interlocking shapes to construct earthquake-proof buildings. We spent the remainder of the day catching up on some eating at an excellent sandwich joint and drinking coca tea which helps the body adapt quicker to altitude.

The following couple of days were spent soaking up the sights and smells of Cuzco. You can literally spend hours wondering the cobbled streets to see one of the many churches or bartering away in the countless markets, trying to get the best deal on alpaca jumpers or alpaca socks or alpaca hats. Pretty much everything item of clothing is made from alpaca fur which we hoped would keep us warm on the Inca trail.

Our main reason for visiting Cuzco was for the awe inspiring 4 day Inca trail which was booked for the 5th March. This was supposed to be the most impressive way to reach Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca´s, and takes you via the centuries old Inca trail that winds it way from the Sacred Valley near Ollantaytambo, up to the ancient ruins.

The Inca Trail

Day 1 

An incredibly early wake up of 5.30am ensured a bleary eyed beginning of our epic hike as myself and Rice left our warm, dry hostel and walked up the road to meet Spicer and two of his friends, Bob and Luke, who had joined us for the week. We got picked up by Ronaldo, our guide for the trip, and was introduced to 3 more amigo´s, Anna, Sam & Danielle who made up our group of 8. After a bumpy 2 hour drive to Ollantaytambo, we got the chance to grab breakfast, buy some funky walking poles and generally prepare ourselves for the ordeal that was to follow. We were also given sleeping bags and roll mats that we had to attach to the bottom of our already overloaded bags. Spicer managed to buy possibly the worst hat in history and after much ribbing, no one saw him wear it again. We were then driven a little further down the road to the starting point, Piscacucho, where our 7 porters rustled up lunch and prepared the equipment. The porters were amazing guys who for the following 4 days would carry our tents, food, cooking equipment and mess tent (about 20 kg each) up huge mountains. Not only that, they would beat us to the camp sites everyday in order to erect the tents and prepare a 3 course meal for when we finally dragged our aching limbs into camp.

We eventually got underway about 1pm and began the so called easy day to Wayllabamba. The walking was quite flat for the most part, following the Cusichaca River, but the weather was drizzly and cloudy for the 5 hours that it took to reach camp. We arrived a little weary to see a skinned sheep hung from a shack, being bled dry with several dogs beneath lapping up the blood. After an energy boasting Twix and a well prepared 3 course meal we turned into the tents just after 8pm and attempted to catch some sleep whilst listening to the rain pitter pattering on our tents.

Day 2

After a terrible nights sleep due to the rain which had soaked through the canvas and into my sleeping bag causing wet feet, we were awoken at 5.30am by a porter with coca “wake-up” tea. Ahead of us was the toughest day of the four and involved a climb from 3000m up to Warmiwanuscca (Dead Women´s Pass) which was at a whooping 4200m, then back down to our next campsite at 3600m. The actual walking wasn´t too bad but due to the altitude (I skydived from 4200m!) your body struggles take in enough oxygen leaving you exhausted very quickly. Rice & I soon broke away from the group and trudged slowly up to the peak, passing many a poor soul suffering from altitude sickness. We reached the cloud covered peak just after 11am and briefly enjoyed the moment before we froze to death and decided to head down the other side. As we walked down towards our campsite the heavens opened again and we arrived at 12pm, drenched but relieved that we had made it. Unfortunately the porters had only just arrived so we had to wait an hour before our tent were erected before finally crashing into my soaking sleeping bag. The rest of the group arrived over the next two hours with Luke bringing up the rear. He had suffered terribly from altitude sickness on his way up to Dead Women´s Pass as he had only had 24 hours to acclimatize. The rain continued to fall for the rest of the day so most of the group rested in the tents whilst I braved a freezing cold shower in the toilet block. We were called for dinner around 5pm and spent the next few hours huddled round a table, eating, playing cards and drying equipment over the porters gas stove. All of us were anxious about the night ahead as the rain was absolutely tipping it down and we were at high altitude which meant a freezing cold night, especially for Rice who had bought a sleeping bag which was a thick as tissue paper and gave him no protection from the cold. We turned in at 8pm again.

Day 3

Unsurprisingly barely anyone got any sleep that night. I found Rice huddled in the bottom of his bag, fully clothed including waterproof jacket and hat when we were finally awoken at 5.30am with the customary ”wake up” tea. I think I must have slept for about 10 minutes that night as the rain was deafening and I was constantly concerned about the dryness of my sleeping bag. A nice breakfast raised our spirits and we set off at 7am for a full days hike to Winaywayna, about a 9 hour walk away. The walking was a lot flatter that day with a couple of climbs and even the sun made a brief appearance midway through the afternoon. Ronaldo described the day as a cultural day as we passed several Inca ruins on our way to the campsite. At the end of the trek we came across the ”gringo killer” which was a path that led down the mountain side and dropped over a kilometre over the next 2 hours. The knees and calves took a beating as we tackled the 3000 steps down, but were rewarded with stunning views over the Sacred Valley. The campsite was the best of the bunch and included a hot shower for 5 Sol, a basic restaurant and a discotheque. That evening we ate like kings as several plates of food were brought to the table including an orange cake with icing. We settled into our tents around 9pm after thanking and tipping the incredible porters for their hard work.

Day 4

We were woken at 3.30am for our final day on the trail. Everyone was shattered and sleep deprived as we stumbled into the breakfast area for some much need coffee and toast as we discussed the exciting day ahead of us. We set off from camp around 5am, trudging down the dark path, lit by head torches with the pouring rain to the entrance gate of the Machu Picchu site. We huddled together cold and tired as we waited to be let through the brightly lit security post feeling like we were being herded into a concentration camp. Once through the entrance we still had a 2 hour walk to the ruins. On the way Spicer managed to somehow slip and fall off the path down into a 6 foot ditch which gave everyone a good laugh. We arrived at the Sun Gate initially to find it shrouded in fog and still raining but as we walked down into Machu Picchu the sun finally broke through and shed some light on the amazing ruins. Ronaldo gave us the guided tour and told us buckets of fascinating factoids about the site, some of which I´ve listed below.

Machu Picchu Factoids

– The site was built in the shape of a condor. The condor represents the future and heaven for the Inca people. Similarly the Puma represents the present and the serpent symbolizes the past.

– Build over a 50 years from 1450-1500 but was abandoned whist still being built as the Spanish invaded. They literally dropped their tools and ran. Some of the stones that they were moving were just left lying in the middle of the complex.

– Most buildings were constructed using blocks of stone which are cut to fit together tightly without mortar and are designed to with stand earthquakes using trapezoidal shapes. They even built an early warning system into the walls to warn them of quakes.

– Most of the temples are built with windows facing towards the summer and winter solstices. They designed rocks so that when the sun rose it would cast shadows of the southern cross and various animals that they worshipped.

For the rest of the morning we strolled around the site taking tons of photo´s before tackling Waynapicchu Mountain that overlooks the site giving spectacular views. The walk up was tough but well worth the effort. We left Machu Picchu just after 12pm and headed into Aguas Calientes where we treated ourselves to an expensive lunch and an afternoon relaxing in some hot springs. We also managed to watch the end of Arsenal vs Barcelona before catching the 7.30pm train, followed by a bus back to Cuzco. We arrived just after midnight feeling completely shattered and then ran back to our hostel to avoid any opportunistic muggers.

The Inca trail was an amazing 4 days but left everyone feeling pretty tired so for the next few days in Cuzco we took it easy, spending the afternoons in cafe´s and bars and generally doing very little. We finished off our stay in Cuzco with a brilliant white water rafting day down some ferocious rapids, capsizing the raft twice and jumping off 15ft bridges into the fast flowing rapids below. So much for taking it easy!

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  1. Ben. Wonderful photos – the walk looks a little more demanding than the ones that I do up the North Downs. Weather looks familiar though!!!! Keep going……… only Bolivia, Chile, Agentina and Brazil to go.

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