Monday 5th March
Our group is picked up from the Loki Hostel in Cusco at 5.30 am to drive 2.5 hours to Ollantaytambo, from where we will start the hike to the sacred Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. The group is made up of 13 English speaking travellers. Myself, Anthony and Richie from Ireland, Katie and Claudia from the UK, Mike, Callie and Lauren from Canada, Steve, Liz, Alberto and Jo from Australia and Max from the USA. We will be led by two guides, Marcelo and Caesar, who employ 17 porters to assist with the equipment and food. After breakfast we enter the park and trek 12 km through the sacred valley, up to our camp site at Wallyabamba, about 3300m above sea level.
We are woken at 5.30am for breakfast in order to make an early start on the hardest day of the trek. We hike up to Tres Pedres and cross over the Huayruro river. After around 4 hours hard ascent we reach Dead Woman's pass at 4200m. Every step at this altitude requires remarkable physical exertion and there is not enough oxygen to function properly, making the ascent very difficult indeed. After a steep descent we reach Camp 2 at Pacamayo, 3600m and 12km further down the Inca trail. Aussie Liz has her 30th birthday and the porters whip up a tasty cake.
Another early start as we leave the camp around 6.45am and climb steeply up to the Inca ruins of Runkuracay overlooking the valley. A further steep climb brings us to the 2nd pass at 4000m. The descent from the pass is in the form of steep Inca steps carved into the mountainside, which are trecherous in the heavy morning rain. We descend and ascend again up and down Inca staircases and through tunnels until we arrive at the 3rd pass (3700m). The mist and cloud is thick and obscures the views as we rest in our soaked clothes. In a desperate attempt to change the weather conditions for the better, Aussie Steve comes up with an idea. We need to show our belive in the Inca gods by making a sacrifice. So Steve builds a small stone shrine and burns some Coca leaves as an offering. Hey presto! A few minutes later the sun streams through the clouds just long enough for us to feel its heat and dry off a bit. We then complete this 15km leg of the hike by arriving at the final camp of Wiñay Wayna.
We get up at 4am in order to trek the remaining 5km to the Sun Gate and then on to the ruins of Machu Picchu. The weather is dreadful and when we arrive visibility is zero. How dissapointing after 4 days hiking through the mud and rain at that altitude. Anyway, we have all day to wait for better weather, and it improves around lunchtime after we take a tour of the ruins. We hike up to one of the peaks surrounding the ruins for a better view and it is stunning. Returning back down to the ruins we go up the other side to take the classic Machu Picchu picture. Bus loads of American and Japanese tourists arrive by bus. We feel much more priviliged though, as we got here the hard way on our on two feet. The group heads down on the bus to Aigua Calientes, where we have a late lunch and beer whilst waiting for the train back to Cusco. We get another few beers for the train ride in order to celebrate our achievement.