Sunday, October 2, 2016

South America - 8th Stop: Peru (Inca Trail)

We started this whole journey a month ago in Peru, and have seen an awful lot since leaving its borders. Chile was incredible and Bolivia put in a solid shift too, knocking Peru back into third place, but it's not over yet. We're back now for the final stretch and Peru still has the ultimate ace up its sleeve - one of the wonders of the modern world - Machu Picchu. 

There are many different ways to get to Machu Picchu, and even though it's deep in the mountains, and was lost for so long, there are now regular trains to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes, and even more regular buses up to Machu Picchu itself. However, we decided to take a more scenic route to the top, with a four day hike along the Inca Trail. If you do plan on doing it this way (and you definitely should!) then you'll need to be booking it a good 6 months in advance. 

We were ridiculously lucky when booking ours actually, as we left it a small bit late. Every tour company we had emailed was full and we were having virtual doors slammed in our face right, left and centre. We were willing to shape our whole five weeks around this trek, but every one of those days was booked out with every company we contacted. Except for one, Alpaca Expeditions. One company with one day free and just two single spots available. The Incan Gods were smiling down on us.

And this was no reject, last-resort travel company either. They were the top rated group on Tripadvisor, and they were incredible! I'll go into more detail throughout, but if you're looking for a recommendation, Alpaca Expeditions are the bees knees!

We had a day in Cusco before starting our trek, following an overnight bus from Copacabana. We'd be spending another three days here afterwards, so I'll save that for another blog entry. For now, let's hit the Inca Trail!

Day 1:

The first day was a nice, easy introduction to the trail - the hiking was manageable, the company was delightful, and the food was incredible! We were expecting the cuisine to be quite basic, seeing as we would be halfway up a mountain, but it was actually some of the best food we had in South America! I don't think I was hungry for even a second for the entire trip. There was too much food if anything!

I didn't think you could hike for four days and actually put on weight!

The first day also introduced us to the sweeping valleys and Incan ruins, which we would be seeing plenty of in the coming days.

Day 2:

The second day was definitely the most grueling of the lot, starting with a steep, 4 hour climb up to the top of Dead Woman's Pass. Well, I say 4 hours as that's the recommended time, but we blitzed it in 2 and a half cause we're fucking deadly! We were the first two at the top, which was great as we had the view over the valley all to ourselves before the hoards descended, or rather, ascended.

Going back down the other side, though a lot faster, was just as tough, as the steep decline was murder on the legs. Did someone order veal, cause my calves were on fire! At least when we got to the bottom, it was time for lunch and a well earned break.

Another thing worth noting from the trek, and day 2 in particular, was the amount of flora and fauna we encountered. I was expecting breath-taking scenery, but was pleasantly surprised by the beauty and diversity of the wildlife. 

We come across llamas everywhere we go, and the novelty hasn't worn off yet. We still think they're great! Throughout the trek, we've been passing by small villages and farmlands, so it was no surprise to see them there. But even at Machu Picchu itself there were lots roaming around, so we never had to work too hard for our daily llama pic.

We had a few more ups and downs after lunch (literal, rather than emotional), as we rose into the clouds, before descending to the Incan ruins of Sayacmarca. And that was almost it for day 2, with just a short walk to our campsite for the night.

Day 3:

Each day, the scenery got better and better, and day 3 continued the trend. In fact, some of the sites we visited that afternoon were arguably as impressive as Machu Picchu itself. The design is so different to anything you'd see anywhere else in the world, and the fantastic surroundings were just the icing on the cake. One of our favourites was Intipata - The Terraces of the Sun.

Just be careful you don't stumble over the edge!

Whenever we would approach a site, our guide, Herlin, would have us all look down at the ground and pace slowly forward. Then, when it was time, we would all look up. It was a great idea, as our first impression would be the site in its full glory, rather than it slowly coming into view piece by piece. The emotion hit you all at once, and that feeling was especially powerful at our final stop of the day, WiƱay Wayna. We were all a bit misty eyed. Even the hillside was in tiers!

We also made our video diary here as we figured it would be too crowded at Machu Picchu:

That evening, after dinner, we also said our final goodbyes to our porters, or Chasquis, as they're called. They use the term Chasqui, as porter implies they simply transport things from one place to another. Whereas our Chasquis carried all of our belongings, tents and supplies for the duration of the trek, as well as cooking our food and setting up our campsite every evening before we arrived. We even had a portable toilet (I hope the guy carrying that got paid extra!)

After that, it was an early night as we had an even earlier start the next morning.

Day 4:

So, this was it, the day we had been waiting for. And even though we were up at 3:15, that was just to be at the top of the queue for when the gates opened, which wasn't until 5:30. So, we planted ourselves down and tried to get a bit more sleep before the day started for real. It was a good thing we made the effort to get here early too, as when the clock struck half 5, there were hundreds of hikers in line behind us.

This meant that we were able to take off and have Machu Picchu all to ourselves! Or so we thought. As the sun was rising, mist was clearing and Machu Picchu was getting closer, we saw some people approaching us out of the fog. Where the hell did they come from?! It was like first meeting the others from Lost. We thought we were the only ones!

It turns out they had come up from Aguas Calientes, which made it even worse! Not only were we not the first here, but we were beaten by people who got the bus! Ah well, it was still amazing and relatively quiet.

It certainly lived up to expectations too, which is always a worry when visiting such a famous site. It was just one of those places where you could spend the whole day, just looking at the same thing. And in fact, we did! We spent about 7 hours up there in total, and almost missed our train back to Cusco! Totally worth it though.

What an Inca-redible view!

You may think this is the most Peruvian picture imaginable - a llama overlooking Machu Picchu - but I'll go one better. How about two llamas having sex at Machu Picchu?!

And this is what it looks like when a young llama is scarred for life:

Even his little llama mascara is running.

And that was it for Machu Picchu. That afternoon, we got a train from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco. The train ticket was included in the price of the trek, but they must have sold out of economy tickets as we were upgraded to first class! This is the first time this has ever happened to us! We were given food and drink, there was a fashion show, and some sort of clown/wolf dancing up and down the aisle! What more could you ask for?!

We were the only ones in our group that were upgraded too, which made it all the sweeter!

And so we arrived back in Cusco, said our goodbyes, and that was it for our Machu Picchu trek. We had an excellent time, and as I said before, if you are planning on doing something similar, you can't go wrong with Alpaca Expeditions. Just be sure to book well in advance!

For now, we had three full days in Cusco, before returning to Lima, and ultimately Dublin. I'll cover all of that in my next and final blog for this trip. So, see you then!


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