We are here! Machu Picchu, Peru! We couldn't believe that we had reached the place we had read about so often! The 5-day Inca Trail trek to get to the famous citadel was an equally wonderful adventure. Here follows our story.
Arriving in Cusco on a flight from Lima, we wondered if the altitude at 11,000 feet (3600 m) would affect us. We also wondered if we would experience rain, since we are at the end of the rainy season (November through March). Who is "we"? There are only two in our group: Barb and Sandy... experienced backpackers... but not experienced in trekking. And definitely not experienced in climbing those ancient steps!
The altitude affected us in Cusco as we climbed up and down steep hills to visit sights - and climbed again to get to our hotel. We got out of breath easily. Since we had a few days to acclimatize, we managed well. A good activity for the acclimatization day was a city tour of Cusco (Sachsayhuaman, the Cathedral and Coricancha are included).
The rains came. We had rain before, during and after the trek, but good rain gear and a day pack cover were sufficient to keep us and our gear dry.
Trek Day One to Q'ente - Hey, this is easy!
The trek started with a train ride from Cusco, which then runs along the Urubamba River to km 88, enroute to Machu Picchu. Our train was filled with tourists, heading to the "Lost City" for a day tour. We Inca Trail trekkers (the two of us) got off the train at km 88 with a lot of "good luck" wishes from others who stayed on the train. Our guide checked us in at the guard station and we crossed the Urubamba River to our first campsite, Q'ente.
Sounded like an easy Day One to us! However, after a morning snack, we took a hike to the ruins of Machu Q'ente and Wayna Q'ente, and had a good lesson on Inca culture and architecture. The view from the ruins was spectacular, looking up and down the Urubamba River and the Sacred Valley. We returned from the 6 km hike, knowing that we had some beautiful scenery ahead of us on the trek!
A late lunch, rest, tea, evening meal and good conversation rounded out the day's activities. Already we were experiencing the delicious food prepared for trekking groups! Each evening, the guide gave a briefing about the hiking for the next day and answered any questions.
The guides were very knowledgeable about the Inca history, the local Quechua culture, and the flora and fauna of the area. They also had a good perspective of current Peruvian culture and events, to give an overall realistic picture of their country.
Trek Day Two to Llulluchupampa - Ummm, it isn't so easy!
Day Two started with breakfast at the campsite, and, after meeting our cook and porters (the camp crew), we headed out towards the Llulluchupampa campsite, about 11 km westward and uphill. We left the Urubamba River after viewing two more ruins, and hiked up the valleys of the Cusichaca and then the Llullucha Rivers. Beauty was everywhere! There were hamlets enroute, and we passed local people with horses or burros going to their fields (the animals are allowed on the trail in this area). Now and then, there was a house which acted as a mini-store selling candy bars, colas, and water.
Lunch was prepared for us enroute. This meant a sit-down meal in a dining tent, usually cooked, and very plentiful! Snacks for the day had been given to us in the morning, so we had to be careful not to over-stuff ourselves! We still had an afternoon of hiking to go!
The trail continued upward, gradually first, then steeper. We thought it was very difficult, because the altitude caused us to be short of breath and we needed to go slowly... and stop occasionally for a brief rest. We drank plenty of water!
Our campsite was in fog when we arrived. We were very near the highest pass in a meadow area with mountains all around. Beautiful, even in fog. A latrine (we have our priorities) had been erected by the camp crew (who had passed us along the way), along with our tents and dining tent. Tea and snacks were followed by dinner and more conversation, and we were treated by a cleared sky and full moon before turning into bed!
Trek Day Three to Phuyupatamarca - Good grief! This is really tough!
Day Three was the most difficult day, and not because of the rain! (What happened to the clear sky from the evening before?) This was the day that we hiked over three passes. The first comes fairly quickly - if you are a fast hiker (which we were not) - and is Warmiwanusca (Dead Woman's Pass) at 14,088 feet. Two others followed. The day's hike was about 16 km... do-able in most hiker's minds. We struggled.
However, the most difficult part of the hiking this day was the Inca steps! Up, up, up... then down, down, down. Then up, up, up... you get the idea. One came to respect (and "love to hate") the work of the Incas! The steps go straight up and down (did they not know about switch backs?) and each step is a varying height. Even with hiking poles (we consider a must), they were a real challenge!
Enroute, there were the Inca ruins of Runkuraqay and Sayacmarca. We took a break and were treated to more interesting stories of the Inca and the purpose and importance of these places. We were reminded that, since the Inca had no written record, there are a lot of things that we do not know about the Inca culture. Archaeologists have done a lot of research and have ventured educated guesses, but one must be careful about saying "for a fact, this is what the Incas did or intended". Nevertheless, we were impressed by the immense amount of work that the Inca Empire accomplished.
Our campsite that evening was actually at the third pass of the day - Phuyupatamarca. Since we were on top of a ridge, we had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We arrived late in the day and just before tea, we observed a beautiful sunset. During supper, we were called outside and watched the full moon rise!
Trek Day Four to Machu Picchu - Downhill steps are no easier!
Day Four took us into Machu Picchu. Our route was cut off at Winay Wayna ruins due to a landslide that had happened the preceding month, and the trail had not yet been repaired. As a result of the trail closure, we did not enter Machu Picchu via the famed Sun Gate; instead, we descended from Winay Wayna on the porter's trail to km 107 of the railroad track and walked the train track into Aguas Calientes.
The hike this day was mostly downhill. That did not translate to "easy", but simply meant that one did not lose one's breath. The Inca steps (3,000?) were difficult to negotiate, especially with the rain! However, we were treated to many beautiful flowers (as was true all along the trail), and took many pictures of the orchids and other brilliantly colored native blossoms.
Lunch at Winay Wayna was in a restaurant/hostel type building. Everyone converged on this place before continuing to Machu Picchu. Nearby were the ruins of Wiñay Wayna, discovered in 1942 (more recently than Machu Picchu!). We had a cultural tour at that amazing ruins before descending with the many trekkers and porters, who all had to take the trail down to km 107 and hike the 5 km to Machu Picchu Pueblo. This is where we stayed overnight in a hotel. Ah, showers and a bed! The day's distance totaled about 11 km.
Day Five at Machu Picchu - We are soooo stiff and sore!
Day Five at Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary was awesome, in spite of the fact that we did not enter through the Sun Gate the previous day... and despite fog and threatening rain. We met our guide (same person as the trek) early, so we could avoid the crowds that arrive around ten in the morning.
Our guide told of the discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham in 1911. We walked and learned all about the Inca citadel that was formed here on a narrow ridge near Huayna (Wayna) Picchu Mountain and Machu Picchu Mountain. It is believed that the settlement was built by Pachacuti (the Inca ruler) as a retreat for his royal family. It is a combination of temples, gathering places, residences and work areas. Indeed, we felt that it is a very sacred place. One can only imagine what it was like then, the splendor of the "city", yet, at the same time, realize the relative simplicity of their lifestyle.
As we returned to our hotel in Cusco, we knew that our 'Adventures Within Reach' trek was truly an adventure! We never doubted it was "within reach", but the "adventure" exceeded our expectations!