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Memories will be made of this.....

Inca Trail

PERU | Friday, 23 April 2004 | Views [735]

Well - one of the best weeks of the trip so far...
After a couple of days in Cusco, we travelled back to the Peru-Bolivia border to go to Puno and check Lake Titicaca out.  Lake Titicaca is set at about 3,500 metres (in attitude terms).  After taking a tourist bus from Cusco and stopping at various sites along the way, we got to Puno in the late afternoon and managed to get a tour the next day to the floating islands.  The floating islands are a bizarre set of islands that just are made out of reads and straw from the river and look as though they are about to sink at any moment.  I was seriously ill on that day and this not not help, however it was still enjoyable.  The floating islands now have solar panel electricity, so they can keep up to date with the latest football games (any they are aiming to have by this time next year internet connections).
After another bus journey back to Cusco, we spent a few days attempting to chill out (before the big trek to Machu Picchu).  However, this was hindered by a group of about 20 18-year-old kids who seemed intent on pissing everyone off in the hostel we were staying in, by shouting all night and every night until about 6am.  However, unlike most hostels, the management didn't seem to give a damn and any plea for them to shut up was met with the usual expletives from a group of pissed up school kids.  Thankfully, we decided to leave the hotel the day before the Inca Trail started (as we were warned that it would be a 4am get up on the first day and we really needed some good rest before it all started).  Had my haircut by some woman who didn't seem to have scissors but hedge-cutters (even though my hair isn't that long anymore).  On the night before the trail started, we met up with the group that we were to go with.  We decided to use the most expensive agency in Cusco (as we had received numerous reports about how good they had been).  Our group consisted of 15 tourists, 2 guides and just the 21 porters.  After being told what to expect from the next few days, everyone was feeling a little bit nervous (as the talk was less motivational and more scary) , so went to the Irish bar for a few last jars of beer, before heading to bed very early (for a much better nights sleep).
Day One
After meeting the group at 6am, we took a 3 hour bus journey to Km88 (the start of the trek).  On the way, we stopped off to pick up all the essentials - chocolate, walking sticks, water, ponchos etc. 
At the start of the trail, everyone got there customary pictures next to the Km88 sign and got stamped into the Inca Trail (not sure if this was completely necessary, or just because they think that it would please us tourists).  The first day's walk was relatively painless - only about 6 hours of walking on relatively flat ground.  Obviously, there were a few rises along the way, but it wasn't too strenuous and felt more like a long walk in the park - don't know what we were worrying about..
When we arrived at the campsite, the porters had all our tents ready for us and gave us some coca tea, popcorn and some snacks, before a really nice three course meal and an early bed time, as it was an early rise the next morning.
Day Two
Another 6am rise, greeted by the porters with their cups of coca leaf tea to wake up the muscles.  Even though this coca tea seems to make you a bit more alive than without it, it is a weird taste.  Apparently, it takes 16 kg of Coca Leaf to make 1 gram of cocaine.  The US government is trying to persuade the Peruvian and Bolivian governments to stop production of this stuff (as they aren't particularly happy about the amount of white stuff consumed in their country), however this is used for completely different purposes and it would take a lot to persuade people like porters (who live on coca leaves) that suddenly (after centuries of using it) to just stop.
Anyway, after porridge and pancakes for breakfast, we set off on the second day (which we have been told on countless different times is a really, really hard day of walking).  Basically, you have to climb about 1,000 metres in about 3 hours to pass through dead woman's pass (apparently named because from the bottom of the hill, the shape of the mountain is like a dead woman lying down - took a while to realise that that was what it looked like).  The trail was quite hard, however i had imagined that this would have been the stage where either Clare or I would say that we would be going back, but this didn't happen.  I didn't find it anywhere near as hard as i thought it would have been and actually quite enjoyed it. 
After reaching the top and having a few Kodak moments, we started to descend rapidly and only walking for a couple more hours before setting up camp for the night.
Day Three
The third day was the longest day of walking (about 11 hours), as we stopped many times to see different Inca sites along the way.  Thankfully (again) it was largely downhill (which I preferred - I now realise that i have no problems with my knees).  The Inca sites were stunning and all very different - the views spectacular.  In the afternoon, we spent a bit of time getting a history lesson from the guide and found out a lot about the historical and cultural aspects of the Incas.  Following on from that was a mad dash to the third camp site, where a few of us raced porters down to the camp (I only managed to beat a couple there).  The motivation was a hot shower (the first in three days) and it felt very, very good...
On the night, we also had our first beers of the trail (also very good) and an amazing meal  (all the meals provided by the company were top class) and settled down for another early night, as the last day was a 4am get-up.
Day Four
Obviously the highlight of the whole tour - and the only reason to do it.  We started walking at about 5.15am (as the control gate opens at 5.30) and everyone seemed liked they had more energy than at any other point in the few days.  The walk to the sun gate was a couple of hours (however, most of the group did it in less than an hour).  Unfortunately, as we were so quick, we were a bit early for the sun rise and had to wait a while for it to rise.  Because it was quite cloudy, we were unable to see Machu Picchu from the sun gate and a few people were quite despondent, as they thought that would mean we weren't going to see Machu Picchu at all - however, after another hour of walking downhill, suddenly it appeared in front of you and was mind blowing.  Absolutely stunning and left us all speechless.  Without doubt, the highlight of the trip - so different from what you see from the pictures and the television. Calm, beautiful, mystical.  We were the first people to arrive and it looked so beautiful.
After taking countless photographs, we had a tour by our guide around all the areas of Machu Picchu, which was really interesting and educational.  It was a perfect end to a great tour.  However, by about midday, we were ready to go (as all the tourists who were too lazy or fat to do the Inca Trail had arrived and suddenly the place had lost some of its mysticism with thousands of people wandering around).  In the afternoon, took the train from Agua Calientes (where the mudslide happened about a week ago - the train station is still officially closed with huge boulders still on the track) back to Cusco and got back after a 4 hour train journey, completely knackered and not wanting to climb another stair in the near future.
The trail had been an amazing and self-rewarding 4 days in which i really enjoyed myself and would have started it again the next day.  I had been dreading it for so long and couldn't believe how (relatively) easy we both found it.
The next morning was back to reality and we had to be at Cusco airport for 6am for the flight to Quito.  Naturally, flight was delayed and only just managed to get the connection at Lima.  However, arrived in Quito without to much worry and checked into a very nice 4 star hotel (with lots of luxuries including bath - one craving satisfied) and wandered around town for the day.
Yesterday, we took the flight over to the Galapagos Islands (where we are now), which is absolutely beautiful (with lots of amazing wildlife - I'm sure this will fill the content of the next e-mail).  We've booked a 4 day boat cruise starting on Sunday (which will include lots of snorkeling and some diving) and we're looking forward to that now.

Tags: I should have known better!

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