Saturday, January 25, 2014

Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu 

On January 20, we started the 4-day hike to Machu Picchu. We went with a tour company named Peru Treks, who were great - very helpful leading up to, and during the trek. Machu Picchu has always been a place we've wanted to visit, and we're so happy we had the chance to do so. Below is a summary for each day of the trek.

Day 1
We were picked up at our hotel at 5:45 AM and hopped on the bus to Ollantaytambo, which is a town where we stopped for breakfast and last minute hike supplies. Over breakfast, we started to get to know our fellow hikers. There were 15 hikers in total. Our group was very international, with people from England, Italy, France, Germany, Holland, USA, Australia, Mauritius, Cyprus...and us Canadians. We all immediately got along and quickly became friends. 

After the breakfast stop we took the bus another hour or so to the start of our Inca Trail  hike.  We had a beautiful sunny day and we quickly warmed up when we started the hike. The first day is fairly easy (compared to the rest of the hike!)... there were a few big hills to climb, but it was mostly easy going. There are 4 
Inca ruins along the hike and within a few hours of hiking, we saw the first ruin on the first day. We learned quite a bit about the design of the Inca cities, their purposes and meanings.  It's really quite spectacular how these societies operated. 

After a total of 6 hours hiking, we arrived to our first camp. Our camp site was already set up by the 19 Chaskies  (porters) who were supporting our group. We all had a delicious dinner and went to bed early knowing that day 2 was the hardest day physically. 

Unfortunately, Tenille became ill overnight and didn't sleep much, which meant Michael didn't sleep much either as he was looking after T.  It was a very rough night. 

Day 2
Morning came early and we packed up and mentally prepared for the tough day ahead. T couldn't eat breakfast (too ill), so the cook made her a special tea with celery leaves. Apparently it was to help calm her stomach. Our guide Yaneth also did a traditional Peruvian ritual with Agua de Florida, which involved rubbing Tenille's face and neck with the agua... it smelled really nice and helped take T's mind off the nausea. Apparently the Agua de Florida helps cleanse you of the evil spirits. It was quite interesting...but not sure it worked for T. 

About 40 minutes into the uphill hike, we started contemplating turning back as T was so sick and exhausted. Turning back would have meant an hour hike back, then 7 hours by horse down the trail, and an hour long bus ride back to Ollantaytambo.  One of our guides would have accompanied us, as well as one of the porters. In summary... it was no easy task to go back - and the Kennedys are not quitters!  So, we kept going and hiked 12,500  feet up to the top of the mountain, and then climbed down 1,000 feet to our campsite (so many stairs!). We arrived to the campsite around 5 PM and T promptly went to sleep for the night, and M followed shortly.

Day 3
A new day! And T was feeling much better!!! We awoke around 6 AM, had a light breakfast, packed up our stuff and started the longest hiking day - 12 hours long! The third day started off a little tough as it was raining, but after an hour of so of hiking in the rain, it turned out to be a beautiful day.  We hiked to lower altitudes through stunning cloud forests/jungle, and while there were some challenging points in the day, it was much easier than day two. :) We took our time on the hike, stopping frequently to rest and enjoy the scenery - which was spectacular.  

Lunch was particularly delicious this day, with pizza, pasta, meat and veggies served. And the big surprise was freshly made cake! It's amazing that they can cook all that food in the middle of nowhere...but cake?!? Amazing! Apparently the cook started "baking" the cake 3 hours before we got there by steaming it in a large pot over an open, low, fire. The cake was so moist and delicious...and was decorated perfectly with icing. A huge treat!

After lunch, we got to learn a bit more about the Chaskies/porters who were supporting our group. The men ranged in age from early 20s to 50. They told us about their families and their roles on the trail (one guy was in charge of safely carrying all the eggs!). After some social time, it was back to hiking. 

We didn't arrive to our campsite until 7:30 PM, so the last hour of the hike was in darkness - thank goodness we had our flashlights handy!  Hiking through the jungle in the dark was challenging, especially with wobbly legs and exhaustion, but we saw many fireflies and feel like we had a very cool experience.  We also felt a big sense of accomplishment having hiked so long. 

Day 4
Last day!! This was the earliest morning yet! We were up at 3 AM and packed up and on the trail super early to line up at the final checkpoint. We waited for about an hour at the checkpoint before it opened, along with about 100 other hikers. Thankfully we were one of the first groups in line. The trail on the last day is probably the most dangerous, with it being narrow and steep drops. In fact, our guide pointed out the spot where someone a few weeks ago lost their life as they slipped off the trail :(.

 It was about a 2 hour hike to the Sun Gate. Unfortunately, Tenille became ill again so it was a tough journey... but when we arrived to the Sun Gate and saw our first view of Machu Picchu, the challenge of the journey was well worth it!

We lucked out with the weather and had a mostly sunny morning at Machu Picchu, with clouds rolling through. It really is a mystical and awe inspiring place. Our guides explained different parts of the city and pointed out several interesting architectural details. Besides the sheer grandeur of the place, the structural integrity and perfection of the stones is what impressed us most at Machu Picchu. 
Being exhausted, we had a short nap on a grassy spot among the ruins and then caught the bus to Aguas Calientes, the little town where we met our group for a celebration lunch. 

Aguas Calientes was a really cool town, with a train that went down the main street - just a few feet from the doorways to restaurants and businesses! After lunch, we got massages which was so needed. Best. Massage. Ever.

Our train was delayed, so we didn't get back to Cusco until close to midnight. It was a long day, a long journey with many great memories. 

We will forever remember our journey to Machu Picchu and the strength it took to get there. We now feel we can conquer anything (well...maybe not Kilimanjaro just yet ;)). 

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