Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Day 1
4:30 rolled around very early – who was still finishing stuffing their pack, who was savoring their last shower, who was tying up loose ends at work before we fall off the grid. After a quick breakfast, Fabricio was back and it was time to head off! Ugh, another 2.5 hours to Ollantaytambo then another hour and a half to the trail starting point – 82km marker at Piskakucho. I just want to get there already! When we arrived in Ollantaytambo we found a convenience store and I was able to pick up a pair of waterproof pants, fortunately, because it is raining today, of course! Through winding and bumpy roads and a number of small villages we reached our destination and unloaded the van. We met our Porters for the first time – the true MVPs of the entire trip because they would be carrying our duffles, tents, sleeping bags, and nearly everything else we packed!
unnamedIMG_3342 The Inca Trail is highly regulated by the government in the sense that the number of hikers are monitored daily, the government assigns where each group is going to have lunch each day and camp each night and an individual cannot decide to just hike the Trail- they must be with a guide and have porters. There are 500 people allowed to be on the trail each day – 200 hikers and 300 porters and there are government passport checks along the route. Horses and donkeys are no longer allowed on the trail as well because they have caused too much damage. After we made it through the initial passport checkpoint and over the bridge, the hike officially started. Aside from the rain, the morning was pretty mild. We walked along the Uraubamba River and the path was pretty flat along the way.
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Along the way we were able to see Patallaqta, the first Inca archaeological site on the trail.
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Lunch time could not have come around fast enough. When we arrived our porters had already set up our lovely meal tent for our very first meal. IMG_3604
We started with some warm fresh bread and cheese and our meal of chicken and vegetables followed. When we were done, Mr. B laid his poncho down, grabbed his pack and settled in for a 15 minute nap. The rest of us thought he was crazy, and could not stop laughing, as he laid, and very quickly fell asleep, nearly under the table. I have a feeling he is on to something with these naps and they may come in handy on day soon. IMG_3608
We only had two and a half hours of hiking until we reached camp for the night. After lunch, the calm, flat path we were on picked up and we hit our first real incline. Stone stairs, some as high as my waist. The key is to just take one step at a time. IMG_3627IMG_3629
When we arrived at camp it was such a relief, our first day – we made it! Fortunately, there was a sweet kid selling beer out of a bucket and it was a perfect way to reward ourselves for a job well done. IMG_3686.JPGIMG_3693
Tea Time, then Dinner and Bed. I am bundled up and exhausted, until tomorrow.
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Day 2
When you tell people you are hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, if they have hiked it before they will surely mention Day 2.
“Oh wait until day 2”
“You’ll be fine, just be prepared for day 2”
And the real hikers will say, “The hike wasn’t so bad, the only challenging day is the second.”
So I think you can already predict how today is going to go.
But not in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be this bad…
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4 Hours up. 2 hours down. Or so they say.
Right off the bat we were climbing. And when I say climbing, I mean like freaking climbing, back hunched over, shortness of breath, layers removed in minutes, and already counting down the seconds until we reached camp for the night. Within the first 5 minutes of the day I had already stripped off my headband, hat, waterproof jacket, thermal, zip up, water proof pants.. I think that’s it.. and shoved it all inside my backpack adding at least 5 more pounds to my pack – awesome!
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They call this part of the hike Dead Woman’s Pass for a reason. Because you will literally want to throw yourself off of the side of the mountain. Luckily, my mother did not allow me to do that and now I am able to be here and tell you the cold, hard truth about this day. We started the hike this morning at 11,000ft above sea level, to get to the peak we would climb up to 14,000ft above sea level and then to get to our campsite for the evening back down to 12,000ft above sea level.
Aside from all of the misery, I can look back and identify the four best parts of the day.
#1. Stopping for a snack and realizing I had a passion fruit in my pack. I love passion fruit. So for the 10 minutes mid-morning we got to sit and chill, I enjoyed the hell out of that passion fruit. IMG_3754IMG_3765
Before we get to the other three, here’s a real trip – check this photo out below. IMG_3784.JPG
Do you see those people up there? The tiny specs up on that peak. No, not the close peak to the left in the foreground. That middle peak way off in the distance. Ya, well, that is the summit and that is what we will be conquering in the next 3 hours. Let’s do this.
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First llama siting

Although this wasn’t a favorite of the day, spotting our first llama was pretty exciting. I got to spend a few minutes chasing after it and it almost made me forget how little energy I had left. IMG_3864.JPG

#2. Remember yesterday when we thought Mr. B was crazy for taking a nap. Nope, not crazy. Not even in the slightest. What he actually is, is brilliant. We had finally reached lunch, I was so tired and mentally drained. I don’t know if I have ever forced myself to eat before, but I literally had to force myself to eat because I knew my body needed fuel to continue on. Then after lunch, I found a blissful field of grass, shoved a handful of Coca leaves in my mouth and dreamed of the sweet relief I would feel when we reached camp that night.IMG_3874 30 minutes felt like the blink of an eye. And we were back at it again, 2 hours left. 2 hours of stairs, all the way too the top.

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#3. When we finally reached the submit it was … breathtaking. Unbelievably breathtaking. The clouds looked alive. The ground was cold and filled with snow but the blue sky looked warm and welcoming. Standing on the dirt filled ground, covered in dead grass and looking over snow-capped mountains. I felt like I was on top of the world. I had conquered the hardest part despite wanting to give up all day long. And it was so worth it.

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Downhill, alas! The rest of the day was a straight shot down, bouncing from rock to rock. IMG_3996Mom wasn’t feeling so hot – the altitude sickness was really intense today – so we slowed our speed a little bit. Before we knew it it was 5pm and getting dark, and cold. IMG_4005As we were noticing this we asked Fabricio what would happen if we didn’t make it back to camp in time, seeing as we were already cutting into our tea time. And just as he was telling us that the porters would come looking for us, our search crew was rounding the corner, flashlights in hand! IMG_4014IMG_4015#4. We can officially say we survived this day. We reached Pacaymayo, our camp, at 7. Phew, it was a long day, and tonight is a cold cold night. Last night I did not bundle up properly but tonight I am extra prepared. Wish me luck, it is going to be a long one.

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Day 3

Being that I froze my booty off last night, I didn’t sleep too great but I am excited for the day ahead. The worst is behind us, and I am feeling strong. IMG_4047.JPG

Today’s hike was beautiful, my favorite day so far. The shrubbery has changed and there is Pampas Grass everywhere, swaying in the wind. It is so peaceful and relaxing, the sun is beating down. Today is a perfect day.

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A little ways in we reached Runkuraque, another Inca archaeological site. IMG_4083IMG_4092IMG_4097The day was filled with so many pit stops, photo opts and peaks in need of extra exploration.

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Right before lunch we hit Sayaqmarka. IMG_4288IMG_4291

And by Day 3, nap time became an official part of our day.

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Today’s lunch was smashed avocado and it hit the spot!

The hiking after lunch was just as beautiful as the morning. The shrubbery has changed again, it is much wetter over here so there is more green, more moss, and more live vegetation. We crossed over bridges and climbed under rock formations.

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When we arrived at Phuyupatamarka campsite, we were immediately greeted by a family of llamas!

Tonight is our last night camping and with our porters. This campsite is unbelievably gorgeous and I think in a way I am going to miss it. While the actual days did not fly by, it feels like the time and trip has. Tomorrow is the day we will finally reach Machu Picchu! IMG_4409IMG_4417IMG_4413

Day 4

Today is the day! Mom and I wanted to get a head start so we woke up at 5 and began our hike at 6am, if we didn’t reach the Sun Gate by 4pm we weren’t going to get to see Machu Picchu today so we could not take any chances. As we descended from our campsite we hit Qonchamaka, Phuyupatamaka and Inipata.

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This morning was all downhill, yippe! So we reached lunch early. Since we got down so quickly, we were able to take a detour to visit Wiñay Wayna, Quechua for “forever young,” and resembles a “mini Machu Picchu.”

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We had a delicious last meal together.
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And then I got my money shot with a llama.
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Then it was back to business and time to make moves.  And back to climbing stairs..like these. IMG_4651.JPG
And then we saw this.
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And finally reached the Sun Gate!!!! The Sun Gate, Intipunku, is the guardhouse that is the principle entrance to Machu Picchu and provides the first siting of Machu Picchu. IMG_4665IMG_4688IMG_4713IMG_4804
Another hour down to the main Guardhouse and we will see Machu Picchu up close and personal before we actually enter tomorrow. IMG_4828
WE’RE HERE!!! At my 5th World Wonder and it was just as spectacular as I had hoped it would be. 4 days of hiking, 3 nights of camping, 0 showers, multiple tears, countless laughs and it was all worth it just to get here.
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The last bus down from Machu Picchu leaves at 5 so we had to make our way down to get on line. When we got down to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, we walked to Inkaterra, our hotel and settled in for tea time. If you haven’t noticed yet, tea time is a big deal in Peru and I love it! When we were able to check in, the second moment we were waiting for all week was upon us. A time to SHOWER, and it was blissful. A little R & R and it was time for Pisco Sour Happy Hour and a yummy dinner, outside of a tent! IMG_5194

Day 5

At some point during dinner last night we made the ill decision to make it up to Machu Picchu for sunrise. With a 4am wake up, and 4:45 departure time we were hoping to get on the first run of buses which start at 5:30am. Jokes on us. By the time we got down to the bus line there had to be at least 2,000 people waiting for the buses. Oh, and its raining again! For those of you who do like the sunrise idea, you have to be on line by 3am to make the first set of buses to get up there in time. If not, it is a lost cause. IMG_5209We spent the morning touring Machu Picchu. Walking through the home, exploring the gardens, examining Intihuatana. We started at the Temple of the Sun, on the winter solstice June 21st the light enters its window to illuminate the sacred center rock. We then walked towards the Royal Tomb and the Perfect Wall. We are able to tell which structures are most important by the way the stones are cut and how precisely they fit together. Royal homes will have the most perfect wall structures, then religious areas and so-on. As we walked through the Royal Palace we walked through the living quarters of the royal Inca, visiting their bedroom, bathroom, cooking areas, and servant quarters. One of my favorite parts was studying the Sacred Rock. It is a 25ft long monolith that resembles the silhouette of the group of mountain peaks behind it. For the Incas, the peaks surrounding Machu Picchu were charged with sacred meaning and all play a major role in their vision of the cosmos. Throughout Inca archaeology, the number three plays an important role and stones, stairs, or layers will be in sets of three to represents the 3 dimensions in Inca culture – the snake, puma and condor. The snake represents the underworld, the puma is the material world and the condor is the messenger to the heaves. The Temple of the Condor is a sculpture resembling the head of a condor and paired with the diagonal outcropping allows the structure to take shape of the entire bird with its wings outstretched.

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Machu Picchu is located in what is known as The Cloud Forest- I wonder why?!

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The overcast was too dense today that we could not hike Huayna Picchu with any visibility so we made our way back to Aguas Calientes to explore the town for the rest of the afternoon.

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IMG_5639IMG_5638We started in the Main Square, looking for an Apothecary for anti-itch cream because our bodies were attacked by mosquitoes on the hike.

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Then it was time to hit the markets.

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All before finding a delicious local restaurant to try some Alpaca and quench our thirst with an icy beer.

Our time in Aguas Calientes was nearly over marking the end of the hiking portion of the trip. I can’t believe we did it. I can’t believe I made it. I visited a new city, country, continent, and world wonder all in a matter of days. What a whirlwind! What an experience. And one I will always be grateful for, proud of, and absolutely never forget!

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