It has been a Christmas like no other, an undertaking that has left us feeling sore and tired, but oh so proud of what we have achieved. And the view at the end of the four days was pretty spectacular!
It should come as no surprise that our hiking group was predominantly Aussies, with one token American. There was Matthew, Mike and Miles; Jennifer and Dan; Alex and Evan; Derek, Rick and Hilary flying the Australian flag with us, and Jamie representing the stars and stripes for the US. We made a great team pushing each other through the hard sections, sharing stories and laughs along the way and even when we were wet, cold and suffering from altitude sickness reminding each other that we were on an amazing adventure!
Rhi, Koz, Alex, Hilary, Evan, Jamie, Mike, Matt, Miles, Jen, Dan, Derek and Rick - ready for adventure!
So while you were wrapping presents, preparing gourmet feasts and then gorging on Christmas Day this is what we got up to…..
Christmas Eve eve - 5.00am wake up call.
Highest point – 3000m above sea level. Distance covered – 13km.
With our day packs, ponchos and walking sticks at the ready we departed Cusco headed for the point where we would join the Inca trail, approx. 2.5hours away. Over the course of four days we walked 45km, just a minute section of the estimated 22,000km of trails found in this region. Our guides Yugo and Bruce called today the warm up day – an undulating path that will take us past some Inca ruins and get our bodies ready for the challenge that will be Day 2.
Let the fun begin: 15m down, 44.985km to go!!
This was our first opportunity to see the porters in action too – our group of 13 hikers, 2 guides and a chef had a team of 17 porters who carried EVERYTHING! Tents, cooking equipment, chairs and tables, food for 33 people for three days, and the 5kg for each hiker that we are allowed to bring with us – all bundled up into 25kg loads and strapped to their backs. These men are truly incredible and left us all marvelling at their strength and speed, but also concerned about the toll this type of work must have on their bodies over time.
13 hikers, 17 porters and 1 chef
After a three course lunch and four course dinner (unbelievable!!) we were all feeling pretty good about Day 1 and collapsed in our tents to get some sleep for Day 2.
Christmas Eve - 5.30am wake up call.
Highest point – 4200m above sea level. Distance covered 11km.
The day started well enough with Bruce bringing tea to our tent with our wake up call. Most things you read about the Inca trail suggest that Day 2 is the hardest and they are not wrong. We climbed 1200m to an altitude of 4200m in just under five hours, but just as hard was the steep descent of 600m that took us another two hours. There were tears (from Rhi), sore knees and asthma trouble (for Koz) and rain coming at us from all angles (well we did do this in wet season!). We were wet and cold and on a few occasions asked each other why the hell we had paid to do this!
We walked on paths like this....the porters ran!
When we reached the highest point of the trek at 4200m we were supposed to have views that make the last five hours seem worthwhile but the weather was so bad at the top we barely stopped, eager to keep moving to retain body heat. Inspiration to get to the campsite was provided by the porters: in horrid conditions they raced along the path like mountain goats and with 25kg on their backs too. Every time one of them races past you take stock and say to yourself if they can do this every week, I can do it once. We were the last two to arrive at camp today but were greeted by our team who clapped us in and assured us they had found it difficult as well.
View from our tent on Christmas Eve
In dry clothes and with more good food served up for both lunch and dinner (including a Feliz Navidad cake!) we settled into our wet tent, dreaming of the turkey and champagne we were missing out on at home….
Christmas Day - 5.30am wake up call.
Highest point – 3900m above sea level. Distance covered – 15km
It was really hard to get up today – the rain had already started and as we put on our wet clothes from the day before we prayed for the day to be over quickly. But it was Christmas Day, and joy was delivered with a visit from Santa (aka Rick) who made us all smile and forget about the wet clothes and the sore knees.
Rick brings Christmas cheer to the campsite
Day 3 is the longest distance of the trek but a much more enjoyable walk with less inclines and multiple Inca sites to stop and explore along the way. A few of us sang Christmas carols along the trail and hikers and porters alike were exchanging Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad wishes throughout the day. We were blessed with sunshine and little rain and after another impressive four course meal we were sent to bed early in anticipation of our very early start the next day that would take us to Machu Picchu.
Christmas morning on the Inca trail
Boxing Day - 3.30am wake up call.
Highest point – 2780m above sea level. Distance covered – 6km
Yes, 3.30am wakeup call! As we started walking at 4.30am in the pouring rain, torches strapped to our heads, the positive vibe of the day before seemed to be slipping away from a few of us. We were sore and tired and desperately hoping for the ‘money shot’ of Machu Picchu from the Gate of the Sun, which we arrived at around 7am. It would be fair to say that we were all feeling a little deflated to find ourselves looking at clouds so thick that there was no evidence of a lost city underneath them….
But onwards we went and within the hour we were standing within the walls of the lost city of the Incas – Macchu Picchu. The tears, the altitude sickness, the wet socks and shoes, the less-than-sanitary toilets all fell away – we had done it! After three long days and a very early start on Day 4 we had reached our destination, and in honour of the colossal moment the clouds rolled away and the sun came out.
The final destination - Machu Picchu!!
The clouds rolled across the mountain all morning
Considered to be the most impressive Incan ruin in the world, the city was built in the 15th century and abandoned around 100 years later when the Spaniards arrived in South America. It was rediscovered in the early 20th century by Professor Hiram Bingham, completely covered by the jungle surrounds. It is a complete city with crop terraces, an estimated 140 structures including temples and houses, and to this day the water canals and fountains still deliver water across the site.
The jungle covering the city for so many centuries has helped preserve the buildings
Llamas wander around the site freely
It is truly remarkable from every angle and although our legs felt like jelly we traipsed up and down even more stairs for hours exploring all corners of the site. The ponchos and sunglasses went on and off as rain and sun took it in turns to grace us with their presence. Whilst as a group we all agreed the sight of the magnificent site made the four days worthwhile, there is a lot to be said for taking the three hour train from Cusco and experiencing the same views without the strenuous lead up!
$7 poncho - essential purchase!
The constant rainfall up here keeps the grass looking lush
To ease our aching bodies we all went to the hot springs in the little town of Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Macchu Picchu, where we reflected on the last few days and enjoyed some Peruvian hospitality as pina coladas and pisco sours were delivered poolside and we began to erase the memories that we were happy to lose from the last few days.
For the two of us it was physically challenging with old knee and ankle injuries and Andrew’s asthma, but there is no doubt that we feel like we have accomplished something pretty amazing. It is a once in a lifetime experience but if wet tents and clothes, camp toilets and intense physical activity with no showers are not your thing we recommend you take the train!
We made it!!