Ok so we’re back on the air waves after a few days trekking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
We were picked up from where we are staying in Cuzco at 2:30pm on the 11th. We had our tour guide – Jhon and chef – Nicholas in the car with us for the 2hr drive to beginning of the trail. The company we were trekking with is called Ecoinca and they have a base camp at the start of the Inca trail at a place called Pisqakucho, commonly referred to as Km 82.
Jhon gave us a bit of local info on the drive up explaining how Cuzco being the Inca’s capital had 2 different trails to Machu Picchu and then the whole way back to the coast to Lima, with other trails coming off and heading to various communities within the empire. The Inca’s were a very organised civilisation and used these trails as communication lines and a means of transporting food to different communities.
They would use a series of relay runners to deliver messages, each one covering different distances depending on the terrain, before passing the message onto the next runner. They could cover around 1600km in just 7 days. To put that into perspective we were about to trek 42km from km 82 to Machu Picchu in 4 days….
As we headed towards the Andes I began to feel very at home – watching the country side change as we headed out of Cuzco I became aware of the trees growing – eucalypts! There were Blue Gums everywhere. Jhon explained that about 50 years ago they introduced a few varieties of fast growing Eucalypts to harvest construction materials. It really did look like home in some places.
We finally arrived at the base camp, unloaded all our gear and headed of to set up for the first night. Tina and I opted to not have a porter, we had packed lightly, taking only the basics for both of us in my big pack, plus our 2 smaller day packs. We had a short walk along the river ‘Urubamba’ which flows all the way to the Amazon. We got to the 1st check point and entry to the Inca trail crossed the bridge to the other side then back to base camp for the night. About 15 mins all up. I carried the pack and was already thinking we’re gonna need a porter…
Base camp was a good little setup, some thatched roof huts in which our tents were setup in and a little kitchen / dinning area, toilets, showers and a sauna.
Base camp 1st Night.
Nicholas got cooking straight away while we sat around talking with Jhon. I quizzed him about carrying the pack as opposed to getting a porter and he assured me that our pack would be no problems and that each day would be a little tough until you warm up then its just one foot in front of the other. Besides our pack weighed about 15kg and the porters who would be carrying all the cooking gear, food, tents, table, chairs, toilet etc would divide it up into 20kg packs with about 5kg of their own personal gear. 25kg in total! So I thought ok lets just have a crack – it’s all part of the adventure – right?
We had a great meal that night. Tea, coffee, biscuits and other snacks to start with then a 3 coarse meal about an hour later. We were completely full. So after a sauna and shower it was off to bed for a 6am start to the trek.
In the morning we were woken up to a hot cup of Coco tea (which is really helpful to combat altitude sickness) we had breakfast and a shower while the porters packed up weighed their packs and took off. They go ahead of us to each stop in order to have lunch cooked and ready once we get there. Their packs looked huge but they just hoisted them onto their backs and took off with big smiles chatting amongst them selves – there were 4 plus Nicholas.
We packed up and headed off also. Back to the 1st check point to get our tickets checked, a stamp in our passports then continue on.
At the entrance to the Inca Tail – check point 1
Jhon was really great and because it was only Tina and I (not booked that way – it just turned out that we were the only ones doing the trek starting on the 11th with Ecoinca) he gave us lots of info. He had completed a course studying the Inca history but had also done additional study’s on the local wildlife and plant life so it was really interesting to hear about just about everything we came across.
We had trekked for about 30mins along a mostly flat trail when we got to the first Inca site – Q’Anabamba. It was built on the banks of the river and consisted of a few houses and other buildings, a water channel from the river and some old farming areas. Jhon explained that it would have had only a few farming families living there. They would have been growing crops that did well at a lower altitude then distributing them to other communities along the trail.
The Inca’s were not so much about gold and money (although they did have plenty of it) but more about agriculture. They had an empire that reached as far as Columbia to Chile and used each different climate and area to grow a huge amount of fruit and vegetables, along with farming livestock. They had, almost a welfare system where they would distribute food to many different areas which allowed them to expand into some very remote areas that previous civilisations could not occupy.
So the other buildings on this site would most likely have been storage houses for food and also resting houses for the trail runners.
Q’Anabamba was across the other side of the river so we could not explore it. A quick rest, a few photos and we moved on. Jhon was right – I had warmed up by now and the pack was feeling ok – however we were mainly on a flat trail.
Getting used to my pack….?
About an hour further we got to a small community where we stopped for a snack. It was starting to warm up by now so we peeled off some layers and dosed up on insect repellent – the mozzies are pretty bad.
The next Inca site we arrived at was again across the river, however we had started to climb so we had a really impressive view down onto it. This place was called Q’Entimarka – which means ‘Sun Terraces’). It was a large farming community that would have supplied quite a lot of food to Machu Picchu. There is still a large farming community at the base of the ruins and along the river.
A steep climb up the hill a little further we came across another site – this time right on the trail. We stopped here for a rest and a look around. I was trying to make note of the names of all the places we stopped at – however this one I must have missed. Anyway it was part of Q’Entimarka so we’ll just run with that. Jhon explained it was a military outpost setup to protect Q’Entimarka. There were long skinny buildings used as weapon storage and some other larger meeting rooms used to talk tactics etc. It also had the usual sleeping areas for both military and trail runners. Once rested we moved on.
Tina resting at the other Q’Entimarka site.
We trekked for about another 2 hrs then got to our lunch stop. The crew had set up a cooking tent and a dinning tent plus the portable toilet. The food smelt great again and there was a table in the dinning tent with tea, coffee and snacks set out for us. Again there was heaps of food and we had about 2hrs to eat, rest and refill water bottles etc before we headed of again.
After lunch we started heading up! Some of the climbs were quite steep for about 10 – 15 mins at a time. The stone steps were a bit uneven and a challenge at times but not too bad. The scenery was getting pretty epic. We stopped many times to have a break and take photos. There were snow-capped mountains in the distances and huge valleys all around. The pack was getting heavy!
Tina crossing a small bridge on the trail.
Making it to the top of each peak to find some great views.
At 1 point we climbed a real steep part and when we got to the top Jhon said, “Get used to that – tomorrow is the hardest day of the trail, we have about 5 hrs straight up just like that”. Great – I can’t wait!!!!!
Despite the challenging climb we made it to our first nights camp about an hour and a half ahead of schedule. Jhon reckons we would do it pretty easy tomorrow and were ‘walking well’. The camp was on the edge of a small community in Wayllabamba about 2980m above sea level.
From our camp he pointed out ‘Abra Warmiwanuska’ – aka ‘Dead Womans Pass’. It is the highest pass of the trek at 4215m above sea level and was our goal to get over the top and about 2hrs down the other side tomorrow. It is called Dead Womans pass because from a distance you can make out the profile of a woman laying on hear back from her forehead, down her face, her chest, stomach and legs – apparently she looks dead! Jhon pointed it out and we took photo but he said it is a lot clearer from the other side.
Dead Womans Pass the highest point on our trek.
We had dinner and were in bed by about 8:30pm ready for a 5:30am wake up.
We were up and ready for day 2 and headed off in front of the porters – I guess they figured they could catch us no worries over the steep climb.
There were no Inca sites along this stretch, however the terrain moved from bushland and fields into cloud forests and became really interesting. I don’t know if we were just walking along taking in the scenery and not really worrying about the gradient of the climb, but it didn’t seem that bad. Tina had the camera and was taking pictures out in front while Jhon and I were doing it a little tougher with our packs on. At one point we started over taking porters from other groups who were resting. We then came across and older man walking with a friend who Jhon knew. They began talking in Spanish to each other and I only got 2 words out of their conversation – Australia and Kangaroo. Clearly talking about us.
A nice little creek in the cloud forrest.
A bit further on the old man and his mate stopped for a rest and we kept moving on. Jhon began to explain to me he was the oldest man on the trail these days. He had begun trekking it with his farther when he was 10 years old, then became a porter. Nobody knows his age but they estimate he is up over 1000 treks to Machu Picchu.
Resting with Jhon along the way.
I asked what they were talking about and he said that he told them we were from Australia and were walking the trail really well – Jhon told him we were making him do it pretty hard and the old man said that we walked the trail like Kangaroos – haha. But he did say he would see who got to the top first, so I began to worry we may have gone out too hard too soon.
5 hours climbing and we were at the top of Dead Womans Pass!!! Only just ahead of the old man and his mate! He waved and gave us a big smile as we all sat down for a well-earned break.
Now don’t get me wrong this was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life (I once raced a 400m Butterfly event when I was swimming that nearly killed me! But that was nothing compared to this) I seriously struggled a lot at some points but we never thought that we wouldn’t make it.
Porters finishing the last part of the Dead Womans Pass.
We made it to the top!
We rested and took photos for about an hour then started the decent. It sounds crazy but it was almost harder going down. Maybe not harder just really uncomfortable, my pack was pushing me because it was so steep and since I’ve done the ACL in my knee again I was walking kind of weird trying to protect it a bit. But we made it to camp ahead of our porters at 11:30am. In his 7 years of doing the Inca trail Jhon said it was only the 2nd time ever he had made it there before mid day. I know it’s not a race but I reckon we did OK.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing. An early night again then off on day 3.
Day 2 camp – Yes that is Tina asleep on a tarp, maybe we did do it a little hard that day.
The first part of the day was another climb but only for about an hour and it did flatten out in places. We came across the 1st Inca site for the day called ‘Runkuraqay’. It was a small site set out in a circular shape with only a few buildings. Jhon explained it was mainly used as a ‘half way house’ trail runners would rest there and people making a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu would stop off there also. He showed us the rooms they would sleep in maybe 20 people at a time. It used to have a water channel supplied by a spring from the mountains into a small fountain. However they had major landslides in 1998 due to heavy rain and the water channel / fountain were destroyed.
A little further up and we came to the top of the 2nd pass – ‘Abra Runkuraqay’ at 3780m above sea level. We stopped up there for another break and got some great photos.
The next Inca site we arrived at is called ‘Sayaqmarka’ which means ‘Inaccessible City’. The reason behind the name is another set of ‘one person only’ steps up the side of a cliff to the city – this is the only way to get there.
The Inaccessible City.
This was a pretty cool site. There were a mixture of military buildings along with houses that some very noble people would have lived in – probably even the Inca King would have stopped over here at times. There were ceremony rooms and then a lower section divided by a small street were the common people lived. We had a good look around and saw the difference between the upper and lower class houses. Many up high had their own court yards and even toilets. The rock work in these houses was of much finer detail with indents to place candles for light, even small handles to hang onto while moving around. Some houses were even double storey. In the upper class section there was a water channel that ran around the city walls and supplied some noble houses with their very own fountain and water supply point.
Remains of an old water fountain beside a noble house.
Resting at the Inaccessible City.
Down below the city was another site right on the trail which was again used as a food storage and ‘halfway house’ for the runners – called ‘Qonchamarka’.
We headed back down passed it to our lunch camp, for the usual pile of food and rest time.
TIna hanging out with the lamas.
After lunch we took of again heading to our last camp about 2hrs from Machu Picchu. This part of the trail was the best. Up until now a lot of the trail had been repaired due to landslides and other damage over the years. However this next section all the way to Machu Picchu was 99% original – apart from a couple of small bridges crossing streams nothing had been changed since the Inca times. The rock work was a fair bit more uneven but the trail was pretty flat so it didn’t matter too much. The scenery was amazing.
Part of the original Inca Trail.
Another view from the trail.
The Inca tunnel.
We came across another farming / supply site called ‘Phuyupatamarka’. Stopped for a break and some photos then moved on.
We made our along the trail past another 2 sites that we could only see from a distance. They were large terraced areas going up the side of valleys. These 2 sites were most likely farming sites, but I could not understand who would want to build a farm on the edge of a steep valley. Jhon explained that a lot of the sites were not finished. They would always start by building the terraces which were in effect retaining walls. Then begin farming to supply the workers with food as they moved up the valley. In most cases they had a vision to build a city or military strong hold above. The many Inca trails would connect all these sites.
An Inca fountain with the spring still running.
A distant Inca site not sure of it’s name.
We finally spotted Machu Picchu mountain and Jhon pointed out the Sun Gate that we would cross in the morning and told us the city is on the other side hidden away. From there it was down hill all the way to the camp.
Our 1st glimpse of Machu Picchu.
Tina is a monkey!!!
We had our last meal from the crew that night as they cook us breakfast in the morning pack up then get the train back to Cuzco, leaving only Jhon with us to do the Machu Picchu tour. There is 500 people allowed on the trail each day and they all camp at this site the night before entering the Sun Gate. The last check point is set up at the bottom and attracts a large line up early each morning. So the plan was to get up at 3:30am have breakfast then goto the check point which opens at 5:30am.
Us with the porters.
We got up on time and headed to the check point to find maybe 50 people in front of us – not too bad apparently. After waiting a couple of hours for it to open we were through walking by head lamp light to the Sun Gate.
We got there just on sunrise to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu – it was amazing! Worth all the effort of the trek by a mile. Everyone was standing there waiting for the sun to light up the city and take photos – it was very crowed. Jhon grabbed me and quietly said he had spotted his favourite platform down the trail a bit where we could get some great photos and no one was there. We headed straight down.
Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate.
At the Sun Gate about to go exploring!
We sat there for a while as the sun came up over the mountain – it was nothing like I had ever seen! After a bit we decided to head down and begin our tour. It was about 7am at this point and the first tourist bus arrives at 10:00am after that it gets real crowded with up 2000 people visiting.
1st Sun light.
Well done Teens!
We made it Yeeeeew!
So we began the tour: Jhon explained first of all the history of Machu Picchu.
When the Spanish invaded Machu Picchu was abandoned. The then current king went built a city which was over the other side of the mountain to Machu Picchu which was to be the last stronghold of the Incas. When he did so he called all the Incas to that place which meant abandoning other cities.
Unfinished parts of the city.
The Spanish never found Machu Picchu so it became over grown by the jungle. There are a few locals that knew about it and some ‘treasure hunters’ discovered it in the late 1800’s however it wasn’t until 1911 when American explorer Hiram Bingham was led there by local guides in his search for the last Inca stronghold on the other side. He returned the following 2 years to begin cleaning it up.
It is believed that Machu Picchu was a place of learning – maybe like a university. There was a lot of research going on. Mainly in agriculture. They believe that the Incas were trying to grow plants out their preferred altitude. archeologists have found with that the setup is perfect to do this, with the many terraces all facing east to catch the first sun light each day to heat them up. They are constructed firstly of a layer of fist size stones then a layer of stone chips, then sand with the deep rich garden bed soil for growing in top. The face of the terraces / garden beds are all stone as well. So with over 7 hrs of sunshine on them each day they retain their heat well into the night.
Top half of the terraces.
On the other side of the city is some garden beds stepping down, which they believe was the nursery to start of the small plants. As the plants grew they would be transplanted into the beds on the east side right down the bottom. Some would live other die. These plants were not for use as they would let them grow and go to seed. They would then repeat the process with the harvested seeds but slowly work their way up the side of the cliff one terrace at a time.
The coco plant was most important to the Incas however it only grows to an altitude of just over 1200m. The Incas had them growing at Machu Picchu – 2472m above sea level. There is actually still coco plants growing there which we saw later in the day. They were doing this with many more plants than just coco.
Part of the garden beds that remain.
There were other people studying there also. In the middle of the city there is the Sun Temple and right beside it, what they believe is an astronomers house. The sun temple has only 2 windows in it, which is believed to represent the Inca calendar. The first window directly faces the Sun Gate and the second directly faces a perfect ‘V’ in the same mountain. On the 21st of December every year the sun rises over the sun gate and shines into the first window. It is then exactly six month until the sun rises over the ‘V’ in the mountain and shines into the second window – then another six months to work its way back to the sun gate – 12 months of the year for the cycle to take place.
The Sun Temple – Notice the finer detail to the rock work.
There are many other significant buildings and areas – suggesting that Machu Picchu was very important to the Incas. As with the other sites we visited along the way the detail in the architecture changes according to the importance of the building or the person who lived there.
The is a large lawn area that has amazing acoustics, with a huge platform up high looking over it. This have been for the king or maybe architects etc to address the people on important issues. There is a royal tomb under the sun temple, a fountain setup to worship the water coming in from the mountains, many different ceremonial rooms and rocks setup that directly represent the shapes of the mountains in the background.
The large assembly area.
The Incas believed that the Condor connected them to the gods above, the Puma roamed around and connect them with the earth and snakes connected them with the bad spirits below. Therefore there was also places to worship the Condor, Puma and Snake all with their own temples.
Rock carving of a Condors head at the entrance to the Condor Temple.
The place was unbelievable and there are so many aspects of it after the tour we had a quick bite to eat for lunch then wondered around again. By this time it was about 1:00pm and buses were bringing more and more people, there were huge groups being led around by guides and it kind of took a bit away from the place (if that is possible). So happy that we had got it at it’s best – plus the camera was flat and memory card full we decided to bail.
A rock placed to imitate the background mountains.
Jhon had left us after he finished the tour and got a bus back into town where we had to catch a train from. He told us he was spending a few hours there and that he would be having lunch at a place called the hot springs caffè we should join him if we got back there before he left. Our train wasn’t until 4:00pm so we went in and had another snack and a couple of drinks with him. Then a 4 hr train ride home to bed!!!!
A couple of Machu Picchu locals. X between a rabbit, squirrel and chinchilla.
Just plotting our next move now, we have another 10 or so day in Peru before heading back to England……