Machu Picchu and the Classic Inca Hiking Trail, Peru
This trip was from km81 on the Urubamba River to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail with the last day of the trek coinciding with my 40th Birthday. Not planned, it just happen like that.
Day 1 started after a quick lunch in brilliant sunshine and strong winds, apparently due to the Amazon Rainforest on one side of the mountains and the high dry air on the other.
We started out walking along a track to the suspension bridge at km82 which proved to be my first challenge. I hate heights and especially dodgy looking bridges that are being blown all over the place. Head down, watch my feet and don't stop worked. The others all stopped for photos in the middle but I declined!
The rest of the first day was a fairly gentle hike along the valley floor generally following the river and passing through a few settlements. The people are fantastic, always smiling and laughing (probably at us!). I would take loads of fruit and pencils next time for the kids. They do like pencils. Don't give sweets as they don't look after their teeth.
The day was spent at around 2500m. The first night was spent near km88, the normal starting point of this trek, in comparative luxury. We had a purpose built barn to eat in, loos, and a shower. Not bad as we were supposed to be roughing it. I was assured it would get rougher later.
Several beers had to be consumed that night as one of the team had a birthday. Well, it would be rude not to!
Next morning we set off through the eucalyptus trees (I believe they are starting a program to get rid of these trees we introduced to help them. They have wrecked the environment) and headed up another valley following the river Cusichaca to Huayllabamba. Apart from a short steep section at the beginning the rest of this section was a gentle uphill to 3000m. After a quick break we turned west and headed up towards Abra de Huarmhuanusca (Dead Woman's Pass) so called because the rock forms a woman's face while a small hillock with a rock on top forms the woman's ... well, you get the picture.
Our campsite was just below the pass at 3600m
At the start of the climb the terrain was largely grasses and rock but as we climbed we walked into a magical world of cloud forest. We were surrounded by orchids, humming birds, moss dripping from the trees, and flowers we only see indoors over here just growing wild. The trail turned to paved steps. I now know where the Incas went. They moved to the UK and joined English Heritage, the National parks, and the National Trust. Taught them all they know about paths and steps!
The grind uphill was becoming a struggle for some as the air got thinner, enough to make you notice it, and the steps just went on and on. The views were spectacular and the second campsite was on a small platform overlooking the valley we had just climbed through. Dead woman's pass also looked deceptively close above us.
My brother and I decided we would go a have a chat with the local farmer that lived there and took along a bottle of whiskey, which he didn't like but we did manage to stop him spitting it into the fire, just. The guy lived at 12000 ft in something less than a bothy, was 15 years old and spent the whole year there looking after the sheep and lamas. Should make finding a wife tough!
Next day was to be the longest, 11 hours with only 12 hours of day light so not a lot of time to muck around. Today we were to do all three passes at 4200m, 3950m, and 3650m. This wouldn't have been a great problem if the Incas had heard of contour hugging. Why do that when you can go straight over and down the other side.
Dead woman's pass was further than it looked a took a couple of hours slog uphill but was well worth it at the top. The east side of the pass we had just come up was bright sunshine while the west side just tipped off the edge into the cloud. Probably a good thing for me and my problem with heights.
The descent was about 800m and was a lot like parts of the Lake District. Just after starting the descent we came out of the cloud. The view was rewarding with waterfalls all around and some spectacular drops into the valley below.
The second pass (Runcu Raccay) looked an incredibly long way up from the lowest point but was only 300m above. On the climb up the trail clung to the edges at points but the wooden bridges replaced the bits that had obviously given up clinging. Ah this was doing my fear of heights no good at all.
At the top of the second pass it became more like the Lake District than ever until we saw the wildlife. The first animals we saw mountain viscaschas, a rabbit like rodent with small ears and apparently a relative of the Chinchilla. We also saw a blue bird with bright blue flashes and an orange underside. I did identify it but lost the name somewhere.
The trail lead down through a tunnel in the rock towards Sayac Marca, a preserved Inca town. From here we turned North and was back into the forest. This was where I saw a giant humming bird. Apparently these are quite rare and, obviously, big as humming birds go. It was doing a tour of a Passion fruit plant and got about a walking poles length away. Just wish I could have got the camera out quick enough. The guides reckon the humming bird knows what a camera is as they always seem to disappear when they come out. (Just realised how much of a 'one that got away' that sounds like :o) )
The trek from here took another steady climb up towards the third pass and our final campsite at Phuyu Pata Marca 3600m. Along this section we passed through the Inca tunnel just cut through the rock. The final campsite was perched on the edge of the hill with stunning views in all directions.
Day 4 started early to catch the sunrise. We climbed up onto the hill behind the campsite to watch the sun come up over the hills and hit the snow covered peaks beyond. I have no maps of the area yet that name these mountains but I'm working on it. Anyone else know? What a great start to my 40th birthday!
After some breakfast and happy birthday in Spanish it was off around the mountain and down a steep ridge through yet more forest. From the top of the ridge we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, the back of it, through the morning clouds. We descended steeply down to Huinay Huayna for a lunch stop. This is a restored Inca site that makes an incredible lunch spot. From here we walked around the back of Machu Picchu mountain to Intipunku. As the sun gate was supposed to be the place the Inca King was reborn by stepping through with the sunrise, it seemed appropriate that the to 40th birthday people should go through. Live is supposed to start at 40! Isn't it?
From here we could see the classic view of Machu Picchu and Huayana Picchu beyond. Parts of the walk down to Machu Picchu gave me cause for concern as the end of the steps just appeared to lead straight over a 1700 ft drop. Still, it was a long walk back so I had to do it. That was when they choose to tell me the only person they ever lost went straight over there.
Just before reaching Machu Picchu itself we came across a 2 inch wasp dragging a dead tarantula it had killed back to its nest. I never thought to ask if these sort of creatures where running around the countryside.
Although this was a guided trek, you cannot do it now without being part of a group, and I didn't have to worry about navigation, it was a fantastic trip and I would recommend it to anyone thinking of heading down there. I am told there are far better treks in Peru and shall be looking into them soon. Well, I have to start planning for my 50th don't I! If I can wait that long.
Contributed by: Kev
See also this story by Patrick O'Gilfoil Healy from the New York Times of 12 November 2006, on alternative routes to avoid the busy Inca Trail.< Back to Peru page for links to other stories
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