Monday, 5 December 2011

A Marriage Proposal and Retracing the Footsteps of the Mighty Incas - the 4 Day Inca Trail

Good morning from Lima everyone.  Anny and I are now back from the 4 day Inca trail and it was definitely something I would recommend doing for anyone that is in Peru and has 4 days to spare in their itinerary.  Whilst you could just take the train or bus to Machu Picchu directly, arriving there after completing the Inca trail is much more special in my humble opinion.  So now for the story to begin.

We were picked up from our hotel on the 30th November at an ungodly hour, and driven by bus to just outside of Olyantaytambo, with the springs from the seat poking us in the back and causing some discomfort.  Despite this discomfort the route was very scenic and also a little scary with huge drops on the one side of the mountain.  Arriving safely at kilometre 82, where the 4 day Inca trail begins, we disembarked the bus and prepared to set off.  There were 8 of us to begin with, 4 Aussies and 2 Brits in addition to us, and a Canadian guy joined us in the evening after finishing another trek that he had been doing in the region.  All of the other couples who commenced the trek with us had taken the option of an extra porter to carry some of their personal belongings, but Anny and I had decided to forgo this option so that I could get in some extra training and save a few pennies.  I had promised Anny that I would take most of the weight.  I put my pack on and realised that it was going to be much tougher for me than for the others, with my pack weighing 11kg, and most of theirs weighing less than 5kg.  The Canadian guy was carrying 16kg though, so he has to take the hardcore award.

After signing in at the first checkpoint we were off.  The first day of walking is not that tough and follows the valley that the train route to Machu Picchu also follows.  It is a beautiful valley and there are lots of houses at this point on the route, and also mules and horses transporting goods for the local people.  Anny and I walked at the back of the group for most of the day as Anny doesn't like walking too fast, and day one was what I would describe as a lovely stroll in the countryside.  There were several Inca ruins along the way, and at each one the guides would tell us the history behind the places and what they were used for.  We slept in a small field near some houses and a small snack shop, and there were some beautiful views down the valley.  The only problem with the campsite was that there were dogs barking late into the night (something I am now used to after my bike tour of South America but something that Anny is not yet used to) and a rooster woke us up at 4am, a whole hour before we needed to get up to start the days hiking.

The group at the start of the trail before the Canadian guy came

Day two of the Inca route is a toughie and is uphill for most of the time.  The highest pass of the day is 4,215 metres above sea level and for those that have not spent long in Cusco beforehand to acclimatise it is hard going, and they suffer headaches and nausea.  Some do not manage to make it and have to turn back at this point, although the vast majority do make it, and once you are over the pass it is better to keep going even if you are suffering from altitude sickness rather than have to climb back over it.  The guides are also carrying oxygen for those that need it.  Anny coped very well with the altitude and I thought she would have a tougher time than she did.  For me it was absolutely fine but recall that I had been at heights of around 3,800 metres above sea level for 3 weeks before the trip, so was fully aclimatised.  Day two was pretty long and after finishing the hiking everyone in the group was pretty tired and had a dodo or siesta before the evenings meal.  The food by the way was fantastic and the chef definitely earned his tip.  There were 3 of us veggies in the group, and he catered for us very well, incorporating tofu into the Peruvian style dishes so that we missed out on nothing.  In the nightime one of the guides recounted the story of a young Israeli who killed his newlywed bride, a much wealthier German lady, not far from the camp and how he tried to make it appear like a robbery.  He was later convicted of the crime after a porter testified that he had seen the young Israeli earlier in the day with a big knife, similar to the tool that was used to kill his bride.  The guide had a nasty habit of telling us stories of ghosts and murders just before going to bed.  The following day he told us in the evening about a woman who had died at camp 3 after a landslide caused a rock to fall on her tent and about a guide who died when a rock hit him on the head and knocked him off the trail.

At the highest point on the trail - 4,215 metres above sea level

Day three starts uphill but overall there is a lot of downhill throughout the day, and very steep downhill at that.  There are often steps but they are very narrow and so steep that you need to pay constant attention to where you step.  When it rains the stones become very slippery and unfortunately it did rain for us, so we had to be very careful.  Day three like day two is also a toughie, and very long.  For me it was actually harder than day two, because I find going downhill very tiring both mentally and physically.  Towards the end of the days hiking the route splits in two and you have the option of a short and steep route straight down to the camp, or a longer route that passes by some Inca ruins.  Anny and I chose the longer route past the ruins and so did everyone else in the group.  During the night on day three it rained extremely hard, and the water started coming inside the tent.  The porters had not left enough space between the rain fly and the inner part of the tent, but on top of that there were some holes in the rain fly.  We were even considering at one point whether it would be better to leave the tent and seek better shelter elsewhere, but in the end we decided to wait it out and see if it would stop.  After about one hour it stopped and we thanked the Lord.  Throughout the rainstorm Anny had been thinking about the rock that had crushed a tourist in her tent during a heavy rainstorm, the story that the guide had recounted to us.  I must admit that the story had run through my mind a couple of times, but I tried to dismiss it as extremely unlikely and not worth worrying about, and tried to reassure Anny too.

We were woken on day four at 4am and given a coca tea to help us to wake up.  When we got outside the tent we talked with the others in the group and it seemed that everyone had got wet during the night, and most had also been thinking from time to time of the guide's story of the landslide and the crushed tourist during the rainstorm.  On a side note I think the guide should stop telling such nasty stories to people just before bedtime, unless his aim is to cause nightmares.  Other than his stories he was a really cool guy and extremely informative on the Incas history and culture.  Anyway back to the hike itself.  The checkpoint only opens at 5.30am so we all queued at the checkpoint along with the other groups, ready for it to be opened.  When it opened we made our way through and just after the checkpoint some people in the group started running as they wanted to be at Machu Picchu as early as possible.  I couldn't persuade Anny to run though, and she said we should worry less about time and more about enjoying what remained of the Inca trail before Machu Picchu.  In retrospect she was very right.

On arriving at the sun gate we had our first views of the mighty Machu Picchu, and it exceeded all of our expectations.  On the postcards Machu Picchu looks quite small but the site is vast and awe inspiring.  We took some cool photos and then made our way down towards Machu Picchu itself.  The closer you get to it the more impressive it looks.  The Incas were truly an advanced culture and Machu Picchu really makes you appreciate that.  They understood all about the sun and the stars and nature, and all of this knowledge is incorporated into their buildings.  I have to say that this place definitely deserves to be high on the list of man made wonders of the world.  Something else happened at Machu Picchu that is very good news for me and Anny at least.  I got down on one knee and proposed to her and she accepted.  The ring that I had got as a tempory ring until I can buy the one that I have already decided upon didn't fit, but Anny and I both saw the humour in it, and she didn't take it badly at all.

After a guided tour of Machu Picchu, Anny and the Canadian guy and myself went up Wanaypicchu to get the best view of Machhu Picchu that you can possibly get.  The route is not for the faint hearted though and there are many points on the route that induce vertigo in all but the hardiest.  I had vertigo in several places and although Anny seemed fine at the bottom, she got vertigo at the top too.  The path is extremely steep and exposed in several places, and there are a series of ropes and cables to help you up and down.  I am really glad that we had good weather as doing the route in the wet would not be a wise choice at all.  I was really surprised to hear that only 2 people have died on the mountain, as I would have expected it to be higher.  If you wanted to commit suicide it would be a perfect place to do it.  The views from the top are just fantastic though, and if you don't mind heights I would definitely recommend it.  If you don't like heights though, it is probably best that you don't go.  Also it isn't really possible for anyone who has any kind of physical disability unfortunately.

The amazing view of Machu Picchu from Wanaypicchu
An unlikely pair that we saw whilst on the Inca trail

In summary, my overall opinion of the Inca trail and Macchu Picchu is that it is fantastic and I recommend it with all of my heart.  It is also now a place that Anny and I will remember forever, as being the place where I first proposed to her.  I wish you all a good day my friends and may the travels continue, with Iquitos and the Amazon being the next stop on our route.

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