Touring Peru – Part 2 Nov 13th – Nov 16th Machu Picchu
Updated: Jan 19
The Hike to Machu Picchu
Close to the top of Candy’s all time bucket list was visiting Machu Picchu… not just taking the bus up and doing the two hour tour (Rick’s ideal visit), but hiking the 29 miles of the Inca trail with an elevation rise of 4,900 feet (starting at 9,000 feet)! After Candy’s orthoscopic knee surgery last year to prepare, plus much training and exercising by both of us, this was it! We both realized the seriousness of the hike at our ages… this wasn’t something to take lightly.
Day One: We were picked up at 5am to drive to the KM-82 hike starting point. A quick breakfast on the way and we met our team. Even though it was the start of the rainy season we fully expected to be hiking with others and were very surprised to find that we were alone with a private guide, four porters and a chef!! Ultimately, all we had to do was get up the mountains and they would do the rest… Day one is characterized as “Moderately Difficult”, covering 14 km, 6.5 hours of hiking and 1,300 feet of vertical climb…. (Yeah, moderate) Luckily we had somewhat acclimated to the altitude, but we quickly learned that very slow steady steps were more effective than ”hike and pant”. We called it “sloth mode” and our adjustable hiking poles really helped. We carried backpacks with drinking water, rain gear, extra socks and fleece or vests. Our porters, loaded with 20kg each (about 44 lbs) made up of 15kg of equipment from the trekking company plus 5kg of personal items such as warm clothes and bedding. Their loads were weighed and strictly controlled by the Inca Trail authorities. We stopped at some beautiful Inca ruins along the way, only accessible via the Inca Trail. When we made it to our camp the porters had set up a cooking/eating tent, our tent and our guides tent, had cacao tea and a snack (often popcorn, crackers and cheese) ready for us as they prepared dinner (usually 4 course and more than we could eat – the porters happily ate the rest). We were in bed, exhausted, by 8 pm.
Day Two: Characterized as the “challenging day” (what an understatement). We figured that if we could make it through day two we were golden… Day two encompassed 16km, 11 hours of hiking, first with a up trail (9,452 foot rise), a down section (2,079 foot drop), lunch, another up trail (1,423 foot rise), and a final down section (1,323 foot drop), fortunately with no rain and plenty of sun. When we reached the highest peak, “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13,779 feet, those who had made it up first applauded each and every hiker who made it… very satisfying!! Rick approached some elder hikers on top and asked their age… he was the eldest of the group by 1 year! Again, our chef had made lunches for us and the team greeted us (with applause) with tea, snacks and another wonderful dinner when we arrived, exhausted. We were asleep by 7:00 pm.
Much of the day one and two trails were reconstructed trails, as the Incans destroyed all trails leading to Machu Picchu in order to effectively hide it from the Spanish invaders. The third and fourth day trails were original, and tough. The bathrooms (if you could call them that) quality steadily decrease over the trail… it seems a stall with a hole in the floor constitutes an acceptable toilet facility.
Day Three: Characterized as the “easy day” began with steady rain that gradually cleared… fun! Day three encompassed 10km, 2 hours of easy up (273 foot rise) and about 3 hours of down (3,280 foot drop) on the slippery rocky path. We stopped at two spectacular Inca ruins and took pictures. Again we were met by “our crew” (we were spoiled rotten by this time) with another great dinner complete with a celebratory cake (cooked in a pressure cooker on a two burner stove). We were shocked to find bottles of rum for sale on the trail, along with water and sports drinks. We bought one, which was quickly decanted into a plastic bottle. At the evening campsite our team made a special drink of Rum, Macha tea, cacao leaves and cloves, served warm… Everyone was very happy! That evening (with no influence from the rum) we saw a single file line of a dozen or more steady lights moving Southeast in the sky… we ran to the neighboring camp and they too were watching, amazed. No explanation found online after. In fact a plane with blinking lights, at a much lower altitude, crossed the string of steady lights at a right angle. Que the "Twilight Zone" music please!
Day Four: Characterized as “Unforgettable” with a mostly down trail of about 1000 foot drop. Up at 3am in the rain to be at the trail opening gate by 5am. After a one hour wait, we hiked to the “Sun Gate” and were ready for the view of a lifetime of Machu Picchu… in the fog.
We waited for a while and were able to get some pictures as the clouds blew through the mountain passes (we were mostly above the clouds for days). We finally ascended to the Machu Picchu site as the sun burned off the fog and the wonderous city appeared… WOW !! Our guide, Marco, had been explaining the Incan & pre-Incan ways, beliefs, religion and customs for the entire trip. Once at Machu Picchu he spent another two hours, giving us an overview of the site and then set us free to explore for another two hours… It was pretty incredible! (actually we physically struggled through the last part of the ruins, as our legs were jelly). After a winding bus ride down to the small town of Allyu, we boarded the train to Ollantaytambo (complete with tea, snacks and Pisco shots!). From there a taxi brought us to our Air B&B in Cusco in the trendy (and French) San Blas district. Hello Hot Showers!!!