“So, the trek is 43km (26.7 miles, basically a marathon), it starts off pretty flat, the second day is brutal, the third day is the longest and the 4th day you will be so tired that it will be hard to enjoy Machu Picchu.” That would have been an accurate description of what was ahead, instead the guide marked some points on the map, told us what to bring, and said, “be in the lobby of your hostel at 5 am for pick up”. Fast forward to 4:30 am; alarm is ringing, bags are packed and I’m just wishing I had another 30 minutes of sleep. The guide shows up at 4:45 (the only time anyone has been early in the history of Peru) and hurries us down the road so he can gather the rest of the group for our 1.5 hour bus ride to breakfast, followed by another jaunt to km 82 where we would start the trek. Enter the gang! A family of Peruvians, an afro sporting Kiwi, Siobhan from Ireland, a giggling pair of french Canadians, us two from Las Vegas, my Swedish mate Mattias and Kiko (sorry Keith).
We started the trail around 10 am on March 3rd at KM marker 82. Here you pass a checkpoint (passport and all), cross a bridge, and begin the trek to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. Also a good time to buy some Oreos, toilet paper, water, and a walking stick for 5 soles (that I eventually dropped off the side of a cliff while taking a photo…). The first day is pretty leisurely, you don't walk too far, you take breaks often and learn a little about the history of the Patallacta ruins and why the Inca trail exists. Break for an amazing lunch of guacamole, stuffed trout and veggies and continue for a couple more hours to camp. It should be noted that our camp had the best food around…or at least from what I gathered. You could book with Cusco Peru Viajes, Loki travel, or Reyes … …. which is the actual tour company. If you book with Loki you get free lunch and a shower in Aguas Calientes at the end of the trek (bonus) and it costs the same as the other company. If you book ahead (months) you can get the trek for $375 or so, saving about $75 per person (we paid $450). Anyways, have some dinner play some cards and we were in the tent by 8:30 pm (tent’s were large, new, and the sleeping bags were great).
Rooster crows at 5 am, a porter (helper that carries all the stuff) brings you coca tea at 5:30 am, and we are on the trail (after breakfast) at 7:15 am. Today is the day… A. Christina’s birthday, B. Dead woman’s pass. The trail that started at 8,500 feet is about to cross 13,829 feet, and believe me, it’s no walk in the park. After struggling up the endless stairs and jungle paths to dead woman’s pass it’s time for a much deserved treat (Oreo’s and peanut butter!) and an obligatory group photo. After a bit of relaxation, its 2.1km straight down the other side to a beautiful campsite tucked in between the Andes range. This is probably where they got the idea for Avatar, massive waterfalls, lush green mountains and just on the verge of being in the clouds. Relax, soak your feet in the ice water river (or the ice cold showers), share some laughs over tea time and before you know it dinner is served. For it being wet season, we have had nothing but perfect weather. 8 pm rolls around and so do the clouds. We ran for the tents just in time to enjoy the beautiful sound of rain, and an impressive lightning storm rolling through. Lights out.
Day 3, no roosters today, but you still get coca tea brought to your tent first thing in the morning. We are machines at this point. Pack the bags, toss them on the tarps, head to the red canopy for breakfast. Birthday cake. Yes, somehow, they managed to make a breakfast birthday cake for Christina and our cook, Victor. The day is off to a good start. After day 2 the legs are tight and the hills seem much steeper than they should. Luckily we get a quick break at Runkuraqay ruins 30 minutes in, another history lesson, and off to pass #2 (12,950ft). Another descent, some more amazing ruins, lunch and 1500 of the most ridiculous stairs carved into granite later you reach Wiñay Wayna, which is a terraced ruin as well as the name of the nearby campsite. (I ran this portion of the trail, it was downhill and was like a game of high stakes frogger). Relax, take photos, go to camp, eat, take an ice cold shower (seriously, the water at home doesn't get that cold), eat some dinner, drink some rum with your Anis tea, laugh harder than Siobhan’s belly can handle and bed time. Tomorrow is Machu Picchu.
3:30 am. Yes. 3:30 am. Wake up pack your shit, and get ready to go sit in complete darkness until 5:30 at the trailhead gate to Machu Picchu. They don’t serve breakfast the last day because it’s “unhealthy” to eat that early, but we all know it’s because the porters have to make an early train. They hand you off a “snack pack” and leave you in a line for an hour and a half. 5:40 am: The gate guard finally shows up, like I said, Peruvian time. So begins the final 3km winding along a cliffside. Up some stairs through a ruin and around the corner and behold, Machu Picchu lies ahead. This is selfie heaven, or it might be “I’ll stand here in awe and you take a picture and make it look candid” heaven. Either way, we took photos, I broke out the dinosaur that had been waiting patiently for his appearance, and we carried on into Machu Picchu. At this point you're tired, real tired. Then the main gates which were holding back loads of Chinese tour busses open. Machu Picchu quickly becomes Disneyland and my version of tourist hell. You file through the ruins learning what you can, exit the gates, grab a beer and relax. Here you can buy food, ice cream, beer, and entry into a bathroom that has an actual toilet (instead of a porcelain hole in the ground). Life is good.
Spend the morning taking some photos and trying to drag your limp, corpse like body up and down the stairs for the perfect shot and then it’s down to Agua Calientes for lunch, natural hot springs, cheap-er beer, and the train ride back to Cusco. It’s amazing what the body can handle when you set your mind right. Cheers to the whole group for being good sports, joining in my GoPro photos, and letting me video you as you stumbled around the ruins. Truly a memory to last a lifetime. As always thanks for reading, sharing and commenting
Much love and Stay Wild
ps Big shout out to Mr. Gudger for the Venmo balance transfer, I'll put it to good use amigo!