Leaving the hotel at 5.30 we drove towards the starting point on the Inca Trail trying not to think too much about the mammoth task ahead of us. We stopped over in Ollantayambo to have some breakfast and gather our energy for the day. Queuing up in line waiting to be ushered through the first checkpoint, a stamp in our passport allows us entry onto the trail and we nervously have our photo taken under the sign signifying the start of our journey.
Day one took us across Rio Urubamba and immediately we started a steep ascent, testing the legs and lungs as we went. We watched as the train chugged past taking passengers the 2 hours upto Machu Picchu and wondered what we had got ourselves into. The sun was beating down and soon we had all stripped off our layers and were slapping on the sun cream. We stopped along the way as Jeremy and Rody our guides showed us the different flora and fauna that line the trail before we reached our first archeological site of Salapunku. Here we were given a lesson on the history of the Incas.
Our first lunch stop and we were given a taste of the food that we will be sampling over the next few days. The chefs were talented and provided us with food far better than some of the restaurants I have eaten in in South America. Meals presented beautifully and high in protein and carbohydrates to get us through the trail, we would not go hungry that's for sure.
After more trekking up and down hill we arrived at our camp for the night where we made ourselves comfortable in our tents and freshened up with our small bowl of water before enjoying a cerveza with some popcorn and crackers before dinner and an early night.
A 5am wake up call and I knew it was going to be a long day ahead. We had been told in our briefing that day 2 would be the toughest as most of it would be spent scaling up to Abra Warmiwanuska (Dead Woman's Pass) at 4215m above sea level. I had picked up a cold since arriving in Peru and having had a bad night's sleep and finding it difficult to breath even at rest I was feeling very tired and weak.
We left our camp at Wayllabamba at 2980m and began the climb. There was little or no let up in the steep steps and paths ahead and I had to use all the strength I had to pull myself up one step after another in the blazing sunshine. Eventually after 5 hours of walking I reached the top of Dead Woman's Pass, and I can see where it gets it's name! I arrived to claps and cheers from the others in the group who had already made it there ages before me.
We left Dead Woman's Pass and this time the path was downhill. We descended the Inca steps towards camp. The steps were so steep and irregular that I had to be careful where I was putting my feet for fear of tumbling head first into the person infront. An hour later and we arrived at camp at 1pm absolutely shattered and exhausted both physically and mentally. All the muscles in my legs were aching and the welcome bowl of water was waiting for me to soak my feet and freshen up. As I sat there with my feet in the ice cold water a huge red butterfly came to sit on the rocks next to me.
The sun that had been beating down for most of the morning slowly disappeared after lunch as the clouds enveloped the tops of the mountains, gradually creeping downwards. The bright blue sky that had welcomed us to camp was replaced by grey rainclouds and at about 3pm the rain started. I was now thankful for the early start to the day which had ensured that we arrived to camp before the rains came.
The porters who accompanied us on the were amazing. They pack up the camp after we leave and each carry 25kg as they take the same route as us up and around the mountains, often running, towards the next stop. When we arrive they have already set everything up again, ensuring that our belongings are safely delivered to our tents, and they are in the process of preparing our next 3 course meal. I have to take my hat off to them, they do a fabulous job.
On day 3 we awoke to rain, as we once again left camp at Paqaymayo we made our way through the wet and slippery mountain passes being careful not to put a foot wrong and slip. We splashed through puddles and climbed on through the rain as quick as we could as we got more and more wet. As we were so high up the views should have been amazing, but the rain and clouds had caused a low lying mist across the valleys and there was nothing to see. Eventuially reaching camp at Runkuraqay soaked through, we huddled in the food tent trying to keep warm in our damp clothes. The rain stopped as we waited for lunch to be served and the clouds gradually lifted. The views from here were magical and we could actually see the mountain where Machu Picchu was, although not Machu Picchu itself as this was on the other side.
Continuing on, a little drier after a quick change of clothes, we descended quickly through the trees. Reaching Sayacmarca ruins we took time to take some pictures and take in the view before heading down further towards our camp for the night.
Our 4th and final day saw us getting up at 3.45am so that we would be one of the first groups in line when the checkpoint opened at 5.30am, and therefore ensuring that there wouldn't be too many people at Intipunku (Sun Gate) when we arrived. Once in line, we had time to brush our teeth and make a quick toilet stop, before getting the final checkpoint stamp and leaving Winaywayna as we rushed through the barrier and out onto the trailk for the last time. We all went quickly, some were practically running and overtaking the groups infront, and we arrived at the Sun Gate an hour later. This was our first glimpse of the ruins at Machu Picchu and it didn't disappoint. Despite only seeing it from a distance it was still amazing and magical. I couldn't wait to see it up close. We spent a bit of time here as the sun came up and shone through the Sun Gate towards Machu Picchu, lighting it up as the green grass of the terraces grew more and more vivid with the sun.
We left the Sun Gate and made our way down the path towards Machu Picchu, it growing in size as we approached. After the 4 day trek it was suddenly there infront of us, standing proud beneath Waynapicchu mountain, just like you see on all the picture postcards.
Meeting up with the rest of the group who had not done the trail we were then able to walk around the ruins, actually touching the ancient stones and carvings that were rediscovered 100 years ago. After all the walking we had done over the past few days, mostly on adrenaline, it was hard to drag ourselves up and down the steep steps of the ruins but to have come this far, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed.