There are some places in the world that you have seen photographs of and you say to yourself ‘one day I’m going to go there’. Well this is how is all started. Our bucket list!
Then back in September my husband, Jim and I decided it was time to put the list into action. The place we had both wanted to go to for a long time was Machu Picchu.
We had travelled with KE Adventure Travel (a local company based in Keswick) previously and been very impressed with the quality of their holidays. The staff are so knowledgeable about the treks and without hesitation went to them to find out about the Inca Trail. They recommended ‘The Inca Trail and Beyond’, a trip which includes a few extra days trekking through the quiet Silque Valley before joining the Inca Trail. It sounded fabulous so we followed their advice and booked for June 2019.
Whilst working one Sunday in early October I was chatting to a customer who was looking to buy a Patagonia Jacket. She explained that she was in the throes of booking the Inca Trail with some old university friends and the jacket was in readiness for the trip. As you can imagine the conversation was so topical for us both. Anyways, to cut a long story short this lady, Di, got in touch with me a couple of weeks later to say her plans for the trip weren’t going so well and was keen to find out more about our booking. After a few text messages Di and her partner Andy (from Burton on Trent) booked onto our trip with KE. Di is a real George Fisher and Patagonia fan and I felt that even after one short exchange we were going to get on well. It was meant to be!
In didn’t take long to see the six of us had quite a lot in common: we all loved to hike, travel and do park runs!
We flew to Cusco (via Bogota, Columbia) which is at 3200m above sea level and had two days to acclimatise before setting off on the trek. This was definitely needed. My breathing was noticeably laboured, especially walking up the hotel stairs! In Cusco we met Jenny and Mark (from Nottingham) the final two members of our group. In didn’t take long to see the six of us had quite a lot in common: we all loved to hike, travel and do park runs!
Cusco (the former Inca capital of Southern Peru) is a lovely city surrounded by fabulous mountain ranges. Big celebrations were getting under way to mark the Winter Solstice. The Plaza de Armas was bustling with locals dressed in traditional costumes, dancing and parading through the square. It was very atmospheric.
We had a wonderful guide, Henry, who would be accompanying us throughout the whole trip. Our days in and around Cusco were spent sightseeing – visiting Cathedrals, Inca sites, the Salt Pans and local communities. We watched how Alpaca wool was used and dyed with natural colours from flowers and insects. We observed local women drying potatoes and extracting moisture from them by walking on them barefoot. A tradition dating back to the Inca times.
We moved on to Ollantaytambo – 2700m where we spent one night before the start of the trek. Our kit bags were strapped to horses along with the tents and all the other gear (food supplies, pots, pans, cooking equipment, portable loo etc). We were waved off on our journey by 6 smiling Peruvian porters, with just a back pack to carry, knowing that they would soon pass us by and set up camp before we arrived!
The scenery was absolutely stunning. We had only been walking for a short time through the Silque Valley before we had ’ jaw dropping views’ of snow capped Mount Veronica (5893m).
This is where Henry our guide chose as a lunch stop. It was so serene! And lunch! Well this absolutely amazing. We were provided with three courses: soup, fish with rice and vegetables and a lemon dessert followed by coca tea. It was just incredible that such great food could be cooked on the mountain with basic equipment and not much in the way of facilities! What an exciting start to our trek. (Throughout the whole trip the food was first class and plentiful). This first day’s walk was relatively short to break us in gently. Camp was set up at a clearing in wood at 3100m. It was just magical. A sky full of stars, just us and the porters and nature in all its beauty.
Henry warned us that the next day would be longer and tougher as we were to trek up to 4639m, which is about 15200ft (yes, quite high!) After the morning ritual of coca tea we set off at a nice slow pace as the air was thinner and breathing was harder. The sun was intense which sapped our energy. Frequent stops were the order of the day to re-hydrate. The terrain in itself wasn’t difficult but the altitude was putting its mark on me. I felt a bit lightheaded and slightly nauseous but the rewards were so worth it.
Surrounded by such vast mountains as we walked over Ancascocha Pass. The colours of the rocks, reds and yellows gleaming in the bright light of the day. Not another sole to be seen. How amazing was this – to have the whole mountains to ourselves? At the highest point we were treated to views of a small glacial lake undisturbed by civilisation. The sense of achievement on reaching this point was incredible. The next day was easier going, after a short climb out of the valley, where alpaca’s roamed freely we started to descend into the Q’esqa Valley which offered contrasting views. We passed small hamlets, an Inca ruin and grazing pastures. It was hard to imagine that people lived at such height. Henry explained that this is where many of the porters live – in what he calls the Highlands.
The next morning we set off bright and early to cross the Cusichaca River to join the Inca Trail and trek through the cloud forest. Now we had encountered people. Lots of them – or it seemed so as we had been used to complete solitude. The walking was again steep – we were climbing up Dead Women’s Pass, 4200m (The shape of the mountain, from the distance looks like a woman laying down). The weather changed in the forest, the rain came down and the full waterproofs came out. Actually, I found this quite pleasant. It made the hiking a bit easier not having the sun beaming down on your head. Unfortunately, though, the weather made the skies dark and the clouds were down so we missed out on the views from the top of the pass. But hey ho, we had already had such incredible, to die for views, so it was only a little disappointing.
Every corner provided another beautiful outlook. The word WOW was well used.
The following morning our trek continued over Runccuraacy Pass the terrain changing again to wider paths paved with original Incas stones, luxuriant forests, a tunnel carved in the hillside by the Incas, all backed with tremendous mountain views. Every corner provided another beautiful outlook. The word WOW was well used. Henry, our guide told us that he felt this part of the walk had a special place in his heart. He felt ‘connected’ to the spirits and gods. A place to walk in peace and tranquillity.
When arriving at camp, which was to be our last night’s camping, the surroundings were out of this world. I just stood gazing. It was unbelievable. Snow capped Salkantay which stands at 6271m was towering above us. What a sight!! I felt so lucky to be here. Just to sit and watch the clouds move across the sky, the mist to come and go. To see the mountains disappear and then to reappear. This was the most wonderful view I have ever set my eyes on. Until – the morning when we rose early to catch the sunrise. The sunlight covering Salkantay was just something else – absolutely staggering.
I felt so privileged to be here. I was sure I was on top of the world. It certainly felt like it!
The next morning we set off on our decent of 3000 steps passing the Inca ruin settlement of Winay Huayna. The amazing architecture is still visible to this day. Henry is so passionate about the Inca’s and his country. The final section was round the mountain to the Sun Gate for our first sighting of Machu Picchu, the famous lost city of the Incas. At this point I could feel the excitement rising and adrenalin rush as we neared the final hundred metres or so. Then, we were the there! Machu Picchu standing in all its glory. Magnificent. Beautiful. WOW! Such a sight. I felt the emotions creeping up inside me. Was it that I had completed the trek, or was it this incredible place standing there in front of me that got to me, and made my jaw drop open? Both, I think.
What I would like to say is that if you have any inclination to visit Machu Picchu. Go for it. It’s by far the best experience of my life. After all it is ‘One of the Seven Wonders of the World!’
Anne was really happy with all of the kit she took with her and has shared some of her favourites HERE