Sonntag, 25. Dezember 2016
Inka Trail & Machu Picchu
I want to dedicate this post to my grandfather who passed away last week. He would have loved this trip with hiking, gorgeous scenery, 6 very different but each beautifull microclimates, mysterious Inca ruins and many more things for the photographers eye. During his funeral service I just arrived at the Inca Sun Gate where one gets the first glimpse on Machu Picchu, one of the new world wonders. I think he would have liked this.
The journey started on monday the 19th. We were picked up around 5a.m. in Cusco and drove the 2-3h to kilometer 82 of the railroad treks (2600m/8500 feet above sea level), the starting point of the Inka Trail. Here the Chaskies (porters) were all weighed to avoid overloading them. I had booked for 6kg to be carried by a Chaski and I still had my own backpack of 9.5kg (including 1.5l of water). I will never get the hang of light packing...

Starting our journey at kilometer 82.

We were a rather young group of 12 people between 23-32 years, 3 women and 9 men. We had 3 people from New Zealand, 4 Americans, 3 Germans, a Brit and a Swedish girl. Thankfully all were very social and we didn't have a lot of group formation. I was the second oldest by a margin and one of the slower ones (and not only due to my camera). But my fears of absolutely lagging behind were not confirmed. It didn't feel like someone ever really kept the group waiting. Leading the group was "Papa Freddy" with Nemesis "Pepe" as the second guide.

Papa Freddy

We were accompanied by the chef Benedicto and 16 Chaskies which all did an amazing job of packing up camp after we left a campsite, overtaking us, preparing real good food (especially for the circumstances) and having the campsite ready once we arrived at the next campsite. And each of them carried roughly 20-25kg of equipment, food, etc.

The whole group including the Chaskies

The first day was a nice warmup first following the Urubamba River taking it slow for the Chaskies to overtake us and have time to prepare lunch and later our first camp and dinner at Wayllabamba (3100m/10100 feet). On the way we stopped several times to admire Inka terraces and ruins, each accompanied by an explanation by Papa Freddy. The first campsite was the last village on the Trail and before dinner some of us joined a soccer game of the Chaskies and some local villagers.

Some Inka Ruins on the way.

Our first campsite.

The second day was the most strenous day.

The first breakfast was by far the best, after that we didn't have fruit any more for breakfast.

After a opulent breakfast we started our ascend to Llulluchapampa (3850m/12500 feet) where we had lunch and rested a bit before the hardest part of the day, the climb of Dead Woman's Pass (4215m/13770 feet), the highest point of our trek. This was also the only time we had a slight steady drizzle for roughly 30min during the day on our trek. We were really lucky to not have any more rain during the day, just during the nights. And that during the beginning of the rainy season!!!

One of the Chaskies carrying his load.

At Llulluchpampa, our lunchsite before climbing Dead Woman's Pass.

At the top we paid tribute to Patchamama (Mother Earth) with rocks we had collected at the valley, coca leaves and rum.

At top of Dead Womans Pass

Paying Tribute to Patchamama for a safe journey towards Machu Picchu.

After that we continued along Inka ruins, mountain lakes and one more pass @ 3950m/12900 feet to our second campsite at Chaquiqocha (3680m/12000 feet).

Andean grass, an important roofing resource.

A mountain lake on the way.

Though the second day was physically the most strenous, I thought that the third day was the hardest due to having to descend almost 1000m on many many Inca steps. One particularly long stretch of quite steep steps has the name "Gringo Killer". It was also the longest day hiking, though in my opinion with the most beautifull scenery of the Cloud forrest and the beginning of the rain forrest. Very mystical with lots of moss, lichen and intensly strong colors of red, orange and green! our last campsite was Winay Wayna (2700m/8800 feet) where thanks to our fastest Chaski Franklin we got a sweet campsite close to the Trekker's Control. He had left our second camp early in the morning and got to the campsite as one of the first ones in the race for the best campsite.

Flowers covering Inka ruins

Thick foilage with lots of moss.

Big surprise after lunch: Chef Benedicto presented us with a decorated cake. Apparently the cake was steamed, not baked.

Intense colors reminding me of Scotland and Wales.

Inka ruins in the microclimate of the cloud forrest

natural lawn mowers.

Part of the Gringo Killer

The last day started early, leaving the campsite at 3:45a.m. after a quick breakfast to then wait another 1.5h in line (we were the third group) at the Checkpoint (opens at 5:30a.m.) and then race off at a murderous pace (50min instead of the normal 1:20h) to the Sun Gate where we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. We were one day off sommer solstice where the sun rises upon Machu Picchu almost exactly through the Inka Sun Gate. Unfortunately we were denied this sight due to clouds.

Machu Picchu from Sun gate

After that it was another 45min hike to Machu Picchu (2400m/ 7800 feet) itself where we stored our luggage and took a 2h tour with Papa Freddy. These ruins are just spectacular! Especially because everything is built on a mountain ridge and navigating through the ancient city involves lots and lots of more steps and steep inclines. I was the only one of the group to stay another night so I stayed in Machu Picchu and didn't join when the group left for Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) for lunch. We had a beautifull sunny day and I went crazy with the camera but also stoping every once (at a shady spot) to just admire the ruins, chill and even nap a bit.

Gatekeepers Cottage

some large rabbit-like rodent

the classic Machu Picchu Picture with a lama... Had to do it.

I left for Aguas Calientes (2000m/6500 feet) later in the afternoon. I had taken a freezing cold bath in a mountain stream in our second camp and an equally cold shower at the third camp so I was really looking forward to the hot shower at my hostel.

Christmas Tree at Aguas Calientes. Rather creative, isn't it?

The next day I took the bus up to Machu Picchu to then climb Montana Machu Picchu (3000m) in the morning. The weather was quite cloudy and foggy with on and off rain, perfect for the hike up, but ruining the view on Machu Picchu from above. The hike itself was still quite spectacular with narrow, steep and slippery Inka steps and steep dropoffs next to them (without the comfort of rails).

Up at Montana Machu Picchu. And no, I didn't pee myself, this is only mist collecting on my rain jacket, eventually wetting my pants.

Around noon I went down again and only walked aroud Machu Picchu for a short time due to the rain. I spent the afternoon in Aguas Calientes and then took the train to Ollantaytambo where I took a bus back to Cusco.
All in all a great experience, physically and a bit spiritually. I left lots of sweat on the trail and took with me one of the best experiences in my life so far. Now Christmas dinner with my Peruvian host family. Tomorrow (25th) I already leave for the next adventure: Tambopata (southern part of the Amazon area of Peru) and after that lake Titicaca.
I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thanks for sticking with me so far. The next post will most likely be in the nex year...

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