Thanks Kye for this awesome photo of the whole group!
So this one is a bit late in coming but we had such an amazing time on the Inca Trek, we definitely wanted to share it.
The map of the route.
The Inca Trek is a 26.3 mile long path that the Incas followed on their pilgrimages from Cusco to Machu Picchu. It’s an incredibly beautiful journey that passes through gorgeous mountain valleys, along sparkling rivers, and over souring mountain passes. The Incas worshiped the Sun and the Earth, including mountains and rivers, and as such their route was not planned with ease in mind but rather to take in these beautiful sights. It is a truly fabulous hike that allows its trekkers to immerse themselves in the beauty and history of Peru. As an added bonus 4 of our closest friends from San Francisco had come down to join us for the hike, making this a truly special week for us.
We are going on an adventure!
The Inca Trek starts just outside of the ancient Inca town of Ollatambo. After getting our passports stamped we crossed a bridge and began a short climb up. As we turned the first corner our breaths caught in our throat as we encountered the first of many beautiful vistas.
The first day was an easy 10-mile hike up and down rolling hills. We actually climbed a fair bit but it was fairly gentle and was a great warm-up for our lungs and legs. It also gave us the opportunity to start bonding with our fellow trekkers who all turned out to be pretty awesome.
Lindsay and I catching up (and accidentally dressing as twins) after 3 months separation!
Before coming on the Trek I had heard horror stories from past Inca Trekkers about how incredibly crowded the trail was and that they spent most of their time staring at the rear-end of the person in front of them. Thanks to the fact we booked with LlamaPath and they use a different timetable (meaning we got up at 3-3:30am the first and last morning) as well as the smaller campsites, we barely ever ran into other groups of hikers. However, during the first day we did have some interesting encounters with locals, who live along the Path, and their animals. We almost got trampled a few times from Alpacas on the run as well as some donkeys that were being led by a kid who was texting!
Joe: Alpacas coming through!
Mindy: Joe, that’s a dog.
Mindy: Oh my bad.
I told Chris to pose with this cow. Yeah, he didn’t like that.
After getting to camp that night we had our first 3-hour dinner. The food was incredible! Who knew that a chef could do a 3-course gourmet meal, complete with a flaming dessert, with only items carried up by porters and at 9,000 feet. I have to say I felt really bad for the porter who had to carry a Pineapple up the mountain only to find out it was just for decoration!
Pineapple turtle with shish kabob wings!
After what felt like barely any sleep (I had some seriously cold feet issues) we were up again before sunrise for the longest day of hiking as well as the most fantastic. We immediately started a steep climb that continued through multiple shifts in scenery. We started out in a rainforest, climbed up to the cloud forest, and kept on going to the high mountain area, eventually leaving behind all but the most hearty of bushes.
After a short break to take a zillion photos of the Alpacas, we begin the final part of the first ascent. As Chris and I were both fighting the beginning of colds, we definitely took our time going up this part. Breathing deeply, with Chris blowing his nose every 10 feet, we reached the top, 13,779 feet, and the spectacular view of valleys and snow-capped mountains. It was such a group effort with everyone cheering each other on and the feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie was fabulous.
The whole gang on top of Dead Woman’s Pass.
Then began the downhill journey and the steps. The Incas had destroyed the beginning part of the trail up till the first pass in an effort to block out the Spanish and while the Peruvian government had reconstructed some of the steps for the first part, it wasn’t till after the Pass that we got a true taste of the Incas’ masonry skills. The Incas don’t mess around and they had built about 9,000 steps going up and down these mountains. They were crazy and exhausting and incredibly steep at parts. They even went through tunnels that the Incas had built into the rocks. You kind of always felt like you were about to pitch down the mountain and we definitely exasperated this by spending most of our time turnt around chatting back and forth with one another.
Some old and new friends.
The rest of the day went pretty much the same. After a few fake-outs of thinking we had reached the 2nd pass as well as a bit of rain, we reached the top and quickly began our descent down even more stairs.
A tad bit wet but still having a blast.
The highlight of the day came for me when we reached the Sayaqmarka Ruins. Built on the side of a steep mountain, these beautiful ruins were completed encapsulated in clouds and fog. As we explored them it was like we were in some ancient, mystical world, completely cut-off from everything. I began to understand why the Incas worshipped the Earth and mountains and began to truly appreciate how much ingenuity they had put into honoring these sacred places.
The 3rd day was fairly uneventful though no less spectacular. It involved a shorter hike of almost all downhill, lots of beautiful scenery, as well as some more spectacular ruins.
That night as we sat at dinner and discussed our 3am wake-up call (because if you are not the first ones into Machu Picchu, you are the last!) I began contemplating what had made the last few days so special. As I sat there laughing and recollecting with everyone, I realized how rarely you have the opportunity to do something so unique. Here we were, eating amazing food, chatting with not only some of our closest old friends but some awesome new ones, and after days spent hiking a trail incredibly rich in history and beauty. I felt a bit in awe of what we got to take part in and incredibly sad that it was almost over. Everything on this trip has been a rare once in a lifetime experience and it’s a bit overwhelming when you sit back and think about everything we have gotten to do.
My favorite picture of Chris and I from the trek.
Early the next morning, i.e. 3am, we made our way to the gate that begins the final hour trail to Machu Picchu. Thank goodness after our early morning wake-up call we were first in line. It definitely would have been a bit devastating after all that not to be. It was a cold, rough morning of waiting for the gates to open at 5am and was exasperated as Chris and my colds started taking turns for the worse. After the gates opened, there was a mad dash to the Sun Gate (we saw the elusive Speckled Andean Bear!), as everyone wants to be the first group. This hour was a bit overwhelming as other groups were pushing us forward and people got lost in the shuffle. I even lost Chris though found him again about 20 feet before the Gate and we finished the hike together.
The first view of Machu Picchu!
However, when you reach the Sun Gate, and the valley with Machu Picchu is laid out before you, it is instantly worth it. Its beauty surrounds you and for me I felt a wonderful sense of peace as I stared out over everything. Machu Picchu is something that a lot of us had dreamed of seeing and most of us had seen thousands of photos of, but then all of a sudden you are there and it is so much more than you ever could have imagined.
Our first photo with Machu Picchu. Well the first one that doesn’t seem ridiculous because of red noses and eyes.
The rest of the morning is a bit of a blur. Chris and I were completely under the weather by that point and we wouldn’t really get to enjoy the site till the following day after a long overdue nap. What we found was a beautiful and miraculous place that is every bit as special as we expected.
Ah, starting to feel better!
It was an incredible week and we are so thankful that we got to take part in this adventure and even more so that we got to share it with such amazing friends.
The San Francisco Gang