The first part of our trip had been leading up to this moment, the most famous trek in South America to one of the most spectacular archeological sights in the world, Machu Picchu. Although the 4 day trek is only 33km long, it follows the ancient path built by the Incas 500 years ago and winds it´s way up, down and around the mountains making for a seriously challenging experience.
We started in the small mountain town of Piscakucho, and after crossing the river began the gentle climb alongside the river to see our first of many Inca sites, Llactapata.
Then it was another 7km to the hamlet of Wayllabamba where we stopped for lunch. We had quite a large group of 16 people which meant we needed a whopping 22 local porters to carry all our food, camping equipment and some of our clothes. We picked the company to do the trail because it treats its porters much better than many of the other companies, only allowing them to carry a certain weight and providing them with walking shoes and proper rucksacks. We couldn´t believe some of the porters from other companies were only wearing sandals and strapping enormous sacks to their backs with only a piece of material round their shoulders. Even carrying all this stuff the porters still practically run along the trail, setting up tents for and preparing lunch long before we eventually arrived! We felt really bad seeing how much they had to carry up the mountain but it gives so many local people jobs and as long as they´re treated fairly and paid enough it can´t be all bad.
After a surpisingly delicious lunch (considering it was prepared half way up the mountain!) we began a steep 3km climb up the mountain before finally reaching our campsite for the night which had a fantastic view of snowy mountain Veronica.
Every evening when we arrived at our campsites we had "happy hour" which sadly was lacking in any alcoholic beverages (not a good idea at altitude!) but consisted of lots of traditional coca tea (a natural remedy for altitude sickness) and big plates of popcorn and biscuits. It doesn´t sound much, but after a day of hiking this seemed the most amazing thing ever!
We decided not to rent the overpriced sleeping bags or inflatable matress opting instead for a foam matrress and our own lightweight Tesco summer sleeping bags. This resulted in a seriously chilly and uncomfortable night, and meant we weren´t looking forward to tomorrow night when we´d be sleeping much higher up the mountain where it would be much much colder!
The next morning we were treated to a breakfast of pancakes, bread and jam and then began the mega steep 2 hour ascent to the highest point of the trail at 4200m, morbidly known as "Dead Womans Pass". The views from here were absolutely breathtaking, looking down from above the clouds at the mountains either side.
After this huge climb we now had to rather frustratingly climb all the way back down the other side down some knee-shatteringly steep steps to the river where utterly exhausted we stopped for lunch. After all this, it was safe to say noone was that enthusiastic about another 4 hours of hiking in the afternoon. We climbed for abour an hour to a round ruin called Runkurakay which had more superb views and then continued past two small mountain lakes before reaching the second pass at 3950m which has views of the snowcapped Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range.
Then it was into the cloudforest for the last stretch before the campsite. We were literally walking in the clouds and we spotted a few tropical looking birds including some beautiful hummingbirds in amongst the trees. Finally, we stopped off at another Inca Ruin called Sayaqmarka perched on top of the mountain looking down into the valley and then found our campsite for the night.
This campsite was much higher than the last which meant it was absolutely freezing! We literally wore all the clothes we had with us to sleep, three jumpers etc but were still soooo cold!
The third day was a lot less tiring than the second and we had plenty of time to enjoy the views from another few ruins on the way to the final campsite, which we arrived at by lunch time.
The first ruin we saw was Phuyupatamarka (which means "town in the clouds"), then we headed steeply down a flight of 3000 Inca steps passsing through some tunnels and finally reaching the enormous Inca agricutural terraces of Intipata.
After lunch we took a short walk to the nearby ruin of Wiñay Wina just as the sun was going down. This was yet another impressive site built into the side of the mountain.
The sites seemed to be getting more impressive as we reached the end of the trail and we were very excited about finally making it to Machu Picchu in the morning!
We left the campsite at about 5.00am on the finaly day to get in line at the entrance to the ´sun gate´. It was atmospheric walking the final few km´s up to the view point by torch light watching the sky brighten behind the mountains.
We reached the top just before sunrise and had a few moments of panic as we realised it was too cloudy to get our first dramatic view! We waited a while and finally the clouds shifted slightly and we got an impressive, if somewhat obscured view of the ancient ruins 300m below us.
A tad dissapointed we began the last part of the trail down to the ruins and much to our relief, by the time we´d got down the clouds had dissapeared and we got the classic (picture postcard view). 4 days of trekking and we´d finally made it, and the view was really spectacular!
The city was completely deserted, hardly a tourist in sight, and we soon found out this was due to a train strike which had meant no-one but the 4 day trekkers we able to get here! 1000 day trippers usually arrive by train each day (as there is no road access) so we were incredibly luckily to have the amazing place practically to ourselves! Our guide took us on a tour explaining how the ruins are in such good condition as they were never discovered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas and destroyed their buildings (hence the "lost city of Machu Picchu"). The actual purpose and function of the city is still a mystery as it wasn´t meantioned in the chronicles kept by the Spaniards and wasn´t discovered until 1911 but many think it may have been a royal retreat abandoned upon the Spanish invasion. Our guide showed us the main sights, including the temple of the sun, royal plaza and sacred plaza which were all really impressive. There were even a few llamas strolling around the place! After a few ours of exploring and taking about 1000 photos we got the bus down the mountain to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes where we were unlucky enough to catch the England v Algeria game!
The downside of the train strike was that we were now stuck here until the morning, so we hastily found somewhere to stay for the night. We were lucky, as we could afford to spend an extra night but most of our group had flights to catch the next day so not everyone was happy! The next morning we caught the super scenic train back along the river to the point at which we started the trek where we had to catch a minibus to another town before finally meeting our big bus to take us back to Cusco. The rest of our group were in a massive rush to catch their flights so told the minibus driver to step on it! This turned out to be a risky instruction as we hurtled down the dirt roads, and when a bull wandered into the road the driver refused to slow down! I was sat in the front next to the driver and got a full on view of the bus colliding hard with the side of the bulls head. I spun round expecting to see a splattered bull but unbelievably the bull was still standing and it turned out that the bus had come off much worse, with a massive horn scratch down the side and the drivers door massively caved in! Bull 1 Bus 0!