Three. Thirty. In the MORNING! Yes, that was our wake up time. This part of the day was under some contention within the group. We’ll share what we know and you can do what you will with that information. *(Info and thoughts at the bottom)
OK, so we had quite possibly the luckiest three days of March on the trail. It was not anywhere near being clear of the rainy winter season, and a lot of us were dreading the rain on our journey. One good dump early in the trip could have set the tone for the entire journey. But the rain never came. I mentioned in part one how incredible the weather had been and we even made a special thanks to Pachamama for taking such good care of us. But no hike across the Inca Trail would be complete without at least some of the Andes mountain rain. And we did have some each day, but it was always very minimal and either very late at night or early morning. However, on our last day we were treated to the full fury of a Peruvian winter shower. Right from the get go at our 3:30am wake-up call it was dumping. Buckets of water poured down on us and the poor porters who had to pack up camp. We all scampered around trying to get our stuff packed up, protected from the rain and into the big tent for breakfast. Which, due to the terrible weather consisted of a tiny pancake and some tea. Given the circumstances though, getting anything hot was pretty impressive.
We were on our way down the dark wet trail by 4 a.m., each following the flashlight of the person directly in front of them, trying not to eat it in the mud along the way. Luckily it was a short lived trek as we reached the covered front gate area within only a few minutes of walking. This is why getting up so damn early was important. But because we were up so early we still had over an hour to kill, standing in the darkness listening to the sounds of the gushing rain. There was some joking to lighten the mood. As a photographer I was kicking myself because our waterproof camera was dead. It sure would have made for a couple good photos or maybe some short video clips, if nothing else at least help kill some time. Even some singing & dancing broke out of the cold, wet boredom and eventually the gates opened up. I really shouldn’t complain that much either because certainly there were dozens of other people stuck out beyond the covered area, just standing and waiting in the pouring rain. And to put it bluntly, that would have sucked ass! Two groups where on the list before us and once they where through the checkpoint we were finally on our way.
Now I don’t know who was watching over us, but as a group we must have had a pile of horseshoes up our butts. Personally I have lost quite a few family members in the year prior to our journey and I like to think that they have all had a hand in the miraculous weather we experienced during those four days. Even at almost the exact moment we left the protection of the covered area the fierce morning rain began to stop. Now since arriving in South America I have been bombarded with moths and butterflies. I see them everywhere. Perhaps there are just more here in South America, but they exist in Canada as well and I’ve never seen so many in my life. I always get a strange feeling that they are spirits I know visiting to say hello. Along the trail was no different. So Dad, Grandpa, Ken, Uncle Sean and whomever else had been watching over us, we can’t thank you enough for making our trip the journey of a lifetime. A beautiful, sunny and miraculously dry, journey of a lifetime. Thank You.
During this part of the trail, we moved by far the fastest the group had ever traveled. It felt like we were jogging along without a care. I really don’t know how either. We were exhausted, under rested, had barely eaten, cold, wet and on one of the more difficult portions of a rain soaked Inca Trail. I think the excitement of finally getting to the end had filled us with adrenaline. And perhaps the fact that we had somewhere to go, instead of standing in the rain had wound us up quite a bit.
If you are reading this in preparation for your own trip to Machu Picchu and are inexperienced like us, keep your whits about you. Because of all of the reasons listed above, there were a handful of times where I thought one of us might make a mistake or misstep and take a header along the way. Or perhaps worse, but let’s not talk about that. Either way our bodies cooperated until the hard part was over and suddenly we were standing at Intipunku, the Inca Sun Gate looking down upon the glorious view that is Machu Picchu.
Climbing up the “Gringo Killer” stairs and arriving at such a fantastic viewpoint really helped to culminate our entire adventure. Truly one of those “ah ha” moments, where you realize the answer to “why the hell did we sign up for this?” As rookie trekkers, we both felt such a great sense of accomplishment for what we had done over the past 3 and half days. Now we could enjoy the spoils of our triumph!
Well, we would partially enjoy our triumphs. My tired, broken limbs were very upset with me by this point. Oddly enough, the slow easy decent was one of the worst parts for me. By now Rachel was doing just fine and dandy and I was the one hobbling along with both walking sticks. The path itself was pretty simple and technically easy, but the stones of the pathway were some of the most uneven on the entire trail. Every single step had to be mapped out in my head or risk falling over from any number of over worked micro-tears in my ankle. I was so thankful to at least have a strong pair of boots!
*Hot Tip – Don’t be a super hero when your young. You need those body parts when you’re old too! Ah fuck it, what am I saying? Life is a short adventure and live it to the fullest! I made it to the end anyways. I was just being a baby.
Day four of the trip and day one of Machu Picchu…It was a day filled with all kinds of emotions. It was a day we will never forget. This was a journey of a life time and we highly encourage anyone even remotely considering this trip, or anything like it, to just go for it. Pull your socks up and make it happen!
Wait, there’s more! We climbed this bad boy below on day five. Did we really sign up for more climbing?
Another early morning, but we had a real bed and a hot shower the night before! Soo luxury! The morning started at 4:30am to get in line for the bus. You can hike to the top and beat the crowds, but we had seen the main ruins and had already signed up for the first group to hike Huayna Picchu. So all we had to do was make one of the first few buses and we should be fine. The gates to Huayna Picchu open a little later at 7:00am so we could take our time, as long as we started early. We ended up being numbers 4 and 5 through the gates which was awesome. The sign at the door says the ascent should take about 45mins. Number 1 and 2 did it in 25 minutes! The Aussie couple we met (No. 7 & 8) came with us and we made it up in 35 mins. Not bad for a couple of rooks! Again we wondered why we did this to ourselves. Why are we climbing again? Why are we going so early? And yet again our questions were answered when we were sitting at the top of Huayna Picchu, with only a handful of other travelers enjoying a perfect view of a nearly empty Machu Picchu.
The climb to the top isn’t simple. And we were both pretty intimidated at the sight of the path. But with our four days of training, it actually made it easier to manage. We were used to daunting stairs. We were used to having no end in sight. We were used to shortness of breath and sore legs. So when we made it to the first big lookout, we actually asked, “is that it?” Awesome!
We had made it to the top. We had a tough but short 45 minute trip back to Machu Picchu and we’d be done climbing for the day. But by this time the top of Huayna Picchu was becoming over run with people. It was crazy how quickly we felt overwhelmed. So to get away from the crowds we followed this tiny sign and went around the backside. Go big or go home right? Just another extra 3 and half hours to hike!
We had come this far and seen every other temple in the city. We weren’t going to miss the Moon Temple. So off we went down and around the backside of Huayna Picchu. (I found it hilarious that even at these heights, on the edge of a cliff, we found a guy and a sign. Awesome.)
This turned out to be some of the coolest and gnarliest parts of the trail. The road less traveled in Machu Picchu. We were free from tourists, as nobody really goes this way. That was fine by us!
Now in case you hadn’t noticed, we climbed down to see this temple. Which meant of course there would have to be an up again at some point. Yayyy!
This was actually an awesome experience. We were completely alone, with just the sounds of the jungle. The stairs were raw and unpolished. It turned out to be the perfect way to end our trip through Machu Picchu. This is where we found the sketchiest parts of the trail for sure. Not that it fazed the gardeners by any means. But we sure had a few moments where reality set in and we were very cautious of our steps!
After a long day at the end of a very long five days, we made our way down to the tiny tourist town at the bottom of the mountain called Aguas Calientes. We found ourselves some lunch and a hot bath to soak our bodies.
Check out the Machu Sneak Picchu post for a few more pics and stories!
*The reason we were told that we had to wake up so early was that the porters had a train to catch. Peru Rail is a private company that operates the lines into/out of Machu Picchu. They offer one train and one train only, for the porters to get home. The train departs at 5:30am and if they miss it, the porters have to walk home or figure out some other arrangements, with all of the stuff they have with them. Our guide said, if he were going, it would take him about an hour to an hour & a half to make it to the train from our camp, with out any gear. So as long as the porters can get camp torn down and packed up within an hour, that still only leaves them with an hour to make it down to the train, with 20-25kg packs on their backs!
As far as I could tell the best reason for us to get up so early was to get in line at the gate. Our camp was located about 5 minutes from the last checkpoint before Machu Picchu and they don’t let you pass until day light starts to creep over the mountains. (about 5:30am) Mama Bear (Darwin) grabbed the third spot for our group and we were right at the front of the line under the limited cover. There are dozens of groups camping, all leaving at various times and I was more than happy to get up so early, since it meant we had a cover over our heads and that we would be in relatively limited company once we reached the Sun Gate.
There was a peculiar air about the porters in general and I can’t quite put a finger on it. The company says they pay them very well in comparison to other brands. But to what extent? They really push the tipping of the porters, to the point of having a tipping ceremony. We paid the company very well for the tour, and if they pay them well, why are we having a ceremony for tips. (Don’t get us wrong we were happy to do so, those guys are incredible people) We were told that the porters could only carry a maximum of 25kg (I say only…) and the weight was verified at many checkpoints throughout the trail. I think I would have to call bullshit on that. Some of these dudes where carrying packs twice their size, made from rice sacks and handmade straps. My bag was about 20 kg and it was dwarfed by most of what these fellas where carting up and down the trail. We didn’t really see much of our porters directly, but we did see a continuous stream of porters from every level of tour skip by us and make us look like pathetic gringos. I felt like there was opposing forces trying to either show that the porters are very well cared for or that they are very much taken advantage of. At the end of it all I would say that, at least our guys, worked their asses off and were paid well to do so. With workers ranging in age from 18 – 60 I can’t see them doing this job for years at a time, if it wasn’t worth their while.