Hello once again.
I have now uploaded pictures from the final day of the hike. See them here
Now for a bit more detail on the hike...
We started on Monday with a bus trip at about 5:00am to Ollantaytambo. We had breakfast there then headed onto the start of the trail. We started out at about 9:00am. Before lunch was pretty easy and mostly level. There was one steepish climb before morning tea, but it would soon become rather insignificant.
I probably should get names out of the way about now. Our guide's name was Casiano. My fellow hikers included two american girls, Jennifer and Erica. A dutch guy called Robin. And the other Aussie's Lee, Leif and his girlfriend Nathalia. So there were 3 guys and 4 girls.
Anyhow, lunch on day one was a huge suprise. I don't think any of us on the hike really grasped what it meant to have porters until we reached lunch. We walked into the camping area and there were 2 tents set up, one for us to eat in and one for them to cook in. Outside the tents were 7 bowls of water, 7 pieces of soap and 7 small hand towels hanging up behind them. There was a tarp also layed out for our packs and gear. We were immediately given a drink of juice before we sat down to lunch. Lunch blew us away. It was a 3 course meal - entree, soup and a main, followed by a round of tea and coffee. Even the sugar was in a small metal sugar bowl. This was the quality of service we got for the whole trip. So it didn't really feel like we were ruffing it.
After lunch was the hardest part of the entire hike. We had to ascend 800m up the side of a mountain to our camp for the night (at an altitude of 3800m). The worst part of the ascent was inside the forest where, after climbing what seemed to be an endless amount of huge stairs made from rocks, I would turn a corner only to see another set of rocky stairs extended just as high. Progress was slow and tiring and that altitude ment I was often out of breath.
Most other tour companies camped at the bottom of the ascent for day one and did the entire 1200m on the second day. So we were very happy to do it this way, and it also meant that the camp sites were pretty empty and we didn't have to contend with all the other hikers until day four.
Day two started with a 400m ascent to the top of Dead Woman's Pass. The fun part of this section was being a short while from the top and hearing the sound of a flute travelling up from below on the wind. Our guide had brought his flute along and often played it - something no other companies had.
After a photos at the top we went down 600m of altitude to lunch on the other side. Descending mountains doesn't use as much cardio, so I wasn't puffed, but it makes the legs just as tired. I think I've had my quota of stairs for my entire life. We had lunch in the valley at the campsite where the other tour groups would stop on day two. Our guide kept calling them losers. In fact, pretty much everyone who wasn't in our tour group got called losers at some point along the way.
After lunch was another 400m ascent up a mountain and another 400 or so metres down the other side. Along the way we got to stop at some ruins. It's really quite spectacular seeing these buildings constructed on the tops of mountains and in incredibly inaccessible locations. It was also lots of fun having Casiano get so into explaining the significance of each ruin - his passion for Incan history was a big highlight of the hike.
We camped the night in Cloud Forest. Like the night before this sight had fantastic views. And also like the night before it was really, really cold. But the stars outside were quite spectacular.
Day three was an easy, level walk through temperate rainforest, followed by a knee jarring 1000m descent to our final camp site. It was great arriving for lunch at the camp site and being able to rest for a few hours in the arvo. We then went off to some ruins nearby and got a detailed description all about it from Casiano.
Dinner that night was lots of fun and afterwards we got to hear what each porter carried and got to thank them for their hard work. We also 'exchanged' songs. We really didn't know what we were doing, but it was a lot of fun. The porters sang a song, then we sang one, then they sang another, then we sang another.
The next day was the climax and it started at 3:40am! We had a quick breakfast with a cake (the cook was brilliant!) for Robin's birthday. We were first to the checkpoint by about 4:35am which didn't open to 5:30am. When the gate finally did open we started a fairly brisk walk to the Sun Gate, followed by Machu Picchu. The walk to a bit over an hour and it was really special walking up to the sun gate and seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. The fact that you didn't see Machu Picchu until then made the experience quite dramatic. After another set of photos we started out on the final part of the hike. It was great walking around the side of the mountain and seeing the sun break through the clouds and light up all the ruins in bright light and long shadows.
After a short break and a much needed toilet break we had a 2 hour tour around Machu Picchu that took 3 hours. Casiano really got into it and even though he was tired didn't want to leave anything out. After the tour though we were hit by tiredness and a slight contempt for the masses of tourists. Being there with so many people really made the hike and the other ruins we saw so much more special.
Anyhow, after that was lunch and a long train trip back to Cusco for a shower and sleep. All in all it was an unforgetable experience. As we hiked through the mountains I was regularly struck by the shear scale of them - pictures can barely grasp how huge they are. God's creation is truly amazing. The group was fantastic - not too big, not too small, and no difficult personalities. Casiano was great too.
Today I hung out with Jennifer and Erica and went horse riding around some ruins above Cusco. The only problem after visiting Machu Picchu is that now every other ruin I visit seems pretty really small and lame! But it was a fun day regardless and great to see Cusco from another angle.
That's more than enough email for now. Thanks again for your prayers and for reading my long emails. And thank you for sending me emails too. I hope things are going well in Sydney and in Menai.