September 6th, 2017
We had our briefing Friday night and were introduced to our guide, Fredy, who has done the Inca trail 615 times, and the rest of our group consisting of 3 other fellow Englishmen and a Scot. We had our list to pack and our route for the next four days.
Fredy arrived at our hostel at 630am Saturday and we then picked the rest of the group up. Ryan, Brad and Leon are from England and Ben is from Scotland. We were on our way about 645ish. The drive took about an hour and a half and we arrived in Ollantaytambo which would be our destination for breakfast. On the way Fredy explained some history of Cusco and how tourism has become an integral part of the former capital of the Incan world. 20 years ago Cusco looked very different and nowadays it is catered towards tourists so much that it is incredibly expensive to buy property in the city. Instead, people have started to build up on the hillsides where it is cheaper.
They served fruit salads, American breakfasts, English breakfast and sandwiches at the restaurant as well as any items you may have forgotten to pack. The view from the top of our breakfast restaurant was beautiful. Another Incan site stood before us and Fredy explained some history and then pointed us towards a puma carved in the hills. It was beautiful.
After filling our stomachs we set off for about another hour or so. The scenery was just stunning. Even a snow capped mountain appeared in amongst the dry hillside. The Incas worshipped the snow capped mountain as it produces water, one of mother earths elements. We were winding up and up the hills.
The boys needed a pit stop and then it was only about twenty minutes until we’d reached the Malaga High Pass where we’d begin our bike ride downhill from 4500 metres above sea level. It was bitterly cold when we exited the van. We suited up into our body armour, knee pads, gloves, helmet and high vis then started riding round the make sure our bikes were ok. I swear it’s been forever since I have ridden a bike.
And we were off. Needless to say I happily brought up the rear of the group. You’d think going downhill for 21 miles would be easy. The others would probably tell you it was. For me, I think I’d rather go uphill. Every bend and every switchback saw me braking and practically coming to a stop before then cycling as fast as my legs would allow to get going again. No matter how hard I tried not to brake, it still happened. We stopped after an hour to admire the view and we could see the rest of our route down. It was beautiful. The whole ride was beautiful. That’s my excuse for being slow, I was taking in the scenery! 🤔
After taking photos we were back on our bikes and continued our downhill journey. This part saw us passing over small rivers in the road, which added a nice refreshing element to the ride as by now, it was getting hotter and hotter. We passed through small towns and locals trekking up the hills we were racing down. It was amazing. The downside? The saddle. Oh my god, my backside hurt so much from the saddle that I had to stop standing up to go through the water as I couldn’t sit back down again! I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get off a bike when we reached the bottom, except we were then set upon by swarms of mosquitos. 21 miles of amazing scenery and we finished up in a small town where the van, who kept me company during the ride down, took us about half an hour further to our hostel in Santa Maria. We had gone from about 4500m above sea level to 1500m above sea level.
The hostel, Inmaculada Hostel was really nice. It even had a pool. The rooms were spacious and the showers hot. We got in, chilled for a minute and then went for lunch. Lunch was served at the hostel and consisted of quinoa soup, followed by chicken with rice and chips, with banana custard to finish. We had gone from eating one meal a day to having three meals of which two consisted of three courses. The food was sooooo good! And was washed down nicely with a cold beer.
The boys had already booked to go rafting and the guide turned up saying they could go at 240 instead of 4pm. We decided to go. It was so bloody worth it!! My legs were aching from the bike ride, now it was time for my arms to have a work out. We also got it cheaper as it was $56 per person and we only paid £47 for us both. Win win! We drove ten minutes from the hostel to where we’d begin our next adventure. Our river was the river Urubamba. As we pulled up to get into our life jackets and helmets the view was already amazing and it only got better.
Next up we’re the instructions which seemed easy enough and then we were split into two rafts. We were with Emily and her husband from Uruguay and they were nice enough to send us some photos and videos they recorded on their GoPro. It was so much fun! We were winding along this beautiful river with the hillside towering above us on either side. We passed under suspension bridges and down a lot of rapids. About half way we stopped and got into the nice cold water for a five minute swim before heading off again. I have no idea how long the route was but it was about an hour and a half. We were so glad we went as it would have been awful when the guys came back describing how great it was!
When we got back to the hostel the boys went on ATVs and we just chilled before having dinner at 630. Everything we ate was all fresh and delicious. Pumpkin soup to start, which was soooo tasty followed again by chicken, rice and chips. Carbs and protein to get us fuelled for the long hike ahead of us Sunday. After dinner we played a few card games before retiring to bed with our alarms set for 530am Sunday.
Alarms went off and up we got. Today was going to be a tough day. Breakfast was at 6 and consisted of eggs, bread and papaya. Then it rained. That’s not the start we wanted for our first day hiking. So, Fredy’s idea was to cram the 7 of us plus a driver into a car and we’d get dropped off ten minutes away, near to where we started rafting Saturday. Just as we got out the car, it stopped raining and didn’t rain again all day. In fact, the weather was beautiful.
Our hike started off along a trail that passed through plantations of bananas, cotton, coffee, and coca leaves. Coca leaves get harvested daily. The farmers will pick up each individual leaf and they’re supposed to give it to a government run company, for which they get nothing in return. That is obviously harsh so what other option do they have except to sell it into the narcotic industry when it can then be turned into cocaine. Coca leaves are also an important part of Andean people’s diet. They chew the leaves, make it into tea, use it for weight loss and energy. It is also great for altitude sickness.
We passed a little stall which was selling fruits and water. Cherimoya, masasamba, grenadine, golden corn and yucca were just some of what they had. We continued walking and it started to get really tough. It was all uphill with the toughest of turns still going uphill. Throw in some stairs every now and then and it was a killer. The paths were dry, some were rocky others smooth. We stopped a few times, once at The First Monkey House, for Fredy to talk to us about what was around us and the fact that there are spotted bears and pumas in the area. It got even steeper and even harder. My legs were killing me. My thighs were burning, my calves felt like they were going to snap in half and my back was aching due to carrying my pack. My head was pounding and my chest was getting tighter and tighter until I had to stop to try and catch my breath.
The view were totally worth it. Eventually I got going again and we had time to sit and rest at The Second Monkey House. Here, you could get hot and cold drinks, chocolate, coca leaves and even handmade souvenirs. We sat here for a couple of hours to give our legs a rest and regain some energy. They had a parrot, parakeets, a monkey with a moustache and a coati all running round the area. As time passed other groups started to arrive. I got some chocolate and it was yummy. Fredy also had us try Peruvian tequila, which mostly tasted of coffee and then the boys all tried the tequila which had a baby snake in the bottle. Apparently it’s an aphrodisiac!
We even got our faces painted warrior-style.
After having one of Brads coca candy, I felt a bit more energy and seemed to find a second wind as we set off again. Still it was all uphill. We had only walked about four miles but it seemed so much further. This time we were on the original Inca trail climbing up and up. The path was much narrower than we had been used to but the views were sensational. From high up at 2500m above sea level we could see for miles along the river Urubamba. We were at Mirador Touristica. A round building that used to stand here in the Inca times. The steps were steep and we were literally walking round a mountain. It was incredible. After a rest and taking some photos, we set off again, our destination was an orange hut for lunch.
This part saw us going downhill which was also quite tough going as some parts were steep steps others were steep hills. We reached the orange hut and sat to have lunch. Spaghetti Bolognese was on the menu this time. Because it was the hottest part of the day, Fredy gave us longer here to relax so that we wouldn’t be hiking in the blistering sunshine. Most of us took the opportunity to have a nap in the hammocks. When we woke, we realised we probably shouldn’t have fallen asleep as it took us a while to get going again!
From lunch, our destination was the hot springs. By now we’d walked about eight miles or so and the sun was still hot. This part was less strenuous and featured some suspension bridge and then we ended up walking along the river climbing over rocks until we reached a chair sort of zip line which was powered purely by man. We sat in the chair and they pulled us along over the river to the other side, where we got out and walked through a cave.
When we exited, we could see the hot springs. They were so close. The closer we got the more flies and mosquitos appeared. It was 10 soles each to get in then we got changed, put our stuff down and got into the warm water. It was so nice. The springs are natural volcanic hot springs and the pools are all different temperatures. The hot water was so nice on my muscles. We were in the pool for about an hour before getting out at which point, most of us ended up getting eaten alive by sand flies. My legs are now completely covered in horrible red and white welts that are insanely itchy.
By now it was dark and we each paid 6 soles to get a minibus to our hostel in Santa Teresa. There, we had a shower and went out for dinner. This time we had steak.
Again, the food really has been delicious. We each had a beer then Fredy took us to ‘The Bonfire,’ which was literally a bonfire with people dancing round it. We stood as the awkward brits in the corner for a while before venturing to the tables where we sat and drank and chatted playing drinking games.
Then it was on to the discotheque for a quick dance before hitting the sack in the early hours of the morning. It was a great way to finish off our 13 mike hike, which according to the health app said we had climbed 200 flights of stairs.
It was a great end to the first two days of our trek to Machu Picchu. Needless to say there were some sore heads the following day...
How Nathan woke up feeling ok after downing five shots of tequila is beyond me. The boys were slightly worse for wear and I was just tired. The alarm went off at 7am and breakfast was eaten before we got into a bus to take us to the zip lining element of our trip. This was optional and we hadn’t planned on doing it, but Nathan did it whilst I stayed behind. I saw them on one of the zip lines and they were hanging upside down! Then coming back they were soaring like a condor. After about an hour and a half we were back in the bus and on our way to the beginning of our hike.
Lunch was served first but at 1130. Firstly, it was too early for lunch and secondly it was fish so not the best food we’d had. I didn’t eat it and instead just had the ice cream they served for pudding! Then it was time to go. It was a less strenuous walk today. A mere 10 mike hike along the railway. I say it was less strenuous, it wasn’t uphill as much, although it was still 116 floors climbed, and it was constant walking. Literally constant. Fredy brought up the rear this time behind me and I just hiked along at my own pace taking in the most amazing scenery and avoiding the few trains that trundled along the tracks.
It was raining for quite a bit of the hike. The plastic ponchos just made me hotter but I was determined not to stop, no matter how much my thighs hurt. The views around were just amazing, even in the rain. As people passed walking in the opposite direction exchanges of 'hola' occurred. Our destination was Aguas Calientes and it took about two and a half hours to get there. The last half an hour saw me practically crawling on all fours. My legs were on fire. My back was killing me. It had rained so I was wet with rainwater and sweat.
Finally we reached the hotel but not before climbing another hill. Formalities done we headed to the room. I was in agony so tried to sleep for a bit. Tossing and turning and shivering but hot, I then threw up and proceeded to throw up for the rest of the evening and into the early hours of the morning. I missed dinner, which was Pizza 😩. I felt so unbelievably crap I think my body was just so completely not used to the amount of exertion over the last three days that it just decided to shut down. I didn't even get to explore the town, luckily Nathan took some photos.
The alarm went off at 3am Tuesday and I was gutted that I still felt so unwell. My stomach was cramping and felt like I was permanently doing sit ups. I wouldn’t have been so annoyed with myself but it was the day we would finally get to Machu Picchu. Just after 330am we were in the queue to wait for the bus up to Machu Picchu. The busses didn’t leave until 530am. The queue went on for miles and miles. We were relatively close to the front so would probably be within the first hundred people to enter. Not bad considering in the high season Machu Picchu receives 6000-7000 people per day! No wonder it looks different to how it did twenty years ago. The busses started to arrive just before 530am and we were ushered onto them by some stewards whom I presume were there to keep a bit of order to the non single file queue. As soon as we got on the bus I fell asleep and in no time, we had stopped and were told to disembark.
The doors to Machu Picchu open at 6am so we had about a ten minute wait to get in. You need you passport to enter too and if you forget it you have to get a bus down and then pay for another one back up then another one down once you've finished exploring. Thankfully, we all had ours. Once we passed through we saw plaques on the wall.
Machu Picchu was built in 1450 as an estate for the Incan Emperor Pachacuti. A century later, Machu Picchu would be abandoned as the Spanish Civil War erupted. As you walk along the first boardwalk, the beautiful view of this Incan city appears before you and it is just magnificent. There are llamas just chilling out all over the estate. They have clearly got used to having so many visitors and even posing for that all important llama selfie.
After taking photos, we sat on the wall as Fredy gave us the history of the city. As we were listening, other groups were appearing and inquisitive llamas invaded our space. Machu Picchu has about 75 percent originality which is a lot compared to some other sites. The reason for this? The Spanish never actually found Machu Picchu! The Incan capital was Cusco, and Machu Picchu is about fifty miles from it. Built at 2450 metres above sea leave, it is also surrounded by towering mountains and below is a dense jungle. This jungle grew and grew and kept away anyone trying to locate it, until 1911 when Hiram Bingham was led there by a local farmer. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The solstice is on the 21st June. That is when the sun will rise and shine directly through the window in the top of the Temple of the Sun. 21st June is also considered to be the Incan New Year. The 'V' shape in the mountains in front of the Temple is where the sun will shine through the window. You could also see what would have been a bedroom, a doorway and also the difference in architecture between the Temple of the Sun, and that of the other residence.
Machu Picchu has three sections, the urban sector, agricultural sector and industrial sector. It took 20,000 people to build the city of Machu Picchu. Many did it for reciprocity. We walked through the residential sector of the city which showed triangular shaped buildings which would have been used to tie the roofs down in the windiest month, which is August.
The Temple of The Three Windows faces North East. There are only three of the original five windows that remain. These three windows represent the underground, the current middle world, and the upper world, or heaven. In front of the windows stands one stone shaped like the top half of the Andean cross and next to it is a stone altar. Why only one half of the Andean cross? As the sun rises and shines through the three windows, the shadow created forms the other half, as demonstrated by the drawing on the ground above. Everything in the Incan world resorts ack to the three layers. Around this stone you can see the snake, repressing the underground, the puma for the middle world and the cross itself has three layers on the upper part and the shadow. It is fascinating to learn. There is also the theory surrounding the two parts, such as the white upper half and the black shadow. Sort of like the Japanese Yin and Yang. There has to be a balance. Male, female, wrong, right etc.
Near to the windows is another room which remains unfinished. They have holes which would have housed wooden beams to support the structure and there is also a huge rock which should have been situated in the centre of the room. Because it isn't where it was supposed to be, it supports the theory that Machu Picchu remains unfinished. From the top, we could see the route we had walked the previous day. The view, as with many places we had been lucky enough to stop at over the past three days, was amazing.
The Temple of the Condor is located in the South East of the city. As the sun beams, it casts a figure of the condor in the shape of the rocks that this temple was built to reflect. Why a condor? A condors wing span can be up to three metres and they can be 1.7 to 2 metres long. They are found soaring at heights above 7000m. Because of this, the condor is thought to have taken the souls of those passed up to the heavens. That's quite a nice sentiment to think of really. Our two hour tour of Machu Picchu had come to an end and it was time to say goodbye to Fredy. It was his birthday and the boys got him a card the night before. We gave him some money and he went in his way. We followed him out to use the bathrooms and get our passports stamped and our tickets allowed us one re-entry, this time to climb Machu Picchu Mountain
The climb up to the cottage was steep but relatively quick. Here was the postcard view of Machu Picchu. Needless to say we took lots of photos. It started to get very warm too and the sun began to make an appearance.
There was a greenery at the viewpoint which is where I took a seat and looked after the bags as the boys climbed the mountain. I was disappointed I wasn't well enough to do it, but after seeing how hot and sweaty they were when they came back down, I knew I'd made the right choice. Their view was pretty epic though.
was a great view of Machu Picchu with the famous Huyana Picchu mountain in the background. People watching also passed the time. I mean there was a woman dancing whilst her son and friend filmed it. There was a woman with dozens of cards surrounding her having her photo taken, which wasn't the most successful thanks to the gusts of winds. People took the most amount of photos of themselves that I had seen being taken anywhere. It was highly amusing. The boys rejoined me and we headed back out to join the long bus queue back down to Aguas Calientes. The busses were incredibly frequent and we hardly had to wait.
The bus ride down took about thirty minutes and the whole journey was winding down the mountain. It dropped us off in town, three of the guys had to get their bags from the hotel and then we found somewhere for lunch. It's safe to say by this time, everyone was exhausted. We were due to catch the Inca Rail train at 230pm, back to Ollantaytambo, from there we would get a minibus back to Cusco.
The train was hot and stuffy. The minibus has no air con but we managed to nod off still. We had arrived back in Cusco around 6pm and were dropped off in San Francisco Square, where we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hostels.
The Jungle Trek with Bamba Experience has been truly an amazing and unforgettable experience. It was absolutely exhausting, but to finally reach Machu Picchu, a bucket list destination, was just incredible. The history, the city, the views were all breathtaking. I even got the souvenir book to brush up on my Incan History. We met a great group of people and Fredy, our guide was so passionate and especially patient with me and made the whole experience fantastic. If anyone is thinking about doing the Inca Trail, I highly recommend him and know he is starting his own business so drop a comment and I can give you his details.
Until next time...
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