Friday, May 30, 2008

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part V)

Trek Day 5

Now that it was morning we could see what the campsite looked like, Q'ente was at a height of 2,500m (8,125ft). Very nice, with toilets, a shower block and washbasins with running water. In fact it was a bit too civilised!

Having said that I did have a wash that morning so as to not be a really smelly mountain man. After we packed up our stuff all our main packs went in a pile, not for the muels, the bags would go from here by train to Aguas Calientes. This is the nearest town to Machu Picchu and where we would be sleeping tonight, or not as it turned out. The plan for us was to catch the train from Km 88 to Chachabamba (Km 104), from there we would trek to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu.

After breakfast we hung around a) for a briefing and b) for the train. As you will have noticed briefings are very regular occurrences on this trip, not a bad thing. We had at least two a day, sometimes three. Some people would not be walking with us today as they were still sick, they would not get off the train at Km 104 but would travel with Libby to Aguas Calientes and meet us at Intipunku or The Sun Gate.

The journey to Km 104 was not very long, about 16 Km really! As the cooks were no longer with us we were all provided with a pack lunch, these were handed out on the train. It was more of a journey of anticipation, this was our final day of trekking and Machu Picchu was our destination, so this train ride was just a necessity rather then an experience to be treasured. Before long it was over and we arrived at Km 104. We all got off the train and made our way to the hut where our passports were checked against the records that the guards had. Unlike the previous day we were on our way after just a short interval, enough time for a pee and to apply lots of sun cream. We were now on the final stretch of our trek to Machu Picchu.

The environment we started trekking through today was similar to some parts of previous days. A steadily uphill trail along the side of a mountain with some vegetation and a river down below. It was quite narrow so the fact that there were over seventy of us plus the guides, meant that quite often we were either moving slowly or we actually came to a halt. Today's theme would be steps, you will probably have never experienced steps like you do on the final part of the Inca trail. Today was hot and the trail was getting steeper, within the first hour there was a nice thatched shelter where we stopped for a rest and some food. Before long the surroundings changed and we were walking through a jungle with deep, rich green leaves everywhere.

The contrasts which we experienced during our trek really were amazing. We now walking through what can best be described as rain forest. Technically it is known as cloud forest. When the weather closes in you can find yourself walking through clouds but not today, as for the rest of our trip the weather was warm and dry. This was certainly very uncomfortable at times but it was better than walking through the pouring rain. We had been told that today's weather could change in a instant as we got nearer Machu Picchu but we were lucky as it didn't.

Our first target today were the Inca ruins at Wiñaywayna at a height of 2,650m (8,613ft). In the Andean language of Quechua it means 'forever young' and is named after a pink orchid which grows here. It is thought that it was a religous centre for the Incas and their worship of water. In the photograph it looks a long way away but before long we were there, well at the bottom of it anyway! As you may be able to make out from the photo the Incas, as is their trademark, made large terraces so as to utilise the steep slopes of the mountains for growing crops. Our problem was that we entered the ruins at the bottom of the terracing, we then had walk (read climb and struggle!) up the steps which went up the middle of the ruins. These weren't steps as you have in your house these were big steps each one being twelve to twenty four inches high, at the time I can assure you they felt a lot higher.

These steps are a killer but if you take your time and don't try to rush it, climbing them is achievable, you haven't actually got an option! Once you have completed this last day of the trek, steps back home will never seem daunting again. Once we had got to the top we had a chance to look around the ruins and get our breath back. Before long we were off again, within half an hour we got to our lunch stop, a beautiful shaded area complete with natural air conditioning, a large waterfall. Sitting in the shade with the spray from the waterfall hitting your face was so nice! I actually took my shirt off and went and stood at the base of the waterfall soaking my head and hat in the process. I got some water in my boots but I didn't care, after about an half an hour's break we started climbing again.

It wasn't long before we stopped, this time at the Wiñaywayna visitors centre. Here we found a large building with a shop, toilets and tables and chairs so we could sit inside out of the sun. The drink of the moment was Inca Cola, which tasted just like Irn Bru (the unofficial national drink of Scotland). It was straight from the fridge and very refreshing. We sat around here for a while, most people chose to sit outside. Then we started the last leg to Machu Picchu. The start of the walk from the visitors centre was very gentle and flat. We passed some tents so this must also be a trekker's campsite too. From here to Machu Picchu is six kilometres as shown in the sign in the photograph (look at the large version in the Image Gallery).

Although the start was gentle we were soon going up more than we were walking on level ground. In between Wiñaywayna and the Sun Gate there are a lot of very steep and big steps. The last half fifteen minute's climb was near vertical then all of a sudden we were at the Sun Gate or Intipunku. The sense of relief was amazing and to actually see Machu Picchu was fantastic. Again this was an emotional moment, there tears in a lot of people's eyes. We had heard a rumour that it was possible to get a signal on mobile 'phones at the Sun Gate so I turned my 'phone on to see. It was true, I had a good signal, I 'phoned my wife and other members of my family to let them know I was OK and that I had reached my target. Between Cusco and here I had not had a mobile signal, not that I was bothered, I had my 'phonme turned off anyway. This is also where we met up with Libby and those people who had stayed on the train at Km 104.

On arrival at Intipunku I was a bit disappointed with the view of Machu Picchu. The weather was clear but what I saw was not like the photos I had seen before. After we had rested and taken everything in at Intipunku we made our way down the mountain towards the bus stop where would catch the bus down the narrow, winding road to Aguas Calientes. Jez, the cameraman, had gone on ahead to film us we walked past. This film would be used in the closing credits of the official Scope video. A bit further on we came to a smaller Inca terraced area which gave us the more conventional postcard view of Machu Picchu. This is the view of Machu Picchu I recognised and now that I had seen it, the realisation that I was nearing the end of my journey became apparent.

Once everyone had taken lots of photos we started our decent to the bus station. The buses stop very near to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, a very expensive hotel which shouldn't be there. It is the nearest hotel to these sacred ruins and when you see this having just seen the splendour of Machu Picchu you realise how stupid capitalism can be. The buses leave regularly during the day and make their way slowly down the windy road to Aguas Calientes.

So that was it, all the hard work was done and in a couple of days we would be home again. Tonight we would be sleeping in real beds in a real hotel in Aguas Calientes, The Machu Picchu Inn. There was also a gala dinner arranged for the whole group to celebrate our achievement and afterwards we were going to a 'disco' nearby as that was the nearest thing they had to a night club.

On first impressions Aguas Calientes seemed a nice town, part flat and part built on a steep hill, with an obvious Spanish influence. It was late afternoon by the time we got there so tomorrow would be a good day to explore and also if you wanted you could go back up to Machu Picchu and have a proper look around the ruins. So after Alex and I had found our room in the hotel, had a shower and I had written some notes for a speech which Lucy from Scope had asked me to make after tonight's dinner, we made our way to the bar across the road where everyone had arranged to meet.

The dinner was good, yes you guessed it, a buffet! It was good, although I didn't each much. After four night's camping and the excellent meals we had on the way I knew it was possible to survive on less food than I was used too at home. Lucy made a speech, I think it was her final one, there had been so many.... (Only joking Lucy! :-) I made my speech after her about my son and how cerebral palsy affects him. Another member of the group whose daughter has cerebral palsy had her speech read out by her good friend. After the formal stuff some people did funny sketches, one of a weird talent competition, Owen did a brilliant impersonation of our Doctor who was one of the stars of our trip and Tamzin did a hilarious impersonation of Libby. Once all this was out of the way it was disco time, we made our way to the bar/disco and it seemed pleasant enough. It had a big dance floor, music and a bar selling drinks. What more did we need? We drank, we danced and we had good fun.

So anyway, the bar staff asked us to leave at a half past four the next morning as they wanted to go to bed! A group of us made our way back to the hotel as a girl called Amy had a room by herself and we could all go back there and carry on drinking. I fell asleep pretty soon, it must have been around five o'clock when I did so.

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