Machu Picchu at last

Today has been one of the most memorable and surreal days of my life. I just can’t take it in that I actually made it to Machu Picchu!

The fact that the whole group completed the trek is largely due to the unbelievably fantastic support given to us by the porters and our cook. I am not exaggerating when I say that these guys are absolute angels and deserve about a hundred times the salary they receive for their incredible work. The porters ranged in age from 20 to 65 and literally ran along the trail carrying all our tents, food, equipment, bags and goodness knows what else, in sandals, and with never-ceasing smiles. Every time I felt like it was all getting too much, a porter would fly past me with a monstrous sack on his back and I would immediately feel ashamed at my burst of negativity. I have honestly never admired people so much in my life. And the food! I was all set for traditional camp food, bland and stodgy, but that was before I sat down (at a table which the porters insisted on carrying for 40km) to dinner on the first night. I don’t know how the cook managed to produce such a variety and abundance of wholesome food with minimal equipment in the middle of the mountains, but what he came up with was the best food I’ve eaten in my entire trip, and most others in the group felt the same. Different breakfasts every day, soup and a main course for lunch, and a three course dinner was the norm. There was even soya for the veggies one night!

As for the trek itself, it was without a doubt one of the most challenging and exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I must admit that I struggled a bit on the first day while most of the others found it quite easy; the day was unbearably hot, with no breeze and almost no shade to hide in, and I’m just not used to that kind of weather, especially when I have to exercise heavily in it. Sarah soaked her bandana in a stream and wrapped it around my neck to keep me cool, which helped a lot!

I found the second day a little easier as Henry came up with the ingenious idea of setting off at 6.00 in the morning, thus avoiding the intense heat of the early afternoon. I thrive on early mornings too (I know, I’m strange) so this was right up my street! However, the physical trekking conditions were by far the hardest of the hike: five hours of climbing 1200m up to the highest point of the trek, Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass), which is at an altitude of about 4200m, followed by a knee-jarring 600m descent to our campsite. Because we started walking so early, we didn’t have our breakfast until about three hours into the ascent, and I found the initial uphill struggle really tough on an empty stomach! After a bowl of quinoa porridge, though, I suddenly felt a rush of energy and decided I’d better make the most of it. I flew up the rest of the incline and was actually the third one in our group to make it to Dead Woman’s Pass, after Matt and Tim (I think the rest of the boys were slightly shocked that I beat them to the top!). Not that I’m competitive or anything, but I definitely felt quite chuffed with myself at that point! Maybe I should eat porridge more often, hee hee.

The third day was definitely the most scenic day; at every turn there were ancient ruins to explore, staggering greenery and heart-stopping drops to “admire”. The weather that day was really misty and that made it all the more mystical. There was quite an extensive downhill section at the end of the day and I’m not very confident going downhill, so I found myself on my own for a lot of the day, slowly plodding along whilst gazing around open-mouthed at the incredible scenery. The unbelievable beauty of my surroundings definitely made my downhill slog much easier to deal with. I didn’t arrive at camp too far behind the others, though, and I was delighted to find that there was a lodge nearby with hot showers! After three days of not being able to wash my hair, you can imagine how lovely I looked at this point! It was honestly the best shower I’ve ever had.

I needn’t have bothered with the shower really, as the final day dawned pouring with rain and mistier than ever, so my nice clean hair got totally ruined again anyway! We all got up at 4.00 and set off at 5.00, in order to reach the Sun Gate by 7 and hopefully catch the sunrise over Machu Picchu. When we got to the gate, exhausted but excited, it was to find an endless stretch of mist completely covering the city! However, after ten minutes or so the mist started to drift to the left, and Machu Picchu finally came spookily into sight. I know most people dream about seeing the sun rising over Machu Picchu, but personally I think this way was much better! I couldn’t have asked for a more mysterious and thrilling end to such an amazing hike.

An hour later, I had finally made it to Machu Picchu and was wandering around the ruins in complete awe. Henry gave us all a tour around the city and it was fascinating to learn about how the Incas lived there and to understand what each of the buildings meant to them.

Eventually it was time to catch the train from Aguas Calientes back to Cuzco, and this was another experience to behold! It was clearly a touristy train, but apparently the in-train fashion show and random dancing dude with a toy llama are normal occurrences on Peruvian trains! I spent the rest of the day wondering how First ScotRail would react if I suggested to them that they should include this sort of thing in their trains…

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