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Chapter 3:








Day 6) Travel from Cuzco to Start of Inca Trek

Today was the big day! We were heading to Machu Picchu! As I said in the beginning, our Machu Picchu trek was arranged thru "Explorandes", a Peruvian adventure outfitter. Our trail guide met us at our hotel shortly after breakfast and then had transportation to take us to the train to Aguas Caliente. We had arranged to do the 4 day Inca Trail trek. The train took its sweet old time slowly inching its way up the hillside out of Cuzco. We switched back and forth up the steep hillside thru what looked like the poorest parts of town. We eventually crested the hill, broke out of the city limits, and stated cruising thru the countryside. Eventually we found ourselves following the Urubamba River.

Here we board the train in Cuzco.

The train slowly winds its way up out of Cuzco while traversing thru some of the poorer sections of Cuzco.

We eventually break out into the countryside and follow the Urabamba River.

This is milepost 88 where we get off the train. Nothing here but some trackside shacks!

Our trail guide has us all get off the train at milepost 88. The village of Qoriwayrachina is nothing more than a tiny whistlestop. There's some ramshackle buildings along the tracks, and there was a school and church up on the hillside. We hike along the train tracks to a trail that leads us down to a suspended footbridge leading across the river. At the entrance to the bridge is a Peruvian National Park checkpoint. The park official checks our passports to make sure we're registered to take the trail. The park service only allows 500 people per day to enter the Inca Trail.

Across the river is a very nice country farm house where we enjoy lunch. There are tents setup in a nearby field where we'll sleep that night. After lunch we're given some time to put our gear away and then our guide leads us on a short hike up into the nearby foothills to visit the Machu Q'ente ruins. It's only about 5 miles round-trip, but it's a chance for us and our guide to get to know each other's hiking style. The ruins afford us a great view of the Urabamba River and valley. In the stonework of the ruins we see many of the Incan features we had learned about from our Cuzco city tour.

Above is the farmhouse where we had our meals.

To the right is the nearby field where
our tents were set-up.

That afternoon, our guide, Narcisso, takes us up into the hills by our farmhouse to the ruins of Machu Q'ente.

Narcisso demonstrates Incan door geometry and size.

Several rooms of the ruins.

After we return back to camp, we have some free time before supper. We decide to explore the village back across the river along the railroad tracks. We wander around on several foot paths unsuccessful in finding a village "center". It's more just a hodge-podge collection of small homes. That evening back in camp we enjoy a great supper in the old farmhouse before we retire to our tents. Tomorrow we set off on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu!

Day 7) 1st Day on Inca Trail

We awaken to a beautiful morning. Our porters, who had arrived during the night greet us at our tents with basins of warm water so we can "freshen-up" before breakfast. Wow, this was a pleasant surprise! After our last breakfast at the farmhouse, we are formally introduced to our crew of porters. In addition to our trail guide, there is a Chef, Chief Porter and 6 other Porters who will be taking care of us and carrying all of our gear on our journey.

Group photo of our caretakers. The 2 guys kneeling took care of the farmhouse, the 6 guys on the left were our Porters, 3rd from the right was the head porter, 2nd from right was our great chef, and 1st on the right was our very knowledgeable guide, Narcisso [sp].

After our porters pack up the gear, they hurry off along the trail. We and our guide follow along at a slower pace, enjoying the views along the way. The trail starts out following the river upstream. After about 1.5 miles we reached our first trail-side ruins called Llacatapa. The ruins are a large complex of terraces on a hillside. At this point we reach a trail junction. We turn right and head up a long valley following the Kusichaca Stream. We pass thru several very small communities along this section of the Inca Trail each with a small store selling bottled water, Gatorade, sodas, snacks, kind of like "lemonade stands". At the community of Wayllabamba, we turn right, leave the Kusichaca Stream behind, and start ascending. Whereas the trail had been a dirt path before, it is now a stone sidewalk, laid down by the Incas centuries ago.

The trail led us slowly up this valley. There were small villages along the way.

Each village had a "store" where weary travelors could purchase snacks/drinks, ....or have their shoes repaired.

Our first lunch along the trail. The porters setup a cardtable for dining under the thatched roof gazebo.

While we've been slowly walking along the trail, our porters, who had hurried ahead, stopped at Yuncachimpa and had lunch ready for us when we arrived. They had a card table with camp stools setup under a gazebo for our dining room. Our chef had a very good hot lunch, complete with appetizers, hot soup, and hot entrée. I had never had such a great trailside lunch in my life!

Shortly after the lunch stop, we came to a park service check point. At the check point they weighed each porter's pack. There are regulations on how much a porter can be made to carry and the park service makes sure the outfitter companies abide by the rules. Our porters were carrying about 50 to 60 lbs each, while our day packs only weighed about 16 lbs.

After the check point it wasn't far till our evening's campsite. The mileage for the whole day was about 6.8 miles. When we arrived, the porters had all the tents set up for us, the sleeping mattresses were all inflated, and our gear was placed by the side of our tents. If that wasn't enough, as soon as we arrived, basins of warm water magically arrived for us to wash the day's trail dust from our face and hands. Man, what service! That evening we were treated to another great meal with appetizers, soup and entrée. I'd like to take our chef with us when Diane and I go on our backpack trips in the Rockies.

This campsite, like the others to come, had bathroom buildings with flush toilets. Kinda nice, but they were a little muddy and they were "Turkish" style. This was Dave and Diane's first experience with Turkish style bathrooms. Basically, instead of sitting on the normal American toilet, you squat over a ceramic hole in the tile floor, your feet carefully placed on raised foot pads. You then try to aim for the hole without making a mess in your pants which are stretched between your ankles. Dave had some trouble getting used to the idea. :-(

This is our first campsite along the Inca Trail. Our 2 tents are to the right. The dining tent is the beige domed tent with the green cooking tent behind it. Narcisso took the biege tent to the far left. The porters all slept in the dining tent after we had gone to bed.


Day 8) 2nd Day on Inca Trail

Today, we awoke to another beautiful morning and another great breakfast. This is gonna start to sound repetitive, but the food was really good!

Today would be our most strenuous day. We had about 10 miles to cover and we also had to climb thru 3 high altitude passes. It was only about a mile after we started that we made it to our first and highest of the 3 passes, Abra de Warmi Wanusca (or Dead Women's Pass) which is 4,215 meters in altitude (13,829 ft). When we reach the pass, our porters are already there waiting for us. They give us a round of applause for making it to the top. Then they're off and running down the other side of the pass. They have to stay ahead of us and have lunch ready for us. After a brief stop to catch our breaths and take pictures, we too take off down the other side of the pass descending down into the valley.

This is the trail leading up to Dead Woman's Pass.

Here we are at the top of the pass.

This is looking back down the valley we just hiked up.

This is the view ahead. We have to go down to the bottom of the valley ahead and then climb up over the ridgeline in the distance.

At the bottom of the valley is Paqaymayu (3,500 m or 11,480 ft elevation). Paqaymayu is the largest campground along the Inca Trail. We only stop there briefly for a midmorning snack and rest. Then it's back on the trail. We cross the Pacamayu Stream and then start our ascent to the 2nd pass. Halfway there we pass by a strange oval shaped ruin called Runkurakay. Then we reach the 2nd pass at Qochapata. It's only 3,950 meters (12,916 ft) in elevation. Another well deserved rest is taken. This pass is foggy and the views forward are obscured by fog, mist and clouds.

We're now on our way up to the 2nd pass. Here you can look back towards Dead Woman's Pass, the valley where we stopped for our snack/rest stop, and the Runkurakay ruin we just passed.

We descend the other side of the pass, emerge from the fog and clouds, and get our view into the next valley. Near the bottom of the valley, there's a trail leading off to the left to the ruins of Sayaqmarka which we can see on the hillside. Instead we bear right past the ruins of Conch Marca and start ascending to the 3rd pass. When we reach Chaquiqocha we stop for lunch.

The ruins of Sayaqmarka and Conch Marca. Lunch is finally at Chaquiqocha.

Before each meal they provide us soap and water to wash our hands before eating!

It was a beautiful afternoon so we forgo the tent and eat outside.

After lunch we continue our ascent to the 3rd pass at Phuyupatamarka. The trail is gently climbing along the side of a ridge. The views off the trail are obscured by misty clouds. The vegetation along the trail is much more like a tropical rainforest. There are many flowering orchids along the way. Our guide introduces us to many of them, some so small they are hard to find. This stretch of the trail passes thru two short tunnels, each about 20 feet long. I can't imagine how the porters haul their huge packs thru the narrow short tunnels.

We finally reach the pass which is also our campsite location. Our guide has selected a great location on the top of a small knob from which we get fabulous 360 degree views of the Andean mountains surrounding us. We watch the setting sun from our little Andean mountain peak. Ahhhh!



Here we are camped in the 3rd pass at Phuyupatamarka. Our tents are in the foreground.
The other tents belong to other groups.

Day 9) 3rd Day on Inca Trail

This morning, we wake up early and walk to the top of our knob. From there, we watch as the sun slowly rises and starts "painting" the surrounding mountains with dawn's early light. The morning mist obscures our views down into the valleys.

After a hearty pancake breakfast, we say goodbye to our porters, thank them for their help and take our last group photos. Then we're on our way to Machu Picchu! From our lofty position in the pass, we drop down into the valley, passing the ruins of Phuyupatamarka. Their most distinguishing feature is a set of what looks like cascading "bathtubs". From there we continue our descent, passing thru yet another short tunnel. We stop along the way to visit the ruins of Intipata and Winay Wayna. However, Dave is itching to keep moving. He wants to get to Machu Picchu. Just before we arrive at the touristy "Backpacker's Lodge" we stop for lunch. This meal was one of Dave's favorite on the trail, Lomo Saltado.

Dave's favorite meal! Lomo Saltado

The noisy busy Backpackers Hostel

We're soon on our way again, heading for Machu Picchu. When we pass by the Backpacker's Lodge we notice it looks run down and crowded and noisy. We're so glad we were camping out in the quiet, wide open woods. The way is now mostly level as Buz and Dave hurry along the trail in a "race" to see who will reach Machu Picchu first. :-) Just before he reaches Inti Punku, Dave stops and waits for Diane to catch up. He knows that Inti Punku is where Inca trail hikers get their first view of the ruins and Dave wants to share the experience with Diane.

The view of Machu Picchu from Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) is fabulous! The whole city is spread out across a saddle in the Andean mountains. We take a few moments to take photos before we continue on. From Inti Punku it is still about a half a mile to the ruins. Once we arrive at Machu Picchu, Narciso takes us off to some side terraces, above the ruins and away from the crowds. We rest there on the terrace and enjoy our panoramic views in peace and quiet. We take turns posing for the cliché tourist photo of ourselves sitting on the terraces with the ruins in the background. Narciso tells us to relax and enjoy the view.

Here we are at Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) with Machu Picchu behind us!

Here's our version of the classic Machu Picchu photo!

Later in the day we take the bus down to Aguas Calientes where where we check into our hotel (el Presidente Hotel) and get cleaned up. Then we spend some time exploring the town. It is definitely a tourist town with many shops and restaurants. We meet Narcisso at our pre-arranged restaurant for supper. Then it's early to bed because we need to get up early the next morning for the first bus back up the hill to Macchu Pichu.

Top: A train runs right thru the middle of town.

Right: The main tourist street filled with restaurants and shops.

Day 10) Aguas Caliente, Macchu Pichu Tour, and Return to Cuzco

Oh man it was early when we got up this morning! I think we got up around 5am? The hotel staff got up extra early to serve us our Continental Breakfast. Then we hurried to the Macchu Pichu bus stop where we met up with Narcisso who was already in line holding a place for us.

Back at the ruins Narcisso gave us a full guided tour explaining the various structures and pointing out unique architectural details. After his tour, Narcisso let us go off on our own. We headed to the back of the ruins where the trail to Wayna Pichu starts. Wayna Pichu is the tall peak that towers over the ruins in all the classic photos of Macchu Pichu. The hike UP the trail is VERY STEEP! In some places there are cables or chains anchored in the rocks acting as handrails to help people negotiate the steeper sections. The view from the top is worth the effort. From the rocks at the tippy-top you get a great 360 degree view.

Top: You can get an idea of how steep the trails were!

Upper right: There are terraces where you can sit and get a real nice view of Machu Picchu.

Right: Here we are at the top with Machu Picchu beyond us. There's nothing but a cliff right behind us so we'd better not lean back too far.

After our climb, we return to the ruin entrance for the bus back to Aguas Caliente where we meet back up with Narcisso for lunch. Then we have some free time to shop in the large crafts market by the train station. Diane can always find something else to buy!

It's a long train ride back to Cuzco where a shuttle bus picks us up and transfers us to our hotel, el Balcon.

Diane and I fall asleep on the train back to Cuzco.


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last revised : August 27, 2009