Boarding started at 00:30, and everything was normal – I took my seat, did up my belt, stuck on my eye mask and fell deep asleep. I’d love to tell you a lot about the flight, but honestly… I woke up 30 minutes before landing, when they turned the lights back on. The lady next to me commented that “you slept like a baby” – I had managed to sleep for almost 5 hours non stop. My flight route was: Lima – Houston – Chicago – Frankfurt – Gothenburg.
When we landed in Houston, I made my way to the next gate. My boarding pass was flagged up as TSA-PRE which means I should get the expedited security process, but on connecting flights in Houston there was no TSA-PRE line so I had to join the normal security line and go through the usual TSA rubbish of taking shoes off, emptying laptops out, etc.
I had a while to kill in Houston and even though it was only 7am local time, I stopped in at a diner in the terminal and ordered a veggie burger and a milkshake. I was trying to shift my body back into European time, so eating a lunch sized meal at breakfast is part of the process. I had actually been craving french fries and a veggie burger for a few days (the food in Peru was amazing, but always very healthy… sometimes you need to cheat a bit!).
Once I got to the gate, they announced that the plane was “still in the hanger” and that the “super” machines they use to transport them aren’t to super, because 2 of them had broken down and therefore we would be delayed departing out of Houston. I was freaking out because I had a 1:09 connection in Houston and the lady at the gate looked sympathetic but was unable to do anything until we started boarding, by which time it was too late. Luckily Chicago is a busy airport so if I missed my german connection i’m sure there would be another possible route.
As it happens, I slept almost all of the Houston-Chicago flight as well, waking just before landing again. I wish I could write a manual for how I do it, because i’m sure everyone would like to be able to do this – but I have no idea. I think it’s a combination of being on far too many planes, and having a small body.
Knowing Chicago well, I was sad to see we arrived in the B gates and my connecting flight was departing from C…. this meant I had to tackle THE TUNNEL. If you’ve been to Chicago, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a crazy underground tunnel which passes right under the jetway between the two terminals, and is decorated in horrible neon sculptures. I RAN from B14 to C10, literally sprinting, and was pleased to make it to the gate before they started boarding the last group… I sat down in my seat, wondering if someone was also running with my bag.
We arrived early in Frankfurt, at 5:15am. I have been to Frankfurt well over 30 times this year, and made it extremely quickly through immigration and into the executive lounge. Life was starting to feel a bit more normal now – croissant, coffee, yoghurt and familiar surroundings.
I headed to the gate a little early to enquire about my bag… had it made it? I was told by the gate assistant that it had, and they were loading it onto the plane as we spoke. Phew! That would have been a frustrating end to the holiday, albeit an all too familiar situation for me. Once we boarded the plane, I was surprised by just how quiet the flight was…. I guess a 7am departure from Frankfurt on a Monday isn’t a popular flight to Sweden.
On the last leg, I finished reading The Book Thief, which was a really well written and touching storyline. I need to try and see the movie now, since it really intrigues me how you can create a movie covering such a broad timeline in a teenage life.
Landing in Gothenburg, I reflected that i’d last seen a bed at 7am two days before (this was now Monday morning, I had woken up on Saturday in Lima). Thank god I can sleep on planes! It had somehow turned into Christmas time when we got to the terminal in Gothenburg, which kind of took me by surprise. I wasn’t able to enjoy that though, since I felt pretty gross, and desperate for a shower, which is exactly what I did as soon as I got home.
Home… the end of the journey.
Today, like any other day on the trip, I woke before my alarm – this time at 6:45am. By the time I had showered and made myself presentable, I had already missed Ruths departure which is a shame but we had made sure to say goodbye last night since she was first to leave. I headed downstairs in time to see Mike, Kirsten and Harold leaving and say my goodbyes, and to meet with Steffi for breakfast before her departure. It was a sad feeling to say goodbye and see our ‘family’ break up after just two weeks together, but i’m sure we’ll keep in touch with one another after such an amazing shared experience.
Steffi and I had breakfast – I had scrambled eggs and breads, orange juice and tea, and we talked non stop about the trip and our favourite memories. Steffi and I will definitely be keeping in touch, and we were both emotional to say goodbye after the experiences of the last week. Steffi is continuing on to Argentina and Brazil with another Gadventures tour, and I felt really jealous that her holiday was only half through instead of nearly over like mine was!
Once Steffi left in her taxi to the airport, I really felt strange – it was strange to be alone in the hotel and not have anyone to just go and play a card game with or a deadline to be following. I had 12 hours to kill, and I decided to break my self-imposed computer ban and log onto the computers in the hotel lobby to start writing up my blog, allowing me to relive the memories of the last few weeks whilst they were still fresh.
I ended up spending most of the day infant of the computer, and wrote up days 1-3 as well as spending a chunk of time looking at photos. I headed out to lunch at a cafe where I ordered a vegetarian sandwich which had walnuts, feta cheese and some unidentifiable vegetables inside it) and a cappuccino. I read my book, and again reflected on such an amazing experience. I was feeling a little sad, so I found Pinkberry and treated myself to a really yummy Frozen Yoghurt, and my book.
Later, I headed out again to a pizza place to buy a vegetarian pizza for dinner, before taking my taxi at 21:00 to the airport. The taxi ride and airport were uneventful, but the executive lounge was full so I ended up walking the terminal instead just to have something to do. I was pushing myself to be as tired as possible so I could sleep on the journeys, and by the end of the day when boarding started, I was exhausted. Exhausted, but so so happy.
Sleeping in a sauna isn’t easy, and I woke up at 5am with a headache. Feeling ready to start the day (we had to leave at 6 anyway), I got up and took a shower. This was interrupted at 5:15am by the wake up call I had booked with the hotel – not ideal! At around 5:30, I headed downstairs expecting a quiet breakfast but arrived into mayhem, as a large tour of french canadians were also leaving at 6am and the breakfast room was heaving. I had a quick breakfast of cornflakes and yoghurt, before our departure at 6am to Juliaca.
The airport in Juliaca is tiny, with only two gates, and once again (as they did in Puerto Maldonado) they manually searched our checked bags with hands. Everyone was pretty quiet/tired at this point.
Once through security, a local band piped up and tried to get us all to buy their CDs by playing very loudly at 6:30am… not the best sales pitch i’ve ever heard, and I quite honestly considered buying a CD to make them go away!
The flight was uneventful, except that Mike managed finally to get a photo of me sleeping (which I had prided myself on not doing the entire time we were travelling together!)
Once we arrived in Lima we were picked up by a local transfer, which just so happened to be Fantasy Transport… that amused me greatly, although it may have been the tiredness and altitude adjustment that made it seem funny.
We checked back into the Miraflores hotel we started at, and they had given me a suite! We headed quickly back out from the hotel and split into two groups – Mike and Kirsten had a cooking lesson, so Steffi, Ruth and I headed to a local fish restaurant for lunch since they wanted to try Cebiche.
The Cebiche looked amazing but seafood is something I think i’ll never enjoy, even if I were to start eating meat again. The thought of it kind of makes me feel strange!
After lunch we pottered around the shopping mall for a bit, which mainly had western brands. Ruth found a book shop and bought a couple of cooking books, and then we headed for coffee in a coffee shop I had spotted the first time we were in Lima.
Arabica was my kind of mecca, with great coffee and quirky decor. I could have wasted many days there, but sadly we only had time for one coffee.
Once we got back to the hotel I called (using a real phone!) United to try and adjust my flights. Everyone else is leaving before 10am tomorrow, and my flight isn’t until 1am the next day! Unfortunately there wasn’t a better flight option, so I chose to stay with the original plan which gives me a full day on my own in Lima.
With some effort, I managed to repack everything back into one bag which is great since lugging two bags around the world seemed to increase the risk of losing one of them quite considerably.
Successful, I met with Steffi for a couple of rounds of Shithead and Pisco sours in the hotel bar… I tried a Ginger infused Pisco which was amazing. As the others became ready, they also joined us and we ended up with a big group game before meeting at 18:30 for taxis to our final dinner together in a Chifa restaurant. Chifa is Peruvian style Chinese cuisine and Harold had (true to form) booked us a table at a really great restaurant (Madam Tusan). Infact this place is known as one of the best in the country.
After sitting down for dinner, we ordered our food and were merrily making conversation when suddenly there was a rumble quickly followed by an extremely abrupt “everyone, get out now!” by Harold. Half a second later, we felt a second rumble and this time there was no mistaking it – we were being hit by an earthquake! We quickly made our way outside and explained what was happening to the rest of the group who were less aware of the tremor. It was quite an exciting experience, but after a few minutes we were let back into the restaurant since things seemed to have quietened down. Everyone stayed on edge for a few minutes though!
The food was great, with vegetarian fried rice and some braised tofu dishes along with amazing looking meat dishes.
After the main course we said a big thank you to Harold and gave him his appreciation for the amazing effort of the last two weeks. We added a lot of jokes into his thank you card.
After receiving our tips, Harold told us his story: 7 years ago his parents house was hit by an earthquake. He and his family were trapped underground for 20 minutes whilst the rubble trapped them, and since then he has been donating his tips to his parents to help them rebuild their lives. Everyone felt very humbled hearing this, and i’m sure life in Peru is a lot harder than we have been led to believe. We all promised to pass word to our friends about how amazing Peru is, since tourism is helping the country to develop.
Sobered, and humbled, we headed to a book store across the road where I bought a cooking book and then we jumped into a taxi to head to a water park for a night time fountain show which is kind of famous. The taxi rides were hilarious, and I think we all put an extra effort into feeling good since it was the last night.
After the water park, we went back to the hotel in one taxi which was certainly intimate! We sat down for a few final rounds of Shithead before bed, and made sure to exchange email addresses so we could keep in touch after departure tomorrow. Ruth leaves at 7am, so we won’t be up to see her, but will make an effort to see Steffi, Mike, Kirsten and Harold before they all go their separate ways in the morning.
I went to bed reflecting on just what an amazing experience this had been. More on that soon.
Waking at 5am seems to be a theme on this trip, and again I woke early…. this time due to the intense heat being provided in my sauna/hotel room. After a quick shower, I headed down for breakfast and had french toast, yoghurt and papaya juice.
We all met early and at 7:15 started our trip to Lake Titicaca with a ride on some local cycle taxis to the ferry.
After a hair raising race through the city we arrived at the port and boarded a boat. We were using a commercial tour company for this day, so Harold introduced us to “Clever”, our tour operator, who was guiding us for the day. The boat would visit two islands – first Taquile, which is a “real” island, and then on to the floating islands later in the day.
The ride to Taquile took about an hour and Clever gave us a rundown on the life of the lake – it’s the “highest navigable lake in the world”, at 3800m and big enough that some pretty large boats ferry around people and goods from Peru to Bolivia and back.
Once we arrived at Taquile we had a short hike across the island to see how life is living in the middle of the lake. For a lot of the people on the group tour, this was a real challenge but for all of us who had just finished the Inca Trail, this was a walk in the park, and we steamed ahead!
We visited another weaving project, this one based on the island, and were shown a lot of the same techniques as were demonstrated back in the Planeterra project. Harold found me a “single” lady (you can tell by the big pompoms on her dress, apparently) and insisted we should have photos together. She fitted me with the customary “single guys” hat, so we would match. Awkward photo below.
After we finished our shopping (of course the weavers tried to sell us everything), we headed to a nearby beach for a 25 minute relax before our boat continued its tour. Our group made the most of that time, and Steffi and Mike actually went for a swim in the lake. The rest of us just paddled.
Next we re-boarded the boat and sailed back to the mainland for lunch. We docked at a peninsula on the mainland and were greeted by a shaman who took us through a traditional food blessing ceremony. Our food was buried in the ground and had been cooking for 45 minutes under ground, and after some ceremonial blessings it was dug up for us to feast on.
Lunch was great, although they had to cook an omelette for me in the ‘real’ kitchen since they hadn’t arranged anything specific for a vegetarian in the underground oven. I still ate the potatoes, beans and sweet potato from the ground and it was great to try something cooked so traditionally. The rest of the group ate trout (caught from the lake) and chicken (not caught from the lake).
Once lunch was over and we were sated, we headed on a short boat ride over to the floating islands, or Uros.
The floating islands are made by constructing reeds from the lake into a weaved mesh and then placing them on top of one another, until they create a floating platform. They are anchored the same way a boat would anchor to the bottom of the lake, and people live there the whole year around. The lake reeds eventually rot away, so every week they need replenishing. It’s a fascinating way of life, and it was amazing and privileged to be able to walk around and meet these people. The build EVERYTHING out of reeds, including their houses, boats, seats, and beds. We were greeted by the residents when we arrived and given a speech by the leader of the island, before being given time to explore (and do shopping if we wished). There were piles of cheeky children on the island who enjoyed trying to steal our trinkets and climbing over our boat.
Once the tour of the island was complete, we headed back on the boat to the mainland and a quick bus tour back to our hotel. During the boat ride back we were given a cocktail of Pisco and Sprite which actually tasted great!
After returning we were given a bit of free time (what’s that?!) and Kirsten, Ruth and I headed towards the shops for some postcards and coffee. It was nice to relax and we reflected a lot on the past days, since this was our last day of planned adventure. I then settled back into my sauna/hotel room to write postcards for a little while, before meeting at 19:00 for dinner.
We were briefed on the plan for tomorrow before dinner, which involves a 6am departure since we have to catch a flight that leaves only once a day. We went for dinner to a pizzeria which mysteriously didn’t serve pizzas, so I ended up ordering lasagne. The rest of the group were feeling adventurous so they ordered a local speciality – Cuy! Cuy is the quetcha word for Guinea Pig, and is a special local delicacy. It was weird to see it presented on a plate, such a small animal, but the group tucked in and seemed to comment that it tasted okay, although as expected there wasn’t a lot of meat there!
After dinner, and a very strong Caprhinia, we went to a “Rock and Reggae” club next door for a few more cocktails. The club had a corner of artwork submitted by Gadventures groups, so we added our own little doodle to the wall in memory of our experience.
By 9:45 we were all sufficiently merry and having played even more Shithead in the bar, we retired to our saunas to be ready for the early start tomorrow.
After a relaxing/hungover day in Cusco, I found it really hard to sleep in the hotel. You could argue that this was because I spent most of the previous day “napping”, but really it was noise on the street outside. There seemed to be something going on out in the street and at 3, 4:15, 5 and various other times I found myself awake. In the end I gave up trying to sleep and packed my stuff. Somehow my neatly packed backpack no longer closed, so I ended up with two bags – mainly due to tiredness and lack of logic in packing, I later found out!
Once packed, I headed down for another buffet style breakfast… scrambled eggs, croissant and cereal. Could just as well have been in europe! I didn’t go for the Tuna fruit!
We met at 7:30 to board our big blue bus for the dreaded 7 hour journey to Puno. All the journeys on this trip so far have been relatively short and long distances are covered by plane. But the best way to reach Puno is by road, due to the altitude. Puno is located at 3800m above sea level, and we met a few people who had flown into it and were suffering awful altitude sickness for 24 hours from arrival. By arriving by bus you adjust naturally to the altitude, so 7 hours on the fun-bus began!
During the journey we stopped at an Inca ruin just outside Cusco which acted as one of two gatehouses to Cusco. This was pretty neat and it still amazed me that we could just walk all over the site, with no entrance fee, no borders preventing us touching the ruin…. the European tourism style is definitely more restricted!
Along the journey, most people chose to sleep but unfortunately for me, I prefer not to sleep on busses so I spent most of the journey reading my new book, The Book Thief, and was progressing through it at an insane pace. I read slowly, and by the end of the journey I had already read 250 pages of the 540 in the book. Unheard of for me, so I guess it must be a good book!
We also stopped at some roadside stalls, including one which sold roast lamb and was famous across the whole country. They had apparently taken their roast lamb to Lima to a food festival a few weeks ago, which is where Harold had met them. These are the sort of connections you miss when you travel outside of a guided tour, and the carnivores of the group all agreed it was a great tasting piece of meat. I just watched and tried not to take photos of the lambs head wrapped in beautiful weaved fabric!
At one point we stopped at what was declared the high point of the whole trip. This pass, we were told, is the highest we would reach during the whole trip – 4335m above sea level. Of course, that meant we had to get a group photo!
There isn’t that much else to say about the 7 hours… it passed, we got to Puno. Puno, and neighbouring Juliaca, are both pretty basic cities – Juliaca has 250,000 people and Puno has 150,000. Unfortunately I would summarise them to be primarily shanty town cities, with a lot of poor housing and dirt roads. It was really interesting to see the other side of Peru, with both Lima and Cusco reminiscent of European styles.
We checked into the hotel in Puno, and were given rooms on the top floor. I say rooms, I wondered if the hotel had messed up and checked us into the Sauna instead… the heating was on and the rooms were upwards of 25c. Figuring that they must know what they were doing, I left the heating on incase it got super cold in the night time, and we headed out for our orientation walk.
Harold took us to the main square in Puno, just a few 100ms from the hotel, and we headed to a market to try some more local foods. Here we saw the Tuna fruit it its native form – it comes from a Cactus and is actually quite tasty. Apparently the red variety we had in the hotel in Cusco is very expensive… so now I know I missed out on that!
Harold also ordered us some sort of ‘strength’ drink which a lady at a stall happily prepared for us, including some syrup with half naked movie stars on the bottle! The drink also included a raw egg, some mystery powder, carrot, banana, papaya and a whole bunch of other stuff… it didn’t taste too bad, but none of us wanted to finish a whole cup of it!
Drink consumed, we went down to the market proper to buy some supplies for tomorrow. Since we will be visiting the floating islands, where produce is very difficult to grow, they rely on donations from visitors of the basics. We each set about buying something of a staple – rice, pasta, oil, spices – for a very small amount (I spent S6 on some cooking oil) which would make a huge difference to the community we were going to visit.
We also stopped at an ATM and thankfully I was able to withdraw S400, which means my money worries of the last few days had gone away. After finishing our orientation trip, we headed back to the hotel and had 90 minutes to freshen up. I spent most of it reading my book!
At 19:00 we met for dinner, and Harold had promised us a spectacular experience… a dinner show in a local style. It was a pretty fun affair but definitely low key… one spotlight lit up the stage, and the performers just ran off stage and changed costumes between songs.
After dinner as we walked back, a jovial Harold serenaded us with his impression of famous singers including Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. My ears still haven’t forgiven him for that.
We played 3 rounds of ‘sheathed’, and then headed to bed in our saunas. And no, the hotel were not correct… it was crazy hot. Turning the heating off, opening the windows and praying… I lay in bed awake for a long time before the temperature eventually normalised to boiling point. Tomorrow we would set off at 7:15am for our trip on Lake Titicaca!
I’d love to say that I woke up at 7am feeling perfect after my night out, but that would be a total lie. I woke up at 9:45, definitely still drunk. After a shower and generally wobbling around my room for a while, I decided to find “the ultimate breakfast cafe” Harold had recommended – Jack’s Cafe.
Harold had left annotated maps for each of us along with our room keys, so finding my way should in theory have been easy. I’m sure it was easy, but I remember really struggling to relate my current position to the piece of paper in my hand. I was in a bad way, and desperately needed hangover food!
On the way, I tried and failed to withdraw cash, which left me panicking hoping I had enough cash to last the rest of the trip.
Once I found Jacks Cafe I ordered their Veggie breakfast, which was amazing.. Drunk food at it’s best!
It definitely helped and I began to feel a lot better after walking around for a while. After brunch I did a bit of shopping for some small souvenirs, and I booked a massage (also on harolds map). Resna and Mark who we had met in the jungle had insisted that a massage was a very worthwhile thing after the Inca trail, so it seemed like a good excuse!
Massage booked, I headed back to the hotel to see everyone and say goodbye to Al & Asfia who were heading to Miami to continue their honeymoon in more luxurious, less strenuous circumstances. I was glad to see that both Steffi and Harold were equally worse for wear!
The massage was really nice and relaxing, and after that I realised I still had 4 hours until the time we had agreed to meet for dinner – since the last day had been so long I decided to reward myself with a nap. Okay, honestly, I felt like death and the nap was the only thing I could manage.
I realised I might have a cash problem however, since I had an older looking $100 bill. A lot of the shops in Peru are really wary about older money, and nobody was willing to change it, which meant I was short on my funds I though t I had. Not a huge panic, I still had S400 left, but unless I persuaded some machines to work, I would have to watch out what souvenirs I buy in the coming days.
Whilst relaxing in the hotel I finished my first book of the trip – “The ocean at the end of the lane” by Neil Gaiman which is a brilliant fantasy telling of a childs view on the world. At the end of the book Neil Gaiman talks about his influences of his childhood and it’s clear he’s put a lot of his heart and soul into telling the story. It feels like a privilege to read those sort of childhood thoughts from someone since those thoughts are generally so personal.
After finishing the book, I started my next book – “The book thief” by Markus Zusak – which I immediately got into and couldn’t put down!
At 6:30 we met to pay our laundry bills and had a short briefing about tomorrow (the dreaded 7 hour bus ride!). Once the briefing was over we headed to a fancy restaurant for our dinner. I ordered a Peruvian stuffed potato dish which was really amazing!
After last nights persist, Steffi was feeling pretty rubbish today so my rehydration tablets got another user – their 4th user since we arrived! Consider we have a nurse and a doctor on our group, I was surprised to be the one dishing our remedies!
After dinner we opened a bottle of wine in the hotel and taught Mike and Kirsten to play Shithead – a nice bonding experience and a great way to end a relaxing day.
To say that I was excited about this day would be a huge understatement. Machu Picchu is somewhere which has fascinated me for years, and especially since I booked the trip – deciding to fly half way around the world to visit a ruin isn’t something I do every week!
I woke in the tent around 3am, well ahead of a 3:30am wake up “call”… I was so excited, I really couldn’t sleep much but that didn’t matter – today we would see Machu Picchu! I was dressed and packed by 3:15am, and as soon as I stepped out of my tent the porters set about dismantling it! I guess they were eager not to miss their train!
I had an awkward (cold) wait around whilst the rest of the group were woken and got ready for breakfast at 4am. Breakfast was quite quick – some brioche/cake and tea – since we needed to get out of there ASAP, and we were given snack packs with cheese sandwiches and a juice box to keep us going due to the early start.
By 4:15 we were on our way, but Israel announced we would be making a surprise visit, rather than joining the queue of other tours. Normally at this point the tours all head down to queue at the checkpoint, waiting for the 5:30am opening time before making their way to Machu Picchu as quickly as possible in an attempt to see the haze rise above the mountains. Instead, Israel planned to take us to Intipata – the ruin which we skipped yesterday due to the rain! It was fantastic being there before sunrise and we got to see the day lighten up as the sun rose on the horizon and the ruin revealed itself to us.
It was amazing watching the llamas wake up and the cloud rise from below us to above us, and truly magical to be the only group there at that time of day. Once day break happened we headed towards the checkpoint, which opened at 5:30, and were able to walk almost straight through – we hadn’t lost any time however, as we quickly caught up and overtook groups on the trail.
After the checkpoint it was just a short 1 1/2 hour hike to the “sun gate”, and our first view of Machu Picchu!
It was such an incredible feeling to see the view that i’d been lusting after since booking the trip, and I can’t put into words the feeling. It was overwhelming and magical to see the site, and to know that we had made it. We rested for 15 minutes at the Sun Gate before beginning our descent to Machu Picchu and on to the end of the Inca trail, which officially finishes on a large rock at the edge of Machu Picchu. We were so lucky with the weather, which was almost a cloudless sky. Perfect Machu Picchu weather – we had been warned along the trail that there is always a chance of a rainy day or cloud cover which can ruin the whole experience.
Along the descent we stopped at a couple of viewing points before finally reaching the “end of the inca trail” and posing for our obligatory photos from the typical spot!
The photos took a while since we had to queue, but it was worth it to get that iconic shot (which inevitably will be a Facebook profile photo at some point!), and as soon as these were over we headed quickly down to the entrance gate and the promise of “real” toilets, which were definitely a welcome sight after 3 days on the trail! Spending 1 sol on the toilet was possibly the best sol I spent whilst in Peru!
We had a reunion with Harold at a cafe outside the Machu Picchu gate, and were able to chill out before heading back into Machu Picchu. This time is important because you’re not allowed to take walking poles around Machu Picchu (for fear of damaging the ruin), so Harold had to stay outside with our stuff!
Once we had all rejuvenated and consumed our packed snack, we headed into Machu Picchu for a guided tour by Israel. It was fascinating to learn all about the discovery of MP and in particular Hiram Bingham, who is critical to the discovery story.
After the tour we were given free time to explore, and we went on a hunt for Llamas and photo opportunities. The site really is incredible and below is a small selection of the huge number of photos I took. I’ve tried to caption them appropriately, but the history is way larger than I can tell in a blog entry!
After we finished exploring, we headed out of the exit gate and were able to complete our passport page, with the final Machu Picchu stamp. Once the stamp is in there, it means the hike is officially over!
What an amazing journey it had been!
We took a 30 minute windy bus ride down the hill to the town of Machu Picchu, which is clearly a tourist down and set up for us – full of markets selling trinkets, and we were able to meet with Harold and our duffle bags from the tents (which had magically been transported there!)
I bought a t-shirt (“I survived the Inca trail”) and some postcards, and then we regrouped for lunch in a restaurant. It was a big group, with the original 7 of us together with 5 from another tour (which Mark, Katie and Simone were part of). Steffi and I shared some Nachos and then I had Veggie Burritos, before we made a presentation to Israel and passed over our appreciation to him as well. This was the last time we would see him, and it was really heartfelt to say goodbye after him guiding us through 4 amazing days of lives!
Once lunch was over we headed to the train station and caught a train back to Ollantaytambo. We have to take the tourist train, since the local train is not available unless you have Peruvian IDs. The train took an hour and a half and was really bumpy, but we were given drinks and snacks (Inca Cola, of course!). Most people slept through the journey, whilst I just took selfies!
I spent a lot of the journey chatting with Mike and Kirsten about how they had enjoyed the Lares trek, which sounds incredible and very different to the Inca trail – much more cultural and they spent time in houses filled with Guineapigs, and met hundreds of local children.
After the bumpy train ride, we switched to a bus ride for a bumpy 90 minute ride around windy streets to get back to Cusco. Our mini bus got pulled over in the main square in Cusco for driving there after dark – which apparently was a law which came into force just 3 days ago! Hardly fair, and our driver protested but ended up paying a hefty fine!
Once we got to the hotel, we showered and met again for a traditional post-trail evening – Peruvian pizza and wine in the hotel and then out on the town to enjoy the celebratory feeling of completing the trail!
Harold had arranged honeymoon gifts in the rooms of Al & Asfia and Mike & Kirsten, and the feeling throughout the group was one of elation as we headed first to the “Museo del Pisco” – which isn’t actually a museum, just a bar that serves amazing Peruvian cocktails.
Needless to say the cocktails went down well after the trail and the night became gradually more blurry, as Steffi and I decided to meet up with Harold in a club he had recommended…
After lots of dancing and drinking, we finally managed to complete the 24 hour challenge – at 3:30am, we had officially been up for 24 hours (although Steffi slept on the train, so she cheated!). An amazing feeling… Inca trail: done!
In contrast to yesterdays “challenge”, today is known as “the beautiful day”. Certainly the view from the campsite at the start of the day had read the memo:
Breakfast today was toast with butter and jam, and then a kind of quesadilla which was tasty and a welcome start to the day. Unfortunately the day started with news that both Ruth and Simone were suffering from some sort of stomach issues – probably due to the altitude adjustments yesterday. Both agreed to soldier on through the day, although Simone had to have her pack carried for her at various points.
Having walked down hill for 2 hours yesterday, the last thing we wanted to see in the morning was an uphill section but that is exactly what presented us – 2 hours uphill to start the day off nicely! After 2 hours, we reached the “second pass”, which was pretty spectacular as it was bordered by two higher peaks – which we had the option to climb (and I did).
After the pass we headed down through the cloud forest to another inca remain, which the Incas kindly placed at the top of 100 steps – just incase we hadn’t had enough of going downhill to go back up hill! This remain was really impressive, with some clever mechanisms for door locking, and it acted as a great lookout point to spot the others coming down the hillside.
We spent around 20 minutes at the ruin and then headed to another break point (during which time I spotted a beautiful butterfly visiting something dead):
The pathway at this point really was incredibly beautiful, passing through cloud forest and along the edge of some hills and mountains before occasionally plunging into tunnels carved right out of the rock.
Our lunch break was at the “third pass”, another peak and as it was our final lunch with the porters (who will depart before 5am tomorrow), they went all out to impress! Lunch was served buffet style, and included stuffed tomatoes, a noodle and broccoli bake and some fried rice balls which were divine if insanely filling. Everything was really yummy!
After the main food was over, the chef joined us and presented Al & Asfia with a honeymoon cake. Let me write that again. The chef baked a cake on the mountain. And decorated it. On the fricking mountain. I have no idea how you would even go about starting to bake a cake without an oven!
This was such a sweet moment and left Al and Asfia really speechless. The rest of us were quickly speechless too, stuffing our mouths with cake! The icing tasted like bubblegum, which was a little strange, but it was such an amazing gesture! Even trying to refill our bodies with calories, we were only able to demolish half of the cake so gave the other half to our porters, who I am sure really appreciated it!
During the lunch break Israel advised us that the lunch toilet might be a little “unconventional”, since the site we had been allocated for lunch didn’t have a toilet block. Instead, we were to use a tent toilet. It was, literally, a tent with a toilet inside it. Upon enquiry, we found out that one of our porters has the cr*p job of carrying this toilet the whole length of the inca trail… including any deposits we make! I think we all took pity on him and left the solid problems till later!
After lunch Israel briefed us on the rest of the trail for the day, with the cheerful phrase that we had “only 3 hours downhill” to go! The pace was good and we stopped at more ruins on the way, so the time passed pretty quickly (and thankfully, my blisters from yesterday had all but gone!)
There were (my notebook says) “lots and lots and lots of stairs!”… nothing was impossible, we paced ourselves well and somehow I managed to stick in the front half of the group the whole way down. After about 2 hours of downhill, we were treated to our first bout of rain since starting the trail. Ponchos out, we soldiered on, although some short bouts of thunder and lightning quickly had us cowering under an overhanging cliff for a while.
Collectively, we decided that we would take the “porter shortcut” to the next camp site, cutting off 30 minutes of trek but avoiding one of the most spectacular ruins on the trial. In the rain, the ruin is all but insivible anyway, so it wasn’t a hugely challenging decision – plus I really needed the bathroom!
I arrived at the camp site first, and the porters were still setting up the tents! They scrabbled to give me a round of applause, which whilst cute was thoroughly necessary when all I wanted was to take my poncho off and use the toilet! After a quick trip to the bathroom, I returned to the camp site and was awarded another round of applause… I never thought someone would applaud my toilet usage!
Once the others arrived, just a few minutes behind, we cracked out the camomile tea and packs of playing cards to start up some more games of Shithead. I lost one of them, which was the first time i’d been “Shithead” since we learned the game!
Quietly whilst playing cards, we passed around envelopes to fill with tips for the porters, Javier and Israel. I find that part of the process pretty awkward, but of course it’s important to reward the good service. And the service really had been amazing!
Dinner was next, with asparagus soup, mash potato, sweet potato, sauce, rice, roast potato (triple carbs today!), broccoli, mange tout, and jelly for dessert – yet another feast!
After dinner it was time to thank our porters. They worked incredibly hard, and Al made a short presentation (with Israel translating) before handing over our envelope to the chef – he distributes the tips to the porters. The porters have to leave the camp site before 5am in order to catch the only train of the day back to their base… if they miss the train, its a 6 hour hike, which i’m sure none of them wanted. But their 5am departure time means that we had to be up at 3:30, take breakfast at 4am, and depart by 4:15, to give the porters time to pack up after we were gone! That concept didn’t appeal too much!
So, even though the day had been beautiful and we were all full of anticipation for tomorrow, it was bedtime by 7pm. It was much warmer at night, with an elevation of 2700m, which meant I was able to leave my hat, gloves, etc. packed away – a welcome change after last night! I charged my camera using my battery and prepared myself for a full day of photos tomorrow at the main event – Machu Picchu!
“The difficult day”. That’s how they sold it to us!
We woke at 5am – I had slept pretty well, despite my single birthed tent. I was dubious about how cold it might get in a single man tent versus the others, who were all sharing tents. When it was time to wake up, the porters woke us by knocking the tents and offering us coca tea. A nice warm tea to start the day is pretty ideal, especially when faced with the highest altitude of the trek!
Quickly after the coca tea disappeared a bowl of warm water replaced it, allowing me to shave and give myself a baby wipe shower. I was very glad of this, since the prospect of not shaving for 4 days was bad, and the concept of not washing… worse!
By 5:45 we assembled for breakfast – another feast prepared by the chef! Quinoa porridge (which tasted of cinnamon), followed by a pancake with caramel, and more tea! Honestly, i’ve eaten worse in 5* hotels! We were also given snack packs, and plenty of fresh water – today would be challenging! The snack pack was an orange and a granola bar, but we had been warned to pack some snacks for day 2 ourselves so I added a couple of cliff bars which I had brought from Sweden.
Before setting off, I took one more look at the view from the campsite – incredible! The scenery in this place is really stunning.
Once we set out, the first 400m elevation climb was reasonably gentle with some occasional steps – a nice introduction to the day. After that, the steps started, and boy did they start… as I wrote in my notes “it started with steps, then hardcore steps!”
Overall we climbed upto an elevation of 4215m above sea level, but we did take two “official” breaks plus plenty of smaller rest stops. The trek itself was made more bearable by a game of “Who am i?” played by the group I was walking with, which consisted of Mark, Katie, Ruth, Simone and Javier. We seemed to have quite a good pace going, and at times I was even able to lead the pack – an amazing feeling from my relative unfitness 18 months ago. Playing a game whilst walking was a great tactic (thanks to Mark who suggested it) – it kept our minds focussed on silly things and forgetting the challenge ahead of us.
At the second official break-point, we gathered with everyone and we could see in the distance, the peak we would be climbing. It was hard to stay motivated there, but the top looked so close… just 20 minutes of stairs to go!
We took an extra long break at the second break point to really give ourselves a boost before those 20 minutes of stairs – and they were definitely a challenge! As we got nearer and nearer the top, people were taking more and more frequent breaks – and we saw someone being encouraged on with “only 25 steps to go”. Picking up on this queue, Ruth and I started counting down, backwards, from 25…. the counting got ridiculous and kept our spirits high even to the end, even if we did reach -10 before we actually got to the top!
The feeling of reaching that height was incredible. I can say i’ve only had that feeling once before – the moment when I finished the Gothenburg half marathon. Really, it was the same incredible feeling. Huge emotional elation.
We had reached the top before 11am, which was an incredible feat – the scheduled time for us to get there was around 12:30, which means our pace was significantly faster than expected. Hard to believe, considering the challenge of getting up there, but we all felt great knowing that we had done it!
We rested again at the top for around 30 minutes before snapping piles of photos and inevitably beginning the decent.
I’m going to stop here and mention something which my friend Simon had told me before the trail. He did it a few years ago, and his main piece of advice to me was – “Day two was physically the hardest thing i’ve ever done in my life”.
You see, after climbing stairs up from 6am till 11am, we now were faced with 2 hours continuous down stairs. It’s supposed to be the worst part of the whole trail. So with some trepidation, we set off.
The stairs were honestly really hard going. I started off fast, following Steffi (who does a lot of practice hikes in the Austrian mountains) but slightly twisted an ankle early on and ended up slowing up considerably. By the end of two hours downhill, my two big toes hard turned into what felt like two huge blisters, and almost every step was painful.
We finally arrived at the camp site at around 13:00 – the plan today was to get all of the hike done before lunch, so that we could relax all afternoon and let our bodies recover. As soon as we arrived at the camp site (with another round of applause from the porters), the porters seemed quite shocked. Israel explained that our planned arrival time was 14:30, so they were quite unprepared for our arrival so early! In the downtime, Steffi, Ruth and I headed down the hill slightly to a nearby stream where we gave our feet a relaxing soak! The water was ice cold, so we could only manage a few seconds of exposure at a time, but each time we soaked them it felt amazing! I also grabbed some blister plasters from my first aid kit… a welcome addition!
After a bit of scrabbling around in the kitchen tent, lunch was served at 13:30 – complete with Condor shaped napkins!
For lunch, we ate Semolina soup, a tortilla filled with courgette, rich and guacamole, roast potatoes, and a lemon pie for pudding. I also drank camomile tea afterwards, since we would plan to relax all afternoon.
I headed to the tent for a brief 20 minute nap, followed by chilling out in the dining tent and a few games of Shithead. We kept adding rules to the game, which made it more interesting, and drinking copious amounts of teas. Midway through the afternoon, Javier suggested we play a game he had been taught called Mafia. The game was hilarious, and maybe not for the actual gameplay but rather for Javiers descriptions of horrible murders happening on the Inca Trail as part of the game dialogue. A lot of blank faces around the group as he described how my walking sticks had exploded and killed me. After an awkward 45 minutes of trying to play the game, we all secretly vowed never to play again.
Time passed quickly as we were all relaxed and in good spirits, and before long it was dinner time – angel hair soup, followed by rice and potatoes with some sort of pesto. We were all practically falling asleep around the dinner table after a day of huge exertion, and there was a collective sigh when dinner finished and it was time for bed. Israel warned us that the altitude would make tonight a very cold night so we wrapped up warm and headed to bed, satisfied that the worst was definitely over!