We woke up at 3:30 am the final day to finish the trail and be one of the first people at the site, ready and waiting for the sun to rise.  Now, getting up at 3:30 really isn’t my idea of a good time, but it had already been 3 days without a shower or a change of pants, so I was kinda over it.  I just brushed my teeth, put a hat on, did a quick clean with some baby wipes and went on my way.  There were a few girls at another campsite that were applying their makeup – at 3:30 am!!!  Totally nuts, if you ask me.  In any case, we rose, got ready as quickly as possible and headed for the entrance.  We were quite near the front of the line, so when the gates opened at 5, we were running to finish the final 2 hours to the Sun Gate.  It was totally like the Amazing Race, and we finished in only 1 hour and 2 minutes!  Here is a picture of our group at the Sun Gate, just before sunrise:

The best thing about the Inca Trail is it is the only trail with an access point that will take you to the Sun Gate, where as the sun rises and sweeps the mist away, you have the most incredibly stunning view of Machu Picchu from a distance.  Theoretically.  Sadly, in our case, the mist never really cleared, but at one point it thinned enough to get a quick glimpse of what was to come:

 

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The third day was unquestionably the longest, with about 8 hours of hiking.  It was also the most beautiful.  The terrain was not very difficult and the views were completely stunning.  Jungle, mountains, rivers, and archaeological sites – hurrah!

While we passed almost a dozen small sites, we saw 2 archaeological sites that were literally breathtaking.  Sayaqmarka was the first one of the day.  It had been a large fortress built in the pre-Inca time, but expanded during the Inca period.  It featured a large temple to the sun, as well as residences for priests and townspeople.

Sayaqmarka, unlike many other sites, it was not at all agricultural, although it may have been used to store produce from nearby farms, like this one, as seen from Sayaqmarka:

Around hour 7 of hiking, 0ur guide Edwin gave us the option to either take the long way or the short way to the final campsite.  While the short way would save 30 minutes, he suggested that the long way actually had easier terrain, and a most stunning site.  It was not raining, and so we opted to take the long way, and I am SO glad we did. This final site provided me with perhaps the best memories of the entire trip.

We arrived at Winay Wayna through the Cloud Forest.  It had stunning views of the Urubamba Valley and snow capped peaks beyond.  It was covered in mist, and completely silent.  We were the only ones there.  It. Was. Magical.  Our guide told us this site was uncovered in 2004, and even today it is not completely excavated – the terraces go on for miles, covered by the jungle.  It was too exciting to be one of the few people to set eyes on this site.

I so wish we could have gotten more photos, but at this point our camera was running out of space, and you can’t NOT have pictures of Machu Picchu!!!

So we had been warned that day 2 was the hardest day of the trek.  It would be approximately 6 hours, uphill.  Over 1000m total to the highest point, Dead Woman’s Pass – a name which I came to find out was very fitting indeed.   Imagine 6 hours of doing the stairmaster, without oxygen.  Its tough!

After only a couple hours, you can see the pain on my face:

It was amazing how we could pass through such different terrain as we went along:  Arid mountains, humid jungle, grassy valleys.  Incredible!   Mike was clearly having a more enjoyable time than I was:

Phew, I get tired just looking at that picture!  In any case, we ate our snacks, drank our water, and used plenty of expensive runners energy liquids and gummie electrolyte treats.  About 1/3 of the way to the top it began to rain, and get very cold.  I can’t convey enough how difficult this became as the air got thinner, and thinner, and thinner as we went.  It is a feeling as though you cannot catch your breath, which is very disconcerting.   What is interesting is that you have no idea how your body is going to handle altitude until you experience it for yourself.  It seemed to me that your body health and your physical shape almost didnt matter.  They day after we completed the trek a young triathlete had to be airlifted off the path, as she had become so ill.  So hey, you never know!

My tip:  Don’t be a hero.  Go at your own pace, even if you’re last.  Take lots of breaks.   Eat lots, drink lots.

Here I am struggling 200 m from the top:

I think I might be smiling in that picture?  Its likely because I was delusional.  No, really.  At this point my brain started to malfunction, and according to Mike I kept talking about “getting the beans”.  Whatever that means!

But we made it.

Now for 2 hours downhill to get to the campsite…

 

So the big day finally arrived, and we set off for our 3 day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu.  Now, I had done a LOT of reading online, and I thought I was ready.  Most of the bloggers out there stated that if you were in reasonably good health and shape, this hike would be no problem at all.  Those people, are liars.  You can read all about my preparations here and here.

So here is our crew on day 1, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to rock!  If only we knew what was coming (and that, my friends, is called foreshadowing!)

And the first day was stunning.  Amazing weather, beautiful scenery, and not too challenging overall.  We also had the chance to see quite a few archaeological sites, some tiny, and some large.

If my memory serves me correctly, this site is called Wayllabamba, which was discovered by Hiram Bingham on his way back from “discovering” Machu Picchu.

After a short 5 hours of hiking we reached our first campsite, nestled on a set of small terraces with a stunning view of the valley.  I was pretty much ready to die, knowing full well this was supposed to have been the “easy” day.   What made my life a lot tougher was the washroom situation.  I was not expecting the Four Seasons, but I was also not expecting a squat toilet, and myself and the 1 other woman with me to have to share it with 22 men.  Just imagine!  It was completely disgusting.  And the bottoms of your pants get sooooo filthy, and you can’t shower.  So yeah.  Recipe for yukkyness.  And on my way to use the washroom before bed, I saw a tarantuala.  So that was freaky.

But waking up to a view like this?  Priceless.

Only 24 more hours until we head to the airport to depart for Lima!  I’m spending our final day in Canada laying out all the clothing and supplies for our departure tomorrow.  In the end we decided not to purchase our own sleeping bags or liners, and instead just rent them once we begin the trek.  Not only is this cost effective – its also lots less to carry.  Yes, sleeping in a rented sleeping bag sounds gross, but as fellow travelers tell me, the Inca Trail hike is so cold and you wear so many layers, that none of your skin even touches the sleeping bags.  I’m just going to tell myself that anyway.  And really, as long as it keeps the creepy crawlies away – I think I’ll be fine!

I’ve laid out the essentials on the bed:  Thermals, meds, money, quick dry gear, undies, water bottles, and soap.  Oh yeah – and did I mention we both got headlamps?!  Apparently its useful to wear them when you’re hiking in the jungle and on the Inca Trail in the pre-dawn hours.  A saleswoman at MEC even told me, “You need a headlamp because you want to see all the tarantulas in the Amazon, don’t you?”  Clearly, this woman know nothing about me.  In that case, ignorance really is bliss!

I’m feeling almost ready.  Still have to clean the apartment (I hate coming home to a messy place), drop the dog off at a friend’s house, and figure out what other supplies I can cram into my backpack!

Hopefully I’ll have time to update the blog once in awhile on the road – and let you know I’m still alive 🙂

Did I mention in my last post that part of this trip entails hiking to Machu Picchu?  For, like, 4 DAYS?

Did I mention that I have never been camping before?  In Ontario, let alone in the Andes, where creepy crawlies exist that will KILL YOU!

Did I mention that the highest point is at 4200 M, or 13779 ft?  And that you can DIE from altitude sickness?  And I already have asthma?!

Be afraid, be very, very afraid.

For these reasons, I was hesitant about this part of our journey, but the more research and preparation I do, the more excited I get for the challenge!

The Inca Trail in Peru is considered one of the top 5 treks in the entire world, and as such, it can get quite busy.  Luckily for us, a limited number of passes are issued for it every year, and we booked far enough in advance that we were able to obtain one!   Also, each person gets their own porter who carries your stuff up for you, sets up your tent, and even cooks your meals, so its not all roughing it!  I mean, it could definitely be a lot worse.  And the bathrooms can’t be any worse than the ones on the roadside in Malaysia, right?

The average temps in November are between 6 and 22C, and because the higher you go, the cooler it is, we are going to need to invest in some thermal clothing.  Of course, I’m excited about the shopping aspect of the preparations!  (“Any excuse to spend money”, my dear husband says – and of course, he’s right!).   So far I’ve gotten my hiking boots on sale at Mountain Equipment Coop, as well as some quick dry pants that zip off at the knees, and a thermal shirt and tights.  Still on the list:  second pair of pants, quick-dry undies and socks, and most importantly:  a cute hat to protect my skin from the sun (well, truthfully, I’m more concerned about a cute hat to cover up the 4-day buildup of unwashed greasy hair!)

Also in preparation for this trekking adventure, I have begun to workout.  Yep, you read that right.  Kelly O is hitting the gym, AND spinning!  I will not be the most out of shape person on the trip… I refuse!  The spinning is a great workout for the thighs and lungs, which will be critical when spending days hiking up ancient stairs in a decreased oxygen environment.  I’m also going to hit up my doctor to stock up on asthma puffers!  Apparently the best thing to do for altitude sickness is to chew/brew coca leaves, which are high in loads of vitamins and are supposed to help counteract altitude sickness symptoms.

In any case, I’m excited to make the journey, this will no doubt be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I think many travellers are divided on the issue of group tours.  There seems to be a wide variance on the types of tours you can take, and along with that the types of people that tend to take these tours.  Many travelers shudder at the thought of taking a group tour, imagining them to be like your grandma taking a bus to Branson, Missouri, or a huge group of Japanese tourists checking out the Path in downtown Toronto.  As a  teenager, I took an EF tour with my highschool to Italy and Greece.  As a 14 year old, a group tour really is the ONLY way to go, and for me, it was a wonderful introduction into the world of travel.  As adults, Mike and I have done lots of travelling, but have never particpated in a group tour – save for a bus jaunt to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam (if you can count an overnight  boat tour as a group tour).

The worries  that travelers have about group travel are many:

1) Will we have time to do what we want to do, away from the group?

2) Will we be annoyed with the other people in the group, and unable to escape?

3) Will we miss out on the “real” experience of travelling by going from chain hotel to chain hotel on an airconditioned bus?

4) Will we not see how “real” people live, and eat local cuisine?

On the other hand, there are unquestionably lots of great advantages to travelling in a group:

1) Travel arrangements are made for you, and the hotels and attractions are usually vetted and pre-paid

2) You have the chance to learn alot more about the place you are visiting by having a good guide – much more interactive than reading it out of a book

3) There is safety in numbers

4) If you have an issue, the organization will have a back-up plan

Because Peru is such a large country with a wide variety of must-see sites, we knew it would take at least 2 domestic flights, and a great deal of inner-country travel to see everything we wanted to see – and that is a heck of a lot of planning.  Also, we only have 2 weeks.  And to hike the Inca Trail, you are obligated by law to have a guide.  We decided that an experienced tour company would have figured out the most efficient way of seeing all the highlights with the minimum amount of wasted time.  We spent a lot of time investigating different companies, and reading up on the experience of fellow travellers.  GAP Adventures is without a doubt one of the most well-respected tour companies in the world.  They are also a Canadian company, and head office is conveniently located a 10 minute walk from my house.  They have a HUGE variety of tours to choose from, so if you are into active adventures, have kids, want to volunteer, or  take in a cultural festival around the world, GAP seems to have everything covered.

We decided on a trip called Quest of the Gods, which will start us off in Lima, then off to the Amazon Rainforest (COOL!).  Then onto Cuzco, and from there a 4 day hike to see the legendary Machu Picchu.  We will also get a chance to go to Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.  Altogether a whirlwind 14 day tour.  Exciting!!!!