Kate and Greg hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

This is a different sort of trip for us. First of all it involves hiking, not biking, and secondly it involves travel to a third world country. I have not had great luck in the third world; but we decided to go anyway.

We flew from Seattle to Miami to Lima, Peru to Cusco in Peru where the trail starts. Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire and has most of the Inca remains.

Late departure at the Miami Airport

When we arrived in Miami, we found that the flight to Lima (LAN Peru Airlines) was delayed by 5 hours! There was fog in the Lima Airport. Well they put us up at the Miami Airport Hilton for the four hours or so that we had to wait, and paid for a meal there. It meant we had to get up at about 3 in the morning to get back to the airport though.


Kate and baby llama

One of the problems we had was the guidebook. It is one of the Footprint series. A great source of misinformation about Cusco, I wouldn't buy another of this series. As an example they warned about the annoying Peruvian women who would pester you to have your picture taken with a llama or a baby llama. Iniquitous, to be sure, but it was the first thing Kate wanted to do when we got there. And here is a picture of a full grown llama:

Kate and adult llama

Their evaluation of Cusco was also seriously adrift, as well. It was a pleasant, perhaps funky small town from the third world. There are a lot of people selling tourists things around the main square, but a simple "no, gracias" was all the defense one needed.

These are some pictures of the main square (Plaza des Armas), which is the tourist centre of town. and the Cathedral; showing how effectively the Spanish have avoided taste in eclesiastic architecture.

Plaza des Armas

The Cathedral

Just about all that is left of the Incas is their stonework. It is so good that you are left wondering "How the heck did they do that?" Probably the obvious answer is the correct one: with enormous amounts of work. This is Kate alongside a wall in Cusco. It used to belong to one of the palaces, but now is just part of a building:-

Kate and Incan Wall

The next day we went up to Sacsayhuaman. This is the old Inca fortress of Cusco. One of the frustrations you have in dealing with the Incans is that they left no record of their history. They had no written word, and their entire history as we have it comes from some Spanish priests that wrote it down after talking to survivors.

So you never really know what happened where, and why. Sacsayhuaman is obviously a citadel, but, like everything else with the Inca, you get people telling you it was a sacred temple, or an observatory (two of the favourites for just about everything), when it obviously looks like it was a fort.

Sacsayhuaman is a half hour walk from our hotel -- and the centre of town. This is what is left of it. The first thing you notice is that the size of some of the stones is stunning:-

Walls of Sacsayhuaman

There are also a lot of the famous Inca doorways. They are supposedly trapezoidal to make them sturdier in earthquakes, this area does get earthquakes, evidently a big one every 300 years.

Incan doorway

This is one of the gates into Sacsayhuaman. It is interesting to see what you can do if you don't have the wheel. Without the wheel there is no need for a flat roadway into the interior, so they surround the inside of the gates with steep and very easily defended stairways. A friend entering, or a llama -- their beast of burden, would just have to climb some steps, any enemy is fighting at a serious disadvantage.

Gate at Sacsayhuaman

Here is a shot of the walls with someone in Incan costume (in red) in front of them.

The walls of Sacsayhuaman

The Inca Trail

After three days in Cusco acclimatizing, and getting our trip paid for and organized; we started off at 0545 on the fourth day. We were picked up by a small bus from our hotel and delivered to the large bus. This bus set out for the two hour drive to the trail head where our packs were weighed, and the government checked our passports to see that we had registered for the trail. This is the group we were with:-

The group at the start of day one.

Kate and Greg cross the bridge to the start of the trail:-

Greg and Kate start the trail

The first day is really an approach day where we hike up a side valley to get to the real Inca trail that originated in Cusco and went to Machu Picchu. This is the first Inca ruin we encountered on the trail:-

First Inca Ruin

Nobody knows the names of these places. The names they use (and we have forgotten) are mostly the names given to the ruins by the local natives in the local language (Quechua).

After a generally easy day, that ended steeply, we finally made our first night's camp. All of the campsites were well laid out and had good views.:-

Our first night's camp

The porters were impressive. First of all they were small, I don't think many of them were more than 5 feet tall. They were trained to carry 80 kilos; but on the trail they never carried more than 60. That's 132 pounds! We would leave camp in the morning after we had been served a good breakfast, and they would pack up the entire camp (they carried our tents, sleeping mats and sleeping bags -- as well as all the cooking, food and tents), and after an hour or two on the trail, a "porter train" would come chugging past with the entire camp in these huge packs. They would have the dining tent set up for lunch when we finally arrived with a hot multi-course meal; and then we would find everything set up and ready when we got to that night's camp. They never seemed to worry about the party beating them to the campsite, no matter how lightly we were loaded.

Here are some pictures along the trail as we headed up to Dead Woman Pass (Warmiwanuska) -- the highest point on the trail (4215m or about 13,800ft):-

Walking the trail

Drinks and souvenirs at one of the rest stops.

Any colour drink you want except black were carried up the trail by the vendors for this last shopping opportunity before the Dead Woman Pass summit.

The top of Dead Woman Pass

The descent from Dead Woman Pass was vertiginous; it was hard on one of Kate knees. I was wearing my brace, so I just tired out my ankles.

Kate descending from Dead Woman Pass.

Greg on the descent from Dead Woman Pass

After the descent from Dead Woman Pass we had one more smaller pass to get over that day. On the way up to that pass we were caught in a downpour and hailstorm. Here is a picture of the way up to this pass:-

Scenic Clouds from the pass

And here is Greg walking up to the top. The white on the ground is tiny hailstones. There were Floridans in the group that had actually never seen hail.

Greg Walking through the hailstones

And finally we made it to our second night's camp:-

Camp the second night

The next day we went over a smaller pass to another Inca ruin. You can see the trail on the other side of this village. Very steep:-

Trail on the other side of a ruined village

This is the view looking back up the pass; you can see the steep steps to the village:-

Stairs descending to the village

And these are some carved steps a little bit farther along the trail:-

Carved steps on the trail

This is a view ahead. Machu Picchu was actually behind the hill in the right background. The trail goes through this terraced section and heads around to the right:-

Terraces on the Inca Trail

Our final campsite on the trail was beside a hotel. This hotel was beside a ruin (Winay Wayna), and I don't think it had a road up to it, but it had a good trail down to Aguas Calientes and this is where the porters went.

This is the ruin (Winay Wayna):-

Winay Wayna

Machu Picchu

The next day we were up before dawn to get to the government checkpoint where our documents were checked and we headed out to Machu Picchu. The point of this was to get to Intipunku, the "Gate of the Sun" before the sun came over the ridge to strike Machu Picchu so we could look down at Machu Picchu as the sun rose. Here's us with the sun on Machu Picchu:-

Us, the sun, and MP

The problem with this system was that we wanted to climb Huayna Picchu, the peak behind Machu Picchu. You have to get there fairly early to beat the hordes that come up on the bus from Aguas Calientes, as there is a limit of 400 per day allowed up. By the time we arrived at the entrance to Huayna Picchu it was too late. We were disappointed.

Our guides gave us a pretty good tour of Machu Picchu, but there are a lot of lacunae in our knowledge of what went on here, and they filled it in with the usual astronomical and mystical extrapolations. It was an interesting place however. Here are some pictures:-

Here is the so-called "Temple of the Sun" -- nobody knows what it was for, but it has windows that are sort of east and west so it is assumed that they worshiped the sun here. It is built on and around a rock precipice and the rockwork is the finest on the site, so it is assumed it must have been an important building:-

The Temple of the Sun and Precipice

The Temple of the Sun

Here is our guide showing us a rock that was used (by Hiram Bingham -- the Official Discoverer) to demonstrate how the Incas may have cut pieces out of rock, since they didn't have iron or steel.

Cleaving rock

Near the top of the temple area there are two temples that were finely crafted: This one was the only one we saw with earthquake damage:-

Temple with 7 windows

And the justly famous Templo des Tres Ventes (Temple with three windows) with its impressive stonework:-

Templo des Tres Ventes

In the lower area of Machu Picchu we encountered this Condor Temple. The stone on the ground has had the head of a condor (one of the Inca sacred animals) carved into it:-

Temple of the Condor

Finally, we headed up to what is thought to be the upper-class area. It has this lookout building at the top, and Kate liked the llama looking out:

Lookout and llama

And Kate couldn't pass up this picture of a baby llama:-

Baby llama

When you are exploring Machu Picchu, you run into llamas all the time, as they are the lawn mowers used to keep the vegetation in check. Kate took this picture of a close encounter of a llamanian (?!?) kind:-


From the top, it's about a fifteen minute walk to the Inca bridge (Inkipuntu). This is a defensive structure on the trail up from the other side of Machu Picchu. It functions like a drawbridge on a particularly narrow and steep part of the trail:-

Kate and Inkipuntu

Aguas Calientes

We spent the final night of the trip in Aguas Calientes. To us it seemed like an interesting little boom town; getting rich off the tourism to Machu Picchu. It reminded us of Whistler about 30 years ago. The guide book was incensed at how touristy the place was (while getting rich itself off the tourism to Machu Picchu). It was a sort of interesting high-energy place. The railway goes down what is the de facto main street:-

Mainstreet Aguas Calientes

Kate liked the various civic features of the place, this is a walkway beside the river that runs through the centre. Note the Inca inspired fountains and water channel:-

'Incan' water feature

Back in Cusco

The next morning we took the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. From there it is a cheap bus ride, or, as we did, a slightly more expensive taxi ride to Cusco. The two hour ride in the taxi cost 50 soles (C$20.00), but I left my Tilley hat in the cab; so the real expense was greater.

The last day in Cusco we went to the Qorikancha Incan temple. It has a Roman Catholic church built over it now, of course. This is some of the very fine stonework:-

Greg and Kate at Qorikancha

Fine stone walls.

And just as an example of the sort of stone work they did:-

A holder for a hinge.

Part of the water supply?

Finally we got on our plane and flew, Lima to Miami to Seattle, and drove home, tired but happy.