Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Sarah Travels | The Inca Trail & Machu Picchu!

Grab yourselves a cuppa, this is gonna be an extremely long one!

Towards the end of last year I completely threw myself so far out of my comfort zone and I travelled to South America to Peru to go on a 2 week trip of a lifetime called Amazon to the Andes which I booked through G-Adventures. I will link the trip at the end of the blog post for anyone wanting to know a bit more about it, prices etc! The trip itself consisted of starting in Lima, travelling to Cusco, doing a 4 day hike along the Inca Trail through the Andes Mountains and ending at Machu Picchu, and then back to Cusco to travel to the Amazon Rainforest for a few nights. It still blows my mind when I talk about it! This blog post though is going to be all about the most exciting bit, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu!

Right from the very start when I booked it, I was panicking. This is me we are talking about, the most walking I had done was walking around the shops. I had never camped before, I had never been away for longer than a week before, and to top it off, I was being made redundant around the same time I was going and I wasn't sure how I would be able to pay for such an expensive trip. My mum and dad were wary and telling me to work my money out and make sure I could afford it, my brother was terrified I was going to die in the mountains, but in a moment of madness I just thought sod it! And next thing I had agreed to go and was on my way to book it! When I was actually booking the trip, it took a good few attempts to get things moving and I was considering just forgetting the whole thing. I was convinced the struggles I was having were all signs that the universe was trying to tell me it was a bad idea. I had trouble with my passport, trouble with the travel agents systems, but after 3 attempts I finally booked it and crossed my fingers that it wasn't the universe trying to tell me anything and it was infact, just my nervy belly being a pain! Haha.

I'm not going to talk too much about the start of the holiday in this blog post as I'm going to split the trip into different ones, the same as the Italy posts, and that's basically just because the absolute impatient cow in me just couldn't wait to post this one haha, so I'm doing them jumbled up!

The trek itself started on the 4th day of the trip, on the 28th September 2017. That day will forever go down in history as probably the most terrified I have ever, and will ever be in my whole entire life. I remember getting up in the morning and sitting on my bed and I have never felt fear like it. I wasn't excited, I was just filled with nerves and dread. All I could think was this is it, there's no going back now and what have I gotten myself into, and all I wanted was a hug off my boyfriend Craig who unfortunately was all the way back in Liverpool. We were in Ollantaytambo, a little town in the Sacred Valley at that point, staying in the prettiest little hotel called Inka Paradise Hotel. Our wakeup call was really early, and our bus was picking us up at 8am. As I put my backpack on my back, tied my laces on my walking boots, and walked out of that room, not having a clue what was ahead of me, all I wanted to do was be sick haha.  The excitement did start to creep in once we were on our bus travelling to the starting point of the trail with our gang though, who later would be renamed "the assholes". Has a lovely ring to it doesn't it ;)

It took us about 45 minutes to travel to the starting point where we got off the bus and met with some of our porters who had our duffle bags and sleeping bags lined up ready to collect (I was number 216, I'll never forget that number now haha.) Next up was passport control, which I was also panicking about (I think you may have caught wind of the fact that I am infact, the biggest worrier to have ever been born haha!) but I think my worry was justified here as my passport number had been wrong in the induction meeting and they told me that if it was wrong you couldn't go any further. They promised me they would sort it but I was panicking so much, I had no reason to though and I got through easy peasy. After walking across the bridge to the starting point, we all took the classic beginning photo by the sign and then we were off! And the craziest 4 days of my life began!
Day 1 was apparently meant to be the easy day.  The trek was 26 miles and to say it was intimidating that first few hours is an understatement. The first couple of hours was really enjoyable and I was thinking "If it's like this the whole time it will be great!" but the more I walked, the more the sun got to me and when you are walking in scorching heat (us British only see the sun about 3 days out of the year you know!), high altitude, a heavy backpack on my back, and clompy walking boots, I was already starting to struggle. The views everywhere you looked were just beautiful. The Andes Mountains are definitely a breathtaking place (literally as well), and as I was walking I couldn't believe where I was and what I was seeing. I felt so lucky to be there. The porters were amazing as well, they carried some of our stuff and each day carried approximately 15kg each on their backs, and the speed they walked up was ridiculous! Anytime they passed we had to move to the left so they could pass us on the right and every 5 minutes all you could hear was shouts of "to the left!" coming from behind you. That quickly became a catchphrase and lots of instagram photos were tagged with it once we were all home haha! About half way through the first day when we stopped for lunch, that's when I really felt it and I nearly had to turn back. The altitude was already affecting me really badly and had been since we first landed in Cusco a couple of days earlier. My appetite had vanished and I felt sick just looking at food and then to top it off, I got heatstroke when we were trekking. I tried to eat some of the meal, which was trout pie, but I just couldn't face it and I was taken to sit in some shade to try and cool down. My head was pounding, I felt faint and I felt so nauseous and our guide David said to me that if I threw up I would definitely have to turn back. I was devastated because I really didn't want to come all this way to have to go back on the first day and I was determined to carry on. I wasn't going to let all my loved ones back home, and myself down at the first hurdle.
After lunch we carried on walking and I started to feel a bit better although my backpack was really really hurting my back and my neck. My Aussie Action Man Mark came to my rescue though and he offered to carry my backpack for me as well as his own! He literally was my hero on the trek and I will always be so grateful to him because without him, I really don't think I would have gotten to the end!
The hike on the first day was quite short and by 3:30pm we were at our first campsite. The site was so cute and the porters already had our tents sent up with our duffel bags ready and the food cooking for us! The food on the trip was just mind blowing, I have no idea how they managed to cook everything that they did up in a mountain, they even made us fresh popcorn every night! They even clapped us when we arrived at camp. They trekked so much faster than us, carrying so much more stuff than us, set up our camp and cooked us food, provided us with water and made sure everything was done for us, and there they were, clapping us! It was baffling! My highlight of the food and drink situation was definitely the hot chocolate. As my appetite has completely vanished and I literally didn't eat a thing for the whole trek, the hot chocolate was just heavenly.
The night time and interacting with the group was my favourite bit of the trek, sitting in our group tent where we ate together and playing cards and getting to know everyone was such a lovely experience. We played a game called Asshole, and that's where our group name came from.
As the sky went dark and the sun went down, I have never seen anything like it. The sky was so clear and just completely filled with stars, and we could even see the milky way! As I sat there and looked up at the stars and looked around at where I was, a million miles from home and living out this amazing experience, I wasn't going to let a bit of altitude sickness get in my way, and I made a promise to myself that I would get to the end no matter what it took.
Day 2 was the hardest day, and the day that involved the dreaded Dead Woman's Pass. Our wake up call was 5am and we got ready and all had breakfast together. Our breakfast was Porridge and Pancakes and then we set off seriously early at 6:20am. The day was a really long day and the first half of the day consisted of 6 hours of constant stairs and uphill walking and 30 minutes in, I already felt like I was going to cry. I was already struggling with my bag and my legs were already sore. I couldn't breathe properly because of the altitude and I had hardly slept because the altitude had caused me to have nightmares and I was awake nearly all night, so I was seriously tired. It was at that moment I just wished I hadn't been so lazy with my training. Although no amount of training can determine how your body will react to the altitude and unlucky for me, mine reacted really badly. About an hour into the trek Mark came to my rescue yet again and he took my backpack for me. I tried to tell him no but he tricked me pretending to help me look for something in it and next thing he had it on and wouldn't give me it back. He had his own on his back, and mine on the front like a baby carrier haha! He was so amazing! After a few hours I was really starting to feel the pain, I had excruciating pain in my hips and knees and any time I climbed a step it was agony. It was just step after step after step and they weren't small steps, they were the size of boulders! I wanted to give up so many times but I pushed through the pain and just kept telling myself it will all be worth it. The views were just spectacular and each time I felt pain, I looked around and took in where I was, took a deep breath and carried on. There's not many people who can say they had seen those views I saw and I wasn't going to let a dodgy hip stop me from enjoying everything that was around me.
After what seemed like a lifetime we got to the main stop point and to our shock, there was stalls there selling snacks, water, soft drinks and beers! Haha! Mark told me to have a Gatorade (like Lucozade) and I got a kitkat but only managed to eat half before putting it back into my backpack as I couldn't face eating it. The group photos were a regular occurrence at this point thanks to our camera man Dan and along with that came the other catchprase of the trek "it's been a while!" Haha.
After an hour we headed onto what is known as the hardest part of the trek, Dead Woman's Pass. Dan kindly took over from Mark carrying my backpack (which he seriously regretted by the end of the climb! haha!) and off we went. I really took my time doing Dead Woman's Pass and trekked up really slowly, stopping so many times for water and to catch my breath. It was so hard, probably the hardest couple of hours of my life, I can see where it got it's name from. I couldn't breathe and every step was a struggle, but we made it and got to the top to a massive cheer and applause from the rest of our group who were already there. It felt amazing knowing what I had achieved that day and knowing the pain I had pushed through to get there, and at that moment in time, I felt like I could have achieved anything in the world. It was the highest point of the whole trek and at the top we were 4215m above sea level. The views from the top were incredible, we were actually in the clouds, looking out at snow capped mountains, and I just looked around and thought "this is why I'm putting myself through this, I am actually on top of the world." It was like nothing I had ever seen before and I had gotten myself there. It was amazing.
The rest of day 2 was downhill and me and Stacey got to the campsite before nearly everyone else! I found walking down so much easier and by the time I got to camp I just felt so relieved that the hardest day was over and my altitude sickness and dodgy hips and knees and lack of sleep hadn't got the better of me!
Day 2 was also the first experience of the hell we endured with the toilets! Let me tell you about altitude. It seriously knocks your stomach off! When you have one or two toilets between lots of different groups of trekkers and everyones guts are going wild, the smell is like nothing you have ever smelt before. We all sat around for dinner which was Rice Soup followed by Alpaca in sauce with potatoes and veg, none of which I ate surprisingly. Thanks for nothing appetite!
The funniest part of the day came at the end when me and Stacey went to the toilet. If you are squeamish or easily offended I would skip straight to day 3 now haha. We got there and Georgia, our gorgeous little Aussie "Asshole" was with us. We were all desperate but when we got there none of us could stomach going, as there was just poo everywhere! The toilet we had to use, had a massive poo right on it, so Georgia decided to go and get a stick and we howled laughing while we flicked the poo away with the stick. Now I don't know if it was the altitude sending us loopy, but I don't think I have ever laughed so much in my whole life as I did for them 10 minutes!

Day 3 started after another sleepless, nightmare filled night with a 5am start. I think I had a total of 5 minutes sleep, but I was feeling OK and I wasn't as nervous for today knowing the worst was over and I had gotten through that. If I had gotten through day 2, I could easily get through whatever today threw at me!
We started our trek at 6am and the first 2 hours were uphill and an absolute killer but no where near as bad as the day before. I fell over so many times this day though, the first being in the first two hours, which resulted in me dropping my water bottle and a porter running after it while another random porter picked me up off the floor haha! Mrs.Bean in full force! After a couple of hours we reached the highest point of the day and the rest of the day was so much better. We seen so many alpacas this day at our stop points, they are the cutest thing ever!
We trekked for another 2 hours to our next stop where we came across an amazing Inca Ruin. I looked around this on my own and just spent my time taking in the views and where I was and then went and met with the group to carry on the walk. The rest of the day was a lot easier with a lot of flat and downhill mixed in with the small bursts of uphill. I was really enjoying myself by this point and even though my body was destroyed, I was having such an amazing time. We stopped for lunch and to our shock and absolute amazement, after everyone had eaten, they brought out a homemade cake for two of our group, Iain and Claire who were on their honeymoon! None of us could believe it and still to this day, we still say we have no idea how they managed to bake a freshly made cake so high up in a mountain 3 days into a trek! It was definitey one of the highlights of the trek and the only proper thing I ate the whole time haha. Even altitude didn't stop my cake love!
The last part of the trek that day was completely downhill and my god my legs were wrecked! My hips and knees were in absolute agony again, and I fell down the steepest and narrowest steps and landed so hard on my bum that I still have a mark now 5 months later! How do I even get by in life?! Haha! It was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than previous days though and I was feeling the happiest I had felt throughout the whole trek! I managed to carry my backpack the whole day as well which I was so happy about! I didn't feel as much of a cheat anymore haha. We got to the campsite, ate, played cards again and then it was a seriously early night getting sent to bed at 7pm for a 3:30am wake up call the next morning!
Day 4 and it was Machu Picchu Day! I woke up feeling sooooo ill and my stomach was so off, even though I had ate a grand total of 1 slice of cake for the whole 4 days but I was raring to go and I was so happy it was the last day and all our efforts and all the struggle I had endured was going to be worth it in a matter of hours! We got to the entrance of Machu Picchu at 4:30, waited an hour and then started the trek to Machu at 5:30am. It was still dark, and we trekked for about 2 hours at a nice steady pace, a mix of uphill and down, but a hell of a lot easier than the last few days. I think the fact I knew I was going to get to Machu Picchu in a matter of hours just gave me this total burst of energy and I trekked so much better than I had done previously. Towards the end of the walk just before we got to it, we had to climb some stairs. These stairs are known as the Oh My God Stairs, because everyone who approaches them always has the same reaction haha. Those stairs will haunt me forever. They were so steep and the actually steps themselves where so narrow, it was absolutely terrifying and actually felt like I was full on rock climbing, but I took a deep breath, dragged myself up with my sticks (shaking and swearing) and at the top there was a short stretch of path and then there it was. The Sun Gate, the moment the whole trek had led to. David our Porter and Mark were waiting at the entrance to the sungate and clapped me while I walked through and then gave me the biggest hugs and as I walked over the edge, and laid eyes on Machu Picchu for the first time, I just broke down in tears and then cried for a good 10 minutes. I had done it, I had actually done it! I had fought through altitude destroying my body, causing me sleepless nights and nightmares, a constant pounding headache, trekking on absolutely no food, my hips and knees causing me the worst pain, and heatstroke and I had won. I had defeated them all and on 1st October 2017, I got to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas!

The absolute overwhelming feeling of relief, pride and happiness was the most incredible feeling I have ever felt. I think that feeling is gonna be really hard to top, and it's a moment that will stay with me until I die. When I first started the trek I really didn't think I was going to make it. I didn't think I was strong enough, I didn't think I was prepared enough, I didn't think my mind was mentally ready to do it. But there I was, stood there after accomplishing something I had only ever dreamed of, and I was strong enough, and I will always be so proud of myself for pushing myself to the limit and doing something completely new to me and completely out of my comfort zone, and absolutely smashing it despite the speedbumps I faced along the way.

We trekked down to Machu Picchu which took about 45 minutes and we explored the ruins for a good hour or two. It felt amazing walking around and taking it all in and witnessing first hand something I had always wanted to see. It's like nothing I have ever experienced and I am so happy that any time I see a photo of Machu Picchu I am able to say, I trekked through the mountains for 4 days to get there and saw it with my very own eyes.
After spending a few hours exploring we got a bus down to the town of Machu Picchu called 'Aguas Calientes' and went souvenir shopping and then for a meal with our group where we said thankyou and gave each of our guides some money as a thankyou for everything they had done for us. They were the best guides we could have asked for and helped us so much and made every night having "asshole time" so fun. They couldn't really understand me though because of my accent but still haha! It was the 70th anniversary of the town when we were there and there was celebrations all through the streets. They had dancers, singers, so many people all celebrating and enjoying themselves and it just made me feel so happy. Afterwards we got the train back to Ollantaytambo and picked up the rest of our stuff we had left behind and then got the bus back to Cusco and arrived back at our hotel where we all finally got to have a shower! Which by the way, was the best shower I have EVER had in my life after not showering for 4 days. I absolutely stank and the dirt that came out of my hair in that shower could have filled a garden haha! Once we were ready we went and met up with some others and had another meal. A few of the group were leaving us to go home the next day so we wanted one last meal all together and it was such a nice night. And going to bed that night felt AMAZING! Haha!
The trek itself was everything I could have asked for and more. The Peruvian Mountains were the most beautiful place I have ever been and I will treasure the memories of the trip for the rest of my life.  I feel so lucky that I got to experience and go through it and I will never forgot the feeling of pride I felt getting to Machu Picchu for as long as I live.

Inca Trail, I loved you, I hated you, and I beat you!


For Amazon to the Andes trip information click here.
For More trips from G-Adventures (they have so many amazing ones) click here.

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