It is easy to dismiss the really famous treks ÛÒ Kilimanjaro or The Inca Trail for instance ÛÒ because many people have done them.åÊ But, regardless of the number of people who have gone before, you still have to walk the yards, climb the hills and stumble down the descents.åÊ Your own experience of these places is not invalidated just because others have gone before you ÛÒ they have only done so because they are great places to be and are very real challenges.
The Inca Trail is one of many trails that the Inca made through the mountains.åÊ ÛÏThe Inca trailÛ has become famous partly through very clever publicity and partly because it does include a number of stretches on actual Inca laid paths.åÊ However, whether you are on that trail or another, the scenery is extraordinary, arrival at Machu Picchu is extraordinary and the Inca ruins along the way are extraordinary.åÊ The whole thing is everything that it is billed to be and the effort involved is more than made up for by the sense of superiority and ownership you feel when confronted by the cheats who turn up at Machu Picchu by train.
The trekking can be fairly tough and the terrain is ever changing.åÊ You start walking around 2800m and the first day is reasonably simple.åÊ The famous Perurail train and the Rio Urubamba criss-cross the trail and there is a general feeling of a closeness to civilization.åÊ However, that feeling ends early in day 2.åÊ The trail takes you away from people, through tiny villages that are themselves hours of walking from the rail head or roads; and up.åÊ On day 2 the sense of either heading up or down and rarely flat really takes hold.åÊ The Incas really, really loved a nice step, so they made loads of them, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and your knees feel every one of them. Steps, steps, steps.
We were a group of 19, with porters, cooks and guides that came to mid-twenties.åÊ That is only a biggish group, but big enough for us to fall comfortably into groups of the fit and keen and the slightly less fit, for whom just getting there was the challenge.åÊ The porters, carrying huge loads but with a weight limited by the government, skip across the trails with fantastic speed and there was a constant call of ÛÏPorterÛ among the group as we stood back to let them charge off to our campsite to set up for us.
Through days 2 and 3 we moved through cloud forest and relatively open mountain scenery.åÊ You also cross Dead WomanÛªs Pass: at 4200m, the highest point of the trail.åÊ Once out of the cloud forest you are struck, if you come from little old England, by the sheer scale of the Andes.åÊ Towering over you are immense mountains, the valleys are seemingly endless and impossibly deep; everything is just huge.åÊ The joy of waking up to these views, with a chill in the air from the altitude, reaches its peak on the last morning, when you are faced by the natural bowl in which Machu Picchu sits.åÊ You can not see the ruin itself, which is hidden by its own mountain, but the steep mountains all around it and the more distant 6000 + meter, glaciated peaks tend to render people a little speechless; there is nothing I can say here that wonÛªt sound naff ÛÒ itÛªs pretty good.
Machu Picchu was a religious site and was placed inside its natural bowl for protection.åÊ It is remote and the Spanish never got to it ÛÒ the Incas went to fight the Spanish and left Machu Picchu and many other towns and settlements to rot.åÊ They lost the battles and never returned.åÊ Frequently, when walking along a track carved into a sheer mountainside (with a couple to thousand feet drop to the side) or marveling at a temple perched on top of an impossibly steep cliff, you just wonder how and why they did this.
After four days of walking you arrive at the Sun Gate, about a mile from Machu Picchu itself and through which you get your first view of it.åÊ There were people in our group reduced to tears, I think that says it all. Waynna Picchu, the famous conical mountain that you have seen in all the photos looming above Machu Picchu, is a very steep climb up original Inca steps.åÊ On top of it are ruins that defy belief, temples, walls hanging over massive drops and incredibly steep steps ÛÒ also capable of reducing people to tears for different reasons.åÊ It and Machu Picchu itself take hours to explore.åÊ They are bigger than you probably imagine, remarkable in the scale of their ambition and in their beauty.åÊ They are one of the great sights in the world and the Peruvian government have to restrict the number of people visiting each day.åÊ There are people there, but the sites are big enough to absorb them without it being a problem: and you can feel smug because you are have earned the right to this experience, and seen so much along the way, and many of those around you are just day trippers having less than half of your life sized moment.