The main reason we’re here, of course, is to do the 4 day Inca trail hike up to Machu Picchu. I don’t mind telling you that I have been rather nervous and have some serious doubts about whether I am physically up to such a grueling trek as both my knees have been very sore due to the constant activity we´ve been doing. I fight the constant visions and nightmares of being taken down the mountain via donkey and not being able to finish what I started. The day before our trek, we have a formal briefing and get to meet our guides and the rest of our group for the first time.
We learn that our group is made up of 7 fit, athletic young 20 somethings (oh, the horror) here on a student exchange from the USA. Now, I have to tell you that being stuck for 4 days with a group of kids you don’t know isn’t as bad as it sounds. As it turns out, they are a delightfully energetic good-natured bunch, funny, naturally curious about different cultures and very respectful of everyone they came in contact with throughout the trip. In fact, we actually quite enjoy their company and found ourselves a little sad saying goodbye at the end of our trip.
The day we depart for our trek finally arrives, our guides pick us up at 5:30 am and we drive for about 2 hours through the Sacred Valley until we get to the first checkpoint of the Inca trail and then we are off! The scenery and ruins along the way are indeed spectacular and our guide Freddy is extremely knowledgeable. The massive ridge of green Andean mountains are continually shrouded by shifting clouds and mist which added to the mystic feel of the whole place and we understand why ancient civilizations like the Incas built their cities in such spiritual locations. Our guide also tells us that treks like these were meant to be a meaningful pilgrimage for many rather than something that one endured (Karen makes mental note to self for future reference during painful moments of the trek when she is literally ready to give up).
The landscape itself is nothing short of impressive with soaring peaks, rocky valleys, llamas grazing and the sound of the gurgling Urubamba river which winds its way all throughout the valley floor and eventually joins up with the Amazon river. As it is the start of the wet season we watch storms roll in across the mountains and the cracks of thunder so loud you think the earth is splitting in two as the surrounding mountains provide a naturally amplified theatre of sound. Unfortunately, it rains every day, even though the showers only last for a couple of hours at a time, it makes everything rather soggy and slippery…even going to the outdoor toilets at night proves to be a challenge!
However, we find ourselves breathless many a time not just because of the altitude, or steep paths but because of the amazingly sophisticated skills and knowledge the Incas possessed having mastered stone masonry, architecture, engineering, and astronomy to build the cities perched atop seemingly impassable mountains that still stand today. We can’t quite get over the fact that the stones they used to build walls with were painstakingly handcrafted to fit each and every stone exactly and are held in place without mortar but by its own sheer weight and perfect fit.
So perfect that the city itself has stayed relatively intact despite the fact that Machu Picchu sits on 2 tectonic plates and is subject to numerous and frequent earthquakes. We wonder how they managed to carry up the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of stone through these mountains to build it there in the first place even. Again, amazing stuff. And of course, the ruins of Machu Picchu itself and the smaller ones along the way are quite simply magnificent as the pictures attest. Being back in nature, out of communication range, without internet or daily news we really enjoyed dropping out of the world for awhile and being completely immersed in the lost city of the Incas.