We caught a night bus to Arequipa after two lazy-ish days in Cusco to recover (no question now why there are so many massage places in town).
We spent a day in town to look around and did a day trip to Colca Canyon on the next (amazing to see condors!).
Our tour group consisted of five Canadians, seven Brits and the two of us. We got really lucky with the people – all really cool and we had lots of fun together.
Day 1 is a relaxed one where you visit two of the projects that G Adventures, the tour company, supports before spending the night in Ollantaytambo (Inca ruins here).
Day 2 is the start of the trail, a few hours of fairly relaxed hiking after a visit to another Inca site.
Day 3 is the climb up to “Dead Woman’s Pass” and it is actually really hard. It’s a very steep climb in high altitude (not helped by the fact that I felt really sick and hadn’t been able to eat breakfast). At the last bit, we probably stopped every few minutes to catch our breath. Fortunately, there were a few of us climbing together and there was plenty of encouragement from all sides! People had some celebratory beers once we got up to the top.
The second half of the day was better as it was downhill (but we were all hurting already from the climb up). You camp early on that day for that reason, which was good for me because I spent the rest of the day in my sleeping bag and felt better the next day.
The chefs on the tour had managed to bake a birthday cake for one of the ladies on the tour (something about hot stones and closed pots – not sure exactly how they did it but everyone was very impressed!).
Day 4 is a lot easier compared to the day before. You walk through absolutely stunning scenery, sometimes in the sun, sometimes in the rain, often in the clouds (as you go down in altitude into the cloud forest), taking in some Inca sites along the way. Our excellent guide Carlos explained a bit about the religion of the Incas and how the believes play a role today, especially in the countryside.
We got introduced to all of our 20+ porters that night as we thanked them for their incredible work in getting all our stuff, food etc up and down the hills (Oscar and one of the other guys carried one of the 25kg packs each for a few minutes during the day). They have unbelievable strength and stamina (and our oldest porter was 60!).
Day 5, the final day, starts at 3am so that the porters can pack up and catch the train back at 5am. For us, it was a 2 hour hike to the sun gate for what is usually the first view of Machu Picchu, but we had a lot of fog and clouds in our way.
Suddenly being in crowds of people is a bit strange after the quiet days before….
It cleared up a bit as it got warmer and anyway, the clouds added to the whole experience by making it look really magical. One of the ladies on the tour proposed to her partner and really had a stunning backdrop to it!
So we had something to celebrate in town before catching the train back to Ollantaytambo and driving to Cusco and going our separate ways…
Next stop was Puno, just across the Peruvian border. And what do you do in Peru when you’re Oscar? You try the guinea pig (not bad, but a lot of bones).
We spent a night here again and visited the floating islands of Uros – very impressive reed grass layers 2-3 metres thick on which people live in groups of 3-4 families. The main income is tourism. Some pretty amazing constructions with the same reed grass around empty bottles builds these “Uros Mercedes”.
After that, on to Cusco! Where Oscar promptly got ill and spent the day in bed with a fever. Fortunately, it got better in time for our Inca Trail start.