A journey full of highs and lows, a nerve racking commitment but so very worth it - a description of a trek to Machu Picchu, or a marriage?!
I undertook the challenge to fund raise for charity, but for any intrepid couple looking for a honeymoon with a difference, I can’t imagine a more memorable experience than trekking along a remote Inca trail 4,000 metres up in the Andes. And if you did it for a charity maybe you could even get your guests to contribute to your chosen one as a wedding gift.
The first challenge on my trip was on arrival into Cusco, getting used to the high altitude. This means you have less oxygen, which means even climbing up half a dozen stairs can leave you breathless and dizzy. Cusco is a pretty mix of traditional Inca and Spanish influence, easy to get around, friendly and full of fabulous restaurants, cafes and markets. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days before leaving modern comforts behind.
The four hour bus journey to our trekking starting point in the Andes was an experience in itself, on a steeply climbing road that quickly turned into a narrow track with hair pin bends. If you dare look out of the window the views are amazing!
Many people refer to ‘the’ Inca Trail - the most popular one, which is so busy that passes to go along it have now been restricted. But there are others, less well known, so less busy, but equally if not more stunning and challenging, which I preferred to do. We were trekking the Lares Valley route for four days, reaching heights of 4600 metres in a remote area, seeing nobody else but the Andean people who live in the mountains. Their way of life has changed little in hundreds of years, they are self sufficient with no modern amenities and still speak only Quechan.
We met many of the mountain people along the way, they were about half our size and twice as fast. Brightly coloured dots on the horizon would suddenly appear and quickly pass us, wearing traditional hand woven outfits, carrying full loads on their backs, in blankets. Reaching camp in late afternoon we would find a group of women and children waiting for us, blankets spread out with an eclectic mix from alpaca wool socks and hand knitted hats to bottles of Inca Kola for sale. Ah yes, camping on a remote Inca Trail. If you’re a seasoned camper or trekker, used to no toilets, hot water, showers, electricity, or any mod cons at all, then you won’t even flinch. But I wasn’t and initially was particularly worried about the lack of toilets. Most of the time we were so high the environment was barren - no trees, bushes or rocks to go behind. But it was surprising just how quickly I got used to the ‘squat and go’. Helped by being in an all female group, you were never alone either and there’d usually be a line of us, chatting away. No privacy and nowhere to hide, this trek really will make you share everything!
After four days of trekking, coping with all weather from hail stones to scorching sunshine, altitude sickness, dodgy stomachs, and injuries, we finally reached the Sun Gate. This is the ancient entrance to Machu Picchu which looks down onto the iconic view so often used in photographs. I walked through to be greeted by white clouds. The sight was totally obliterated – but they soon cleared, and when they did the view was breath taking. You can get to Machu Picchu without doing the trek but there was something very satisfying about it, feeling like we’d really earned the right to be there. The journey, as they say, was definitely as crucial to the experience as the end point.
But there is no getting away from how awe inspiring the ancient city itself is. Machu Picchu is every bit as magical and mysterious as the pictures and stories suggest – and more. Built over 400 years ago, with only the most basic equipment, many of the 200 buildings are almost intact. Up close it is even bigger and more impressive than I expected, swirling clouds add to the mystique. So much remains unknown as the Incas didn’t use writing or drawing to record anything, but one of the main theories is that Machu Picchu was built because its location was of importance to the spiritual Incas who worshipped the Sun and Pachamama – or Mother Earth.
We celebrated our achievement at the end of the trek with a night out that combined the traditional – pan pipers, roast guinea pig – with the modern – drunken dancing and a disco.
A trek to Machu Picchu is a once in a lifetime experience – and what a great way to start your lifetime together than an unforgettable adventure like this.
If you want to find out more about what it’s like trekking to Machu Picchu, warts (and lack of toilets) and all, I’ve published a book ‘On Foot to Machu Picchu, a duff trekker’s adventure along an Inca trail’. A donation from sales of the book is going to Breast Cancer Care.
You can get On Foot to Machu Picchu on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-foot-Machu-Picchu-adventure-ebook/dp/B00OGW1NGS
Or iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/on-foot-to-machu-picchu/id929284650?ls=1&mt=11