In sight of Machu Picchu

The river valley far below
The river valley far below

The wake up calls were getting earlier and earlier although, this morning, I was already awake, having slept very well, when the ‘knock’ on the tent came. However, as per usual, we didn’t get away quite as early as planned as, this morning, there were some very tired people, including the cook and Erik. We got underway, nevertheless, at about 6.30am.

Erik had told me this was going to be a tough day but obviously the message did not filter through to some of the others. Laura and Philip did not even attempt to walk but stayed behind, helped clear up the camp and went with the porters in a minivan to the lunch destination. Rebecca walked up the hill as far as the coffee plantation we were scheduled to visit and then caught up with Laura and Philip. The plantation was about 45 minutes from the camp and, when we arrived, I, along with 5 others, elected not to do the tour but continue walking and get a head start.

Looking back to where we have come from
Looking back to where we have come from

This was probably one of the best parts of the walk as, most of the time, I was on my own, without group pressure to rush, so could admire the beautiful valley whose sides we were climbing. Mark, John and Eileen were ahead of me and Renee and Brei behind, as I ambled along, listening to the birds, taking photos and generally appreciating the morning. The track was quite steep in parts but much of it was in shade, thank goodness, as it had turned into a hot morning.

Erik eventually overtook me, having run up from the coffee plantation to catch us up. I continued walking, up to the top of the mountain and part way down the other side, only seeing a group of Germans and Tom, who also overtook me. A little way past the summit, I caught up with them and we then sat and waited for the others for some time.

First view of Machu Picchu on the ridge line
First view of Machu Picchu on the ridge line
Resting place for us and the Incas
Resting place for us and the Incas

The meeting place was the site of an old Inca resting place and had a view across the valley towards Machu Picchu, some of the terraces of which could be seen in the distance. The Incas had a number of resting places all over their kingdom. These were for the succession of runners who carried messages from one place to the next – their form of postal service.

Everyone seemed totally exhausted by the time they arrived with the notable exception of Lisa and Russell. The former did her yoga in front of us all whilst Erik was trying to give us information about the Inca culture. I felt so much better today that I had not found the uphill battle nearly as bad as some of the others. However, it was downhill all the way from here and we were under time pressure as we were catching a train to Agua Calientes after lunch.

The river is our destination!
The river is our destination!

I managed to keep up with Erik for quite some time after the break. Gratifyingly, the others were some way behind with only Ben and Tom overtaking me. I had been told before that it is easier to run downhill when the path is steep but have never felt confident enough to do that. Today, however, whilst not exactly running, I could semi jog and did find it easier on the knees and thighs. The aforementioned persons and I consequently reached the meeting place at the bottom some time before the rest. Here, there was a stall selling tree tomatoes (or, to me, tamarillos), avocadoes, bananas and grenadillas (passion fruit). I think the lady did some quite good business out of our visit that day! One or two people, including the fitness obsessed, were quite rattled when they arrived, as they had found the descent so difficult. I shouldn’t gloat but………….!

After the break, there was another 5 minute walk to a suspension bridge across the river before the land flattened out. We walked along the river bed and then the track to Machu Picchu Park, where we signed in and obtained a souvenir stamp in our passports.

A bit further and we reached the train station where our cooks, Rebecca, Laura and Philip were all waiting with our lunch in an adjacent cafe. This, as far as I was concerned, was the best meal so far. (Admittedly, there were a couple of days when I had hardly eaten anything so am probably not really qualified to make that statement!) There were lots of vegetables, chicken and the best avocado salad I have tasted.

This was the point at which we said goodbye to our cooks and took the 3pm train to Aguas Calientes. It was a very slow trip as the train seemed to shunt backwards and forwards far more than appeared necessary. However, the seats were very comfortable and there were big windows so that we could admire the mountain scenery, not only from the side but also out the top.

View from the train
View from the train

Aguas Calientes itself is one big tourist town. It is the closest to Machu Picchu and all the tourists have to pass through it. Consequently, it is full of souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels and not a lot else. We had a 5 minute walk from the train station to the hotel, checked in and headed for our rooms. Once again, I got one to myself even though I hadn’t paid a supplement. All the young people took our their phones and connected with the wifi as soon as we walked through the door as they had been Facebook deprived for 4 days. My phone, however, failed to connect so I remained in ignorance for another day.

Later on, freshly cleaned up, 6 or 7 of us went in search of pre dinner pisco sours. These were found in a Mexican/Italian restaurant and went down very well with the accompaniment of nachos and tortilla chips. Then it was back to the hotel for a buffet dinner and our instructions for the following day. I was determined to walk up to Machu Picchu as I couldn’t bear the thought of going on the bus after walking 4 days to get there. The only other enthusiasts were Lisa and Russell, who, I would have to say, would not have been my first choice of companions but, nevertheless, it was probably better than walking on my own in the dark. As we had to leave at 4.15am to get there by 6am, it was another early night.

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