Machu Pichu Day 1

 

We arose early on Day 1, at 3am to be precise. We both had only about two hours sleep due to a combination of going late to bed and having a group of revellers making a god awful racket in our hostel.

We did not let it dampen our mood. After all, the day we had been anticipating (and training) for had finally arrived! The mood was subdued as we boarded the mini van and although I tried to catch a few more zzz’s it did not happen.

After a couple of hours we arrived at Piscacucho, where we ate our first communal breakfast and sorted out the final bits and pieces before we started the hike. Damien and I were sharing a porter and had a few things each in our small back packs for our journey. When we got our large pack weighed we discovered that we were 4 kg over the limit we were allowed. So some quick reshuffling ensued, and we elected to dump a couple of things and carry the rest in our back packs. Suddenly my light-ish day pack felt like a ton of bricks and I estimated it was at least 7 kg now. Not exactly what I had planned for and I was kicking myself that we had overestimated our packing of the big backpack.

I watched as the porters loaded themselves up with all the equipment for our four day hike and felt slightly in awe of the size (and weight) they were about to set off with. Regulations now limit the amount each porter is permitted to carry to 25 kg. But that is a massive load when you consider the gruelling hiking conditions they do it under! Erick, our guide, told us that in days gone by when there were no weighing checkpoints and regulations it was not uncommon for these men to carry loads of 50 kg each. Unbelievable!

In our briefing the night prior Erick had advised us that the first day would be the longest hike – 15km – but that this ensured we would stay ahead of the other 500-odd people on the trail, and that we would set up camp at arguably the most picturesque campsite of the entire trail by the end of the day. The first part of this hike was roughly 10 km of relatively gentle inclines, and we walked in beautiful sunshine along a river that carved through hillsides covered in cactus and other scrub like trees. Further along we even saw lovely rock walls covered in bromileads. It wasn’t very far into the hike before I had the feeling that we were going to be in for a truly amazing experience, and a tiny tear came to my eye.

Along the trail we would pass locals with their horses heavily laden with produce. Here and there we would see a rustic looking home or a small village. Everyone was keen to chat, and we were fast learning about each other and where we hailed from. In our group there were four Americans: the eldest couple in the group being Cynthia and Chris from Boston, the other North Americans being friends Jessica and Krissy, there was also Lars and Annemijn, uni mates from The Netherlands, and the only solo traveller in the group, Josephine, who has been living in London but hails from Ipoh in Malaysia.

Our first major stop was at the first Incan ruin we were to see, Llactapata. We could observe this ruin from our vantage point up on a small plateau. It was an impressive introduction to the many other Incan complexes we would be treated to along our journey. We rested here awhile as Erick shared his knowledge in what turned out to be his memorable presentation style. Erick’s passion for his subject was exuded in every word he spoke, and his up beat and dramatic story telling was infectious and had everyone enthralled.

As we left the Llactapata complex behind we wound our way through the mountains. The grey clouds that hung around the mountains further away warned of what was ahead. Soon we were amongst it, hiking in the rain and everyone had to don their wet weather gear. We arrived at our first lunch spot and although we were not able to enjoy the siesta Erick said we could indulge in should the weather be fine, we were all indulged in a lovely meal (the first of many of which the chef and his assistant produced). Just as we finished eating lunch in the shelter of our meal tent the rain fortunately cleared and not long after we started the 5km ascent to our campsite.

These next 5 km were to prove to be quite testing – and that might be my understatement of the year! The ascent was 5 km through a rise in altitude of 700m, to an ultimate altitude of 3700m. Holy shit is all I can really say about it. No matter how much training we did, nothing could really prepare me for this physical challenge. Granted, a solid 8 hours sleep and 4 kg less in my bag would have been a welcome bonus and probably would have made things better. Just the same I know it would have felt hard regardless. Altitude is a bitch.

The trials of this part of the hike are evident in the fact that I took about three photos during the whole 5 km, and that was during our midway rest point. I did not have the energy or inclination to photograph anything. All my reserves were focused on putting one foot in front of the other and hoping that this bloody neverending ascent up those bloody Incan steps of pain and suffering was going to eventually be over. Towards the end (I guess about the last km) both Damien and I were feeling extremely fatigued, and it must have been written all over my face as Jorge (our other support guide) and Erick asked me if I was OK. Jorge and Erick checked in on all of us regularly throughout our four days to see if at any point we were suffering from altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can kill you, and Erick shared a story with us later in the trip of a time when he literally had to carry out a man on his back who was dying from altitude sickness. So it is with good reason that Jorge and Erick were ever vigilant with the health and well being of our little group throughout.

I grimly smiled in response to Jorge’s enquiry and said that I was OK and not dizzy or anything, just tired. At this point Jorge asked if I would like him to carry my back pack. I felt like this was admitting defeat at this point and I felt acutely embarrassed to have Jorge carry my back pack as well as his own. However, after a long period of silence,  battling with my pride, I gave in and handed Jorge my bag. He almost dropped it when I handed it to him and he exclaimed “That’s too heavy!” and he handed it to Erick to have a feel. Erick then said to me (almost angrily it felt at the time) “Why have you got so much weight in your back pack?!” I explained that I had to carry the extra stuff from the big back pack. To which Erick replied in no uncertain terms that I should not carry so much weight tomorrow.

I was more than happy to agree with the assessment, and felt somewhat vindicated that they both seemed shocked at how heavy my back pack was – at least my fatigue was partly because of the brick load in my backpack!!

For a brief while I felt like I was going to lift off and the removal of the weight was great but soon it just felt the same as before. One thing I have learnt after our weeks of living and hiking at altitude in South America is that it doesn’t matter how fit you are, the lack of oxygen really does make any exertion notably more difficult than normal.

Not long later the lead porter came bounding down the stairs and relieved Jorge of my back pack and then nimbly bounced back up the hill, every now and then stopping to check on us as we climbed and climbed and climbed.

Then finally we reached the campsite of Llulluchapampa and were rewarded with the most spectacular of views of the surrounding snow capped mountains. Seeing that breathtaking sight (and that is breathtaking for all the right reasons!) made it all worthwhile and I was feeling elated once again. We had the campsite….. practically all to ourselves. It is without doubt one of the most stunning campsites ever. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect place to finish up Day 1 of our excellent adventure.

And Damien wants it recorded for posterity that although we suffered up that last ascent we were in fact not the last in our team to reach the end! Phew!

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2012 is the year that my fiance, Damien and I took leave of work to see this wonderful world we live in. Our adventures took us to Scandinavia in the winter to view the ethereal Northern Lights, the heat and humidity of Asia for three months, Europe via caravan and now South America. We have seen so many wonderful sights and met so many great people that I know that year of travel will continue to inspire and inform how we live our lives for all the years to come.

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