Making it to Macchu Picchu – the Fairy Tale version

Steep settlements and farmland in the Andes mountain close to Macchu Picchu
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Once upon a time, in the- pre-historic pre-offspring era – the princess convinced the prince that in the spirit of true travelers, they should put Peru and Macchu Picchu on their travel agendas.

Since they knew from the stories by the local bard, that it would entail a lot of walking, they started practising right away.

A couple of days a week they left their castle and their work safely guarded by (fire) walls and passwords and ventured out. Rations of granola bars and water, and armed with umbrellas they took on the rolling hills of Cork, Ireland. They even had visited their cobbler to ensure the right footwear  this time around (the princess had found that glass slippers are not the most practical shoes on a rather extended stroll not that long before).

Cork – Lima – Cusco – making it to the path

Duly prepared this way, one cold and rainy October morning, they set off for South America. Since their castle would not function without them (as they had been told), they decided that time was of the essence and they made their way to a flying station.

Peruvian’s Capital Lima awaited them on the other side, as was another balloon taking them to a Cusco in the mountainous area they would be traversing. To rest their jetlagged bodies and prepare them for the journey ahead they were to stay at this height for a couple of days. Cups of medicinal coca tea and strolls to keep up their fitness while trying the local cuisine and interacting with the colourful locals made their time fly by.

Kilometer 82 (2600m) – Wayllabamba (3000m) 7 km

Before they knew it, it was again their day of departure. On a chilly morning, the sun not even awake, a carriage transported them to kilometer 82, the starting point of their journey. A track lay ahead, disappearing up in between the Andes mountain range. The mountains young, thus steep.  Some of them bare, others with the shrubbery that only grows at these heights and angles. The couple were joined by their porters, a couple of fellow royals, a cook and a guide.

Not long thereafter they started on the trek that would take them to the long deserted, ancient and abandoned city of Macchu Picchu, walking the only path to get there, the Inca trail. The first part of the trail was not that hard, they had been training for this after all. The air wasn’t that thin yet and they made good progress.

Porters and keeping the mountain clean

Of course it was somewhat disheartening when they were overtaken by their own porters who not only were of considerable shorter stature but who were also carrying all of the expedition members’ luggage, tents, food supplies for all four days and as it turned out the garbage created. Some years prior, it had been quite an operation to clean all, over decades’ accumulated garbage left by lazy travelers and unaware strangers.

The mountains were breathing again, and so it was to stay. Not only did the local rulers now order to bring all garbage along to the end of the trail (they put weighing stations at the beginning and the end of trail as a checking measure) they also limited the number of travelers taking this route on a daily basis. The prince and princess had long before arranged

Inca Trail Dining experience
Inca Trail Dining experience

for their permits to be approved. Once the local rulers received their travel intentions accompanied by their national proof of existence, the local guide, cook and porters would get theirs too.

 

After the first couple of hours in this beautiful landscape, at these heights still passing locals in their gorgeously bright coloured Quechua dress, they came upon a spread fit for a king. A little fold out table set under a tent to block out the sun, they sat down for the already prepared three-course meal of soup, a vegetable platter and bread, and a gelatinous type of dessert.

The hearty meal combined with the cup of hot tea with floating coca leaves would sustain them and help them fight off the possible bouts of altitude sickness. As true royals they left their porters to clean up after them and set out on the second part of that days’ journey.

The sun beamed down, their steps one by one taking them further up into the unknown. Women in handwoven bolletas (multi layered and multi-coloured and patterned skirts) ,K’eperinas bulging with either toddlers or goods knotted over their shoulders smiling friendly. Every once in a while the prince and princess would simply look at each other and smile.

Again they were greeted (as they would be three times a day their entire journey) by a prepared three course meal, set under a tent, their tents also having been erected for them when they arrived at their first overnight camp. They sat down to eat again and chatted to their fellow travelers about all they had seen, their impressions, the heights and how they thought they were doing thus far.

Their guide graciously told them they were doing much better than other travelers and warned them that it usually was the second day with its long and steep climb to Warmiwasnusca which was deemed hardest. Thus enlightened they grabbed a torch and made their way to the little shed build around some holes in the ground. Relieved in every sense of the way they knew they wouldn’t have to leave their tent that night for the shed again.

With the sun’s warmth gone after its early evening duck behind the sharp mountain ridges, the altitude effect and just the thin layer of fabric to give them shelter made for a was cold and long night.

Especially for the princess. Though she deemed herself quite the seasoned traveler and adventurer, her true colours were now starting to shine through. They were edged in her face greeting a still damp and dark early morning.  Nothing coca tea and the first rays of sun couldn’t clear away.

Wayllabamba (3000m) – Warmiwanusca (4223 m) – Pacamayo (3600m) 9 km

The track on the second day truly was steeper; the uneven path hewn and put together centuries ago ever leading up. Their conversations became shorter as did their strides and the oxygen they were able to take in. After every rest their porters would come flying by again, rushing up the steps, not showing any signs of fatigue, chewing away on the cocoa leaves they carried with them in their chuspas ( small woven pouches). The views were breathtaking, both in beauty and in fear with the path sometimes almost disappearing to become a minimal width along a rock face.

Warmiwanusca Pass 4215m at the Inca Trail
Sign post at Warmiwanusca Pass 

The last part of the climb to the highest point of their journey to make it through the Warmiwanusca Pass was hard. Fog made the landscape come into view sharply one minute until it got consumed by another bank of clouds the very next. The fine mist made the rocks slippery and wet.

In silence the prince and princess made their way up to that very top of 4215 meters. Taking short bursts of air, climbing a mere 10 steps to rest again, catch their breath and climbing another 10 toddler steps they each at their own pace made it. As if to welcome them at that very moment, the sun came out as did their wide beaming smiles while they took in the world from their high vantage point.

Not long after their guide spurred them on to make it down to their camp for the night. Another great meal, the sun set and the conversation flowing after the steep yet satisfying climb, they got to know their team a little better again. It too was another long night, being night owls turning in at 9 pm was hard but their tired bodies needed the rest that wouldn’t come on the unforgiving rock bottom.

Pacamayo (3600m) – Runkurakay (3800m) – Sayacmarca (3600m) – Phuyupatamarca (3600) – Winay Wayna (2700) – 16km

Relieved another night was over, they left their camp for their third day of the trek. The path that day was long but varied, they made it through jungle-like groves, over rocky platforms and the narrowest of paths with a sharp drop directly off the road.

They visited the abandoned smaller stations and settlements along the way. Their guide an inexhaustible source of information on the Inca times, their heyday and their demise once the conquistadores made their way up the Andes. In awe of the literal height these people lived and worked and farmed on, their stamina and that strange bittersweet feeling of loss over something you don’t really know and can’t actually fathom, the expedition pushed on. Through the Inca tunnel, where the mountain could not be circumnavigated and the Inca had had to hew a path through it, the steps uneven and steep going down.

Inca Tunnel along the Inca path to Macchu Picchu
Inca Tunnel along the Inca path to Macchu Picchu

By now used to the rhythm of the day both sets of royals were simply following. Following the trail, their guide, their porters and sporadically talking about the experience itself.

The short and uncomfortable nights and strain on their bodies were taking their toll. Well, maybe I should say that of the princes mostly. The prince determined as ever when he had his mind set on something simply walked and pushed on. The princes could be heard by all around her muttering to herself, and swearing under her breath making her way down the Inca Steps. Having to descend about 900 meters to their last overnight camp on legs that were shaking with fatigue on very uneven steps was hard on their knees. It was definitely one of the very best days of the trip but the combination of the steep incline one day and the sharp decline the next was intense.

Prince and Princess with Macchu Picchu in the background
Prince and Princess with Macchu Picchu in the background

Winay Wayna (2600m) – MacchuPicchu (2400m) – 6km

Seeing the sun rise through the Inki Puntu – the Sun Gate……would have been fairy tale perfect. And you know what…it still was! Even though the sun could not make it through the thick, late season fog. Getting up that last morning, even earlier than normal (4 am), shivering after another night with temperatures close to freezing, enjoying another thoughtful and sustaining breakfast prepared by their cook who surely had to get up even earlier, and know that today was the day, was worth it.

A slight incline over a couple of kilometers to make it to the sun gate, another gate into another time and space. Realizing how much work went into creating that archway constructed out of huge boulders that had to be lifted into place. Lifted in a time when they did not have the motorized, mechanical help they prince and princess relied on nowadays. In a place where even now, people can really only go by walking the path.

Making their way down they finally looked down upon the now cleared but ancient, deserted city of Macchu Picchu.

Macchu Picchu city as seen on a foggy October morning
Macchu Picchu city as seen on a foggy October morning

About an hour or so before the gates were to open to visitors from nations around the world, they were walking the still silent remnants of city streets in the early sunlight. It was a mixed feeling; relief and pride that they’d done it yet a kind of sadness.  They would now have to leave this magical feel for what it must have been like walking these mountains centuries ago transporting wares between cities and settlements. The feeling of comradery with their fellow royals……sigh.

After that last guided tour around the amazing city and saying their good byes to their tireless porters, cook and guide, they made their way through the ever growing number of people making it onto the site, the feeling of magic quickly disappearing as Disney Land took over. The amount of voices, footsteps and (though understandable) the shouts of astonishment was overwhelming after the days making their way to Macchu Picchu where nature spoke and they listened.

The royal couples made their way to the train station, rested their wary bodies and travelled back to Cusco, their hostel and a couple of cold beers awaiting them.

Train taking travelers back from Macchu Picchu to Cusco
Train taking travelers back from Macchu Picchu to Cusco
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