The meditative magic of hiking continued with part two of our Peruvian trekking adventure, where we did a trek that combined three of the most well known features of Peru – Salkantay Mountain, The Classic Inca Trail and of course Machu Picchu.
As with the previous trek the circumstances and terrain here too, has left us with bragging rights for life, however the visually stunning pilgrimage along the Inca Trail is a one of a kind experience. I’d be including the thousands of ladder-like, uneven and jagged stairs we climbed up and down every day in this comment too.
After spending two days around the holy peak of Salkantay (or savage) Mountain we went over the Incachiriasca Pass – the not so often climbed and highest pass in this trek – to then join up with the treasured, visually stunning Inca Trail. Originally built to be the supply route between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the iconic trail was a bucket list item for me (much to Michael’s chagrin). I wanted the satisfaction of arriving at the final destination on my own two feet, with a feeling of having had a true pilgrimage experience.
The 42km Incan stone trail feels very atmospheric as it winds around mountains, takes you through the abounding
cloud-forest and subtropical jungle, up and down steep slopes and stairs, through tunnels and past remote Incan structures before rewarding you with the treasure of Machu Picchu.
Before I continue though, allow me to share the disappointing situation we were in on this trek:
A guide for the trail is mandatory and though I had prepared well in advance for us to go with a guide who specialised in photography, at 4am of the morning of our departure the plans fell through. We ended up with a guide who not only didn’t own a camera, but liked to argue with Michael about best vantage points for photography. You might imagine that didn’t go down so well. She also struggled considerably to keep up with us. A very common scenario was one where we would be waiting a good 20-30mins for her at the top of a peak. In her defence we were far more acclimatised than the average Inca Trail tourist however we were constantly left with a feeling that we ‘got a dud’.
Anyway! Back to our final day and grand finale for our hike:
After the steep climb to the Sun Gate, we were supposed to have our first glimpse of the famous Machu Picchu ruins, yet the situation was not text book magic. Our hearts sank with disappointment at the sight of nothing but thick cloud and mist. An hour later though, down at the actual ruins the mist rose, clouds parted and there it was, every bit as spell binding as you might imagine and has been talked about by many others previously.
Built at the height of the Incan Empire, Machu Picchu is a wonderful marriage of creativity and the wildness of nature, though the ruins are still a mystery. Based on the high quality of stonework it is believed the city served as an important religious ceremonial centre as well as royal residence. Still an unexplained piece of the puzzle is why the Incans chose to build it in such a remote location and why they then abandoned it.
Though the explorer Hiram Bingham III rediscovered the supposed Lost City in 1911, amongst Andean locals it was never really lost. Fortunately, unlike many other Incan sites, Machu Picchu escaped discovery by the invading Spanish Conquistadors.
Walking amongst the stonework of the staggering ruins is every bit as awesome as seeing it from afar. From the Stairway of Fountains to the Temples and Plazas within the complex, the mind boggles at the lives of the Incans, their precise engineering and fascinating culture.
The infamous peak that stands behind the ruins and creates the rather large nose when the classical picture is turned on its side, is called Huayna Picchu or Young mountain. In order to climb this steep peak to the ancient sight that sits atop it, which was once its own community separate from Machu Picchu, one must book in advance as numbers are limited to 400 people per day. Fortunately we had booked ahead of time and though it felt a little ambitious at the conclusion of our two weeks, balancing on a rock as we sat at the top of the cliff, absorbing this supernatural place with Machu Picchu way below us and the mountains beyond made the extra effort worthwhile.
Having made it all this way, it seemed that seeing the ruins once might not be enough, especially if we encountered bad weather on the first day, so we stayed overnight in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes and returned the following day at dawn. We were really glad we did as it simply allowed us to soak up the power of the place a bit more and heck, why not add in another mountain to climb – Machu Picchu mountain – whilst we were at it?!
With only another month in Mexico before we hit the road again for more adventures, we are soaking up beachside living, friends and farmers markets before the temperature dial gets turned down again.