Day 1 – 14 Dec

This morning we got up around 4:00 to get ready, because we were picked up from our hostel at 5:00 by our guide Reynaldo. There was construction on our street, so we went to another spot where a lot of porters were also waiting, and here we waited for our minibus. After another 15 minutes, we were on our way. Our tour company, Quechuas expedition, sent 3 porters, a cook and our guide just for two of us, we were surprised and impressed. We went out of central Cuzco and passed through other neighborhoods that does not at all look like Plaza del Armas. We have experienced the other side of the medallion. Then we headed towards green fields with crops, mainly corn fields. We saw mountains in the distance and soon we were in the valley of Urubamba. At km 68, very close to Ollantaytambo, we made a small stop to have American breakfast (15 soles). We also bought plastic ponchos in case we hit rain. Then we passed through the village center where our cook also bought last supplies. We could have stepped out of the car to see the Inka ruins of Ollantaytambo, but we didn’t because we will come back here when we do the Sacred Valley tour. Then we moved on to km 82 near Piscacucho, where the Camino Inka (Inka Trail) starts. Here, Reynaldo introduced us to our cook Nicolas and our porters Juan, Armando and Alberto. Then, we gave our sleeping bags to our porter. We bought 4kg service; after carrying them in Torres del Paine, we didn’t dare to carry uphill in high altitude. Then we passed through the checkpoint with our passports and entrance tickets. And we crossed the big bridge on the Urubamba River. The weather was warm and sunny so we removed all our layers. Reynaldo also started teaching us some of Quechua language. For example the Urubamba river in this language is called Wilkamayu which means the Sacred river. We also learned some basics that we will need: sulpayki means thank you and haku means lets go. Also Piscacucho means five corners which refers to the five peaks of mountains one of which is Veronica with its white snowy top.

With one of our porters, before crossing the bridge and starting the trail
Wilkamayu / Urubamba River and starting point at 82 km

At the beginning of the trail Reynaldo showed us the cochinilla, a white bug which lives on cactus and when you crush it, it produces a red color which is good for painting. The Inka people used to put this red painting below their eyes to help with the sight against the sun, so we also painted below our eyes with this natural sun block. He also showed us the agave tree with long a branch in the middle (M named this tree as Tim Burton’s tree as it looks like the plants in his movies) and the fibers of this plant is used here like a rope that is very strong, not for tequila like the Mexicans. We stoped by a small community to rest where Reynaldo showed us the angel trumpet, floripondio, plant which is a hallucinogen where you shouldn’t use more than a pinch of it in your tea. The shamans used to use this plant to better communicate with the Gods. After that, we arrived at our first ruin. It was a tambo, a hostel that a chaski, inka messenger (postman) used to stay. These messengers ran between Cusco city and Machu Picchu to bring news such as death of the Inka (the king). He also showed us the shortcut trail, where these messengers were able to get to Machu Picchu in 7 hours, whereas we will walk 4 days to get there. Kapahnjam means the real Inka trail and there are many of them apparently. He also told us about the construction of the Inka Empire that existed between 1200-1532. There is one Inka at the top of the pyramid and he is the king who lives in Cuzco the capital. Then comes the family of the Inka. Then the military and then the shamans. After that the villagers and finally the slaves.

Our first stop, with our faces already painted with the natural Inka paint

After these ruins, our guide found a place where we can try the Inka beer, chicha, of course we first pour some of it on the floor for the Pachamama (Mother Earth).

Enjoying the chicha

We kept going and we arrived at the main attraction of the day Llaqtapata. This is one of the Inka constructions where you can see the terraces, streets, the houses and the kolka, the area for drying food. This site also included a section called Pulpituyoq for prayers. In fact we saw Llaqtapata from the top of the hill where there was another ruin belonging to the pre-Inka period. Inkas kept these ruins as is and they came to our day, with some recent restoration.

Llaqtapata, a city of the Inkas

After this, our next stop was for the lunch break. This was the first time we see the marvels of the cook, Nicolas in our group. The food we had was amazing, considering we weren’t close to any facilities and everything was being carried by porters and our cook. The porters and the cook walk much faster than us, reach to the next stop, and start preparing the food. And the food is hot, freshly cooked; with salad, soup, and main dishes with rice, and finishing with tea. We were quite impressed.

On the way, we kept exploring the nature. We saw a bug, ninanina, carrying a spider that it had paralyzed. Our guide explained that the spider is still alive while being carried to ninaninas nest!

Nina nina carrying a spider

We also kept observing different types of trees and fruits. For example we learned about bromecilla which grows on rocks and also on other trees and the bear really likes to eat it’s flower. A local fruit, chirimuya, that we tried for the first time at the end of our guided walking tour back in Cuzco. And finally Reynaldo collected some muña, which is similar to the mint, but helps with the altitude sickness.

Then we gave another break. This time our guide Reynaldo took us to the kitchen of a house in this village and they had many many guinea pigs. These cute animals are a delicacy in this region, so people keep them in their kitchens. We even got to pet a baby guinea pig!

Guinea pigs in a kitchen =)
B with her guinea pig friend =)

From here we got to our camping area of the day. This camping is right next to the village and ancient Inka ruins of Wayllabamba. After dropping our bags into our tent, which was being set up when we had arrived, we realized the Inka ruins. Quite determined, we climbed up to visit the site even though we were in flip flops :) The view of the valley below from Wayllabamba was very beautiful. We also saw that the porters were playing football next to the Inka construction and we were shocked that after running through the trail, that we barely finished, while carrying a much heavier bag than us, they still had the energy to play football! After watching the view of the valley from Wayllabamba for a while, we have returned to our camp to have another amazing food cooked for us. We really appreciated the hot meals we had. After dinner, we waited a bit to see if we could see the moon rise, because it was full moon tonight, but then we decided to head to our tent as we were to wake up early and the moonrise would be later than usual as we were surrounded by tall mountains here.

Exploring Wayllabamba at the end of our first day
The end of the day at Wayllabamba. Looking down at the valley gave B her first vertigo even though the ruins didn’t seem so high!

Day 2 – 15 Dec

Our second day started early. We were waken up around 5:00 with a wake-up tea of coca leaves brought to our tent. After packing everything in our tent, we had a very nice breakfast to get ready for the day waiting for us. We were quite intimidated by this day because it is a sharp climb. In addition, unlike the sunshiny yesterday, we woke up to a cloudy day today, and Reynaldo told us that it had rained at night and he expected more rain for the day. We didn’t mind the rain as we had good rain jackets and ponchos that we bought just before taking off to the Camino Inka.

Beginning of day 2
B saving (!) M’s life at the trail

We kept observing the nature. We saw two types of passion fruit: tumbo and granadilla. We realized that the vegetation started to change in this part of the trail. We also saw less and less villages next to the trail. This made us happy because we preferred to be away from the civilization and people for a while.

Soon after, the trail changed from soil to stone and we have reached the steps of the Inkas. We gave two stops, first at Ayapata and next at Llullucha. Up to this point, we observed that the cloud forest has started and the plants became taller trees. As the trees got denser, the fog turned into clouds and it started to rain. We kept enjoying the view of the mountains and the valleys and the forest. We saw many small birds, with a yellow tail.

B at the beginning of the Inka steps
M at the beginning of the Inka steps
Us with the team Quechuas

We kept climbing and finally reached to the Dead Woman’s Pass which is 4200 m above sea level. Climbing up was hard because it is hard to breathe for us at this altitude. From here on, we started to descend. Going down was harder on the knees and either way, we appreciated having the walking poles to help us.

At Dead Woman’s Pass
Dead Woman’s Pass at 4200 m above sea level

At the bottom of the valley, we reached our camp, Pacaymayu. Through the fog, we saw a waterfall up in the mountain which flows down to our camp. The nature was absolutely beautiful today even though it rained and got our ponchos completely wet. We were happy that we bought the ponchos and rented the rainproof pants. Every now and then the clouds would pass and show us the beautiful valley our camp was facing towards.

A hummingbird by our camp site!!! B was extremely excited =D

We had our lunch and then we rested the rest of the day here. We had survived the tough climb today and even a longer hike was waiting for us tomorrow. Having another amazing dinner, we headed for our tent to get as much rest as possible. But before leaving the group, we learned the Quechua word of the day: tupananchiskama, see you tomorrow.

Day 3 – 16 Dec

Yesterday was the nature part of the hike and today would be the culture part. We again woke up with the wake-up tea of coca leaves, which gave us energy. Again, we packed everything and had breakfast, where our crepes were decorated with drawings of llamas, and took off for the long day that was waiting us.

We started a climb to reach to our first Inka construction, Runkuraqay. From here, it was possible to see both the Runkuraqay pass and the Dead Woman’s Pass, so it was positioned at a strategic location. Here Reynaldo explained the rooms with windows that does not have an opening to the outside. These window shaped places are called ornasina and are used to leave idols. They used to worship to mamakocha, mother lagoon, which is apparently at the beginning of the waterfall close to the camping area.

Runkuraqay below the hill.
We passed by lakes on our way up the hill
A river of fog in a valley between the mountains and Runkuraqay.

Then we visited two Inka sites. The first one was above the trail called Sayamarca. This seemed like a big town. Even though we have entered to visit, there was so much fog that it was almost impossible to observe the city from afar to comprehend how big it is. People did used to live here. The other one was visible from here just below the hill following the trail. This one was called Qonchamarca and it was used as a resting place. These were also the worship places to the water and the water flows right next to Qonchamarca, but we didn’t enter this one.

A beautiful bird saying “Hi!” to us on our path
Sayamarca city
Qonchamarca seen from Sayamarca

On the trail we passed by an Inka tunnel where they built their trail under the natural rock formation. That was very impressive.

Last look before entering the Inka tunnel
Another Inka tunnel

We got our last lunch with the crew close to Phuyupatamarca. In this lunch they prepared many dishes and each one of them had some nice animal made of vegetables: a hummingbird from pepper, a parrot from cucumber, a mice from egg :) This gesture from them was very very nice!

Our last lunch with our cook, Nicolas

Our next Inka construction was Phuyupatamarca. Here we again saw the water channels running on the side of the construction and still working to our day. Alongside the water channels there were two large stones where they used to sacrifice the llamas. The virgin women were sacrificed only for protection from serious natural disasters. There were two cylindrical buildings on two sides of the town and there they used to our water on top of the silver shiny plates to observe the astronomical events. They were quite accurate with the determination of the solstices and observation of the constellations. The path right after this town curves so nicely we took the opportunity to ask Reynaldo to take some pictures of us.

Phuyupatamarca city
Llamas at the Phuyupatamarca city
Going down the winding Inka steps

From here on, we needed to hurry a bit, because we spent the morning walking slowly and observing the trees plants birds and different Inka sites, and we didn’t want to get to the camp site at night. Our final Inka site was Intipata next to the Wiñaywayna camp site. This was a massive site of terraces that was looking out to the Wilkamayu – Urubamba River. The valley looked beautiful from this site. We were quite impressed with how big it is, because while hiking we could see the terraces from afar, but you cannot understand how big it is until you get there. We camped at Wiñaywayna which is a plant and means forever young. It started to get dark as we got to the camp site where we had a cake as a desert of our last dinner. We were quite impressed. Then we thanked the crew and said goodbye to them as they are not allowed to Machupicchu, they had to leave very early.

At Intipata looking down to Wiñaywayna camp site with the Wilkamayu / Urubamba River down the valley
Intipata, the Inka terraces of farming

Day 4 – Machu Picchu – 17 Dec

As the cook and the porters had to leave early, we woke up today at 3:45 with the last wake up tea. Our sleep was interrupted with the hard rain last night so B was hoping all the clouds would be emptied and lifted up for the rest of the day :) We packed and left the tent but not the camping area. There were some dry steps and we sat there and waited for the gates to open. Reynaldo suggested this to us because everybody was just queuing 5 minutes away from the camping area and waiting standing there did not make sense as getting to the Sun Gate would not make a huge difference as the sun gets to Machu Picchu around 7ish. We were happy with this recommendation as we just sat and had a little bit of snack and watched the lighting up of the mountains. Around 5:30 we got to the queue and entered the trail with everyone else. After about a hike of an hour, and finally climbing the tall “monkey steps”, we have reached Inti Punktu, the Sun Gate. At the Sun Gate, we just sat and watched the fog being lifted up revealing this ancient city to us as the sun is reaching there. It was a beautiful sight and was absolutely beautiful just to sit and enjoy the scenery. It was quite unbelievable that we were there!

Colorful beetles on our way to Inti Punktu
The monkey steps to Inti Punktu, the Sun Gate

After a while, after eating our breakfast snacks, enjoying the view, taking some pictures, blowing on the coca leaves for the fog to be lifted up and saying sulpayki Inti for the sunshine, we hiked down to the city.

Inti’s light arriving to Machu Picchu

Before our guided tour, we exited the city to get a stamp on our passport, leave one of our bags, go to the restroom, and finally go through the checkpoint for our Machu Picchu tickets. Then Reynaldo gave us one last tour.

We made it to Machu Picchu!

The Inkas had their best time during the reign of Pachacútec. The country expanded from Chile to Colombia. The capital was always Cusco and the Inka, the ruler, used to live there. However the family of the Inka and noble people used to live in Machu Picchu. About 100 years later, the Spanish came to Peru, but they could never get to the Urubamba Valley. That is why we don’t see any colonial buildings in Machu Picchu today. The local people knew about the town, but left it completely abandoned. The scientific discovery of the city was in 1911 by Hiram Bingham.

Machu Picchu

The construction of the Inkas is quite unique. The regular buildings are built using the stone-morter-stone, while important buildings such as temples are built using the opus insertus technique which is stone by stone. Also the important buildings have double columns at the entrances. This is visible at the temple of the sun. On the 21st of June they celebrated the Inti Reim, the sun festival. The main celebration was taking place in Cusco, but also here. On this date, at the sunrise, the sun arrives from the Sun Gate on top of the mountain and enters the sun temple from the front window. Similarly on 21 December, the sun shines from the sun gate to the left window of the sun temple.

With Reynaldo at Machu Picchu

Chakana, the Inka cross, here was half and when the sun gets through the windows and hits the cross, it becomes full again with its shadow. The three levels to the cross represent the three worlds: Ukupacha, the underworld of the dead and was represented by the snake; kaipacha, the world we live on, represented by the puma; and hananpacha the spiritual world above, represented by the condor. Cusco used to be in the shape of the puma, Machupicchu is built in the shape of the condor and Milkawayu the river is the snake. They used a calendar to determine the best times for the agriculture.

B at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

There are also some sacred stones in the city. One of them is under the temple of the sun where several mummies were found. Another one is placed such that if you put a compass on it, it shows the magnetic poles, which was quite shocking for us. Another one is in the shape of the mountains that it is facing to. Definitely walking around this ancient city, and observing the agricultural and urban sectors of it was very important and impressive for us!

The stone with the shape of the mountains surrounding the Machu Picchu

We said goodbye to Reynaldo at the entrance of the Waynapichu Mountain. After waiting in the queue for a while, we started to climb the mountain. The climb was very nice as we stopped every now and then to look back down to Machu Picchu and spot the shape of the condor. The houses at the top of the mountain were used for storing the harvested crops as the mountain gets winds from all sides and is cooler on the top. Right after reaching the top and before starting the climb down, we wanted to sit down for a while in a quiet corner and enjoy the view.

Looking down to Machu Picchu from Waynapicchu

We called our parents on Skype (we were amazed to see how well the cell phone reception and internet connection was) and shared the scenery with them. B’s dad was crazy worried as he didn’t hear from us for the last 3 days, so that was nice :) After looking down to Machu Picchu for a bit longer and not wanting to leave, we started our hike back. We needed to be checked out of the mountain by 14:00 and we were quite on time. We spent another half an hour in Machu Picchu, now that the crowd of the tourists left, we enjoyed strolling around the town. M got really warm and thirsty after all this climbing but they weren’t selling water inside. A guard told us that we can wash our face with the flowing water from the water channels and we washed our face like the Inkas used to do. We looked inside some of the reconstructed houses and observed how the extensions and the holed walls keep the roof. And slowly, as we say in Turkish, our feet going backwards, meaning not wanting to leave, we exited this magnificent city.

Sunny afternoon at Machu Picchu

After debating for a second, we decided to hike down to Aguas Calientes. We wanted to enjoy the last bit of the Inka trail and the walking path was still going through the forest which was very nice. The other alternative is taking a tourist bus which was quite expensive. Then we got to the bridge and crossed the Urubamba River. From there on, we walked on the road to the town center. We went to the Chaski Restaurant to get our sleeping bags, which Reynaldo left for us with our train tickets. We were quite tired so we decided to just eat here and wait for our train. After dinner, we walked through the Aguas Calientes town and reached to the train station. We grabbed a coffee before taking the train, but the restaurants close to the station were more expensive.

Walk to Aguas Calientes

At the train station we ran into Gizem, the one other Turkish on the Inka Trail. We didn’t get a chance to talk much at the trail but here we found out that she is also doing a PhD in physics! The train ride was very nice as the tracks run right next to the Urubamba River. However our ride was at 18:15 and it got dark soon after we took off. We could sometimes recognize the white foams of the river as it had a lot of water hitting on the rocks.

The (lazy) tourist train

When we got to Ollantaytambo, we immediately saw a driver holding the sign with our names. Gizem couldn’t find her company’s driver, and ours was nice enough to take her too. We chatted all the way to Cusco. We wanted them to drop us in Plaza del Armas as it was convenient for Gizem and as we wanted to try our luck with returning the rental equipments. It was past 22:00 but we knocked on the door of the store and in a few minutes the door opened and we could return everything without any problems. We wanted to do this tonight as we will be picked up at 8:00 tomorrow morning for the Sacred Valley tour. So we headed to our hostel, got into our room, took a shower, and crashed.