Leaving Cusco behind, we journeyed further into the Andean mountainside toward our next destination, a local village called Ccaccaccollo. In 2005, our tour company set up a partnership with the village as the local government was not able to provide sufficient aid to this community. The partnership aims to empower women in the community by providing them with resources to independently generate income. The women of the community produce and sell high quality woven products made primarily from alpaca wool. These amazing products, including scarves, blankets and gloves, are sold at the local markets every day.
Our Home Stay
In addition to visiting the community to learn about the weaving project, we travelled to the village to spend one night with a local family and experience a traditional home stay. Upon arriving at Ccaccaccollo, we were introduced to our “mamá” for our stay and she immediately fed us a wonderful two-course lunch. Our mamás name was Patricia, a participant of the weaving project who was married to a director of the town and had three lovely children. Her cooking was amazing, especially considering she had a fire stove in her kitchen. The region is extremely mountainous and climbing the mountain to her home (in both the day and night) was no small feat. However, with her warm hospitality, we instantly felt like family!
That afternoon we assisted the community with a farming project – harvesting and husking the purple corn of the region. And did we mention we had to wear the traditional dress?! We capped off the day by playing a soccer match with the children of the village and finished the evening with a Pachamama ceremony – a traditional prayer and communication with the Gods and Apus (sacred mountains).
The next day, we bid farewell to our new familia and travelled to Ollantaytambo for our last supper (and hot shower!) before the start of our Inca Trail trek.
The Inca Trail
Our group started Day 1 full of energy and banter, with a palpable level of excitement for our journey to Machu Picchu. If you are not aware, permits for the Inca Trail trek sell out approximately six months in advance, so for the entire group this was a moment we had all been anticipating for some time! The hike on Day 1 was an easy introduction for what was to come, ascending only 350 metres in altitude over the course of our 11.5 kilometre trek. After enduring scattered rain throughout the day, we arrived at Wayllabamba Camp eager for some hot food and a sleep!
We awoke at 5:00 AM on Day 2 to tackle to steepest climb and most difficult day of the trek. Although initially promising, the overcast skies had turned into consistent rain by early morning, slightly dampening our spirits during the relentless 1,000 metre ascent. Spurred on by the silent encouragement of our guide ‘Rambo’ (no jokes), and energy gained from a variety of unknown Peruvian snack bars, we reached the highest point of the entire trek, Dead Woman’s Pass (4,198 metres), by midday. However, the joy of this accomplishment was short-lived as we commenced the descent to Paqaymayo Camp in pouring rain and cold winds, walking on extremely slippery rock stairs. After what seemed like an eternity, we completed the 12.5 kilometre hike for the day and were rewarded with a soaked campsite with little hope of drying any clothes for the next day.
After another 5:00 AM wake up call, we threw on an assortment of still-wet clothes and set off on the longest day of the trek, covering 16 kilometres over nine hours. While Day 2 was physically challenging, the combination of rain, tiredness and illness made Day 3 a rough ride. We were lucky that the group brought it’s A-game of banter throughout the day, with the Inca Trail experiencing its first live rendition of Ed Sheeran’s new album amongst a range of other hits (thx Gillian/Amie). Despite the long day, Day 3 gave us some amazing views, including a number of Incan ruins and of course our first sighting of Machu Picchu.
Continuing the theme of early wake ups, Day 4 began before 3:00 AM in order to allow our superhuman porters to catch the train back to Cusco. Over the course of the trek we were continually in awe of the speed and efficiency of our porters to transport (carrying 25kg) and set up our camps every day.
Although we reached the checkpoint by 4:00AM, it does not open until 5:30 AM, which resulted in a truly exhilarating 1.5 hours standing and waiting in the cold, dark morning with every other person on the trek.
Once we were through the checkpoint we battled through the lack of sleep and the steepest set of stairs imaginable to reach the Sun Gate and finally lay our eyes on Machu Picchu. It was at this point that the sense of accomplishment set in, as before this point we had literally been focused on one step at a time.
We spent the remainder of our energy exploring the ruins, playing ‘spot the hiker’ as the hordes of tourists began to ascend the mountain from Agues Calientes/Machu Picchu town. Unsurprisingly, not a very difficult game to play after four days in the jungle!
Looking back on our Inca Trail experience, we definitely make some rookie errors and were not expecting, nor adequately prepared for, the relentless wet weather. Luckily we shared the experience with an amazing group who kept the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) high all trek long. The four day hike Was a true test of perseverance and we are glad to have ticked it off the bucket list!
Until next time,
DT & AP