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Sara Hits the Heights on the Inca Trail in Peru

And there it was, Machu Picchu, in the early morning light, with hardly a cloud in sight. There were tears, hugs and photos galore...

Sara tells us what it's like to Walk the Walk surrounded by the breath-taking beauty of The Inca Trail in deepest, darkest Peru... a truly unforgettable, once in a lifetime trip!

On the 22nd June 2017 at 2:30am my alarm went off.

Day 1 - This was it. The time had finally arrived for the start of an adventure that I had first dreamt about over 15 years ago and the one that I had been planning for over the last 4 years. Too late now to worry about having done enough training on those rustic steps, this was it, no turning back now, I had a few planes to catch.

By 4am I was at Heathrow and straight away thrown in with my other 22 adventurers (including Kate our lovely Walk the Walk crew member) most of whom I had never meet before. From the start there was the real feeling of “We are all in this together” And boy, weren’t we!!!

After the longest travel day of my life our merry band of Walk the Walkers arrived in Lima. I don’t even want to think about how many hours I had been awake, so being beyond tired but carrying on regardless, we headed into Lima (our stop over for the night) to have our first meal together as a team and immerse ourselves in the colourful Peruvian culture of a dance show.

Day 2 -  was another early start (this would become a reoccurring theme)! Time to catch a flight to Cuzco and the real start of our adventure. It hit home that we were now at altitude, with some of us started to feel the effects of the drop in oxygen, we all made use of the free coca leaves on offer in the baggage reclaim area. I’m not sure we really knew what to do with them but we chewed on them to show willing!

After finding our coach, we were on our way to The Sacred Valley and our visit to a local village to meet the community and learn a bit about their culture, beliefs and way of life and be treated to a potato laden lunch Who knew there were so many more things you can do with a potato!! All of this was topped off with a special birthday cake celebration for Helen who then gamely allowed herself to be dressed up in local apparel. Neil her husband, strongly supported her in this venture.

We visited our first archaeological site and there before us were the terraces that I have seen so many times in photos, and here we were now seeing them first hand.

Day 3- Today was the day that gave us the opportunity to get caught up in the colourful chaos that was The Inti Raymi (Sun God) festival. A chance to get elbow deep in the crowds and try to grab a sight of the god Inti and all his followers. In the evening we got the first chance to meet our guides and to let it sink in that we weren’t here on holiday but did, in fact, have a challenge to complete.
Day 4 - The Inca Trail awaited us and after repacking our bags with just the essential things to see us through the next 4 days (wet wipes aplenty) it was time to board the coach and head for Pisacuchu and “Kilometre 82” the official start of the Inca Trail. After a quick change into our bras on the coach and a team photo in Ollantaytabmo, we were ready to start our adventure.

This first day saw us ascend to 3,000 feet above sea level, trek for around 7.5 miles under a cloudless sky, take in the beautiful views of the Urubamba and Kusichaca Rivers, the Inca City of Llatapata, the first experience of the toilets on the trail (!!) and a chance to start getting in to our Walking zone. From the start, we were blown away by our team of porters and over the following days we would all become familiar with shouting out “Porter” and moving to the side of the mountain. These guys were amazing and we were all very humbled by their dedication to supporting us. After being well fed and watered at our first camp site we all headed to bed early to sample our first night under canvas and pray that we didn’t need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo!

Day 5 - Morning dawned with our porters leaving a cup of the famous coca tea outside our tents for us and the realisation that this was going to be the toughest day. An ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 feet and the highest mountain pass on the trek. This day was all about stepping up, and up and up and up. But wow, the views surrounding us were amazing and literally took our breath away. It was tough going mainly due to the altitude and having to stop every few feet to get a good lung full of air. But those 5 miles or so were so worth it, and the feeling of getting to the top was literally like feeling you were on top of the world. After a good hour or more at the top making sure everyone had made it, we started our descent back down to 3,600 feet and our camp for the night. Words and pictures will never be able to justify the beauty of the mountains, the valleys or the Inca ruins we saw along the way.

As ever, our guides, chef and porters provided us with food, drink, shelter and a round of applause at each camp whether it be for lunch or an overnight stop. Again, these guys were truly amazing and we don’t know how they ever managed to carry all our bags and tents plus all their equipment up and over all those passes. We had an early finish today as it had been a tough one so it was good to catch up on some rest.

Day 6 -The longest day. So what goes up must come down.................and down and down and down. We set off in the dark and watched the sun coming up as we ascended our next pass and pretty much all of us got to camp that night in the dark. But in-between there were more WOW moments. There were more impressive Inca sites, walks through more stunning mountain views, the town in the clouds, the Inca tunnel, helping everyone who needed it and generally just trying to take it all in. There was plenty of singing, laughing, random chatting and the occasional Sara Selfie. After a long 13 hours on our feet, we finally bypassed a herd of llama to make it into camp for the night.

Tonight was also our last night on the trek so it was time to officially say farewell and thank you to our support team of wonderful chef and porters. Again, words fail to describe the gratitude we felt towards all of them. What wonderful food we had had and the cake that was made for us was just about the best cake I have ever had.

Day 7 - And so Day 7 dawned, well actually it wasn’t dawn as it was more like 3am when we got our alarm call of “coca tea” followed by the excitement of knowing that today we would finally get our first view of Machu Picchu. We got to the check point at the other side of the camp in no time along with another 5 or 6 trekking teams heading to The Sun Gate that morning. Once we were through the check point it was a fairly even walk along the trail for the next couple of hours until we reached the formidable steps that lead up to The Sun Gate. We were all literally on our hands and knees for this final ascent and I strongly maintain that this was because most of the steps came up to my thighs so stepping up was out of the question! After a scramble we all made it.

And there it was, Machu Picchu, in the early morning light, with hardly a cloud in sight. There were tears, hugs and photos galore and the realisation that all of us had now trekked and conquered The Inca Trail.
We still had an hour’s walk down to the main site, but there was no rush now so we took it gently and let the magnitude of what we had done sink in. We started to meet day tourists walking up to The Sun Gate as we got nearer to the main site and I remember one American lady asking me what we were doing and the reason for our bra t-shirts. I explained about Walk the Walk and the reason behind our challenge and it turned out that she was a survivor. Needless to say both of us, total strangers, one clean and fresh faced and one smelly trekker, 4 days on the trail, had a hug, a knowing squeeze, a bit of a moment and then parted to catch up with our friends.

We nearly caused a riot having all our group photos done and receiving our medals but it was our moment and the day tourists would just have to wait! We found our way to the exit safe in the knowledge that we would return the next morning to watch the sunrise and have a guided tour of this amazing place.

Our day was completed with a well earned local beer, lunch, hot showers, a dip in the hotel pool, shopping for souvenirs and for a few of us a stop off at more local hostelries for some liquid refreshment. Most of it was all done in a total daze. We spent the evening together having dinner in the hotel restaurant that was tucked in between 2 railway tracks but at this stage, nothing fazed us!!

Day 8 - An early start, we were getting used to them by now, and a queue to stand in while waiting for our coach to take us back up to Machu Picchu. How weird was it to be back here again all fresh and sweet smelling and this time we were able to spot other groups who were coming in off the trail, telling them that we’d completed it the day before and so knew how they felt. After a tour of the site and even more photos (were we really here???), it was finally time to say that our mission was complete and we were bringing our medals home. An unforgettable train trip back to Cusco complete with a traditional dancer and a not so traditional fashion show by the stewards meant that it was time for our last night together celebrating our adventures and for most, time to get ready to leave Peru and the Inca Trail behind.

Day 9 - Arrived and for those of us going on the Amazon extension, it was time to say a fond farewell to the rest of the group and make our way to the jungle without the help of a responsible adult! It was so sad to say goodbye but with a round of the 'Hokey Cokey' and a run through Walk the Walk's trademark 'Tunnel of Love' we were on our way. Once we arrived in Puerto Maldonado and those plane doors opened, boy did the heat and humidity hit us! Such a contrast to the cool mountain air of the past week. After finding our tour guides waiting for us outside the tiny little airport, we were all set for the journey to our jungle home. Two coaches and a two and a half hour boat journey later along with time spent spotting the local wildlife such as caimans and capybara, we arrived at our lodge.

It was starting to get dark by the time we arrived so after a quick freshen up we headed to dinner to get to know our guides a bit better as they would be leading us for the next 2 days and also to meet a lovely American couple who would be joining our merry gang for the duration of their stay. We all agreed that we were in another amazing place and thanked Walk the Walk for finding such a special jungle setting to finish off our Peruvian adventure.

The next two days were spent trekking through the jungle and experiencing once in a lifetime opportunities. We climbed (more steps!!) the 25 meters high canopy tower at sunrise and squinted our eyes towards Bolivia and any available wildlife, we visited a local farmer and had a full on tour accompanied by a very friendly pig, we took a pontoon out on to a nearby lake (ok, it was about an hour’s walk from our lodge) and while feeding the piranhas with bread acquired from the lodge kitchen we silently floated there while watching the sun go down. We dodged leaf cutting ants, spider/scorpion hybrids, plate sized tarantulas, poisonous caterpillars, moths and giant butterflies and various other creepy crawlies but thankfully survived each and every trek.

Time was also spent spotting various types of parrots and parakeets and of course the beautiful Macaws and the ever curious capybaras. However, the best moment for me was when our lovely guide spotted a jaguar laying on the river bank, well hidden in the long grass, while we were on our return boat trip to the airport. How he spotted it we will never know, but for 5 minutes or so we floated there on the river just amazed at this beautiful animal before it slowly got up and wandered back into the jungle.

What a way to finish off our adventure of a lifetime.

A huge thank you to Sara for sharing her amazing adventure in Peru! Has Sara's account whet your appetite? Find out how to join us for this unforgettable adventure next year here.

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