Here is the daily blog from our Machu Picchu trek in Peru in 2018. Thank you to all our trekkers who raised over £200,000.
day 8 – Tuesday 13th March – back to cusco then Homeward Bound
We awoke to the sound of that roaring river plunging through the centre of Aguas Calientes.
A very quick breakfast and off we walk down to the charming station, and it really is charming; beautiful gardens outside with dazzling flowers and lots of benches dotted around to sit and relax, which we soon found to be very welcome – there had been a landslide and the train would be delayed by 3 hours. Evidently landslides happen frequently here, particularly in the rainy season, and the Peruvians just take it in their stride, send out a team to dig it out and clean off the rail tracks, and bobs your uncle the trains start again.
Most of us took the opportunity to do some retail therapy around the local market which is attached to the entrance of the station. A bit of bartering and lots of lovely locally made gifts purchased. The Alpaca and Llama throws and scarves are really lovely, so soft and so many beautiful colours, and by UK standards very good prices.
Finally we are on our way back to Ollantaytambo along this stunning railroad. The scenery is awesome, snow-capped mountains and lush green hillsides and this roaring river as we trundle back. A bus journey of 2 hours and we are back where we started last Wednesday- Cusco.
Cusco is a sprawling city nestled in a deep valley with these tremendous mountains all around, and the old part of the city, which has some parts of the original city walls, is really beautiful.
Back to our hotels to pack and get ready for our last dinner. We meet up again and walk to the restaurant with our local guides. This time it is an Italian restaurant and was fabulous. Great food and a very vibrant atmosphere.
Our Skyline tour operators, (UK guides and doctors) arranged an awards ceremony which was so lovely and very thoughtful of them.
Awards were handed out; Diplomacy Award (Catherine Butterworth); Hero Award (Paul Paluch and Dave Nichols), special mention also to Mal Lowe and Tony Clare; Most Resilient (Gail Potter); Helping Hand (Tina Lynch); Positive Mental Attitude (Gary Butler); Best Patient Award (Mel Coulthard); and Apprentice Leader Award (Sue Hearne). The Skyline team had been out and bought little souvenirs for their awards which was so lovely.
After dinner the hardy ones continued on to an Irish Bar! Why is there always an Irish Bar in every city in the world? The less hardy retired to bed.
We wake up late on Wednesday – a sleep in! Time to have a leisurely breakfast and chat about the last few days; some funny stories and some poignant, and some of personal challenges overcome.
We depart at 1pm for the airport to fly back via Bogotá in Colombia and finally on to Heathrow and by coach back to the hospice.
It is amazing to step back and consider what motivates our wonderful supporters to do a challenge like this. It has been the hardest thing that all of them have ever done, without exception. Even the super fit team members who can skip up Helvellyn and Striding Edge found this difficult. The altitude makes such a significant difference to your ability to walk even on the flat never mind walking from 3,100m to 4,600m over the 4 days of trekking. Not being able to really draw breath fully and having to stop every few paces to gasp in air is something you cannot train for and cannot anticipate properly. It’s only when you actually get to Cusco and land at altitude that you feel the impact on your body.
Our wonderful team all had their own personal reasons for taking in this challenge for the hospice and all should be so proud of what they have done.
Here’s to the next one- but perhaps not at altitude next time!
Day 7 – Monday 12th March – to Machu Picchu!
Our last night of camping and another night of rain pounding down on our tents. We had the luxury of a sleep in! Alarm call 7am and breakfast 8am. The fantastic cooks conjured up scrambled eggs, sausages and porridge. Then they provided us with an amazing spread to make our own packed lunches to prepare for the day ahead. A thank you ceremony to all our Peruvian crew followed, where we presented them with a token of appreciation from the whole team.
A short walk to the buses and we are on our way to Machu Picchu at 9.30am, and 20 minutes later we were pulling in to the only surviving real Inca village, Ollantaytambo.
Like all the towns and villages we passed through, they still seem very authentic and the people are very proud of their culture and heritage. As we walk down to the train station we pass lots of market stalls and souvenir shops. It’s lovely to see that their souvenirs are really made right here in Peru, and many using the wool from Alpacas and Llamas.
After a slight delay we board the panoramic roof train bound for Aguas Calientes. This is the highest railroad in the world and is definitely one of the most spectacular journeys too. The train cuts through the most stunning mountains following the course of a river which is raging furiously following the recent rains. White water rafters would love it! The train (run by Inca rail) was fab! Table service for soft drinks and snacks and leather seat no less!
2 hours later we pull in to Aguas Calientes and after dropping our bags at our hotel we all meet up and march down to the Machu Picchu shuttle bus terminus. As we walk we are all astounded again by the authenticity of the town despite being a huge tourist destination, because it is the nearest town and train point for anyone wanting to visit Machu Picchu. The markets look really interesting and we all decide to try to do a bit of gift shopping there before we leave. Again, we follow the course of a raging river to the bus that cuts through the centre of the town – the noise from it is astounding!
The bus takes us up and up and up! Hairpin bend after hairpin bend on a road with at times is only wide enough for one bus- we all breathe in when a bus comes downhill towards us; the drop from the edge of the road is not good for anyone suffering with vertigo!
We arrive and immediately head up some stone steps, again making some of us breathless despite the fact we are actually now below 3000m; weary legs from the last 4 days of trekking are evident as some the steps are really high. After a walk up of about 15 minutes, there it is! The iconic view of Machu Picchu. It is hard to explain how we all feel. All of us have embarked on this challenge for different reasons. Some because we have experienced the care from St John’s Hospice with a loved one and a few because simply Machu Picchu was on their bucket list. It was a really emotional moment for all of us. The huge and immensely difficult trek has now culminated right here: at one of the New 7 Wonders of The World.
We get ourselves organised into a group for our team photos with Machu Picchu behind us. Then we separate into 4 small groups and are given a guided tour of the whole site by our brilliant guides who have been with us from day one right through the trek and now here. Their knowledge of their history and their culture is amazing; and it is so clear that they are fiercely proud of their country and their Inca heritage. They have so much to tell us about all the different parts of the ancient civilisation and Machu Picchu, we took 3 hours to take it all in.
Many of us will never return here but we will never forget this stunning and spiritual place. A beautiful rainbow appeared over the mountains while we were there and it seemed to us that is was a sign of positivity and thankfulness. And so we return by bus down that mountain road and go to our hotels to have welcome showers.
We met up at 7pm and were taken to a fantastic Peruvian restaurant for an excellent dinner. The food everywhere we have been taken has been excellent and very fresh and tonight was no exception. Simon from skyline has organised a brilliant quiz, all about Peru of course, which soon became a bit competitive! Some of us were flagging by midnight and headed for bed but a few hardy souls found a friendly bar and carried on with the post trek party – and why not after what they have achieved.
We return on the train tomorrow to Ollantaytambo tomorrow, and then from there by bus to Cusco where this all started last Wednesday.
Day 6 – Sunday 11th March – Hiking up Hatun Paso!
Well today was always going to be the hardest and by goodness it was!! Another night of torrential rain which sounds so much worse in a tent!!
The alarms were set for 5am as we faced the toughest day of the trek! Warm coca was brought to our tents and we got ourselves ready to set off at 6.45am. We have split into two groups, The Striders and The Strollers! The 2 groups were raring to go with ‘chips ahoy’ cookies as one of our snacks!! Dare to say it wasn’t log before they were eaten!! The Striders set off at closely followed by The Strollers. The challenge to get to the top of Hatun Paso. At 4,600 metres, it wasn’t about the distance, it was about putting one foot in front of each other and remembering to breathe in and out!
We took 6.5 hours and 8 hours respectively and by the time lunch came there was some tired and weary trekkers, having descended a very steep 300 metres, and a full day of walking. Lunch was outside in a nature reserve, we even had toilets that flushed ( much relief after wild tolieting ) however it was soon time to start again. Uphill then down down down, total decent 1,500m for the day in total from the peak at 4,600m.
The Striders were back at camp in daylight much to their relief, greeted by Mel, with her leg cast on after being diagnosed with 2 small fracture in her ankle, after a little accident. They had completed their epic day of trekking in between 9/9.5 hours. It was time for a warm shower and beer before getting their tents ready for the night!
The Strollers were inspirational, and whilst they knew it would be dark when they arrived at camp, it didn’t deter them. It was hard on the knees coming down, and the light relief of a mule carrying their daysack even for a short period helped keep them going. The head torches were on and the last hour was in pure darkness, negotiating streams and rough terrain, a challenge in daylight. 1/2 hour still to go and we were greeted by some of The Striders who came back out to support their team mates, carry bags and help with extra light. Over 12 hours of trekking and they were back greeted by a welcoming committee and ‘We are the Champions’ on loud speaker. Tired but inspired by what they had achieved, it was an emotional end to the trekking. The campsite bar was busy as people celebrated, and chatting about what they had achieved in the last few days… as well as what lay ahead tomorrow at Machu Picchu…!
Day 5 – Saturday 10th March – To the highest height!
After breakfast we began our hike to Cruzcasa pass at 4,200 metres. From here we could see the highest peak in the mountain range, Mount Veronica, as she towers above us at 5,800m above sea level! Lunch is taken at the beautiful lake Yanacocha and here we had a chance to relax taking in the stunning scenery. After lunch we continued towards our final climb of the day to our campsite situated at 3,900 metres. Today has been the toughest so far, trekking for about 8 hours. Some are finding it difficult but the team is strong and everyone helps and encourages.
A 5.30am get up after a night of hard rain made it hard to sleep for most! We decided to split in to two groups and The Striders and the The Strollers. This made it more comfortable for everyone and allowed us all to go at own pace. Today we hiked to Cruzcasa Pass at 4,200 metres. From here we could see the highest peak in the mountain range, Mount Veronica, as she towers above us at 5,800m above sea level! The Striders made it to lunch after 4.5 hours trekking in warm, humid conditions. Whilst waiting for The Strollers, we got news in from one of our doctors that we had our first major injury. Not the news we wanted to hear! We waited patiently for news…. As The Striders soaked up the atmosphere, and the cooks prepared lunch, Mel came smiling over the mountain on a donkey! A slight slip and she had gone over on her ankle. She remained in high spirits joined us for lunch before heading off on a long journey to a Peru hospital. The Strollers were ready for lunch having already been trekking for 6 hours. We set off again in our 2 groups seeing many local children where the team handed out gifts and sweets. Darkness once again set in before we made camp and the altitude really started to impact on some of the team. They carried having worked so hard to get here they weren’t giving up. We camped at 3100 metres and after another lovely home cooked prepared meal we were all ready for bed!
Day 4 – Friday 9th March – Onwards to Kunkani!
A morning stop at the Sacred Valley on our way to Kunkani follow by an interesting toilet stop in Calca!! The market was fascinating, especially when a dog beat one of our trekkers to the toilet cubicle!! Our 4 hour bus journey will take us through many Peruvian villages including a stop at some hot springs before we start the day’s trekking!
We set off as one big group of keen trekker wanting to get to camp. Unfortunately with some of the trekkers still suffering with headaches and illness staying together became quite hard as the day passed. When trekking in altitude regular breaks and taking the time to breathe and take in the amazing scenery allowed us to ensure as a group we all could finish. Our guides shared local knowledge and we all helped each other along. As some of quicker members of the group made camp first a few came back in darkness to help with bags and encourage everyone to finish. We camped at 3400 metres having trekked for 4.5 hours.
Day 3 – Thursday 8th March – Ready for trekking!
Our first full day in Peru dawned with a 5:30am breakfast and a walk up a moderate hill for 20 minutes to our buses, but even this is hard at altitude, waiting to take us up to 3700m from Cusco which is 3300m. We were taken to an ancient Inca site and a guided tour which was really interesting. All around us local Peruvian ladies dressed in local costumes and children are trying to sell local souvenirs and photos with llama and alpacas. What is really interesting is that in some countries this would be just for tourists, but later when we go into the deepest and very uncommercialised countryside we can see that all Peruvians really do wear these beautiful colourful clothes and interesting hats. It really is another world that seems to be untouched by modern society.
After our tour, a 5 min hop on the bus, took us to the top of the walking trail back down into Cusco. This 2 hour walk is designed to help us acclimatise to being at altitude. Most of us are coping really well. Lots of beautiful llamas and scenery has made our first trekking day very special.
Day 2 – Wednesday 7th March – What a journey!
After 11 hours we landed in darkness at 4:30pm Columbia time, and had time to mooch around the colourful shops and have a drink and eat their delicious cinnamon rolls. We had been advised to be on caffeine and alcohol free drinks since leaving the UK however one or two chose to try the Avianca drinks trolley! Soon we boarded our next flight and the final leg of our journey; destination Cusco, which is over 3300 metres above sea level!
The flight path to Cusco was interesting. We were so glad the pilot new his way through the mountains. On either side we were treated to spectacular scenery of beautiful mountains which were higher now than the plane! No doubt that’s where we will be trekking on day 3!
We are all now safely checked into our hotel. Left to our own devices for the afternoon most of us sit and rest and sip cocoa tea. The locals swear by it for keeping altitude sickness at bay, so when in Rome….., even though it tastes and smells like musty mowed grass. The others chose to explore the old town, buy some Peruvian souvenirs and taste the local food and drink.
Team brief and dinner tonight and early to bed because tomorrow the hard work begins and the feet start working.
Day 1 – Tuesday 6th March – Departure from lancaster
The team of 45 Peru trekkers gathered at the hospice on Tuesday for our noon departure. A blaze of red sweatshirts, awash with smiles and tears, high on the emotion and enromity of what we were finally setting of to do. The previous 14 months of fundraising and forging of new friendships now coming together simply because they have St John’s Hospice in common. We were overwhelmed by the lovely send off organised at the hospice. To see so many staff, volunteers and our friends and family cheating us on was fantastic. Photos taken; a final rush to the loo; and final hugs goodbye and we are on our way.
Our first leg was a long six hour coach trip to Heathrow but with no hold ups soon we were through check-in at Terminal 2, for our Avianca flight to Bogota, the capital of Columbia and one of the highest cities in the world.