Many years ago I sat watching TV, when a place I’d never seen before hit the screen. I’d no idea where the mystical ruins were, or what they were called, but I decided in that moment that I had to go there. After a little research, I learned of the place that had so powerfully etched itself on my mind: Machu Pichu, lost city of the Incas.
And so I went.
Setting out from Cuzco, capital of the Inca empire 500 years ago, I began my four day hike on the Inca Trail at km 83, standard start point for modern day Inca pilgrims.
Day 1 was deceptively easy, a slow meander up to camp through deep valleys dotted with majestic ruins. The mighty Urubumba River raged far below. Yet that night was one of the worst of my life, as severe altitude sickness left me dangerously weak. Exhausted and severely dehydrated, my concerned guides insisted on carrying me back to the start point. But, I was so desperate to make it to the lost city that I somewhat foolishly carried on. It may have been my one and only chance to fulfill a dream.
Day 2 was the toughest and longest, ten hours of strenuous uphill, and in the state I was in, unable even to carry my own modest backpack, it easily the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. When I finally made it to Dead Woman’s Pass, 4200 meters (13,860 feet), real tears of emotion and relief flowed.
Day 3 was a more sedate passage, and feeling stronger, I loved every moment. The scenery was astounding, and the high Andes towered broodingly above.
And finally, Day 4, the moment I’d dreamed of.
A 4:00 a.m. start did nothing to quell the excitement, but as I made it to the Sun Gate of Inktipunktu at dawn, I was dismayed to see, well, absolutely nothing. The heavy morning mist covered everything, but my local Quechua guide Julio Cesar said, with a glint in his eye, that he’d play a ‘sun song’ on his ever present pan pipes. He promised the cloud would disperse, so skeptically I listened. And guess what? Within minutes the cloud lifted, and there before me was what remains to this day the most spectacular scene I’ve ever had the fortune of seeing. Machu Pichu, in all it’s magical, mystical glory.
If you’re adventurous and outdoorsy, it doesn’t get more adventurous and outdoorsy than Peru. The four day Inca Trail hike is not for the feint hearted, and the high altitude and distances are a real challenge. But within the 26 miles (43km) the trail offers surreal mountain scenery, lush cloud-forests, subtropical jungle and, of course Machu Pichu itself is just reward for every ounce of pain and sweat. The Inca Trail is a genuine must do for budding Indiana Jones’.