A detour down the train tracks: adding 10K to the Inca Trail

We’ve done it. We’re at the famous Sun Gate entering Machu Picchu. It’s been four days of relentless trekking, climbing 1100 metres in one morning at a total altitude of 4200 metres. The air gets thin at that height.

It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and already I’m looking back at how amazing this trip has been. The sights are breathtaking; it doesn’t matter how good you are at photography you’ll never do it justice. The group of people we’re with have been an absolute pleasure to be around, even when we’re all waking up at 4am.

We’re walking down our last set of steps through to the entrance of Machu Picchu ready to get our passport stamped and begin a guided tour. We’ve covered 45km and our feet are sore but this doesn’t matter because we know at the end that we’re catching a train back to Ollantaytambo to meet our bus that will take us back to the hotel in Cusco. We’ve planned to get back, have a shower and go out for a few cervezas to celebrate our awesome achievement.

That’s when it happens. Our guide, Ray (who’s bloody amazing btw) stops us all at the gate and tells us he has something important to tell us. It sounds serious.  We all stop, catch our breath, drink some water and put down our walking sticks.

The trains back to Ollantaytambo have been cancelled.

There is a teachers’ strike (which has been happening for a couple of weeks now) and they have damaged the train lines to hit back at the government. I can’t argue with them for demonstrating peacefully to demand a fairer deal for teachers. But I haven’t showered in four days and I don’t think my feet can take much more. This news fucking sucks.

If you’ve ever visited Machu Picchu you will know that the only way in or out is by train. Ray and the tour company have arranged for a bus to meet us at the closest place possible, which is Hidroelectrica.

It’s only an extra 10 km (3 hour) hike down the train tracks to meet it.

We do our tour around Machu Picchu. One of the positives of this train issue is that the grounds are much quieter than usual, allowing us a lot of freedom to take a bunch of awesome pictures.

When we’re done we catch the bus down to the town, have lunch and try to keep in high spirits as we begin the extra 3 hours that we just weren’t expecting. At first it’s fun and you feel like you’re in that scene from Stand By Me.

An hour and a half in and I’ve stopped for a break. I just can’t do it any more. But another hour later we arrive at the coaches. At last, we’re on our way.

Then we realise it’s a 7 hour bus ride. It takes slightly longer because people have put boulders in the road, again as part of the demonstration to shut down the tourism industry and make the government listen to the demands of the teachers.

We reach our hotel a little after midnight (remember that we started trekking at 4.30am), grab our bags and climb in to bed to catch a little sleep before check out at 9.30am.

The extra hike definitely wasn’t needed but I don’t resent it. I enjoy the story it has allowed me to tell and spend the next two days recovering.

But for those of you who know me and know my employment past. Fucking demos.  #demo2010

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