Day One of the Inca Trail
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It was an early start… with a little bit of associated stress. We had met with Jose from Llama Path the night before at 5:00 PM. That was when we saw just how small our “duffle bags” were. We might have 6 kilos of personal belongings… but how were we to fit it into those little bags?! We also learned at that time that we would be picked up at 4:30 AM!!!! So much for starting day one rested.
Luckily Joshua, our fearless leader, negotiated an early opening of the hotel buffet breakfast and a slightly delayed pick up. So at 4:50 AM we were outside the hotel, me with a to-go cup of coffee, ready to load our bus and start the journey to the start of the Inca Trail at km 82. For reference, kilometre zero is Cusco. Machu Picchu is kilometre 112. Which is a relatively short distance, if you are taking the train. We, however, were taking the Inca Trail which is a little longer at 47 kilometres. We had a bit of a trek ahead of us.
It was a two hour drive from our hotel to kilometre 82. I settled in with my plane pillow and had a nice little nap. I woke up just in time to see the sunrise. The bus passed through a number of villages where we were able to see the residents starting their day.
We stopped at a restaurant for a break and some shopping. Joshua found a pretty nice walking stick, Mark, Raj and I found matching sweaters. Linda found some great hair wraps that were also popular.
The next stop was the check in where they matched our passports to our permits. We then crossed the river and started to climb. The trail was relatively gentle to start. We were fresh and ready to go. The vistas were awesome and we stopped frequently to enjoy the view and take photos. The trail is surprisingly busy. Not only are there many groups of tourists along with their associated guides, cooks, servers and porters, but also a continual stream of locals walking up and down the trial, with wraps filled with (I am guessing) produce or products, driving horses and mules up or down the trail. The first day of the trail passes through many villages where you can stop and buy snacks, water and use a toilet. At one stop we tried of “prickly pear” off a local cactus, which was quite yummy – red, juicy with lots of seeds.
Jose warned us that we had three training climbs today. The first one got our heart going, but didn’t seem so bad. The second was a little harder and there were some big smiles, high 5s and of course a group shot at the top. The 3rd one… well we will talk about that later.
The first Inca ruin we saw was across the river. It is believed to have been check point or trading station for the Quetchan people with trading occurring between the Andean Mountain people and the Jungle people who were each able to grow very different foods. It is known as Qanabamba in Quetchan. This was just after the first training climb.
After the second training climb we saw our second site. It was discovered in 1915 by the same man who located Machu Picchu in 1911. It is thought this was a site used by the workers from Machu Picchu, particularly because remains found there had arthritis. This one was called Laqtapata.
After this site we had our first sustained downhill to remind us that training to walk down is as important as training to walk up. The sad part of walking down when you are trying to summit, is that every step down is one that has to be retaken up!
Lunch was late at 1:30 PM. If you are a step counter my fit put my steps at about 23,000!!!! A record for me and the day was not done. Lunch was amazing. Better than many of the restaurants we have eaten in. First course was chicken cerviche with sweet potato chips. Second course was a lovely soup. The third… stuffed avocado, rice, potatoes, steamed veggies and rainbow trout stuffed with cheese. Amazing!!!!!! Can you believe that was done over a portable propane burner?!
After lunch we took a siesta and then hit the trail. And met training hill number 3 which lasted about 2.5 hours of sustained uphill walking. About ¾ of the way in, I was sure I wanted to die!! But luckily some other trekkers taking a break cheered me on and kept me putting one step after the other. I was very happy to crest the final hill and see our porters waiting with smiles!
First night on the trail is always rushed as you figure out which tent is yours, how to blow up that new sleeping mat, and which pocket of your backpack or depth of your duffle bag has your toothbrush. As I write this we are enjoy happy hour… consisting of hot drinks and popcorn. Jose is ready to tell us the plan for tomorrow and I am sure dinner will be as superb as lunch. After that I anticipate it will take me less than 30 seconds to fall asleep as I am exhausted. All in all a good first day on the trail.
DWC Team Machu Picchu Challenge
Day Two of the Inca Trail
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Day 2 of our hike started with a knock on our tent at 5am at 3300 meters elevation. Man dressed in red shirt and red Spider-Man pants opened our tent front door zipper, which Jenifer Crawford and I are sharing, and yelled cocoa tea and offered us cup of tea. While drinking our tea we both packed and got ready for our breakfast and left for our hike at 6:30 am. Today’s hike plan was 12k and we summit two mountains. Our First mountain called WAMIWAKUSKA was at the height of 4215m which took us 4 hours to summit.
Along the way Joshua got his but kicked by a 60 year-old, 4-foot-tall man who weighed maybe 130lbs. This man was one of the porters carrying about 60 lbs bag on his back up the mountain and he was walking really fast. Joshua decided that he wanted to try this out and see how far he can make it. Needless to say he thinks he’s all big and tough but he lasted about 3 minutes and we all had a really good belly laugh and so did the porter.
Along our hike we met many other hikers from all over the world and it was good to encourage each other when things were seeming much harder. Part of this trail is also Dead woman’s pass due to the shape of this mountain. We also came along to few scattered homes along the Inca trail and traditional Inca way of living. On one part of the trail we saw a heard of Llamas and their mating ritual which and our guide game that particular mating ritual a name of LLAMA SUTRA. LOL After climbing down for couple hours We made it to our next stop of lunch at 1.30 at the campsite called PACAYMAYO at the elevation of 3600 meter. All this descending and millions of steps were so hard on the knees and toes that some of our team members were not able to make it any further and we all made a team decision to spend a night right here and leave very early in the morning or make up for the two hour of hike that we missed today.
Right after lunch it started raining hard and that was also the indication that rest of the hike should move to the next day. We are in the camp site in the lush green rain forest right by a beautiful creak which is creating very soothing sounds of water falls along the way as it goes through the site. Our food has been the best ever. Five course fresh cooked meals every day makes us forget the hard day of hiking.
So tomorrow we wake up at 4:45am and leave for our hike by 6:00 am so that we make up for the hike we had to cancel today. We are all in good spirits and are in our tents for the good night rest as the Waterfalls are making soothing sounds and the jungle is full of all kinds of harmonious rhythms from all sorts animals and creatures and some birds as if the jungle never sleeps. It was challenging and great experience at the same time. We have so much more to do and see tomorrow and we all can’t wait to start our day after good nights rest. 🙂
Team Machu Picchu Challenge
Day Three of the Inca Trail
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At its peak, the Inca empire spanned much of the South American continent, stretching from Chile as far north as Columbia. Like any expanding empire, the flow of information and communication was critical. The Incas built a vast network of stone pathways that stretched for over 25 thousand miles, connecting their capital of Cusco to the rest of the empire. The Inca messengers, known as Chaskis, were renowned for their speed and stamina.
Our porters are also called Chaskis, and they have similar strength and stamina. (Refer to day two blog for proof!)
Today we crossed various sections of the ancient highway. The scenery was amazing. We walked on stone steps and trails that have been polished by thousands of feet. We visited a Chaski relay station where the messengers could spend the night and rest along their journey. We came across an Inca farming village that contained a communal house, terraces for farming, and store houses for food. We walked down tunnels that had been carved deep into the stone mountainsides.
Their architecture and construction abilities are impressive. Our guide told us that the European construction methods brought by the Spanish have not held up the way the Inca’s have. Of the various earthquakes in Peru during the 20th and early 21st centuries, the Inca buildings still stand while many European buildings have collapsed.
The hike was difficult at times, but it was incredible to be able to see the remnants of this ancient and sophisticated people.
DWC Team Machu Picchu Challenge
Day Four of the Inca Trail
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Literally millions of people have visited Machu Picchu since it opened to the public. Why do they go? What are our motives, expectations? For some, a bucket list, others a pilgrimage and still others a cultural experience. And for the Inca Trail?
A challenge, an extension of one’s physical limitation, walking with friends new and old. A reward at the end of the journey, taking the last almost perpendicular steps, hand over hand to the Sun Gate and the journey into the phenomenon that is Machu Picchu.
It began on Day 3, a change in schedule due to a long and hard Day 2, summiting Dead Woman’s Pass and a grinding down hill march before the second peak. It was fortuitous as it had begun to rain and the group was tired. So Day 3 became a 12 hour trek up to the second pass and a long and undulating walk interspersed with thigh burning downhill grinds before reaching our final camp at Winay Huayna (elevation 2680 metre). Arrival was late for some and darkness was settling in and headlamps were mandatory to negotiate the steep steps. Camp was set up as usual and chef Cesar was busy with his staff, creating his culinary magic. This time we started with dessert, a chocolate cake cooking on the gas stove in a pot and decorated in icing and a welcome greeting. Cesar was just getting going, as the next several dishes included carved animals made from vegetables and fruit, skewers of chicken, fettuccine Alfredo, and handmade gelatin with fruit.
Now full and exhausted, we six intrepid travellers listened to Jose’s final instructions for Day 4 and the final 9 kilometres. The mist was heavy and the air cool. Neville saw a handful of fireflies dancing in the bushes just outside his tent. Then it began to rain, something we had managed to avoid for the first 3 days, despite weather forecasted with omens of showers. Barely settling into our tents, the patter of rain became a deluge and lasted all night. The tents were on a slight slope downward and Josh my “roomie” kept sliding toward to the tent opening. The lip of the tent was the only thing that kept Josh from sliding out completely and slithering over an eight foot wall. The rain brought out the tiny green frogs’ choruses of chirps and squeaks, keeping me more awake than usual. We were instructed to prepare for a 3 am wake up call, a 30 minute packing up and ready to roll down the hill to the checkpoint before our day’s journey. Why so early a start? Because the line-up through the checkpoint in to the Machu Picchu Reserve would be long and entrance was first come, first served. There were dozens of Inca Trail trekkers and because of the rain there was limited shelter. So we were third in line with “to go” breakfasts at 4 am, snug and waiting for the checkpoint to open at 5:30.
At promptly 5:30 the stampede began, the thunder of hiking boots echoing against the hills. Our pace was a gentler one as the night’s rain had made the trail muddy and slippery in parts. We were now in the cloud forest: misty, cool, the surrounding vegetation thick with bamboo and slender trees. Delicate flowers – yellow, purple, and pink grew by the edge of the path. Huge orchids, pale pink and white on long stalks were nestle further back and down the side of the hill. The trail, as Jose liked the say, was undulating gently with barely 200 feet of elevation and ended abruptly at a sheer upward climb of huge stone steps. They reminded me of a Jenga puzzle where the pieces had been pushed out by giants playing the game. It was almost hand over hand, leaning in the the smooth square blocks, then over a small lip to stand finally at the Sun Gate. The mist was heavy in the valley below but we could make out the path to the left with a neat stone wall that would guide us down. Just below us, a young couple were arguing. We had seen them on the trail earlier, together, then not together. He seemed hurt, almost petulant, she urgent and pleading. They went quiet as we approached them and passed at a respectful distance, but could hear snippets of their conversation when it began again.
I can’t remember the walk down to the ruins. The cloud and mist became heavier and the rain picked up. As we were among the last of the stampede from above, we walked alone, mostly in silence – for me not in reverence, but simply that the journey was nearly over and I had become tired of the slog. By the time we sighted Machu Picchu, it was only brief glimpses through the cloud and rain. The closer we got the more people we saw, at first small movements of colour. Then I could see that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of people moving singly or in tight packs. The entrance gate was a steady stream of people, moving up a stairway, as if they were ancient Inca slaves straggling up to build the emperor’s sun city. My experience became increasingly disappointing as the rain became heavier and heavier and I had become wet and cold. Jose, bless his heart, was doing his best to complete his well rehearsed story about the the city. The rain was coming sideways. Margaret and I found some shelter. Then Jen slipped on moss and fell to the ground, cracking her head on a stone wall. That became the perfect excuse to escort her down to the entrance and find hot liquid and food at the cafe, where we stayed until it was time to leave.
Frankly it was a relief for me to be on the way down to Aguas Calientes town for a meal. We had met up with the rest of the DWC team in Machu Picchu and it was great to be together again and get caught up with each other’s activities over the past few days. The train ride down the valley toward Cusco was a blur as the light was fading and the was much visiting enroute. By 8:30 that evening we were safely in the arms of our beautiful Aranwa Hotel, without hesitation the best hotel we had ever been in.That night was my first long, uninterrupted sleep of the entire trip.
So what were my expectations of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu and how did they change in the end? Margaret and I had jumped at the opportunity to help in a developing country with a win – win bucket list cross-off. Now on reflection it became the worn adage of the “journey, not the destination”. That over 2 weeks of work and three nights and four days of intense proximity with fellow travellers it was about connection. Connection is the most important of human qualities. We are not meant to be alone or in isolation. By connecting we discover in each other similarities rather than differences. By connecting we recognize struggle, fear, longings and hope. By connecting we find love for and of each other, and by connecting we learn and grow.
DWC Team Machu Picchu Challenge