The Inca Trail
A lot of the time we were walking on this lovely road made for us over 600 years ago. Thanks Inca.
The drive to the trail head was something by itself. Two hours on a road that started out as paved and in a city and then gradually was reduced to bumpy stone paving, then to gravel, then to nothing but a line through the country side.
We passed many tiny villages in the middle of nowhere where people survive by growing potatoes and farming sheep and llamas. Their farms are usually on the steepest land you could imagine. The only flat land we see in any of the villages is that given over to the obligatory soccer field. They say that if you see someone flatting out the land here, then it’s going to be a soccer field. Even some of the tiniest villages would have a good soccer field.
After 2 hours on the bumpiest roads imaginable and wondering why we haven’t broken an axle or received a flat we drive up into an empty expansive valley with a massive mountain range guarding one end. The dusty line of a track soon ends at the foot of the monster before us. We unload the buses and start breathing the thin air around us at 4,000 meters. Its getting
The view from the start of the trail. This is looking back along the valley we drove through to get to the trailhead.
quite strange always being so high, I think the lowest I have been since arriving is 5,000 feet.
There are 15 of us. Randy, the local La Paz YFC leader, 7 shoe shiners, myself and 6 gringo Americans from the YFC crew who are here working for 2 weeks with the shoe shiners. Before starting the hike we are all taking photos of the empty valley before us and the threatening mountains behind us. Everyone’s pretty excited and keen to get started.
The hike is called the Tekesi Trail. It follows the route of an old Inca Trail built over 600 years ago. The route joins smaller towns and villages from the jungle low lands with the high lands of the Altiplano. It slithers its way for 30km up a valley before slicing between two mountains at a tiny saddle pass at 4,800 Meters.(15,800 ft, the highest I have been).
When it was built, the whole thing was paved with stones. To this day a lot of the original paving is still visible and the workmanship is amazing, for a race that didn’t have the wheel it’s a huge achievement to build what is essentially a road
You can see where we have are heading. A very brutal 800 meter ascent is waiting for me. YAY.
up a mountain. There are hundreds and hundreds of these trails around but Tekesi is one of the more famous ones in Bolivia.
The gringos are all carrying the lighter gear like food and groundsheets. The Bolivians are loaded with cooking utensils and tents and even with the huge weight difference they fly up the hills like they are riding escalators.
The poor gringos can only watch and huff and puff and wonder how they do it. As we start walking two things are going through my mind. One, I’m walking the same trail that has been used in one form or another for hundreds of years and two, I hope I made the right decision by coming.
Turns out, if you look at the first day, I probably didn’t. No one does the trail by starting in the lower altitudes, no sane person anyway. So you do the trail by starting in the mountains and after a sharp ascent from 4,000 to 4,800 meters you spend the rest of the hike, all 3 days, walking downhill. This isn’t actually that nice. We are talking steep downhill’s here; at times you would be walking down steps for
I was so glad to reach this point. From now on for the next 2 and a half days we would be walking down hill. Not all its cracked up to be.
hours at a time. My legs are dead, my knees hurt and my calves hate me. Downhill for 3 days is hard work on the body.
Within 10 meters of starting the ascent I know I have made a bad decision, I’m at the back of the pack and struggling. After 50 meters I had to give my back pack away, it was killing me. 100 more meters and I’m almost vomiting, the altitude makes the sharp ascent seriously hard work, but you should be able to push through it in about an hour. Being sick and working that hard at that level is just insane and dangerous.
I have to stop every 20 meters to rest for a minute, I’m constantly on the verge of throwing up, I’m dizzy and would do anything for a ride back to La Paz, but I struggle on with the encouragement of others. Just 800 meters of ascent, over 2 kms and then its downhill, it has to be easier then.
The ascent takes us 2 hours and I’m last up. I fell horrible. People are snacking and drinking, but I can’t take in any food. After a short break
The Inca Trail always continued to impress. Except when it rained. The stones became very slippery.
we are off, downhill. I take back my pack and start. Things are not great, but they are way better then going up hill, as long as I have gravity doing some work for me my body can spend what energy it has attacking the illness.
During the first day we had rain, snow, hail, sun and even some thunder; we walk for 10 kms until we find our camp. Dinner and erecting tents is the next big event. Again I can’t eat or drink, I still fell horrible and just resign myself to reading a book and lying down. I actually start to feel a little better after awhile. I think the less food or drink in my stomach I have the better I feel.
That night around the campfire we have a huge discussion with the shoe shiners, with the aid of Randy’s excellent translating skills, about everything. They live some seriously hard life’s, just surviving day to day. Some have families; others are shining shoes to pay for an education. The most astounding thing is they aren’t bitter or depressed about this. We even had the pleasure of seeing what stab wounds looked like. A
One of many little children who live in the numerous isolated villages along the trail
real eye opener.
The next day I woke up feeling absolutely fine, I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea why, but to not jinx myself I didn´t eat breakfast. The last thing I want is to start the whole process over again. We start out on the hike and spend the first half of the day descending through incredible mountain scenery. We pass through a number of tiny villages, villages which have existed as long as the trails and see families living very meager lives. It must be such hard work up here.
I spend the hike talking to different people about there lives and the time flies by, I just can’t believe how good I feel. We stop for lunch and I finally eat something. It stays down and the sickness doesn’t appear to come back. I think I’m cured. After lunch our descent starts to take us from the alpine zone into the jungle zone and it starts to rain and doesn’t stop for the next 10 hours. It’s not bad though. I love the jungle zone and the rain, after not drinking for nearly 3 days my body is welcoming any source of moisture.
Have donkey. Will travel.
The premier 4x4 choice on the trails is a burrow. You can hire them at random villages. James is very familiar with using donkeys to finish trails.
The terrain changes slowly. I can’t tell you how much the lower zones are like home. The vegetation is all the same, the colors are all the same, there were ferns and even Toitoi. At times I could have been walking anywhere at home except for that fact that I was still higher then most mountains in New Zealand, so strange.
We pass a small community and then stumble on to the price of the trip. What looks like a soccer field in the mist and fog was spotted. We naturally descend to have a closer look. Yep, we had found a soccer field on the side of a mountain in the Andes at 2,800 Metres. It was still pouring with rain but time for a game.
Bolivians vs. Gringos as usual. Everyone was commenting on how amazing the setting for a game was and it defiantly had a cool feeling to it. Playing soccer in the Andes on a mountain in the rain and fog has to be one of the best experiences I have had. Truly surreal.
With some stunning moves and a lot of luck in 90 minutes the gringos manage to etch
Leap of faith
This ancient stone church on the edge of the trail was put to good use testing the theorys of gravitity.
out a draw. We celebrate as if we had won; it’s a first for us. Still no goal for me though, but a few good assists and tackles, my skills are coming along and being at the lower elevation also helped.
Soaking wet, shoes and all, we hike the last 3 kms to our next camp site, an abandoned factory in the middle of nowhere. Smaller then a small house, but not leaking we set up camp on the cold concrete floors and start the impossible mission of building a fire to dry everyone’s clothes. I packed a dry set so change and then celebrate by falling in a stream and getting my shoes and socks wet again. YAY.
We do the impossible and get a fire started. We dry out most everything, except now we all have ¨ode de smoke¨ for a scent from our clothes following us around. The shoe shiners again turn our humble ingredients into a gourmet dinner which we all savor. Their culinary skills are amazing. I guess it comes from making the most out of what little they get their hands on. Everyone is too tired to stay up and talk so
This field is on the side of a moutain in the Andes at 2,800 meters. of course we had to have a game.
it’s an early night for all
The next day it’s an easy 6 k hike to the end of the trail, pass an old mining community. The sun comes out and bakes us the whole way there. We finally reach our destination, a town called Yamacachi, it looks like a smaller version of Coroico. Over 3 days we have hike over 30km, and climbed from 4,000 to 4,800 metres and then descended to 2,200. We are all buggered and our legs don’t want to take another step down.
In the town waiting for our bus we discover another soccer field so a rematch is in order. This time, with no rain to hinder their skills and with the gringos’ one man down due to illness, the Bolivians destroy us 4 - 1. Everyone had an awesome time. The shoe shiners are a really special bunch of guys. They each have their own reasons for doing what they do, but they all share the same passion for live regardless of their circumstances.
We had a 4 hour bus trip back to La Paz, on a road that would give the ¨Most dangerous Road in the World¨ a run
Victory in a draw
Completely soaked but estactic in our victorious draw. The Gringoes pulled a 3 - 3 draw out of thin air. It had nothing to do with the wet grass or small soccer ball.
for its money. Seriously the sign at Yamacachi read 84 Kms to La Paz and it took 4 hours, that’s how crazy these roads are. Everyone fell asleep and enjoyed the relative comfort offered by a cramped bus traveling over gravel roads over shear drops. At least we were all dry now and happy to be on our way home after such a good time.
So, did I make the right decision to go…
ABSOLUTLY YES Adventures of a Lifetime
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