The Inca Trail

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October 10th 2007
Published: October 10th 2007
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One of our porters.One of our porters.One of our porters.

Carefully packing his sack.
Sunday 30th September - The Inca Trail.

We were all in high spirits at the 6am breakfast, even though nobody got much sleep thanks to our noisy neighbours late into the night.

We were picked up by a mini bus and driven to KM 82 - the official start of the trail. We had to check in and show our passports and tickets as there are only 500 people per day allowed on the trail, ( including porters and guides ). Our group of 8 has one guide and 14 porters! There was a group of 4 people in front of us that were turned away as they did not bring their passports with them - they were gutted as your places need to be booked way in advance due to the limited numbers, so it’s not like they can just turn up and do it tomorrow.

The porters are amazing, they carry all of our duffel bags, a dining tent, a kitchen tent, all of our sleeping bags, cooking and eating equipment and food for four days for all of us and them. The wrap it up in huge sacks, sling it on their bags and run off up the trail so that lunch is waiting for us when we get there.

Once we got through the checkpoint it was over the bridge and the start of the trail. It was an easy walk to the lunch stop, passing lots of Peruvians selling Gatorade and chocolate bars. We came up on our lunch stop to find the porters had beaten us there, set up the dining and kitchen tents and prepared a three course lunch! We ate well and had about an hour’s kip before setting off for the afternoon leg, which again was easy going. We arrived at camp about 15:30 to find the porters had passed us at some point, set up the tents and kitchen and dining tent and were busy preparing tea and dinner. After getting hooked on Sabbo yesterday we made our own version called Hatstone - consisting of a cap wedged in a wall and us throwing stones into it. The porters thought we were crazy, but soon joined in! Tea was popcorn, coca tea and crackers and jams at about 5pm, then a three course dinner at 7. This is camping at its finest. We turned in around 8:30

The official starting point.
as its pitch black and we can’t have camp fires - plus its early starts each morning to get straight back on the trail. We only walked for about 4 hours in total today, at an easy pace. The scenery was good but not breathtaking and we’re hoping it gets a bit more exciting from here on in.

By the way, coca tea is made from cocaine leaves and is supposed to be good for combating altitude sickness, ( luckily nobody was suffering any symptoms ), but we all enjoyed the tea anyway!

Monday - Dead Woman’s Pass and the hardest day of the trek. You can see Dead Woman’s Pass from the campsite and it looks pretty imposing, it’s a 2000 meter vertical climb from here, over 10km away. It will be our hardest day. We started out early after a 5:30am knock on the tent door from the friendly porters with coca tea at the ready. Dead Woman’s Pass is named so due to the fact that the peak looks like a breast and the adjoining mountain like a face, so it looks like a woman lying down on the horizon.

We started climbing straight out of the camp. We climbed for four hours straight before the lunch spot. Most of the scenery was dry mountainside, which was a bit bland. It was nice to be gaining some good height though, and some parts of the trail wound through forests with humming birds feeding on nectar in the trees on the trailside - that was good to watch. Lunch was again superb, and we were soon passed by our porters within an hour or so of leaving the lunch spot.

After lunch it was the start of the summit attempt, a few more hours of relentless uphill slogging up the mountainside. We all waited nearer the top for the slower group members to catch up so we could all summit together. It was a tough steep climb, but not as bad as I had anticipated. We hit the top at 4200 meters above sea level, the views were great and we could see our camp way off in the distance - those porters are awesome, they had packed the lunch stuff, passed us and had gone down the other side and set up camp before we had even summated - all that with 50lb on each of their backs. They are short Peruvian guys but their calves are HUGE, and most of them do this in old pairs of rotten flip flops stuffed with straw. The descent from the peak down to camp was steep and tough on the knees. The camp was great, tucked into the mountain side. We even had showers, altnough they were fed from glacial melt water from the high peaks. A few of us braved it and almost caught pneumonia. The surrounding mountains have waterfalls cascading down them and there are wild orchids growing around the camp. It’s a great spot and much more like what we were expecting the trail to be like. Once again, we had tea at 5pm followed by a great 3 course dinner at 7. Our guide, Jeremy, asked if we wanted to detour tomorrow to a secret Incan site that was only discovered in September 2006. He said it would add a few hours onto the trek so we would need to leave early and make good pace, but would be worth it. He said we weren’t really allowed to go there but no one would know, we unanimously decided we wanted to go.

So, Tuesday was a 5 am coca tea wake up call. Emma was suffering with her knees and ankles from Dead Woman’s Pass so took a few Ibuprofen and strapped herself up. The sun was rising over the mountainsides, shooting huge rays of sun beams across the sky and we were deep in early morning cloud cover at this height - it was a great feeling to be surrounded by such a landscape.

Today was fantastic - exactly what we all thought the Inca Trail would be. We were walking through Cloud Forests along a 2’ wide trail on the side of a mountain, sheer drops down one side and soaring mountain on the other. The trees were spectacular and all around were humming birds. We saw very few other hikers most of today. We arrived at the lunch stop early, before any of the other groups - it was on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley. Jeremy asked again if we were up for the detour as we would be branching off for it straight from lunch. We all agreed that we wanted to take the road less travelled.

We descended through more Inca ruins on the other side of the mountain from our lunch spot, then as other groups followed the Inca Trail, we sneaked off down a side shoot through the woods, ( and unfortunately through the porters normal toilet area which was pretty grim ), and on to our secret trail. We trekked back up along a high hillside with a high meadow where snakes and Peruvian spectacle bears hide. We climbed again for an hour or so, before cutting down the mountain side through thick forest an emerging in the secret Inca site only discovered twelve months ago.

The site was amazing, nestled in the mountainside in the middle of the rainforest, pretty much untouched for the last 500 years. It had a very special feel about it and we all had a good explore. The ground was covered in tiny flowers and clover like plants, there were many old buildings and fantastic old trees covered in moss, all of this built into a steep mountainside overlooking a huge valley.

From there we climbed back up to the trail and followed it high up to the crest of a mountain, from there we could see Machu Pichu way off in the distance, way below us. It was an awesome descent down to camp. We came across another set of ruins where the faster ones of us waited for the rest of the group to catch up, then Rob and I decided it would be fun to tear down the steep Inca steps and ruins and through the forest at top speed. It was great fun, like mountain biking without the bikes - in hindsight it was a little stupid as we were flying down near vertical Incan stone steps where one slip would have given us some nasty broken bones and lacerations. We made camp 25 minutes before the others. This was to be our last camp and was perched high on the mountainside. Our tents were on a ridge with about 18” in front of the tent flap, then a shear drop - sleepwalkers beware. We had walked for 11 ½ hours today, by far the longest, and way further than we would have walked if we had stuck to the proper Inca Trail route, but the detour was well worth it.

This camp had a hostel and bar further up the mountain where we were able to take hot showers. It would be our last night with the porters, so we thanked them and tipped them handsomely - they only get around US $40 pay per trip for what they do, we each put in US $53 and divided it between the 14 of them in order of rank - Head Chef, Ass Chef, Head Porter, Waiter and the remaining 10 general porters. They seemed very pleased with what we tipped, and we pooled together the last of or change to blow on beers at the hostel. Today has been the best day of the trek by far and was what we were all hoping the whole trek would be like.

Thursday we were woken up at 3:45am for the race to the Sun Gate. As we were emerging from out tents other groups were already hitting the trail! It made no odds really, as about 15 minutes from camp you have to stop at a check point, which doesn’t open until 5:30am. We were about the fourth group in the queue at the check point. Once through it was a race to the Sun Gate, no one would let us past and we too
The height gain map.The height gain map.The height gain map.

We had already climbed loads, but were only half way through day one and we are where Jeremy is pointing. Check out the high peak - that's Dead Womans Pass!
let no others pass, ( not that anyone was keeping up - our group was flying ). After about an hour of fast hiking along a forest covered mountainside trail, we started to lose some of the slower members of our group, once the group had split Rob, Mackenzie and I stepped up the pace and picked off some of the front runners, flying up the 85 ‘Oh My God’ steps, ( that is practically a ladder rather than steps), and emerging at the Sun Gate as front runners. The Sun Gate has spectacular views over Machu Pichu but we realised once we were there that racing the groups was completely pointless, there was no reason to get there before - or after anyone else, it was just this kind of mass race that everyone got caught up in for no reason. Once we had regrouped at the Sun Gate we all walked the gentle hour long trail down into Machu Pichu itself.

Although Machu Pichu was spectacular, it was almost an anti-climax. Day three at the secret ruins was far better. Maybe not as spectacular,, but much more special due to the exclusivity of it. By the time we got into Machu Pichu at around 8am it was already filling up with tourists that had taken the bus in. By mid morning it was mobbed, you could hardly move for people - it was crazy hot, people were getting bitten to death by mosquito’s and we were all tired, hungry and thirsty.

After a couple of hours exploring Machu Pichu we took the bus down the steep white knuckle switchback road from Machu Pichu down into the town of Aguas Calientes, where we would later catch our train back to Cuzco in the afternoon. This was a very picturesque town where there is no access by car so you can safely explore the cobbled square and street without fear of a crazy Peruvian running you down as you cross the road. The main street is split down the middle by the railroad and the backdrop is the spectacular mountains. A few of the group went to check out the hot springs, whilst we just ambled around and explored a bit. It was here that we all tried roast Guinea Pig for lunch - very tasty indeed.

The train took us back to Ollantaytambo, getting us in at about 7pm. We picked up some stuff we had left at the hotel then left for the 2 hour bus trip back to Cuzco - that was hair raising, overtaking other busses in the pitch black on the wrong side of mountain side roads on blind bends! We stopped at a place that sold the brass parts to make your own sabbo game and each bought a set, ready for the international world championships over the next few years - to be held in New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Oregon and Melbourne. We were all relieved to arrive safely in Cuzco and get off the bus from hell.

We took Jeremy out for dinner to thank him for being a great guide, we were all pretty bushed but had a good night out.

The trek was awesome and we all enjoyed it, it was tough in places but not bad overall. It was a little too crowded in the main. The detour day was the highlight as we had the place to ourselves and was more like the kind of distance and time we thought we would be hiking every day, ( the other days we only hiked for maybe 5 hours a day ). It was a great group, everyone got on fantastic and we’re all looking forward to the jungle in a couple of days time.

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