The Inca trail certainly has its touristy moments, but fortunately that´s not what lasts in my memory.
Nothing I write can clearly explain what those four days were like, but I´ll give it a try.
Our group of 16 ´trekies´ took off monday at 6am to begin our four day journey. We consisted of 6 americans, 2 french canadians, 1 maritime canadian, 3 brits, and 4 aussies. We were definitely a group of gringos but from very different backgrounds and of very different ages, the youngest being 21 and the eldest, 57.
The fascinating thing is that the team of porters guides and cooks from our company´Peru Treks´outnumbered us. We had 2 guides, 2 chefs and 20 porters (who carried the gear for each camp site). The team was insane and fantastic...i´ll explain later.
After stopping for a quick breakfast in the town of Ollantaytambo (a first major witness to the existence of Inca, since ruins surround the village above, along its mountain sides) we started on the trail by 10am, hiking through tiny villages which offered water, juice and sweets and passing other small Inca sites where our guide, Victor, would inform us of it´s use and
importance. Even though this is the rainy season we saw minimal rain, however the weather would change every minute. We might be walking through mist and clouds one second but the next we´d be beaten down by unforgiving sun. It was a fairly easy hike the first day and each time we made it to the site (both for lunch and for the evening) the porters would line up and clap for our arrival. That evening our campsite looked out over the valley we had climbed through and sat along a gushing river which thankfully droned out any sound of snoring.
The next few days made the first look like ´a piece of apple pie´ or ´a piece of pizza´so says Victor in his Quechua accent.
Tuesday we climbed more than 3,000 feet to the highest altitud Amanda and I have ever been at...13,700 feet. You may think, ´heck I´ve climbed 3,000ft in one day before´, but add the difficulty of not being use to the altitud, plus the weight of your pack and it creates a whole different story.
For the morning we continued through the same valley and along the same gushing river (which originates
from the famous Urubamba river...the one which surrounds machu picchu and which Hiram Bingham writes as being a very difficult river to cross). Up never seemed to end, especialy since every 20 feet you´d find yourself needing to stop, to search for oxygen. Luckily the sun hid behind clouds and mist for most of the day and we discovered some unique mountain flowers and cacti. Each time I stopped to look back I saw two things. First I´d notice the valley get more and more beautiful as we rose, with big rolling clouds high above and thin mist which scanned the mountain sides as though it was trying to protect the mountain from our eyes. There were wild cows, horses and alpaca and the occasional green and yellow parrot which flew in pairs. My eyes would then shift to the path below where I´d see the faces of all those dedicated to matching the strength of the Inca´s, and I had to laugh...you´d think we weren´t having any fun at all. The most wretched faces consumed the path, and paired with the occasional grunt it was as though we were in shackles and being beaten up the mountain against our
At 13,040 Feet!!
Highest point of hike.
will. I thought ´´hah, i wonder if anyone is wondering why they paid hundreds of dollars to do this´´.
However, reaching that peak was glorious and if you didn´t have a view at first due to the mist, you simply needed to wait 5 minutes until the view changed again. Even though it was noon, it was an impossible place to set up camp for lunch so instead, after soaking up the view we immediately began the 2 hour trek down the other side of the peak to reach our campsite for lunch, a bit of a ciesta to rest up for the next day, and dinner. The hike down involved lots of rain and was very slipery but the many gigantic waterfalls which fell from the very top peaks of each surrounding mountain made you forget how wet you were.
The second day may have been the most strenuous due to the large amount of climbing time, however the 3rd day was by far the longest and most painful, yet my favorite. This is the day we finally saw the part of the trail which is still original Inca and has not needed restoration beyond clearing up
Along Inca Trail
Smaller site. Day 3 of 4.
the occasional land or mudslide. The stones which lay the path are still beautifully in place and often sit above a wall of more than 15 feet high in order for it to not crumble. The landscape changed often during this day. At first it continued up through a valley of low bushes and rough flora as we passed an occasional ancient Inca lookout. We then decended a bit to walk along a bald ridge, however without a view since clouds and mist moved in for most of the day. After lunch we continued on the original trail as we slowly made our way into jungle territory. We climbed around another small Inca site covered in mist just before entering an area full of bamboo and orchids. Amanda and I trailed the group because we stopped every second with an ´´ooo, what´s that flower´´, or mushroom, or plant or bird, or because we spent extra time at the ruins pondering what it may have been like. One aussie girl mentioned later at dinner that she thought us hilarious when I noticed some strange growth and upon mentioning it to Amanda, she hiked back to where I was to see what
it might be.
If we were the slowest, let me mention who was the most speedy. Our porters slept, of course, in the same location as ourselves each night, however when we arrived both for lunch and dinner our site looked like it had been set for days. Our individual tents would be up (for evening camp), the giant dining tent, the cooking tent and even all the food would be prepared. Heck, they were sitting around enjoying hot tea by the time we all arrived. You wonder how they do this? ...they run!! And I don´t mean only down the mountain, but for all angles and weather conditions, and most wear sandles! Peru is known for the sandles they wear, made of tire rubber. In the heavy rain and down slippery stones they would run and I´d find myself yelling ´ten cuidado!!´ or, be careful! but of course they took no care. They are simply skilled...but their poor knees. We had a 54 year old porter in our group. No better way to be put to shame than to take 3 hours longer than a 54 year old porter when you are in your 20´s. ha
end of the thrid day left us all hurting bad as a lot of it was down hill and tough on the body, but we ended the day walking to the best preserved Inca ruins which was only 5 minutes from where we camped. Wiñay Wayna was the most beautiful site I had ever seen. We walked around staring at their incredible architecture as the sun went down over the large valley and river far below.
The fourth and final day! If the evening before was tranquil, the morning certainly wasn´t. This is the day the 400 or so people hiking the trail are waiting for and no matter if your leg is falling off your body or your knees are screaming at you, everyone is running those last 2 hours to reach the sun gate, in order to get the first glimpse of Machu Picchu. It seems to become a contest and people are fighting their way past you on the narrow path. Luckily I got there just as the sun rose above the lookout to burn enough mist off to get my first glimpse, however it was covered again within minutes and many missed that first view.
From the sun gate it took another 30 minutes to descend into the ancient Inca site. Along the way we passed many day visitors who had come on the train and we all noticed how good they smelled, (the thought then came to us that maybe they noticed how bad we smelled!). But it certainly felt amazing to have made the hike, the path that many Inca and Quechua people made so long ago.
After 3 days of mostly mist, clouds and rain, I felt as though we were the luckiest group in the world to have bright sun for our day of exploration at Machu Picchu. The site was sketched out of a section between two higher mountains, one being Huyna Picchu and the other containing the path from whence we came. The great Urubamba river weaves around the bottom of the site protecting machu piccu from harms way on almost sides. Its an incredible spot and feels as though the Inca must have been very selective about where they chose to build.
After a tour of the major temples from Victor I treked off on my own to see what I could find and try to relate it to the descriptions I read from Hiram Bingham (the ´gringo´discoverer of machu picchu). Amoungst all the clamor and craziness from the hundreds of visitors I was still able find a quiet spot. It was, in my opinion, the best view in the city but is probably not as interesting to tourists because it would have been the servants quarters, doesn´t have any giant temples and is in worse condition. However, I assumed that if I were to live there during that time, most likely I would have been a servant so I felt right at home. hah.
I was below the giant mass of the city but it looked out over the most beautiful part of the mountain range and over the tremenous Urubamba which weaved back and forth through the mountains I gazed at. I sat there for a long time slowly burning my skin under the sun (on accident) to ponder what life there might have been like.
I also discoverd small caves which obvioulsy had been used and scared some long tailed rabbits who froze when they noticed I was near.
Machu Piccu certainly lived up to its expectations.
The train ride back to cusco was beautiful as it followed the intense Urubamba as it seemed to force its way through the mountains...an impossible rafting trip I am sure.
Friday we spent resting up in Cusco since our calves were shot and stairs were a painful experience. But Amanda and I did get a chance to see some traditional Peruvian song and dance at a theater as well as some live ´reggae salsa´ at a small bar while we enjoyed hot red wine with oranges.
Cusco and the surrounding area was incredible and will certainly be one of the highlights of this trip.
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