Walk Like an Inca

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June 18th 2011
Published: June 19th 2011
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Today we catch a flight to Cuzco. Momentary panic comes when we can’t get out of the hotel. The front door is locked and the guy who is meant to be on duty is nowhere to be found. We hunt for a key and only find the safety deposit boxes... then finally the guy appears from one of the bedrooms, hair ruffled and lets us out. Once in Cuzco I see the suave GAP doctor (he arrives on a Harley) as I’m still feeling ill and the diagnosis is either a parasite or bacterial infection. The doctor prescribes several pills, a diet of nothing I like and rehydration drinks. I feel relieved that I am going to get better, and the fact that he says my body has already adjusted to the altitude, with my oxygen, blood pressure and heart all doing ok is good... Si feels guilty when the doctor tells me off for not seeing someone sooner, Si’s advice was that I should man up and stop being so soft.

After a group brekkie, Si and I feel tired and decide to just chill out. We spend £30 on sweets and snacks for the inca trail and then head out to a meal with the group. I am gutted that I cannot eat anything except chicken soup as the menu looks great. As I am eating I suddenly feel so tired that I can’t keep my eyes open, and Si has to lead me back to the hotel, half asleep. I assume it is the drugs working and I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.

We get picked up in the morning for our sacred valley tour. The guide Fernando seems nice and we speed away to the first stop at a GAP sponsored village. We see the women weaving and how they make the thread and dye it to make things... Si goes a bit mad and buys about 6 hats despite my protests. Then it is on to Pisac ruins where we wander for about 90 minutes with Fernando explaining what various parts of the ruins mean, what they were used for etc. The walk is fun, and we then head to a restaurant for lunch, where we are joined by a small field mouse! I have a bit of fun stamping my foot every time it appears from behind some furniture. After lunch we drive to Ollantaytambo and after a quick stop to drop our bags we do another tour of the ruins in the town, which are very pretty but also full of stairs! Dinner includes some disgusting chips which the menu boasts have been fried 3 times (seems totally unnecessary to me!). Then it is time for another early night as we are due to start the Inca Trail the very next day.

Inca Trek Day 1

On the 90 minute drive to the start of the Inca Trail I feel pretty nervous. I spend ages setting up my walking poles and then Si stresses me out by leaning on them and making them small again. Luckily one of the guides intervenes and sorts them for me again... and divorce is once again diverted. To be extra macho and showy offy Si has decided to carry his own bag instead of giving his 6kg to the porters (like everyone else). After a photo opportunity (Kodak moment) of the group, we are off. The first day hike isn’t too far (10km) and we soon reach our lunch spot. After a lovely lunch we relax in the sun, attracting chickens, a donkey and a couple of dogs. The cloud appears and I waterproof and poncho up as we start our climb to the first campsite. After what feels like a relatively short time we arrive and grab our tents... After a stretching session and a few group games of jenga, we chill in the tent until we are called for our snacktime (hot chocolate and popcorn – yum). Then after no time it is dinnertime, and we shelter from the rain, hoping it won’t last the next day.

Inca Trek Day 2

The rain lashes the tent for a lot of the night and we wake up to wet stuff – seems the tents aren’t all that! After a quick breakfast we are off for the hardest day. I feel heartened that we reach the first climb before any other group and then I follow Marion, (in her 60’s and an avid hiker), who sets a great pace, (slow n steady) up the steep climb to dead womans pass. When Victor our guide says we are more than half way I feel strengthened, and keep pushing and pushing. Si of course is way ahead but stops every now and then and walks back to meet me (like a faithful retriever!). (Si- to be honest it’s a bit easy so I entertain myself racing the porters). On the final climb I am joined by Marie-Katherine from the group and we both make it to the top in one piece! After a few failed attempts to take a photo of me and Si jumping (the results are literally hilarious) we set off downhill to the 2nd campsite. It feels like the down is harder than the up, and I hobble on my sticks down the hill at a snail pace. Si keeps me going with skittles, and finally we arrive!

The site is sort of hard and rocky and not the lush grassland of the previous campsite and the toilets are once again disgusting. After a snack, we chill in our tent (I serenade Si with some toons) and then we have dinner. Luckily Si drags me off to bed before I can hear too many of the scary stories (apparently the site is haunted). The stories had obviously creeped me out though, as on the way back from the toilets I spotted a porter out of the corner of my eye by the river and screamed out loud (very embarrassing)... I don’t sleep too well (it is freezing), although probably better than if I had heard the end of the scary stories where people got dragged out of their tents!

Inca Trek Day 3

Aching all over we wake to a freezing early start. Today is when we reach the more tropical part of the Inca Trail. I find the day hard because I feel so tired from the previous days, and a bad night’s sleep doesn’t help. We find a rhythm and have a good time chatting to Andy before we reach our highest point for lunch. Unfortunately the rest of the path is downhill, down gringo killer steps, and I take my time like the 90 year old I feel like. Si of course skips down like the annoying mountain goat he is. We reach another ruin, have a talk about it, and then it is the home straight to our final camp. Si rushes on ahead, and Charlie’s boyfriend desperately needs the loo and runs off and leaves her. So we walk together and have a nice chat. Unfortunately we weren’t really listening when Fernado and Victor told us which direction to go when we reach the fork in the path, but Charlie assures me it is right and some resting porters point the same way so... As we hot foot it down the sandy path, we both comment that it doesn’t seem like the trail we have been on, and then after we don’t catch up with anyone in our group, we start to worry. The worry is made worse by the fact that the only people passing us are porters, and we conclude that we are on the porter path. We start to question why the porters would’ve sent us the wrong way and our nervous laughter and speed increase. After what feels like forever I ask some porters how many minutes we are from camp, and they say 5, and to our relief we have arrived!

A shower beckons and Si and I pay the 5 soles each for what turns out to be a lukewarm shower for me (Si of course gets a madly hot one). Anyway I feel very refreshed and treat myself to a beer.
We all find out that we have taken the porter path and have therefore missed a great view and some other ruins. Freshly showered and with my middle toe killing me I decline when everyone else decides to trek back up the hill to visit the ruins. I nurse my beer and avoid the eyes of the porters (one tried to chat me up earlier in the day) as they are on the prowl for single gringos I think. Si eventually gets back with tales of being chased by Llamas (he has to jump off an Inca terrace to avoid being taken out), and Andy legs it so far away (and won’t stop) that Charlie, Si and Ross have fits of laughter (also joined by an American couple who see the whole hilarious episode). After dinner, Fernando and Victor break the bad news that we have to be up the next day at 3.30am, to be in the queue for 4.30, to be first on the Inca Trail by 5.30. So we all head to bed straight after dinner.

Inca Trek Day 4

The wakeup call comes far too early, and I struggle to get up. We pack up, and have a quick breakfast before hot-footing it to the start of the trail. Amazingly we are first in the queue and we entertain ourselves with an ipod and some portable speakers. Si and I feel ancient once again when no one recognises de la soul’s ‘The Magic Number’, and our music selection is overruled by the kind of crap the kids are listening to these days. Finally the gate opens and we are off. Si and Andy (23, North London and fitness buff) set a ridiculously fast pace and I try to keep up, stumbling over rocks in the dark (Si kindly supplies his torchlight as I have poles in my hand), until it gets light. I puff and pant as the trail slowly gets steeper and steeper and Si and Andy show no sign of slowing. After setting off so fast I don’t feel that I can fall behind and after practically running 6km uphill arrive at the sun gate wet with sweat and feeling grumpy. Si takes a photo of me sulking, and after a break to catch our breaths we head to another look out point. Unfortunately for us the cloud is all round Machu Pichu and we can see nothing at all. The idea is that we see the sun rise through the sun gate lighting up Machu Pichu but we just have to use our imagination instead.

Patricia joins us from Machu Pichu and we start our final ascent to the site. Seeing it for the first time I am relieved not to be disappointed, it is beautiful, and much bigger than I expected. We get a 90 minute tour from Fernando, and the group hobble round the site. Si has his heart set on climbing Waynu Pichu, and has been pestering Fernando throughout the trek. However he is greatly disappointed to find out that there are no tickets left. Fernando’s great plan is that he goes and stands in the hour long queue without a ticket and tries to blag or bribe his way in. This seems like a ridiculous idea and with only a few hours left we decide just to let it go and enjoy Machu from the ground instead. We walk round the ruins and have a chill out the grass in the sun, before catching the bus to the Aguas Calientes for a very expensive pizza (we have very little money left after Si bought the 6 hats). The train chugs out of the station and billows black smoke, so that we worry we won’t make it back to Ollantaytambo, but we finally arrive on time, and after a quick stop to collect our belongings from the hotel, we speed back to Cuzco. Our comfortable bed is like heaven.

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