Hail, Hail The Inca Trail / Fail, Fail The Inca Trail

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October 24th 2011
Published: October 29th 2011
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Rob Writes

We were up at 5:20am. This would usually be way too early for my liking but excitement had got the better of me and was wide awake. It was a cold morning so we had to wrap up warm before heading downstairs to wait for the trek company to pick us up. We weren’t waiting long, maybe twenty minutes or so and we were soon in a bus with about a dozen other people, heading for Ollantaytambo where we were due breakfast. The bus ride seemed to take forever partly because I was keen to get stuck into the Inca Trail, Tina on the other hand was quite nervous. We arrived in Ollantaytambo at about 9am, the bus taking about three hours or so. Although we weren’t sure at the time, it turned out that the people on the bus with us were destined to be in the same group as us on the Inca Trail. There were 16 of us in total, all English speakers from the UK, New Zealand, South Africa and the US, who we got to know a little better over breakfast. After breakfast we got back on the bus for another hour or so until we got to the beginning of the Inca Trail where we had about fifteen minutes to sort ourselves out.

I’ll admit to being a little nervous at this point too as I had heard the trek wasn’t easy and my backpack was heavy. We had brought a little too much water with us, about 9 litres in total which I was carrying, along with all of our gear barring the few odd bits Tina was carrying in the day pack. I would guess my bag weighed about 18kg if you consider a litre of water is about 1kg, then the 7kg of laundry we had to do at the end of the trip, not forgetting our warm jackets are easily a few kg too amongst other bits and bobs. Now while this isn’t a massive amount I did consider that walking with it on my back for at least 6 hours a day, over rough terrain, at altitude may make or break the trip. I was however up for the challenge and it was partly the reason I was excited. Tina had hired a porter, which was a good move because before we had decided to do that I was also carrying two sleeping bags and Tina’s mattress, which would have added another 6kg onto my bag taking it to about 25kg which just so happens to be the max weight each porter carries, and they do this trek all the time! I certainly wasn’t up for that and in hindsight I believe we made the right decision. There were 22 porters in the group who carried the tents, cooking equipment, food and everything else we needed for the trek. We were also accompanied by two guides, one who stayed at the front of the group, the other at the back.

Soon enough we were ready to go, and after a few photographs at Kilometre 82 and formalities at the entrance to the trail we were on our way.

Inca Trail Day 1

It was clear that the group were keen at first as the pace at which people were walking was fast, something which disappeared once the second day arrived. The first day was quite easy although it was very hot. Despite my pack I never struggled, which put me in good spirits for the following day. Tina on the other hand found it quite difficult and as you can imagine, she feared the following day as we were warned day two would be the hardest day. We covered about seven miles on our first day, walking for about 6 hours. The views we encountered were unbelievable and we even passed our first Inca ruin. We stopped every few hours for a ten minute break and a lunch at about 2am. We eventually made it to the campsite for about 5pm where we would have dinner and sleep for the night.

The meals were excellent, far better than I was expecting. Each meal started with a bowl of soup followed by a main and the portions were huge. After dinner everyone chose their tents for the evening and the group where in their beds for 8pm. We had to be as we were up at 5am again.

The first night of the trek was horrific, quite certainly the worst night of my life. I had eaten something which did not agree with me and was up every hour of the evening having to attend the squat toilets at the campsite in the pitch black and freezing cold, each time being attacked by moths the size of small birds attracted by the light on my head torch. The toilets were absolutely disgusting too.

Inca Trail Day 2

The hard day was upon us. The walk today was difficult because we were ascending about 1500 meters very steeply over at least 4 hours. I couldn’t have felt any worse. My body had been emptied of any food/ fuel thanks to the night before and I felt weak. For this reason Tina and I agreed to hire an extra porter for the day to carry my bag to the next campsite. This cost S80 (£18) but had to be done. I got my breakfast down me, a Snickers and about a litre of Gatorade (sugary energy drink) but still didn’t feel great for a good few hours.

The hill was tough at first and we were both struggling. Once I had eaten brunch I felt good again but Tina on the other hand wanted to quit, regularly telling me how bad the situation was and how she couldn’t go on, regardless of how many cans of oxygen we had brought with us. Like a total hero I stayed with Tina the entire time delivering food, water and oxygen on her demand. Eventually we made it to the top and amazingly we weren’t last!

The next part of the trail was all downhill and Tina took the opportunity to ditch me and practically ran down the entire thing, which was nice of her. Although she soon realised she wasn’t carrying any water and came crawling back.

We were walking for a total of about 5 hours, getting into the camp for about 2pm where we had a proper well deserved lunch. We later had dinner at about 6pm at which point the heavens opened and it really did chuck it down for about an hour. That evening was quite damp for two reasons, the rain and because we were that high up we were essentially living in a cloud. It was strange watching them float past your tent.

Inca Trail Day 3

Another early start again today. We were up at about 5am. I should mention that each morning we were woken by ‘tent service’ were the assistant guide would knock your tent door and offer us tea and coffee in the tent. We had breakfast and were walking by about 6.30am. I had my bag this time and Tina had the day pack. The morning was spent hiking uphill much to Tina’s delight and was also very damp with the rain coming on and off, so ponchos and rain jackets were a must. At one point Superman here also took the day pack to save Louis Lane from an almost certain heart attack. We walked for a total of about 6 hours before having lunch at about 1pm at the top of a mountain. The views from this point were amazing and as it was a clear day we could just make out Machu Picchu in the distance if we zoomed in with our camera.

We were in for a tough afternoon as we had to descend the mountain we had just hiked to the top of via the stone steps which were very steep and also wet as it had been raining. The steps were absolutely treacherous and unforgiving. They were almost vertical at points and if you slipped, you were probably dead. It took four hours in total to get to the next campsite solely because we had to go as slow as possible on the steps as not to kill ourselves. It may sound like i‘m exaggerating this but I’m really not, it was deadly. Tina took a small fall about two hours in, fortunately falling onto her bum so no major damage was done, although she did shed a few tears afterwards which I suspect were due to how hard the hiking was rather than the pain of the fall.

There was a clear relief in the air at the campsite that evening. It had no doubt been a difficult day for everyone in the group and dinner couldn’t have come fast enough. As it was the final night we were treated to a cake which the cooks had managed to make without an oven, god knows how but it was a damn good cake.

Three nights in a tent was more than enough to satisfy our camping itch. As it had rained during the day my sleeping bag was a bit damp, and the foam mattresses were shit, being the best word to describe them.

Inca Trail Day 4

The final day was a short one. We were up at 4am that morning as we had to queue at a control point before going on the final day’s trek. The control point didn’t open until about 7am so we were waiting in the cold for an hour. There was a big rush to get to Machu Picchu first, people were literally running this section of the hike. The hike itself wasn’t difficult and only took about 2-3 hours before getting to the Sun Gate where the view over Machu Picchu was beautiful and was everything I was expecting.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was a mixed bag for me and if I’m honest I felt my journey ended when we arrived at the Sun Gate. By the time we got into Machu Picchu it was absolutely mobbed with tourists who had arrived on the bus. The entrance to Machu Picchu wouldn’t have looked out of place at Disney Land, in fact the whole place felt like you were in a theme park. I had got it into my head that I was trekking to something special, something almost sacred and thought the trekkers would be at Machu Picchu early enough to experience it for an hour or so before the bus tourists arrived but this was not the case.

We were taken around Machu Picchu by our guide, the tour lasting a few hours. It was very informative and it really helped having someone you could ask questions to.

By 11:30am the tour was over and we were absolutely exhausted. So much so that we decided not to stay in the park any longer and head to Aguas Calientes where we were due to get the train at 18:30 to Ollantaytambo and from there the bus back to Cusco. To kill the 6 hours we had to wait for our train in Ollantaytambo we went to the town’s hot springs to relieve our aching muscles. We followed that up with a 4 for 1 offer on cocktails we came across in a bar and soon enough it was time to leave.

I struggled to stay awake during the journey home and we eventually arrived back in Cusco at about 22:30.

We headed to our hostel where we had booked a particular room at the back of the hostel, which we knew would be quiet for our return from the Inca Trail in order to catch up on some well deserved sleep. When we got to the hostel however it was soon clear that they had not written our booking down correctly and the room we wanted was occupied. To say we were unhappy was a massive understatement and what was originally anger towards to hostel owner soon turned into a full blown argument between myself and Tina while we worked out what to do. We ended up in a three star hotel around the corner which was costing us $50 a night (£30). While expensive it was bloody good and well deserved. We both had a shower as soon as we got in then went to bed for a good night of sleep.

Additional photos below
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29th October 2011

Waaaaa, I'm so jelly! It looks amazing. Sounds like it was a huge challenge. As hard as it was I hope you're glad you did it!
30th October 2011

I thought exactly the same thing when we rocked up at Machu Picchu. I was disappointed to see it crawling with people who'd just taken the bus to it. I was standing in front of one of the worlds greatest treasures and I was disappointed, not a good place to be. It was only once we started exploring that I fully appreciated it and started loving it, but still, we have far fonder memories of the trek than we did of the 'prize' at the end... I'm really enjoying reading your blog guys... Safe travels.. Mike
30th October 2011

OMG!! What a fantastic experience. Out of breath just looking at photos. You must be really proud of yourselves for that achievement. The views look stunning. Even I'm a bit envious of you. Keep the piccies and blogs coming they're great!
30th October 2011

Well I am quite exhausted reading about your adventures... If only I had a can of Oxygen at hand ;-b What an adventure...

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