South America | Peru | Southern Peru | Cuzco (Cusco) | Machu Picchu – The Inca Trail
Thursday 10th May
there are 2 things that no-one ever tells you about the Inca Trail: 1 – Where you’re going to wash and 2, where you’re going to poo. The answer to the former is simple – you’re not. Quite disgusting after several hours of seating for three days in a row, but at least you all smell the same. The answer to the second problem is wherever you want (but don’t expect toilets too often)
Before I left England, there was much from colleagues about the problems with pooing while travelling – going too often, not being able to go, revolting toilets, lack of loo roll…it was even joked that I should write a book on the subject ’80 poos around the world’ was the working title. Now I’m on the Inca Trail and talking to other travellers about it all, it seems like a bestseller – one person even suggested leaving a few blank pages at the back in case you’re caught short.
After an afternoon of trekking, a bit of light banter was just the job and questions of poo seemed foremost in everyone’s mind! Our first camp was very basic – just enough space for our tents and an open air communal area with a 60 minute light bulb! The adjacent field was designated as the toiley and our guide told us to burn our toilet paper after use. That night we retired to our tights with the heady aroma of singed poo in the air!
Friday 11th May
Day two of the Inca Trail has become legendary in backpacker circles. ‘Day two is a killer,’ they told me. ‘You’ll need to hire an extra porter to carry your bag on the second day,’ they said. As it turned out neither of these things were true.
It started well, despite a 5.30 wake up call. Pancakes all round for breakfast and our group was ready for off. There were 15 hikers in the group – 7 Brits, 2 French, 2 Belgians, an Aussie, a Colombian, an Argentinian and Hector – the evil Spanish boy whose people destroyed the Inca Empire. Actually, he soon befriended our ever enthusiastic guide, Carlos.
Unlike on the Australian bike ride, we were told exactly what to expect, so we set off knowing that 4 hours of hill was ahead (that’s 4 hours for me, many people rached the top in less than 3). I managed to find someone walking at a similarly slow pace, so Liz and I girly gossiped all the way to the top. It was a tough morning, but not half as bad as I had expected.
As you rise out of the valley and closer to the peak of ‘Dead woman’s pass’, the views are quite spectacular, if you can break your climbing rhythm long enough to appreciate them. Dead woman’s pass was so named by Hiram Bingham because he thought it looked like the breast of a woman lying down. ‘Men see breasts in everything don’t they?’ mused Liz as we neared the highest pass of the trek.
On finally reaching the top, we were greeted by our other halves and quickly piled on the layers – at 4200m above sea level it gets pretty nippy! An hour’s descent down to lunch followed, which I found worse than the 4 hour uphill walk, my weak knees jarring with every step down.
It was decided that we would stay the night at the camp rather than continuing to the next pass, where it was raining. It’s difficult to kill a whole afternoon and evening with little else to do but watch the clouds descend on the valley. By 7pm it was freezing and everyone retreated to their tents.
Saturday 12th May
Yesterday’s hike had taken its toll and many of the group emerged form their tents with a combination of headaches, stomach pains, muscle cramps and diahorrea. Hector was amongst the afflicted and so fell back from his leading place to bring up the rear with me.
We took in several Inca sites, Carlos as passionate as ever about his cultre. But despite what they all say, today wasn’t nearly as enjopyable as yesterday. Several hours were spent walking down huge uneven steps. And there was I thinking that the people of the Incas were small! To add insult to injury, somehow, reaching the bottom doesn’t give the same satisfaction as reaching the top.
We finally arrived at our camp just before dusk after 7 hours of walking through humid cloud forest. Carlos took us to see the ruins of Hui?ay Huayna; not officially on our itinerary, but he is so proud of his heritage he wanted us to see it. And it was a spectacular sight to see, with the Rio Urubamba Valley as a backdrop.
To everyones relief, this would be our last night sleeping in leaking tents. The weather hasn’t been great and neither are our sleeping facilities. We all spent the evening in the campsite restaurant with a few well deserved beers and had a collection for the extremely overworkedunderpaid porters.
This camp brings together people from the 2 day trail as well as the 4 day tekkers, and with only one toilet per gender, you can imagine the state of them. It made me wish I was back at our first camp, at one with nature!
Sunday 13th May
4am: rain and time to get up. It had been raining steadily throughout the night, leaving us and our belongings soaking wet. We set off for Machu Picchu at 5, still dark and still raining. It was not my idea of fun.
As the sun rose we reached the sun gate and our first view of Machu Picchu. at least it would have been has the whole area not been filled with cloud. So we waited. And waited. And eventually the cloud did lift and the lost Inca city was visible. Quite a magnificent sight, even making us forget that we were cold, wet and tired.
Down we went for our guided tour of Machu Picchu. I think we were so lucky to get such an enthusiastic guide – he even managed to keep a smile on everyone’s face through the heavy rain. The lifestyle of the Inca’s people is something of a mystery and many theories circulate, so the story will vary depending on your guide. One thing is for sure – Machu Picchu is of great importance to the Peruvian people, both spiritually and economically. The site is threatened by a landslide and locals estimate that in 8-10 years it will fall into the valley below. Let’s hope that a solution can be found soon.
Gluttons for punishment, once we’d explored the ruins we walked the 40 minute path down to Aguas Calientes (more bloody steps!). Most people opt for the bus, but we figured since we had walked for three days, what’s another hour matter!? After a hearty lunch and a celbratory beer, we boarded the train back to Cuzco. An interesting ride, especially as there is only one track, resulting in some interesting manouvres when a train came the other way.
By 9 we were back at the convent, desperate for a hot shower and a comfy bed. The Inca trail is an unforgettable (if uncomfortable) trip, although not one I’d recommend to everyone. If you don’t like walking and do like your home comforts, stick to the one Day Machu Picchu tour!