South America | Peru | Southern Peru | Cuzco (Cusco) | Machu Picchu – The trial of the Inca Trail
Stunning, amazing, breath-taking, and other glorifying adjectives would be what I would use to describe my four day hike on the Inca Trail. With my pack and walking stick, I made it through four very testing days to reach the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. I also never thought I’d come across popcorn during the Inca Trail, but I did.
Acclimatizing in Cusco
After Copacobana in Bolivia, I retraced my steps and crossed the border into Peru again to come back to Cusco, right in the Andean mountains. Cusco was of course the seat of the Inca empire a few centuries ago, before the Spanish conquistadors wiped them out. While in Cusco I also took a few days to acclimatize to the altitude and prepare for my assault on Machu Picchu.
Day 1 – An early test
On the first day we all gathered at KM 82, the starting point of the trail. There were fourteen of us in the group, from a collection of countries such as Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, the US, Canada, Colombia, and me, the lone Australian. Our guides were Liliana, a feisty woman who led the front, and Norma, who took the rear. Add to this twelve porters and a cook and we had a rather large entourage.
The first day involved about five hours of hiking through mountain terrain, mostly uphill. It was a tough and testing start to the four days ahead. All the while we were walking through superb mountain scenery, making me feel like part of the Fellowship of the Ring on a journey through Middle Earth.
Now, the porters are amazing. They must carry, maybe fifty kilograms of camping equipment, tents, food, and gear on their backs. One of them also had the job of carrying the gas cylinder for the stove. But they literally ran past us up the mountain, wearing only sandals. It never ceased to amaze me when they zoomed past us.
We arrived at the campsite for the first day just as the sun was going down, quite exhausted. Dinner was served soon after, and we couldn’t believe how good it was. Over the next few days we would be served such elaborate meals as garlic chicken, trout, steak, and even popcorn and fried wonton skins for tea time.
Day 2 – Tough and torturous
The second day was the hardest. After getting up at the crack of dawn at six, we had to climb uphill for the remainder of the morning. It was all uphill, uphill, and more uphill.
It was also raining today, and the mountains were blanketed by fog for most of the time. We could not see very far up and ahead, for the fog would obscure everything. It was like a cruel joke. The stone steps kept continuing while we kept climbing and not knowing when we would reach the top.
Eventually after four and a half hours, I reached the top called Dead Woman’s Pass. I thought it would be Dead Jerome’s Pass for a while there. The altitude up here is 4198 metres, making it officially the highest altitude I have been on terra firma.
Day 3 – Most interesting
The third day was the best of all, as it was a rather easy walk and had the added interest of stopping at a few Inca ruins to explore. The sun was out today and we had many fascinating moments as Liliana explained the history of the ruins to us.
We reached the camp for the third night late in the evening after covering seventeen kilometres. This is where all the other groups were camped as well for the final assault tomorrow morning. There were even hot shower facilities available for about a dollar and fifty cents. After marinating in my stinking sweat for three days, I would have gladly paid fifty, no, a hundred dollars for the pleasure of a hot shower.
Day 4 – The magnificent finale
On the last day we had to wake up at four in the morning to begin our final hike to the site to see the sun rise. We got to the Sun Gate in just over an hour, and there before our eyes, was Machu Picchu. I sank to my knees and sang praises for the glorious outcome of our four day trek. We went on down to the ruins to begin our exploration of this most amazing of Inca architecture that was ahead of its time.
As if I didn’t have enough of climbing, we decided to scale Huayna Picchu, the tall mountain dominating the site. At the top were the remains of a watchtower. The view was of course stunning, providing a view of the Sacred Valley spreading out for miles.
The hike on the Inca Trail is of course not just about the destination, but about the journey. Over the four days I got to know the inspirational people in our group.
There was Jakob, the German, one of the most hardcore hikers I have seen. He had the largest pack I’ve seen on his back, but motored along at great speed anyway. Then there was John, the Irish, who also had a large pack and all the technical gear. Together with Jakob, they would always be the first to arrive at our destinations. There was also Emily, an American, who came on the trip sick and with a broken foot. It was amazing that she fought through it and finished the trail.
The Inca Trail is definitely one of the most amazing experiences I have had. It was tough at times but in exchange I got to be amongst superb natural terrain, magnificent mountains, and of course great company. If you are up for it, like they say at Nike, just do it.