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Travelling 02/02/10-02/08/10 Round the world in 182 days

The Inca Trail

PERU | Wednesday, 21 April 2010 | Views [1104] | Comments [3]

So…a few days ago we completed the main activity of our trip so far….the Inca Trail, ending in Machu Picchu.  Given the recent flooding that had occurred just before we came out here, we were incredibly lucky that our trek actually went ahead, with the trail only re-opening on the 1st of April, and our trip commencing on the 13th 

Before heading off on the trip last Tuesday, we had an orientation meeting at the company organising our trip, SAS Peru.  Luckily, we had heard only good things about the company, and their levels of organisation, enjoyment of the trip etc.  But the initiation meeting did leave us slightly sceptical.  Not only were we the youngest in our group by quite a long way (there were a couple of people in their late 20s, but all the rest were in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s – I know this isn´t old, but we were used to spending all our time with people of a similar age to us), but also the guides (Saul – our main guide, Valentine and E-something) mentioned a few times that the 2nd of the 4 days of trekking would be incredibly challenging, with 4.5 hours of uphill trekking first thing in the morning.  So we left the orientation a little unsure as to exactly how enjoyable the whole thing would be.  But it turns out that any concerns were entirely unwarranted, as it’s safe to say we all had the most amazing 4 days, and loved it from start to finish.

So, the first day started with a 5am pick up from our hostel (unhappy boys!), from where we were taken in a bus with the rest of our 17-person group to the start of the Inca Trail.  Our group consisted of the three of us, 4 friends from San Francisco in their late 20s/early 30s, one of that group (Andrea’s) Aunt and Uncle (in their 50s/60s), a lovely Kiwi couple who now live in Dubai, 4 Norwegian nurses in their 30s and two middle-aged guys from the US (who very much reminded me of Dad and Jon Tyler as they were such a pair).  At the start of the Inca Trail, we were given the first of our meals, that would turn out to all be amazing.  It’s probably useful at this point to explain about the porters, who are known on the trail as “chatskis”, as “porter” is seen as disrespectful.  Between the 17 of us, we had about 23 chatskis, who carried all the general equipment, tents, food, plus any additional items that you paid them to carry (which most people did, in order to make your personal load lighter).  The chatskis all come from towns along the Inca Trail or towns near to Cusco.  And they are all super-human.  They range in age from 18 to about 45, and each carries between 20 and 25kg of stuff on their backs.  Not only that, but they run up the trail in order to arrive at each campsite/lunch spot at least an hour before the group, and set everything up for you.  They set up the tents, put out basins of hot water to wash with before meals, set up a dining tent at every meal, put up tables and stools to sit on, bring you hot tea in your tents in the morning, and are in general amazing.

They started as they would continue, by, within 10minutes of getting off the bus at the start, having set up a table and chairs for all of us, with tea, coffee and a breakfast spread.  Then, we set off to begin the trail.  The first day set a fairly good precedent for what the trail would be like.  The terrain was fairly varied in gradient, with a few sections of uphill and downhill, and a lot of “inca” flat (or “undulating” as Saul described it) on and rocky path.  We also saw the first 2 Inca ruins of the trip, which are pretty impressively well kept ruins, some of which are on the trail itself and you can therefore walk around, whilst others are only visible from a distance.  

The group got on really well, and we all chatted the whole way along.  There was a pretty natural split though whilst we were walking, with Dan, Josh and I, along with the Kiwi couple and a couple of the Americans sticking to the front, whilst the others largely took it at a slower pace.  But there was a really nice feeling amongst the group, and we all waited for each other at the top of uphill sections or at landmark spots.  Plus, Saul had a very thorough knowledge of the Incas and so filled us in on all the history as we went along.

The weather treated us incredibly well, which really helped.  We had bright sunshine for the entirety of the trek, with rain only a couple of times once we were in our tents at night.  

The first day was fairly easy, with a long break for lunch (set up in a dining tent in the middle of the hillside, and consisting of starters followed by about 8 different choices of dish for mains).  When we finished for the day, we arrived at a fully set up campsite, and dumped our stuff in the tents (Dan, Josh and I were sharing a 2-man tent…at least we weren´t cold at night) by which time “tea” was ready – an amazing spread of every type of tea and coffee, biscuits and a never-ending supply of pop corn.  We all headed to bed pretty early (you´re in a pitch black campsite with nothing to do) in preparation for our 4.30am wake up call the next day.

On day two, all a little apprehensive about the 900m climb with which we were to start the day, we had breakfast (toast, porridge, pancakes….) and set off.  The climb was actually, although very challenging and pretty relentless, nowhere near as bad as the guides had made out.  We stopped fairly regularly and everyone just took it at their own pace.  Plus, the views were incredible, as you could see for miles down the Sacred Valley (through which the Inca Trail snakes).  And it all paid off when we got to the top of Dead Woman´s Pass – the highest point on the trail, at 4200m, named after the features of a woman you can see in the rocks.  Plus, there is an amazing feeling of camaraderie on the trail….all the groups obviously are walking the same route, and we bumped into about 8 other groups on a regular basis.  Each time people passed each other, one group would applaud the other (all very cliché).  This was particularly the case at the top of Dead Woman´s Pass, where everyone waited for the rest of their group to complete the most challenging part of the trek.

The rest of day two consisted of more up and down sections, obviously a three-course lunch, and a few more Inca sites.  We finished a long day with the usual tea at camp.  The chatskis further proved their worth when Linda and Phil (the older couple) were still on the trail after night fell, and one of them ran back and brought Linda back to camp on his back.  Hero.

Day three was the easiest so far, as SAS make you walk particularly far on the 2nd day in order to have a half day on the third, which allows you to chill out at the campsite in the afternoon (and have much craved-for hot showers), and go to the most spectacular Inca site so far.  That evening was also really nice as all the groups were together, and everyone sat and had drinks together.  The chatskis even cooked a massive cake with “Welcome to Machu Picchu” on it.

The next morning, the final one, we were woken early in order to start the 2 hour descent to Machu Picchu.  The path was fairly congested at this point as everyone aims to get to Machu Picchu early before the rest of the tourists (who come on the train) arrive.  So we walked the first part in the pitch black, just using torches (other than Dan, who obviously did not have one!), arriving at the Sun Gate (the site from which you get the first glimpse of Machu Picchu) at around 6am.  We then continued on, finally arriving in Machu Picchu at around 7.  Unfortunately, we got our first spell of day-time rain at this point, but it didn´t ruin the experience at all, as Machu Picchu was still an amazing site.  Saul gave us a couple of hours of guided tour, before we were free to wander round.  The site is very impressive, and absolutely huge.  We took the obligatory photos, after which our 4 days were pretty much over.

We spent the next couple of days back in Cusco meeting up with some of our group, who we are definitely going to stay in touch with.  The Inca Trail was definitely well worth the cost and build-up, and we had an amazing time.  The boys and I have now separated, as they head off to central America, whilst I am currently in Santiago for one day, following the first 2 of 4 flights which will take me to New Zealand to meet up with the girls




Do you think some of your chatskis might be interested in helping 3 old boys on their 3 Peaks Challenge? xx

  Father Abi Apr 22, 2010 7:54 AM


We have really enjoyed reading your journal and will miss the regular updates now that you have left Dan and Josh.
Hope you have a wonderful time in NZ and OZ

  bettina sanford Apr 22, 2010 8:30 AM


Hi Sweetie, Just spoken to Cary who tells me that my response to your Inca trail was not recorded. I always respond to your wonderfully descriptive blog, it must have been sabotaged. It was breath taking and imagining being there with you, I would probably have needed two of your chatskis to get me up there. Glad to know you are back on terra firma in NZ. Look forward to your next news. Love GMH

  gmhelga Apr 24, 2010 6:38 PM

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