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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Footsteps of the Incas

PERU | Saturday, 5 January 2008 | Views [580]

            I woke up not feeling well this morning on my 6th day in Peru and the beginning of my big trek of the Inca Trail. I only slept two hours last night because of the ruckus next door. At 5:00, I ate breakfast but there was nothing really good. There was no cold milk for the cereal and not much else. While eating, I talked with this couple from Australia and told them about my travels there. I saw Jenn again and said good morning. My bus showed up at 7:00, and I wasn’t feeling well. It really sucks to be sick on a trip. I sat in the back of the van and took a nap. About an hour and a half into the drive, we stopped in a small town. Of course the locals were swarming us with goods for sale. I went inside and got a Red Bull and some coca leaves, and outside I got a walking stick for the trail. I was talking with a young man from Denmark named Mike. He’s part of my group. He then told me about his travels in Australia and Central America. I had to go exchange some money because I was running out of soles, so I exchanged $20. A half hour later, we piled back into the van and headed toward the starting point. The members of our group were: Alejandro and Carla, from Miami (though they’re Argentine), Brett from Canada, Mike, and myself. Getting to the starting point was murder because we kept having to back up for vehicles. But, we got there at about 11:00 and it took awhile to organize everything. I got a water bottle and I had to pay to use the bathroom. Anyways, we all put our hands together and we were off! We took photos in front of the starting point sign, and then we had to wait in line to show our passports. In line, I met a very cute Argentine girl named Malena. It took awhile for us to get through the line because Brett had a temporary passport, and it was a whole big mess. He said someone stole his bag on a bus in Quito, and it had his passport in it. We were there for like a half hour while everything was sorted out with Brett. We went across the bridge and that’s where we began our trek. I wasn’t feeling well, but I’m going to finish this trek regardless of what happens. The entire trek is 4 days and is about 25 miles. Alvaro (our guide) told us that the record time from the starting point to Machu Picchu is 3 hours and 45 minutes. So, we’re taking it easy. Alvaro told us about the various plants and how the Incas used them for tea and medicinal purposes. The first stretch was uphill, and I wondered with my cold how I’d handle tomorrow. I’ll be climbing almost 5,000 feet. All along the way I kept snapping tons of photos and I had my eye on a beautiful glacier high up in the mountains. I’m such a glacier connoisseur. I’ve seen glaciers in New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and now Peru. At the first rest stop, I got a can of Pringles. They were 7 soles: much more than what I’d pay in Cuzco. I saw Malena again and I got a few photos with her. We had about five minutes to relax and then we continued on. Five minutes up the trail was the lunch area. I was a bit tired, so I lay down for a few while lunch was being prepared. In the bathroom, though, I noticed that they have “squat toilets.” Professor Carthew showed us a slide of one he saw in China. However, I’m not sure if I’d ever use one. For lunch I had chicken with tomato sauce, chicken soup, and rice. I also had a cup of coca tea, which is really good with a splash of sugar. I then hung out with the Argentine girls again. They’re all very nice! After lunch, we continued our long journey toward the lost city of the Incas. Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I was in the lead a good part of the way. During one stretch we had to climb a very big hill. It was a bit tough, but nothing compared to what we face tomorrow. We have to climb over 4,000 feet tomorrow! So, I hope I feel better by then. While hiking, I could not keep my camera off because it is such a beautiful landscape. I could see why the Incas established their land here. We then visited a site called Llactapata, which looks a bit like Machu Picchu and was an important place for Inca ceremonies. I had wondered why Inca buildings had no roofs, but Alvaro told us that Inca roofs were made of bamboo and things like that; stuff that would not last very long. After a few minutes, we went to a “ruin” that wasn’t really Incan because most of it had been restored. The place had been restored with concrete, and the Incas did not use concrete to build any of their dwellings. I took a photo that distinguishes the Inca and the non-Inca sections of the structure. The walk was still another two hours and tough, even though tomorrow will be much, much harder. Along the walk I saw a local woman working on a farm. People live in the area and make their living from all the people that hike the trail. I got to the camp at about 5:00 and felt very worn out but relieved. The owners showed us the hut filled with guinea pigs and we then went up and put our stuff in our tents. I was relieved to have my own tent because I don’t want to get anyone else sick. I took some photos with a woman in Andean attire while wearing my alpaca fur poncho. At 6:00 was “happy hour” with cookies, crackers, and tea. I’m having a lot of fun already, even though I’m not feeling well. At 7:00 dinner was ready and I ate chicken and rice, and a cup of coca tea. It was all very good. Although I’m mentally prepared for the great walk tomorrow, I’m not sure if I’m physically prepared because I have a bad cold. It could be dangerous hiking at high altitudes with a bad cold, but I’m confident that nothing will happen. After dinner, it was very dark and the property had no lights, so it was difficult walking up to my tent. I washed up and then lay down, thinking of what it’s going to be like tomorrow. So, I better rest up because I have a lot of walking to do tomorrow! So, I better rest up because I have a lot of walking to do tomorrow! See you after my second day on the Inca Trail.

Today was my 7th and probably the toughest day of my Peruvian adventure. I woke up at 5:00 and I felt even worse than I did yesterday. My nose was all stuffed up and I was wondering if I was able to climb 4,000 feet today. So, I washed up and got dressed and the porter brought me a cup of coca tea. Afterward, I went to the hut and had breakfast (desayuno): French toast and rice cereal, which was very good! I dressed really warm because I was worried about getting even sicker on the trail. After breakfast, we met our porters, who carry all of our gear with the exception of what we need during the hike. We will be expected to tip them at the end of our journey. We took some photos and then we were all ready for the toughest part of our trek. We started out on mostly flat ground and the scenery was amazing! It was getting warm out, so I took off my raincoat. The incline got steeper and we kept walking up and up until we reached the checkpoint. There, I realized I had lost my Icelandic wool hat. I was really upset and the store I left it at has no telephone. Damn, why didn’t I just buy one here! I don’t understand why I bring stuff from home when I can buy most of it here for very cheap. Alvaro said he’d check to see if it was turned in while I continued ahead. I met a pretty girl from Australia named Natalie. I kept hiking up and up, past the 3,200 meter mark, and because I’m sick I was stopping for breaks every five minutes. While walking up the seemingly never-ending hill, I met a pretty Aussie lady named Helena. You’d never believe she’s 53, because she doesn’t look a day over 35. She’s here with her two kids (who are young adults). We started walking together and we had some good conversations. I kept on snapping photos while admiring the beauty of the Inca Trail. Some stretches were very difficult and my heart was pounding. I got a bottle of water for 4 soles (it costs 1 sol in Cuzco) but it was the only money I spent today. It started to rain a little, so I slipped my raincoat back on. As I kept going up, the views were getting more spectacular and the achievement even greater. At about 11:30, we reached 3,800 meters. I was far behind the rest of the group because I was taking it easy. At our rest stop, it started to rain very hard. I put on my rain pants and gloves, but I had no hat so my head was soaked. I feared getting pneumonia with the combination of my flu and the rain. I rested for about 10 minutes or so before Helena and I started to head higher. The vegetation started to become sparser and the air was getting thinner and my heart beating faster. I wasn’t feeling well, but I kept telling myself: “I’m going to make it!” We saw alpacas in the distance as we kept going higher. By the 4,000 meter mark, I was stopping for breaks every two minutes because of the oxygen-poor air. The final 200 meters was probably the most difficult and I was soaked, but my eyes were fixated on Dead Woman’s Pass (the highest point). At that time I was stopping almost every minute for a break. Higher and higher I went and at 1:30, after some of the most difficult and demanding walking I’ve ever undertaken, Helena and I made it to the pass. At 4,215 meters (13,776 feet) it is the highest altitude I’ve ever been at outside of an airplane. We celebrated with photos and Helena and I gave each other a very big hug. I relaxed for a few minutes to celebrate my big accomplishment. The thing that makes it even more remarkable is that I’m not feeling well. It will really be something I can tell all my friends about. This is perhaps a preparation because another of my dreams is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Hopefully I’ll feel well when I do that climb. At the pass, I shook everyone’s hand and said congratulations to everyone who made it up there. I couldn’t trade an experience like this for anything! After 10 minutes at the top, Helena, Alvaro, and I started the long trek down to the campsite. It was very relaxing compared to the trek up. However there are a lot of stony steps, so it was stress on the knees. Helena was complaining about her back hurting, so I promised her a massage for when we get to the campsite. About half way down to the campsite, I looked back up at the pass, and I realized it gets its name because it looks like a woman lying on her back. The landscape is very spectacular, and I snapped a photo of a beautiful waterfall. Two hours after our descent, at 3:15, we were at the campground. Lunch was ready when I got there, and I had maize (corn) soup, and spaghetti. I wasn’t really hungry, so I didn’t eat much. I then went and looked for Helena, but she saw me about 5 minutes later. She came to my tent and I gave her a very good massage. She also promised me one for tomorrow. Afterward, she gave me a nice long hug and she went back to her tent. I then fell asleep for about an hour and it started to rain. My shoes and socks were soaked because I left them outside of my tent. Brett woke me at 6:00 for “happy hour.” We had the same stuff as yesterday: cookies and tea. I’ve been drinking manzanilla tea because it’s good for when you’re sick. Afterward, I just hung around in the tent for awhile while dinner was being prepared. I ate braised beef, rice, and chicken noodle soup, and then had another cup of manzanilla tea. After dinner I just sat with my group and we just chatted. My socks were wet because of the rain earlier, and I tried to dry one of them by putting it on top of the heat lamp but I ended up burning a hole in it. It’s another one of my notoriously stupid moves. I’m not sure what I’ll do about tomorrow because I have no clean socks and nothing will dry out here because of the constant rain. Tomorrow is our longest day of trekking. We’ll be on the trail for about 9 hours. On the following day we’ll be at Machu Picchu! At about 8:00 I went and lay down. I had a hard time resting because I’m not feeling well. It sucks being sick on a trip, but I’m having a great time either way. See you tomorrow after another night’s rest.

My 8th day in Peru was another special one. I woke up at 5:00 and still didn’t feel well, but I was ready for my third day on the Inca Trail. I started off with coca tea as usual and then packed up all of my stuff. It appeared to finally be a nice day today and the view was incredible! There’s a waterfall right above our campsite that looks straight out of New Zealand. I then went to the hut for breakfast. There were omelets, but I only had two bites because I don’t like eggs. I also ate pancakes, but they weren’t all that good. The only thing I liked was the hot chocolate. After breakfast, we were ready to go. We had to walk in groups, so I couldn’t walk with Helena today. Just gazing up at the other trekkers I could tell it was another steep climb. Alvaro talked about the various flowers and plants that live along the Inca Trail. I had more stamina than I did yesterday, but the hike up was very tough because the stairs are made of stone. Yesterday we saw no ruins, but we saw our first ruin 15 minutes into the hike. The old Inca tradition was to take three stones from the area and place them in this place at our highest point today (3,900 meters). We stayed about 15 minutes and then continued the tough trek up. Even though I’m still sick, I was ahead of some members of my group. About an hour after visiting the first ruin, we made it to our highest point. I then climbed another hill and I placed my three stones. There were stacks of rocks much like what I saw in Iceland. I climbed down and took a breather while I ate my chocolate bar. Every morning, Alvaro has been passing out snacks for on the trek, and they’ve really been helpful. It started to rain and I’ve been so annoyed with the rain because it’s been raining like crazy. My boots and socks were soaked yesterday. Next week I may head to Arica, Chile for a few days, and that’s the driest place on Earth. It hasn’t rained there in like 400 years. We started to head downhill a bit. Our next stop was another spectacular ruin. I saw Helena and gave her a big hug. We stayed there for about a half hour while Alvaro talked about King Atahualpa and the Inca population, which at its peak numbered around 13 million and that they lived as far north as Colombia. I took a lot of photos and we walked around the ruins before continuing on. As we headed down the hill, we passed another ruin that we had seen from the previous one. We kept heading up the hill and we stopped for lunch at around noon. It had stopped raining and the sun was out. For lunch I had vegetable stew and rice, and for like a dessert we had maize pudding (I think that’s what it is). By the time we were finished it started to rain again. I was having some fun throwing large boulders into the creek before we continued our trek. We were at about our halfway point for today. I was hiking up another huge hill while it was dumping rain. My head was soaked and I was irritated with all of this damn rain. I usually accept the rain while traveling, but not during a trek while not feeling well and carrying a heavy backpack. The stairs were also very tiring. I caught up with Helena as I was walking and we walked through a series of natural tunnels. After hiking a long way, we were at our final pass. Some of the groups were staying the night up there. I was thinking Helena was staying and I couldn’t get the massage she promised, but she said she was going to the same site as me. Later on, I learned that in the morning, the people staying at that campsite were getting up at like 3:00 AM and hike in the complete darkness to Machu Picchu! We waited up there for a few minutes before making our final descent: a total of 1,000 meters in two hours. On the way down, we visited another spectacular ruin, but I didn’t take any photos because it was pouring down rain. One thing I did notice is that the Incas were superb at building drainage systems to allow rainwater to flow out. As we kept walking down, it was slowly getting warmer because of the lower altitude. My knees were starting to give out because of the stony stairs. Helena told me she felt the same way. It is because the stairs seemed never-ending. I was also noticing that the vegetation was changing as well. As we were getting closer to our campground, I saw a formation of terraces that were built by the Incas. I had a chance to walk over to them, but I was too tired and it would have taken an extra half hour. I kept walking and walking for what seemed like hours until we finally reached the campsite. I gave Helena a big hug for her achievement. I think we’re all proud, because not many get to walk the famed Inca Trail. She went to her site and I went to mine. My site is up a hill. As I went back down to the area near the restaurant, I saw a rainbow over the valley. It was a very pretty sight. I sat with Carla for awhile and then went to see Helena for my massage. She’s super good! And I felt relaxed afterward. I gave her a big hug and then her daughter showed up. I took a photo of her before heading off to the restaurant for happy hour. There was the same old stuff: popcorn, tea, and things like that. I just sat with the group and it started to rain again. I then had some fun showing off my alpaca fur poncho to everyone. At 8:00, dinner was ready. It was a big feast tonight. There was pizza, mixed vegetables, rice, etc. Alvaro bought us a bottle of wine as his treat to us. I only had a small amount of wine and I didn’t eat too much food. The chocolate pudding for dessert was absolutely delicious! After eating, it was time to tip Alvaro and our porters. We all agreed to tip 150 soles (about $50). Earlier the cashier tried to rip me off because of my $20 bills had a seemingly microscopic tear in it, and she tried to gave me 110 soles instead of 120 (the current exchange rate is about 3 soles to $1, and I wanted to exchange $40). We had a big ceremony and we thanked them for all their hard work. These guys carry so much everyday on the trail, including chairs, propane tanks, food, and sometimes even people, on their backs. One girl got very sick earlier, and the standard procedure on the Inca Trail is to carry people out, not send in a helicopter. I then took photos of the different kinds of insects I saw. Some of them out here are so huge; like 3 or 4 inches long! I showed some of the photos to Aliyah and Helena. After hanging out for a few minutes longer, I went up to my tent. We have our campsite up on a hill, so it’s more walking we have to do. With all the hills I’ve hiked up, I probably could have climbed Kilimanjaro. There was music playing down at the restaurant, so that kept me up for awhile. So, tomorrow we reach our final destination: Machu Picchu. It will be such a rewarding treat for such a fabulous hike. It’s another of my 100 Travel Goals. I have to get to sleep because I have to be up at 4:00 AM. I’ll tell you about Machu Picchu tomorrow night!

Tags: adventures, ruins, trekking

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