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The adventures of the Mel

The amazing Inca Trail

PERU | Monday, 26 May 2008 | Views [3255] | Comments [6]

Okay, are you comfortable? Do you have a coffee in hand? Better go get one. While you’re up, get something to munch on. On second thoughts, go and cook yourself some dinner (or whatever meal you need), eat your fill, grab a refreshing drink, find somewhere comfortable, and take a deep breath. Ready? Here we go.

Got up at the soon-to-not-seem-so-ridiculous time of 5am ready to leave at 6am for the Inca Trail. On the way we passed through a small town called Ollantaytambo for a quick check of some small ruins and some last minute snacks and a toilet break. We hustled on a little too quickly to the Inca Trail, as about 10 minutes down the narrow road we realised that we had forgotten a couple of the porters. The bus driver muttered the Spanish equivalent of the non-abbreviated mofo and turned around to collect them. We found one, but two others had already caught another lift. Ah, what a great start!

We arrived at the start of the Inca Trail and eagerly waited in line to pass the checkpoint and get yet another stamp in our passports. A group photo, a lesson on avoiding the porters, and off we went.

An aside note; our group consisted of 11 people doing the trek, our overall tour guide Tito, our Inca Trail guide Zac, his assistant Miguel, and 16 porters who carry !!20kg!! each over the four days, including a 5kg bag of our clothes and sleeping bags, tents, food, gas, chairs, cutlery….they were just amazing. Most of them are local farmers supplementing their paltry income for a week, a few study tourism and plan to become guides. They cooked for us, raised and dismantled our tents, boiled our water, essentially did everything for us. Without them, the trip would not be enjoyable at all.

So, anyway, we started slowly hiking through the very gentle rolling slopes of the first section of the Inca Trail. We followed the river and railway track for a while before moving off to the left. Mountains in the background, dry-weather vegetation surrounding the hills around us, a beautiful blue sky and a few white marshmallow clouds to boot.

In all honesty I found much of the first day a little frustrating, as although I have lost much of my fitness, I forgot how little exercise most people get, and as a consequence were a lot slower than Snuffy and myself. A few of the younger ones, notably Mel and John and generally Sean kept up, but the rest kind of meandered. Mind you, a huge big fo kudos to them – we had a couple approaching their 60s, so the fact that they were here and completed it was an amazing accomplishment I think.

We strolled along, chatting to Zac and Tito about the surrounds and they filled us in on lots of interesting tidbits that are too numerous to recount and besides, I’ve forgotten half of them anyway!

Many others were using the track, mainly locals transporting their donkeys and goods to the next community. We often had to stop or make room for the remarkably fit porters who almost jog past carrying their loads, smiling a ‘buenas dias’ at you and trotting on. We stopped for a quick break before lunch to allow the cook to get set up, and then trotted off to the most amazing FOUR COURSE LUNCH I’ve had in Peru. An amazing salad with ‘cado and veggies, a soup, a main course with rice, meat and veggies and a dessert to boot. Un-frickin-believable. This of course made getting started again a little difficult, but we soldiered on. We followed the winding track as it careered across the mountain bases and through a couple of ruins. The first (I think) was Willkarakay, which acted as a kind of port city, where people came to trade and rest on their way to other places. A few locals live here with their horses, donkeys, and even a lek of turkeys which was amusing to watch as we crashed through what surely must be their backyards. Although they weren’t exactly huge, the ruins were quite impressive as you imagined how it must have been several hundred years ago when the Incas were in full swing before the Spaniards came.

We continued to follow the track, admiring the scenery until we reached our first campsite at Wayllabamba. The porters had set up our tents, given us warm water to wash our faces and feet, a local indigenous woman came across with beers, and we sat down and admired the view from our tents. They fed us some popcorn and crackers for a snack and then another bloody four course meal for dinner at seven. They just stuffed us full of food, and really good tasting food at that!

I might digress for a moment to speak about toilets on the trip. Most of the time we had the luxury of pit toilets. Now, this wouldn’t be too bad, but unfortunately for some reason, people kept missing the hole. Now, I wish I was only talking about number ones. I wish. You essentially have to hold your breath, stifle your gagging reflex, close your eyes and squat chanting, it’s just mud, it’s just mud, it’s just mud. How freaking hard is it people?? Jeebus. Mind you, when we finally got to a place with toilets (no toilet seats though), I was wishing for pit toilets. It was less smelly (well, mostly), but I have discovered that after hiking for a few days it is much easier to squat over a pit toilet resting on your ankles than it is to squat in a semi-hunched fashion over a normal toilet. The burn on my thighs was unbearable. It was SO good to come back to the hotel and sit on a toilet, I tell ya!

The next morning we were up at 5 and ready to leave around 7 or so. Before we left we had an introduction to all the porters, many who were quite shy. We trundled off under the brilliantly bright cobalt blue sky and prepared ourselves for a tough day – we were ascending just over 1000m today, and some parts were going to be quite steep. Bring it!!

As we continued we started to watch the scenery change quite dramatically, from khaki mountains with small shrubs, to a forest which Zac lovingly referred to as the ‘twisty forest’. Beautiful trees with moss-encrusted branches that twisted their way across the canopy and down towards a small creek running near the track made this part of the trek quite pleasant despite the steep stairs. We stopped to wait a few times for the slower members of the group, but thankfully today we were allowed to go at our own pace and I finally got some lung-busting cardio as I ploughed my way up the haphazard stone staircase that wound through the forest, earning me the semi-nickname of ‘The train’. ‘Here comes the train!’ people would shout as I chugged past after waiting for everybody to get a good head start, though with Snuffy in tow with me. I love you calves.

We stopped for a snack in a valley before tackling the steepest part of the ascent, and it was nice to relax and look back at the track and the ant-like people crawling their way up towards us. But, up and off we went, turning our backs on the snow-capped mountains behind us and turning our attention to the looming track before us. We puffed and chugged and stopped and puffed and burned our lungs until we finally made it to the top. I stupidly decided to run the last little bit but nearly didn’t make it! I blame it on the altitude. If you didn’t already know, EVERYTHING can be blamed on altitude. Try it. We sat like conquering kings atop the highest point on the Inca Trail, Dead Woman’s Pass, named after the apparent woman’s body lying down (namely a breast with a nipple) in the mountains. Several photos and a lot of time later (waiting for the others, but what an accomplishment!) and we started our descent. John and Andrew decided it would be a great idea to RUN down the freaking mountain, bouncing from rock to rock which they claim is better for the joints than taking it slowly. I wasn’t really convinced either. Mel and I chugged behind the boys, ahead of the guides until we finally made it to camp. We relaxed and had dinner, to which unfortunately my poor boy couldn’t eat and started to get quite sick, even vomiting before he went to bed. We had a long day ahead of us the next day, so we tried to get to bed reasonably early. Unfortunately however, Andrew was only beginning his illness. At least every hour he was up in the freezing cold and vomiting or making explosive trips to the toilet. As a consequence, neither of us got much sleep and he was not in a good way to do the third day of the Inca Trail.

When we finally got up, we found out that a girl Bindi had the same problem and both her and Andrew skipped breakfast and took some medication, looking very worse for the wear. It was slow going this day, poor Andrew having to stop frequently. Thankfully he wasn’t sick again, but had no energy and lay down at every opportunity. Bindi wasn’t so lucky and was sick on the trail several times. Then John started to feel quite ordinary. We were a little frightened this thing was going to sweep through the group.

When we got to the ruins of Runkuraqay, Andrew and John lay down and skipped the lesson by Zac. I got many photos of the poor bastards lying down and feeling sorry for themselves. Mel and I were both suitably worried about the boys because neither of them tend to get sick, but we knew there was nothing that we could do. They just needed to rest, and unfortunately they couldn’t until they got to camp. They tried their best, taking short dozes whenever we stopped, once by a gorgeous little lake in a valley just before the second pass. When they finally got to the top, we were all a little proud of the three sick chicos, and took some time for them to rest and for us to admire the breathtaking scenery. Snow-capped mountains stretched out before us rising up out of a stream of fluffy white clouds and greenery below. The sky was still a vivid blue and the whole thing was quite postcard-esque. Mel and I climbed up to the very tip of the pass and took some photos, feeling like we were on top of the world, even though just the day before we were actually higher.

We had to descend another hour or so to lunch to which the absolutely lovely porters had rolled out three ‘mattresses’ for the sickys to lie on whilst we ate lunch. After they slept for about half an hour, they cooked up some special soup, tea and toast for them so that they could have something in their stomach. The care that they showed was just fantastic, I was thoroughly impressed. They really took very good care of the three and tried their best to help them through the day. We continued our descent down to our last camp site at Winaywayna, but not before stopping off at a couple of ruins, namely Phuyupatamarka where we got a group photo and ambled through the stone ruins whilst watching the clouds sink lower and lower.

The environment had by now taken on quite a remarkable transformation, as we were now hiking through rainforest. At one point I almost felt like I was in Fanghorn Forest and slim Ents would emerge from the trees to creak across the track. Various plants grew across the cobbled stone track and hung their moss-covered branches low enough for even me to duck.

The remainder of the descent was reasonably quick for me as I decided to take the advice of the guides and boys and run down the mountain because apparently it is easier on the joints. Miguel, the guide assistant, ran with us, and jesus h Christ that man can run! For a short stout little man, his legs blurred down the mountain in an almost comical fashion. It was hard not to watch him, but we couldn’t for fear of falling. You had to concentrate very hard on where to step, checking that your foot fell in a secure and not slippery place. We stopped a couple of times to allow others to catch up a bit, to take photos of the amazing scenery that we were running past and then kept going. Andrew was only about 5-10 minutes behind us, and still in front of the rest of the group, which was thoroughly amazing considering how ill he was.

We made it to camp a good hour ahead of the rest of the group and went to lie down in the tents to rest our poor little legs. At this stage I was believing the people on the whole ‘easier on your joints’ as my knees were feeling fine. We did get to have a squiz in the small museum they had there at Wiñay Wayna. They had a pretty good collection of bugs, birds, mammals, reptiles, including lots of native birds (even the toucan), loads of snakes and even some butterflies with holes in their wings.

This was a main camp where the vast majority of hikers camped before getting up to go to Machu Picchu, so they had a restaurant and even showers. We decided to pass because the hot water was apparently erratic, and really, what’s another day? Before dinner we went to the ruins there and sat there whilst Zac spoke, and then the gorgeous porters came out with hot water and tea and coffee. They are so beautiful!! We  couldn’t believe how well they looked after us. After this I went with a few of the group to the restaurant to play a card game named ‘shithead’, which I am happy to say that I won, despite never having played it before. Beginner’s luck or not, I am awesome.

Dinner was early and we went straight to bed because we had to get up at the horrible hour of 4am so that the porters could pack everything up and catch their train on time. We did have an absolutely lovely experience at dinner though – the thanking of the porters. After an amazing dinner (with extra special touches because it was the last one) all the porters squeezed inside the tent. One by one, they told us their names and what they carried. Each person received a very warm applause and cheering. We then all went around in a big circle and individually thanked and hugged each of the porters. It was such a loving, almost family feel that just left me with a big warm and fuzzy.

In the morning, we hung around until all the other groups had left, because apparently getting to the Sun Gate at sunrise is overrated and chances are it will be cloudy anyway. Another game of shithead and off we trekked, though unfortunately this time it was through the rain. Andrew was thankfully feeling a lot better and even played around with his poncho, declaring ‘no capes’ and bouncing off into the fog. That’s my boy.

Although it was raining it was quite warm, and pretty soon my poncho was stripped off and I preferred to get wet rather than endure the sauna under the poncho. It was a beautiful morning though, the thick fog hanging down through the vegetation and giving adding to the lure and mystery of the forthcoming Machu Picchu. Soon enough, we were approaching Intipunku, better known as the Sun Gates, giving you your first view of Machu Picchu. Up we ascended, holding our breath, to finally behold…..fog. Machu Picchu was well beneath this thick blanket which didn’t seem to want to lift. For about 5 minutes it started to thin and we could make out the shape of the ruined Inca city, but it closed over fairly quickly and we were forced to press on into one of the new seven wonders of the world.

As we continued to walk, the mountains in the background started to emerge out of the fog and we could intermittently make out the skeleton of the city. Far from being a disappointment, it added a wonderfully mystical feel to the city, shrouded in fog and awe. We waited at the guard house, hoping for it to clear, watching a few lazy llamas and playing with a very friendly dog.

When it finally lifted, it was breathtaking. The city unfolded before us through layers of fog, revealing its ancient stone walls and bright green grass. The numerous tourists detracted from this a little but not to the extent of Chichen Itza (which I just found out is also a new wonder of the world. Go figure. Well, it’s not exactly a scientific poll…). We wandered through, marvelling at the ruins and the final climax of our four day hike. After Zac gave us a quick run down on a few things, we went down to clear the checkpoint, get a stamp in our passport and grab a bite to eat before going on a 2-hour tour with Zac. He lead us around the city, telling us so, so much about the ruins. He told us theories about certain constructions and then offered us his own (most of the time I thought that his theories made more sense). Amongst the tidbits of information he told us; Machu Picchu means old mountain; more women lived here than men; it was a city for the rich and scientific (having a sundial and small pools for star worshipping); most of the city was not finished in construction, due to earthquakes and the Spanish invasion, destroying the Inca civilisation; half the stonework was very precise and very high quality, the top halves of buildings however tended to be rushed and much poorer quality; and many other things I can’t remember anymore.

There were a number of llamas wandering around, usually in the roped off areas, including the head honcho I-get-a-little-aggressive-so-I-have-to-be-tied-up llama who looked entirely regal as he sat there in his dominion.

I think the most beautiful thing about Machu Picchu was the background. Surrounded by young, steep tree-slathered mountains which were themselves oft enshrouded in fog just gave the place a feeling of reverence. I spent so long just staring out at the mountains, trying to remember to breathe and trying to think of more eloquent words than ‘wow’.

One notable place in the ruins was a small square with rocks carved to represent a condor. We followed Zac, taking WAY too many photos and just gaped at the ruins and their surrounds. Our two hour tour almost turned into three, and soon it was time to go. We left (but not before getting some very important llama photos – you’ll have to see the cusco album for that though – believe it or not, I couldn’t fit them into the TWO albums I had to create for this trip) and made our way down to Aguas Calientes for lunch. We had a good lunch then thanked Zac for his help (the bastards made me do it because I could speak the most Spanish in the group) and we trundled off to catch our train to Cusco. We piled onto the train, had a doze then caught a bus in Ollantaytambo again to get all the way to Cusco.

One downside to the trip was on the way home we saw an out-of-control motorcyclist hit a dog on the road. It only smashed its hind legs, but given that this is Peru, the dog probably wouldn’t survive. It was so horrible watching it yelp in pain as the c**t on the bike kept driving on. I wish that it had happened in Australia, so it could be taken to a vet and live to see another day. Thankfully though, Tito and Zac pulled over and abused the motorcyclist (whose bike was now not working a few kms down the road – karma on your ass you f**king asshole) and then later told the police about it so they will hopefully grab the guy.

We finally got back to the hotel and I jumped STRAIGHT into a warm, toasty hot shower and washed 4 days of filth off me. Unfortunately my shins had decided that running down the mountain was a very bad idea – as much fun as it was I really should have listened to my instincts, as it has confined me to lying down today because walking is excruciatingly painful. After the awesome shower we went out for dinner and had a fantastic steak (after their SECOND shot – Tito insisted that I return the first one – my steak was blue as blue and absolutely fantastic) and sides and a single mojito that made my head spin. The restaurant we ate in was really funky, loads of art covering all walls and the roof, even the toilets decorated – the boys with smashed mirrors and the girls with barbed wire and sculpted roses. To top it off, the tables were bathtub aquariums covered in glass so you could watch fish as you ate. Just awesome.

Today I’ve spent about 3 hours uploading crap whilst Andrew went out to Saqsayhuaman (pronounced Saxaywuman – almost sexy woman) and took a few photos before returning for an afternoon nap.

Big sigh. There it is ladies and gents, my Inca Trail trip. Just amazing. The scenery was stunning and the ruins amazing. Check the plethora of photos I’ve posted – apologies, but I just couldn’t fit them into one album. I’ve also updated the Cusco album a bit. Hope you’re all well and suitably green.

XX

Inca Trail part one

Inca Trail part two

 

Comments

1

If this were a book it would be a page turner. Wow, it looked & sounded amazing. Surely a highlight of the trip so far?!?! I would also like to say that I really like your approach to get people enticed to read your journal. Telling them to get food & drink, then talking about poo, gross toilets, vomit & dogs getting run over. You're a champion :) I loves you

  Chelsea May 27, 2008 10:33 AM

2

Mel,after reading this and looking at the photos I am, well, bowled over with awe - for all of you doing the trail, for the wildness and beauty of the mountains and the ruins and so sad that these talented people were vanquished.

Oh, and BTW, did you have to talk about those toilets JUST as I bit in to a meat pie type thing. EEEWWWWW

  Sally May 27, 2008 1:02 PM

3

So you think that people "approaching their 60's" and doing something like this an "amazing accomplishment". Should we be dribbling into our bibs and shuffling along with a Zimmer frame at this age?

  Dogbait May 27, 2008 4:33 PM

4

Dogbait,
I think you kinda missed the point. And yeah, I do.
Mel.

  mel_mel May 27, 2008 6:03 PM

5

Hi Mel, fantastic travelogue, you have inspired me, thank you! I am doing the Inca Trail mid September and then going on to the Galapagos (hopefully, haven't booked anything yet but hoping will pick up a tour from Quito). Have a question for you.....should I be wearing hiking boots or can I get away with a good pair of trainers do you think? Opinion seems to be varied in all the research I have looked at. Can you recommend some good footwear? Thanks. Jan

  Jan Stratford Aug 18, 2008 8:50 PM

6

Hi Mel, fantastic travelogue, you have inspired me, thank you! I am doing the Inca Trail mid September and then going on to the Galapagos (hopefully, haven't booked anything yet but hoping will pick up a tour from Quito). Have a question for you.....should I be wearing hiking boots or can I get away with a good pair of trainers do you think? Opinion seems to be varied in all the research I have looked at. Can you recommend some good footwear? Thanks. Jan

  Jan Stratford Aug 18, 2008 8:51 PM

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