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Ramblings on the Road

The Energy of the Incas

USA | Wednesday, 12 November 2014 | Views [94]

Hiking is very levelling for the ego, especially at high altitude.  You can think you’re strong enough, tough enough, fit enough, experienced enough and knowledgeable enough to handle anything, but sometime your body or the environment presents you with obstacles that give you no choice but to slow down while others around you power on.  This is not a sign of weakness by any means but rather a lesson in acceptance. 

We started our Inca Trail trek at 9am and arrived at camp at around 4:30pm on the first day, stopping  only for a late lunch and a few other short drink breaks.  The terrain was not overly challenging and allowed us to suss out each other’s pace and to enjoy the scenery.  There were 6 of us on the trek accompanied by a very experienced, friendly and knowledgeable guide and 12 Peruvian porters.

 Regulations dictate that porters can carry up to 20 kgs each including a 6kg bag from each of us.  To watch them go up and down the mountains with such speed, agility and stamina is nothing short of inspiring and they were at camp hours before us to set up our tents and organise our meals, which, may I add, catered for all of our personal dietary requirements as well!  Only one of them spoke some English with the others speaking Spanish, Quechua or a little of both.  Over the next few days we would get to know them a little better and thanks to the initiative and open-hearted curious nature of my tent-mate, a fellow Aussie, we even started to have a language exchange with them one night while they were setting up for our dinner: we taught them to count to 7 in English and they reciprocated in Quechua (there were 7 places at a table which we used as our visual cues).

Having been briefed on the whole trek before we left and given a map of the trail, we were all aware from the beginning that day two was going to be the biggest test of our endurance.  At an altitude of 4210m, the first of three passes (summits), ominously namely ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ (even though no woman has actually died there- she was just resting), was the highest point on the trail.  To get there involved a 6am start and about 3-4 hours of continuous climbing up, up, up into the fog.  Paula, my ‘tenty’ (I can’t really call her my roomy considering our accommodation) and I broke away from our group early and played tag with other trekker as we all set our own pace and rested at different times only for a few minutes, or seconds when a suitable place presented itself to move off the path.  This was especially important when it came to the porters.  The number one rule of the trail is stay to mountain’s side unless overtaking, so when the call of “PORTERS COMING!” was heard, we all moved over quickly as 2, 10 or 20 porters in their designated group colour stormed past us in a single file. The closer we got to the summit, the more frequently I needed to stop, sometimes only walking 5 more steps up at a times before I stopped to take a couple shallow breaths and continued on my way.  I had no idea how much further I had to go- all I could see ahead was fog but I could hear the joyful cheer s and rousing encouragement of those who had made it.  And then, at last, while counting chacha in my head to keep a strong, positive rhythm, I saw the welcoming smiley faces of trekkers sitting amid the rocks and I too could celebrate, rest and refuel in the fog and cold. 

After the rest of our group had arrived and some obligatory photos taken, my ‘leash’ was extended a little more as our guide trusted me and my ability to let me go ahead down the pass at my own pace (which I maintain was possible because I didn’t have poles) earning me the nickname Speedy Gonzales.  The path was open and my spirits high, and I began to swing down the rocky path, not like a monkey but like a dancer.  I think it was my practice with breathing from yoga that got me up the mountain and my dancer’s balance and rhythm that helped me down.  I started humming a Lindy Hop song that I dance to a lot and then just went with it, letting it dictate the speed and combination of my steps.  The trail was fortunately uncrowded and except for regular groups of porters that I moved out the way for, and who I admit I was trying to keep up with in some parts, I was not at all inhibited: it was just me and the mountains: feel that energy!     

We expected our destination, Machu Picchu, to be the highlight of our four day trek, but while I can’t speak for the others, for me it was actually Winay Wayna, a ruin below a mountain-side of terraces that stood overlooking a valley.  It was about a 10-minute walk away from our campsite on day three and, having no crowds, was resonating with restorative energy. I came prepared, armed with a notebook and pen, and found a comfy spot to sit, listen and write.  Inspiration came from many channels.  I thought about the Incas who built all the terraces and stone structures that were now crumbling ruins amid the trees in the mountains- incredible.  I thought about our journey over the last three days with all the cultural and physical challenges along the way- uplifting.  And I thought of my own travels throughout the last 5 months and 10 years: all the places I’d been, things I had learnt and people I had been fortunate enough to cross paths with- gratifying.  There was probably a sooky la la moment there too as is common when one is given time to take stock, but it is all part of it, it is all good.   I didn’t want to leave Winay Wayna and could have quite happily slept there, but life is not static with circumstances being ever changing and forcing us to move on.   I took one last deep breath of mountain-side energy and went back to camp for dinner feeling energised for the final day of our trek and whatever was to come next.

Day four: 4am- We were awoken as usual by our porters who had brought us hot coca leaf tea and a bowl of warm water for washing.  I had come to love the bitter, earthy taste of coca leaves, but knowing that they are illegal in most other countries due to their other use: making cocaine, I always knew this was one tradition that I would have to savour in the here and now.  By 4:30 we were packed up and sent off with a bag of snacks to walk by torchlight to the checkpoint marking the way to the Sungate.  Today we all walked together.  No one rushed ahead and we left no one to catch up behind us.  Where in the past few days I had used swing, today it was the staccato rhythm of tango that was most useful. 

It took us about an hour to get up to the Sungate from which point we should have been able to view Machu Picchu from above.  However, as a result of the early morning fog that had not yet lifted (it was only 7am after all), we just stood there in hope and exhausted exhilaration with our cameras at the ready as we caught glimpses of it through the moving cloud. 

After having some breakfast and taking a few happy snaps to mark this once in a lifetime feat, we walked down to Machu Picchu to be reunited with the rest of our tour group.  We were all beaming from ear to ear and there were hugs aplenty shared.  Our trek guide gave us all a tour of the ruins after a quick ban͂o (bathroom) stop (best 1 sol I have even spent!!!) pointing out the different functions and building methods of the stone structures, which left us marvelling in the engineering prowess of the Incas. At the end of all this, I was once again nominated to give the thank you speech to our guide, after also thanking our porters last night, as my profession, Spanish ability (the best in the group surprisingly- bahaha) and way with words through my love of writing suggested that I possessed the necessary skill for such an important task, which I happily accepted.  I think I said one sentence in Spanish before having to revert to English in order to convey our heart-felt gratitude and appreciation for four fantastic days that were sure to stay in a special part within us forever.  Even though I couldn’t shower, had to pee in a bucket and didn’t sleep more than 4 hours on any of the nights, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am now keen to do more multi-day treks: I think it just comes down to the joys of being ‘al naturale’. 

While day one, two and three had been about the journey and accepting our physical limitations, to get use off the carousel of comparison by believing we were enough and all had a different level of ‘our best’ , day four was very much about the destination and accepting the awe-inspiring natural and constructed scenery that we bear witness too. It was interesting to see those people who did not do the trek go back to town straight after the tour, whereas Paula and I just wanted to sit and stroll around the ruins and absorb the energy of Machu Picchu, despite the crowds.  We also took some photos…okay, a LOT of photos…  Well, we were probably only going to be there once and in the digital age there is no harm in snapping a few more with the plan to edit them later.  Then we just sat and chilled, not needing to say anything as our sentiments were surely shared.  How fortunate we were to have four rain free days at the beginning of the rainy season, to have such an experienced, congenial guide and 12 porters who were amazing in spirit and in stamina, to have been there and completed the trail as guides tell stories that not long ago people had been ambushed, fallen to their death, or suffered altitude sickness on the first day and had to be quickly evacuated, so the risks are certainly very real.  When we arrived back into Machu Picchu town, we had barely stepped off the bus when the heavens opened and it poured with rain.  We looked at each other and laughed: How lucky were we!

Tags: inca trail, macchu picchu, peru, trekking

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