The participants in no particular order:
Katie and Terrance – USA
Brendan and Natalie – Canada
Paddy and Orla – N Ireland
Geraldine and Ashley – USA
Paul and Tracy – UK
Not forgetting our brilliant guides Efrain “Ray” and Alejandro.
The people above made up our “family” for the trek of a lifetime through the wonderful Inca Trail to the famous Inca settlement, Machu Picchu. We booked the trip with G-Adventures and we would wholly recommend their service. Our guides Ray and Alejandro looked after us throughout the trip supported by a cast of hardy weathered mountain men who we became to know as the Porters.
The day before the Trail
Took us from Cusco to the mountain village of Ollantaytambo which nestles in amoungst dramatic mountain peaks. The journey was broken up by stops at archaeological Inca sites and a stop at one of G-Adventures Planterra projects. The Planterra is a mountain settlement supported by G-Adventures. The residents make traditional gifts in traditional ways and we wete able to observe how the mountain folk live, take pictures with the Llamas and Alpacas and buy gifts to take or post back home.
After arriving at Ollantaytambo we took a visit to some ruins and saw an Inca calendar. The calender consisted of a series of huge boulders, the sun’s rays bounced off the face of an adjacent mountain and projected a sun beam on to the boulders to indicate what time of year it was – amazing.
Day 1 – Inca Trail
We left the hotel at Ollantaytambo to begin our adventure at about 7am. A mini bus took us to the start of the trail where for the first time we saw the amazing Porters who were hurriedly making final preparations loading their enormous back packs with all the equipment we would need for the four day trek into the Andes. The porters are mostly local farmers who supplement their income by hauling huge back packs between the campsites. Each morning as we left camp the porters would arrive perhaps twenty minutes later. They stayed behind to dismantle the previous nights campsite, loading the equipment including the tents into their bags and then lugged everything at speed on to the next night’s campsite. As they appraoced the rear guards would shout “Porter” and we would stand aside to let them pass. Each evening as we arrived, the campsite was fully set up, there was a tent for each couple, a dining tent and further tents so that the porters could prepare food. The porters are superhuman, at lunch on day three I asked to feel the weight of one of their bags – I could hardly lift with two hands. I have no idea how those people can, in some cases run between campsites at altitude on steep ascents and steeper descents with such weight on their backs. Most porters wore sandals.
The first day was long and undulating, the sun shone throughout. Lunch was served in a quaint location by a stream. After lunch I had a brief siesta lying by the river listening to the sounds of the mountains. After a mosquito bite drew blood I regretted taking off my trousers in favour of shorts so I reversed the decision. The camp
site at the end of day one was on a ledge above a mountain farm. We retired for “happy hour”, popcorn and hot chocolate or coca tea. The sun went down and we donned head torches rearranged the contents of day packs ready for day two. We were warned that day two was the hardest section of the trail which would involve hiking to 4200 metres above sea level. We ate dinner before bed. The food prepared by the porter chef was delicious through the trek. Somehow in the middle of the mountains the chef was able, using camping equipment, to prepare meals such as river trout, a Peruvian version of lasagne and chicken and vegetables. Most meals were served with welcoming, much needed, restorative soup and there were deserts such as jelly, cake or even lemon meringue.
Day 2 – Inca Trail
There is no way of telling how altitude will affect a person. I was lucky, other than occasional breathlessness I was able to walk without much difficulty but some other members of the team struggled up to the highest part of the trail to Dead Woman’s Pass. Ashley heroically made it to the top. Ashley had struggled with nausea on the first day but hiked stoically on to conquer the mountain. I had arrived at the summit ahead of Tracy so tracked back to support her final push. It was clear that she was suffering too. Just before the summit she stopped and turned her back to me. Tracy was having “a moment” which was great to see, there can be no better sight than tears of accomplishment.
We dwelt for some time at the top to take photos. The Inca Trail is stunning, you can’t put your camera away. The views from the top of Dead Woman’s Pass were particularly amazing with the sun reflecting off distant mountains, some with snow capped peaks. We quickly began to lose warmth so we began our descent to camp through the natural beauty of the Andes whilst reflecting on our accomplishment so far.
During day two I had been offering the Porters Coca leafs out of a bag that I had bought with me. Almost every Porter obliged, gratefully stuffing a handful of leaves into their mouths to be stowed in their cheeks. Cocoa leaf is a stimulant that is supposed to help with altitude. Some people report a natural high after consumption but despite my attempts to chew large quantities I experienced nothing but a dry mouth and a pungent pretty unpleasant taste. Ashley was a fan of the coca leaf and given her accomplishment of summiting Dead Woman’s Pass whilst feeling ill it may be that the Coaca leaf does indeed have stimulant qualities.
Tracy and I got lucky at camp. Out tent was placed on a ledge with a “to die for” view out across the Andes. I doubt there is a better location to wake up and I wondered if the Porters had placed our tent in such a favourable position in thanks for the cocoa leaf donations earlier in the day. Ray had taught us about Karma in the mountains.
In the evening I was introduced to “shit head”, the card game which we played by gas lamp during happy hour. Each evening we retired to bed at about 8pm ready to wake early at 5.30ish to make headway before the intensity of the sunshine arrived.
Day 3 – Inca Trail
Day 3 was long but relatively flat, There were ascents but nothing like Dead Woman’s Pass. On the way to a lower summit I saw a man in the distance playing a wooden flute. The wooden “pan pipe” like sound echoing around the valley only added to the atmosphere. We saw a mountain dear near a mountain lake on the way to the top. As we got closer we realised the musician was Alejandro, one of our guides, he had run on to the top to serenade us as we laboured up another steep section of the trail.
Alejandro and Ray were the best guides we could have wished to have, both were passionate about the mountains and the history of the Inca people. We were treated to occasional speeches at key locations when the guides shared their knowledge about the history of the surroundings or the Inca ruins that we visited along the trail. Both were talented men, Allejandro’s ability to play the flute and make cricket croaks with his mouth was matched by Ray’s ability to make origami football shirts from tea bag packets. If Alejandro and Ray read this post – thank you, you were the best.
We were able to walk a stretch of the trail on out own before lunch and I used the opportunity to run to the lunch stop. It was amazing, I was running in the Andes!
As the beauty of day 4 came to a close and we approached camp, I had mixed feelings. I was full of anticipation for the next day for we would arrive at Machu Piccu but I was a bit sad that this wonderful experience was drawing to a close. If we got lucky at camp at the end of day 2 are luck ran out on day 3, our tents were perched on a ledge above the toilets and it stunk. A word about the toilets – they were bad, ceramic holes in the ground and you had to balance in a pool of – well lets leave it there. My Crocs need disinfecting, it was grim but all part of the adventure.
Day 4 – Machu Picchu
We awoke with anticipation at 3.30am and wondered down in the dark to join the queue outside the gate to the final section of the Inca Trail which opened at 5.30am. We had to wait in the dark for about 50 minutes. We got a good place towards the front of the queue. Approximately 200 people a day trek the trail and some of the campsites were communal where our team camped with other groups. Katie slept, I chatted to Terrance and the others were entertained by Alejandro’s artistic photos which he has taken during his many Inca treks. The photos were amazing, as I say – those men are talented.
The gate opened and we are off into the dawn. We had about 90 minutes to trek to the “Gringo Killer” steps which lead towards the final section to the sun gate. The sun had risen by the time we got to the sun gate but as often happens the magical view of Machu Picchu below was covered by cloud. Paddy, Alejandro and I ran on ahead to another vantage point where we hoped to beat the parting of the clouds, when we arrived it was still covered. We descended further to Pachamama rock where we were invited to place an offering to Pachamama before placing our hands on the rock so that Pachumama could transfer her energy to us for the final walk to Machu Piccu. Paddy’s offering went down well, as soon as he placed his hands on the rock a part of the rock face further along fell off, spooky!
We wonder on and at last we were rewarded with the famous post card view of one of the original wonders of the world. Our adventure through the mountains following in the footsteps of the Incas and Hiram Bingham had reached its conclusion. Our team effort was rewarded by conditions perfect for photographs. At first the cloud lingered for atmospheric shots and then dispersed for the picture postcard images which will remind us of a collective endeavour of fun, toil and achievement.
The rest of the day was spent celebrating with 8.30am beers before wondering around Machu Piccu. Our passport had been stamped periodically throughout the trail and just before we left we were able to get the fourth and final stamp to confirm that we had conquered the Inca Trail.
We got the train back to Ollantaytambo and a bus back to Cusco where we spent the evening together celebrating our achievement over dinner and learning to make Pisco Sours.
We thoroughly enjoyed the company of the friends we met on the Inca Trail and we hope if you have found this post that it reminds you of the great times we shared.
Paul & Tracy