The Trail of Kings....to Machu Picchu
Trip Start Oct 28, 2005
31Trip End Jun 23, 2006
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Well, The Inca Trail was something pretty hard not to have high expctations for - especially since it was earmarked by me as one of only two things i definitely wanted to do in all of south america (the other was iguacu falls)... everything else Ive loved here has just been an unexpected bonus. So, partly not to create those expectations, partly because of laziness and partly distraction...I didnt do a heck of a lot of research (yet again) before starting the trail. I had definitely intended, but didnt manage, to read about the history of the trail...but (this lesson i have learned) i did read every book i could get my hands on what to expect physically: 4 days walking, often in rain, over 3 passes (the highest at 4,200 m /13,780 ft), and cold nights - especially day 2 (down to -10C/14F in June)...so this time I was prepared. Jo, Cass & I decided to hire a porter to carry our gear, so we could fully enjoy the experience with as little pain as possible (my Bolivian climbing adventure has forever changed my view on paying for help in the mountains!)
Day 1: Promptly between 6:30 and 7:20 am, as the agency said, we piled into our minivan with 5 other trekkers, our guide Wayra, and some random Peruvian helpers, who may have just come along for the 3 hour ride. We were told our group would have 16 people, so when we reached the start of the trail and learned we were only a group of 8, i was quietly stoked. Just after we past the control gates, I realised we would have a pretty special 4 days. Wayra, a native Chechuan (the majority of people, the workers, that comprised the Incan empire were Quechuans - only royalty were called Incas), stopped the group so we could formally inroduce ourselves, learn about the geography of the surronding area, and pray to Pacha Mama (mother earth) and the important nearby Mountains - to show respect and ask for protection over the next 4 days. About 20 minutes later we learned about white little insects that live on the cacti - until they are squashed and used for war paint...which was smeared on all of our faces, kinda fun, kinda gross (blood of any sort smells foul). Anyway, the rest of the day was was a warm-up of about 4 hours, walking at first in the beautiful blue sunshine...then i saw dark clouds - lots of them - and took a deep breath...the guidebook didn´t lie when it said to prepare for rain year round. Fortunately, it was time for lunch, so as we ate - inside a big tent - the storm passed, and like magic, when it was time to finish the rest of the day´s 4 hour walk...no more rain :) I guess the mountains had heard my special prayer.
Day 2: This is notoriously the hardest day - 7 hours walking, 5 uphill, over the highest pass, then 2 hours down the steep other side. Somehow i never actually thought about what the walk (before Machu Picchu) would be like (I guess the no expectations thing was working for me)...so I was absolutely blown away by the stunning scenery - snowcapped mountains, lush greenery, walking alongside a flowing river - i kept thinking to myself this was the most beautiful walk I´ve ever done. And i laughed out loud about my prayer to the mountains - yesterday´s little shower had made the forested parts unbelievably green. And, there was a light cloud cover, which not only added to the moodiness of the day, but also prevented the hardest part of the trail from getting too hot. The 2nd half of the day´s ascent was exposed to the elements and at altitude was a killer for most people...(a few people are carried off the mountain each year due to heart attacks)...even the porters, which by the way were a hue part of the experience - seeing these guys (age 17-40+) carring these HUGE loads up the hills, running down them, wearing sandals - working SO hard, usually smiling. unbelievable. Anyway, I think the mountain in Bolivia must have not only affected my mind, but also my body´s tolerance for altitude & pain, because I didnt find the climb nearly as challenging as i had expected - even the 2 hours down the other side were fine on my knees - a very pleasant surprise.
Day 3: Another 5:30 wake up call, and stunning day - the longest if the trek. We walked from 7am to after 5pm, but had some special stops along the way. We saw 3 ´Archeological sites´ (not ´ruins´) en route, which blew my mind. They were absolutely stunning and had an feeling, an energy of wisdom about them that is hard to describe. At one of them, we each had a Quechuan baptism, so we could enter Machu Picchu tomorrow with respect for the sacred site. I was baptised K´illa (pronounced Key-ya) meaning Moon, which I quite liked. Most of the afternoon walk was through a cloud forest again reminding me this was the most beautiful walk - ever. We finally reached camp about 5ish, and even though we had the opportunity for the first shower in 3 days, I had kinda become accustomed to being dirty and it didnt seem quite right to freshen up too much before the final day - after all, I don´t think the Incas showered en route :) For our final dinner, the porters & cook whipped up the most amazing feast - 3 tables flled with delicious food, which our group couldn´t even come close to finishing, so we shared with the crew of porters as we all said a few words of appreciation for their hard work. After dinner i was pretty shattered, and was about to head off to bed, but ended up chatting with Wayra and a few of the porters, and as an added bonus, I finished the day with a heavenly foot massage- i guess smelly feet are pretty normal - and everything is relative...i did have fresh socks on. :)
Day 4: The 4am wakeup call was pretty hideous, but as soon as we walked on from the control gate at 5:30, i quickly forgot the time, and was blissfully walking along in the blueish pre-dawn light with a giddy grin...the moody clouds, last night´s full moon nowhere to be seen...only snow capped mountains peaking above the clouds in the distance...when we arrived at the sun gate, i didnt understand the sighs of dissappointment all around...it was stunning. But, Machu Picchu was nowhere to be seen...just a blanket of fog & cloud in the valley below. Still, everyone was snapping photos. Meanwhile Wayra was whispering prayers to the mountains, sun, and who knows what else...and we did the only logical thing we could think of...blow away the clouds. Im not sure if the praying or the blowing worked - maybe it was the combination of the 2, but after about an hour (when nearly all of the other groups walked on), the clouds started to lift...little by little (like a strip tease - according to 68 year old Ron)... just in time for the sun to rise abov the surrounding mountains and shine on the sacred city. Yet again, we were all in awe of the perfect weather...sun, moody clouds...and a heavenly view of one of the most awe inspiring places Ive seen. After meandering down the last hour of the path to Machu Picchu...we had a tour of the ancient (but now perfectly manicured) city, watched hilarous Llama banter in the grassy square, and had some time to wander around before it was time to walk the last 1200 or so steps down to Aguas Calientes...the little town where we would say our goodbyes to our group and hop on our train to Cusco. But not without a quick stop first at the thermal pools, which were exactly what I needed...
From Cusco, we headed to Nasca to see the famous Nasca lines (awesome unexplained archeological phenomenon in the desert), and today arrived in Huacachino...an oasis (literally) in the middle of the Peruvian desert, surounded by huge dand dunes. We plan to spend the next few days relaxing, sand boarding, and enjoying the stunning new landscape. I fly from Lima to Mexico city in 4 days. I will be sad to say goodbye to South America...but happy to say hello to Sadie (my friend from NY i met in Buenos Aires)and the next part of my adventure...