Inca Trail

Trip Start Sep 27, 2005
Trip End Mar 07, 2006

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Well I´m recovering from the Inca Trail. The walking lasts 4 days, covers 42 km (just over 26 miles) or roughly a marathon, starts at 2750m (9000 feet) climbs to a maximum altitude of 4200m (13,700 feet) above sea level, takes in 7 Inca sites and ends at Macchu Pichu. We had guides whose job it was to include lots of information about the Inca sites and the way of life of the people who still live in the area, 22 porters to carry all of the tents, cooking equipment and up to 7 kg (15lb) of our personal belongings and most importantly a cook and assistant cook who made breakfast, lunch and dinner on a tiny range for about 50 people and excelled which what they dished up.

The first day was quite easy and included the Inca site of Llactapata. It was a day of slow climbing but wasn´t too tiring and we were able to keep together as a group. It was our introduction to what the porters could do as they ran passed us twice in the day. The first time to make our lunch and the second to prepare the campsite and dinner. They each carry about 27kg (60lb) and everything is divided between them to make it as even as possible but watching a man carry a gas canister and cooking range on his back does make you appreciate that you only carry 2l (4 1/2 pints) of water, a hat and a jersey incase of cold.

The second day started at 6am with a porter bringing a hot water to your tent and asking if you want coffee, te or coca tea. Coca tea helps with the altitude and is very nice once you get used to it. I was up to 5 cups a day by the fourth day. Then a basin of water was provided for you to wash and then it was breakfast time. This day started with porridge and everyone wolfed it down with gusto despite the lack of milk and brown sugar. Then came the hard part, the climb to Dead Woman´s pass. This took me 3 1/4 hours despite being on 5km (3 1/4 miles) long. It was the 1200m (4000 feet) climb that was the problem. It may not sound much but the altitude you start at makes you breathless unless you are acclimatised so it is very hard. The fastest time by anyone in our group was 2:25 and I was 10th of 23 so I was pleased with my performance but I did have the advantage of walking on my own for most of it and being able to walk at a sensible pace which meant that I walked without stopping for about 2/3´s of the climb. From the top of the pass it was all downhill to the campsite for the night and for lunch which was at 2:30 so we were all famished. We camped in a valley with the Inca site of Runkuraqay above us. In this place we experienced the first bad weather of the trail. At Dead Woman´s pass it was very cold but we were high up, at the campsite we were at 2900m (9,400 feet) up and we had clouds rolling up the valley and enveloping us in mist then as they rolled on the beauty of the valley was again revealed. This is the thing that really keeps you going on the hard bits; the landscape is awe inspiring and hard to believe you are so high up.

The third day of the trail started with complaints about breakfast. We were all hoping for porridge again but got pancakes instead. When someone complained they were told that normally groups disliked porridge! After this small spate we had the first of two cultural days visiting 4 Inca sites, Runkuraqay, Sayacmarca, Phuupatamarca and Winaywayna. The day rolled along as we dropped down in height overall but had to go over several passes in between. Each of these sites was associated with the walk from Cusco to Machu Picchu and Inca penitents were required to visit the temples in order to expiate their sins. Each of the sites is divided into 3 areas, religious, domestic and agricultural and the guide did well in explaining it all to us.

The fourth day started at 4am with the porters waking us with coca tea. Then it was 4:30 breakfast and we started walking at 5am. However we walked for 10 minutes and then stopped at a control gate that limits the number of people on the trail each day and makes sure people have tickets. The gate opened at 5:30 and we then walked for an hour and a half uphill to reach the Intipunka or Sun Gate. From here you could see the city of Macchu Pichu for the first time. From here it was downhill to the city and a group photograph overlooking the city. We walked down to another control and then had a second breakfast of a bacon and egg roll at a cafe. Then it was a 2 hour guided tour of the major parts of the citadel (see pictures for more info.) If we hadn´t walked enough we then walked down the hill from Macchu Pichu to Aguas Caliantes for lunch in a pizzeria. Unfortunately one of our party had their camera stolen in the restaurant and lost all of their pictures from the Inca Trail and Macchu Pichu but this was the only bad point of a wonderful day. Now came the hardest part of the trip so far, to complete the 24 hour challenge and stay up until 4am without catching a nap of any kind. I managed this after a shower at the hotel in Cusco (the first since the day before the start of the Inca Trail and most of the party were in the same boat) and then having a nice Shephard´s pie in the world´s highest Irish owned pub before hitting the nightclubs of Cusco and getting home just after 5am. A long, tiring but fantastic day and full of a lifetimes memories.
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