The Inca Trail

Trip Start Nov 17, 2010
Trip End Feb 27, 2011

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Where I stayed
Inca Trail
What I did

Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Saturday, January 15, 2011

15/01/2011 - Saturday
Got up at 3:45am, left our backpacks in the hostel storage room and left for our meeting spot near the plaza.  Once we arrived at the bus, we quickly found a seat and fell asleep until we reached Ollaytaytambo town, where we went into a holiday house and had breakfast.  I had bought some cup noodles for us from the supermarket, called "Souper Meal", which the Austrians (and German) ate sandwiches.  I'm pretty sure they were jealous.

Another 30 minutes driving and we reached Kilometer 82, the start of the traditional Inca Trail.  There were 8 people in our tour group, and about 14 porters for us.  These porters are local Quechua people, who are very strong and quick, while carrying about 20 KG of equipment.  This includes our tents, food, cooking equipment, tables, stools, water, towels and a range of other things.  Since we didn't have our own sleeping bags, we hired sleeping bags through the company, as well as sleeping mats.  This was carried in one bag by one of the porters.  There was also a chef porter.

One of the main reasons we chose Llama Path was because of the way they treat their porters.  When the Inca Trail first began to attract tourists, many local people came from all over Peru to work as porters, but they also spent all their earnings on gambling, alcohol and lived in bad conditions.  Llamapath, however, provide the porters with lodging, as well as managing their finances and give them adequate living support.  They also promote a good team ethic with the porters; while other companies let their porters go at their own pace, whether by themselves or as a group, Llamapath porters walk together as a group with a designated head-porter.  They also dress in all red, and are nicknamed the "Red Army".

Our main guide was called Cassiano, a Cusqueño who had been in the tour business for many years.  He spoke perfect English and was full of facts. 

The first day of the trek covered 12 kilometres of walking, which was relatively easy, with some uphill sections but none that were too steep. Halfway through the walk we stopped in a small village for lunch, where the porters set up tents for eating in, as well as pans with water for cleaning up.  We all had a small lie down and then set off again.

Late in the afternoon we reached our campsite, located at about 3000 metres altitude.  This is known as "Campsite B".  There were toilet facilities nearby as well as running water, and we were surrounded by tall mountains on all sides.  On one peak there was a glacier which was occasionally visible through the clouds.

For dinner we had a four course meal, complete with desserts and drinks.  There was even Milo, much to our delight.  We played a few rounds of 'Bullshit', a card game we picked up, however most people play with different rules.  Everyone was in bed by 9pm.

That night I woke up at about 1am feeling extremely cold, had a killer headache and a bad fever, so put on some extra clothes, took some ibuprofen and went back to sleep.

16/01/2011 - Sunday
I woke up feeling much better in the morning, and we were packed up and ready to go before 7:30am.  The second day contained most of the hard walking - 16 kilometres and two steep ascents.  The first is from 3000m (our camp) to the 4200m high Dead Woman's Pass, then down again to 3550m for lunch before climbing again to almost 4000m.

The trail from our campsite was narrow and windy, going through the trees.  We were passed by a pack of llamas carrying supplies uphill, and once we were above the treeline there was a small flat area where local women were selling softdrinks and snacks.  We were told that they make the trip up there every morning from the village we had passed the day before.

The rest of the trail up until Dead Woman's Pass wound through the valley on one side of the mountain, and seemed never ending, however Oliver and I lead the charge and eventually made it up to the top, 3 hours after leaving the camp.  After a bit of rest at Dead Woman's Pass, we began descending on the other side.  Because the Austrians had their large 10kg backpacks, while Oliver and I were only carrying daypacks, the descent was much easier for us, and we practically raced down all the way to our lunch spot, and waited some 40 minutes before the rest of the group arrived.

After lunch we began the second ascent, not before changing out of long pants and into shorts.  This proved a good choice as soon after we left camp it began to rain.  I tried out the poncho I had bought in Cusco, and it did the job.

Halfway down the second descent, we stopped to check out the views of the valley below us, and also visited an Incan ruin just off the trail, about a kilometer from the campsite.  Our guide Cassiano told us how the Incans had a warning system with torches, and from each Incan outpost they could communicate very quickly to signal if there were intruders.

That night I had another mild fever and headache, and my ibuprofen supply was beginning to run low.

17/01/2011 - Monday
The toughest part of the trek was out of the way, and the third day was relatively cruisy.  It consisted of about 10 kilometres of walking, with views of the Salkantay range, trekking through the cloud forest, and visiting more Incan ruins.  We descended down through some Incan terraces that were used for farming; for each level there were stone steps sticking out of the side of the terrace. 

The trail that we took was actually a newly discovered trail, and only uncovered maybe 20 years ago.  Before that, a different and much longer trail was taken.  Our guide pointed out the trail to us, and it was extremely hard to spot as the vegetation had reclaimed most of it.

We reached our final campsite early in the afternoon.  The campsite was located on the side of a mountain range, and we could see the Urubamba river further down, as well as the trail leading to Aguas Calientes that tourists take for the 1 day Inca Trail tour.

At the campsite there was also a hall with showers, a bar and eating area.  We visited the nearby Wiñay Wayna site, which had springs and baths that still had water flowing after hundreds of years.  By this stage I was feeling quite cold and the fever was coming back, so I headed back early to lie down.  One of the Austrians was a nurse, and she gave me some medicine with a German name, however they couldn't think of the English translation so I'm still not sure what it was.

After dinner we put together a tip for the porters, and had a small gathering to thank them.  In order to reach Machu Picchu we had to trek the final 5 kilometers, however that section of the trail doesn't open until 5:30am.  Since we were an ambitious bunch, we set our alarm clocks to 3:45am, with the aim of getting to the gate first at 4:30am.

18/01/2011 - Tuesday
Surprisingly nobody slept in, and at the precise time of 4:30am we were all waiting in the dark at the locked gate.  Realising we still had 1 hour to wait, some of us left our bags there to go back to camp and brush our teeth or use the bathrooms.  By 5am other groups began to arrive.

I forgot to mention, apart from a bit of rain on the second day the weather had been better than we could have imagined.  However, it began to rain this morning, so we all got out our rain jackets and ponchos.  Luckily there was some cover at the locked gate.

Once the gate was opened we charged through, each person going at their own pace.  Most of the time I walked with Oliver and one of the Austrians.  Along the trail we saw the result of a landslide that happened a few weeks prior.  A massive area of land about 20 metres across had slid down the side of the mountain, taking down trees and everything in its path.  Luckily it occured while the trail was closed, otherwise there would have been lives at risk.

We stopped at the Sun Gate, which was supposed to be where we would catch our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, except it was still raining and there was a heavy fog all around.  By then we were all totally drenched and the poncos did little to keep the water out.  I felt like I was carrying a few litres of water in each shoe.

We encountered more llamas on the path on our way into Machu Picchu, and evetually after two hours of walking in the rain we had finally reached it.  I ate a celebratory Snickers which I had carried since Cusco.

Continued in the next post...
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