The Inca Trail

Trip Start Sep 03, 2004
Trip End Dec 22, 2004

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Sunday, September 19, 2004

So, we made it!

What you are about to read is the adventure of two (not-so-fit) people who went, unprepared, on the hardest physical challenge of their lives, who moaned, froze, laughed, cried (well, Jillian did) and ached the whole way along the Inca Trail, but who both said how amazingly worth it it was! The Road to Machu Picchu...

The Inca trail, 8 days Lima to Cusco

Day 1: Lima

The first day was in Lima, a meeting with a "GAP Adventures" representative (the company we booked the tour with), who talked us through the itinerary of our tour. We met the other members of our group, who were all, honestly, really really nice. Alicia and Marla, two chatty American attorneys, Shelley and Jamie, a lovely couple from England, Mary and Lester, Mum and Dad of the group from New Zealand, Sam and Rebecca, another lovely couple from Chicago, Donna and Paul, brother and sister from LA, Sigrid and Ragnhild, 2 girls from Norway and Alan and Bart, 2 Canadians who arrived the next morning. We all shared a Pisco Sour Mix (a strong, traditional Peruvian drink) and headed for an early night.

Day 2: Lima to Cusco.

The most of the day was spent in the airport waiting on our flight. Apparently we should have been expecting delays to Cusco because of weather conditions, gave us a good chance to get to know each other better. When we finally arrived in Cusco airport (3,400m above sea level) an obviously wealthier city of Peru, we were greeted by a traditional pan-pipe playing Peruvian band, one of many we were about to encounter...oh the panpipes, we can still hear them! Our guide for the Inca Trail, Dimas, met us at the airport and took us to the Prisma hotel in Cusco where he first introduced us to Coca Tea. Coca tea is made from coca leaves, which when processed and mixed with other chemicals is turned into cocaine! Now, parents, before you start to get worried, although illegal in most other countries, coca leaves are not drugs, they merely help with altitude sickness, and are something which the great Incas having been chewing for years! We didn't even figure out what it was until a few days after drinking the tea!

Altitude sickness was something we both suffered from immediately in Cusco, well, not sickness exactly... There were tablets to help, though. We separated from the group to go for dinner and have a stroll round Cusco, a beautiful city, the historical capital of Peru with beautiful buildings and cobbled streets. We got a few provisions in for the Inca trail - wooly hats and toilet roll, we were in for it...

Day 3: Tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

We set off from Cusco to tour some Inca sites, the first one being Sacsayhuaman (Sexy Woman!). This was an Inca site looking over Cusco. When the Spanish colonisers came they found most of the Inca sites (but not Machu Picchu) and destroyed them, believing they were against everything that Christianity stood for. With the stones they stole from the Inca sites they made churches etc and even went as far on this site to erect a statue of Jesus Christ, a bit like the one in Rio, but much smaller!

The bus stopped for a few photo opportunities - traditionally dressed locals held baby llamas and cute Peruvian children with big brown eyes posed for the cameras, and different types of llamas strolled about the mountains. We also stopped off at a few markets where we picked up a few beautiful hand-made souvenirs. The main Inca site we visited that day was apparently a slight "training" for the next few days, slight, we say with retrospect! The funniest thing was that the both of us were in sandals, me in jelly flip flops while other members of the group were fully clad in top-toe hiking gear, we still made it! We learnt a lot from our guide about the Inca farming techniques and their clever water ways, their style of building and astrological knowledge.

We ended the day in Ollantaytambo where there was a massive Inca site in the shape of a llama and a puma, sacred animals that the Incas worshipped. We saw more evidence of the amazing skill the Incas built their civilisation with - everything was carved granite and put together withour mortar, what's more, the granite they used was not available in the surrounding area, meaning they'd carried massive stones from miles away! This city was pretty mystical, whatever way the sun shone at certain significant times of the year, different shapes were created, even a pyramid, and different areas of the city would be lit up on significant dates. On the mountain opposite were Inca grain stores, and the face of the Inca god was carved into the mountain. The most amazing thing on this mountain, though, was the outline of an Inca, which was not carved, a totally natural shape in the mountian - some say the Incas were aliens!

We stayed in a cosy lodge in Ollantaytambo and drank more Coca tea! This was to be our last comfort for the next few days...

Day 4: The first day of the actual Inca Trail - the hardest!

We left the lodge at around 6am and drove by bus to Km 82 (2,750m above sea level), the starting point of the Inca Trail. After buying our invaluable bamboo walking sticks and last provisions, we set off on the hardest adventure yet! Actually, the first half of the day was ok, flat walking with beautiful scenery of the river and mountains, and passing through villages where the locals only speak Quechua, the language of the Incas. We stopped for lunch where the amazing porters, who carried around 25 kilos each on their backs, wearing only sandals, had the tents and lunch alrady prepard for us. After lunch, though was a different story! It was up hill all the way, so steep, so far, so hard! Altogether we walked for around 9 hours on this first day, 18km in total. At around 5 Andy arrived at the camp, followed by an emotional Jillian at 530 - I swear, it was the hardest most challenging thing I've ever done and I just burst into tears with relief, not having to walk any more for 1 day.

The camp (3,800m), though, was right under a snowy mountain with no shelter! Help us! It got dark really quickly and even quicker it got cold, very, very, very cold. It was like a competition to see who could wear the most clothes! The whole group huddled into the "dining tent" to keep warm with a bottle of rum - polished off, dare we say, by Mary! Off to bed to get as much rest as imaginable before another day of trekking.

Day 5: Second day of hiking

We were awoken by the porters at 7am with a cup of coca tea and a basin of hot water, our only method of being remotely warm, seeing as the tents had frozen over! It was a quick wash indeed, because you couldn't stay bare skinned for too long in those conditions. Breakfast passed only too quickly before we'd to start again - the first stage of the day being to the highest point - a 2 hour trek to "Dead Woman's Pass" at 4,200m above sea level!!! Dead Woman's Pass was aptly named by the Peruvians because the peak of the mountain is sort of in the form of a woman's breast, not as Jillian feared, because so many women had died trying to conquer it! Why couldn't they just call it "Lying Down Woman's Pass"??? It was a real sense of achievement when you finally got to the top, though it tok us a while because of the altitude, so hard to breathe (the pain and anxiety still close to our hearts) and the whole group cheered each other on and applauded every time another member made it. We got a really nice group photo from up here.

After a short break, it was downhill until lunch, then again, up, up ,up!!! The second half of the trail was mostly steps, but we went up so high (4,000m) we were actually in the clouds and could only see a couple of metres infront of us. It also started to rain and so going down again the steps got pretty slippy - thank heavens for our trusty walking sticks! Going down hill was so much more relaxed ad gave us the opportunity to bond properly with the rest of our group - we shared such a great experience together.

At the end of the day's walking (12km in total) we went to another interesting Inca site which was in the cloud forest and from up there you could look down into a part of the Peruvian cloud forest which is still today totally unexplored - a refreshing thought when you think of the destruction of most of the world's nature. The camp (3,600m) for our second night was a little more sheltered, but the snowy mountains were, once again, right behind us! It was a great feeling, though, knowing we were over half-way to Machu Picchu and that we'd only one more day to walk, if we could manage it!

Day 6: Third day of hiking, and the most beautiful.

We started our last real day of hiking at 8am. Dimas, our guide, told us that it'd be mostly flat ground today. Well, I'd hate to see his idea of steep. The scenery along the way was, once again, amazing. We got a falcon flying on camera. There were more Inca sites along the way too, God knows what posessed the Incas to live so high up, well actually, it was for defence from attacks by rival tribes. Jillian and I decided to take it much easier today, quite a lot of the group thought likewise. We chatted to Jamie and Shelley most of the way, and had a right giggle.

There were quite a lot of insects along the way - bright yellow butterflies, bright red ad brown butterflies, and of course, mosquitoes. We also noticed a lonely bunch of what looked very similar to shamrocks! We arrived at the camp much later than the rest of the group because we really wanted to take the scenery in and enjoy the walk rather than huff and puff our way to an early night! At this camp (2,650m) there were actually hot showers, but we, among a few others, decided to stay stinky and enjoy life in the great outdoors. It was a lot milder here, and so we were able to get a proper rest. After dinner, there was a presentation for the porters, what we thought was a way for us to thank them by voluntarily giving a tip. However, the guide produced what looked like a logbook and proceeded to tell us what we had given "wasn't enough". This made us think that the porters don't actually get paid by GAP and that the wages they earn for all the hard work they do is dependant on whatever tip the tourists give - pretty sad! Anyway, they sang us all a song about Sacsayhuaman in Quechua and we clappd them on.

Day 7: Machu Picchu - we made it! WOW!!!

Maybe we should just let the photos speak for themselves!

The day started at 4am, so we could get there for sunrise. The whole group found the energy from somewhere to go at a quick pace today and the feeling of finally making it there was something else. Altogether, we spent around 4 hours touring Machu Picchu itself and learning the history of how it was found... don't want to spoil it for any of you who want to do this tour in the future, so we'll leave it at that...

The both of us were just so impressed and awed by the whole ruins and took a wee half hour just to sit in silence and reflect on our adventure on the Inca trail in the majestic site of Machu Picchu. The weather that morning was beautiful, really sunny and hot, apparently we had been really lucky the whole way, and to top it off, a half hour after we left Machu Picchu the rain began - the Inca Sun god had rewarded us!

An adventure well worth every sore muscle in our bodies!

Day 8: Last Day of tour, ending in Cusco.

We'd like to thank the rest of our group for making this adventure even more special, and Dimas, the Speedy Gonzales of Peru... we'd just like to say... "Rapido!".

A very weary but very proud and very amazed Andy and Jillian
(Sorry for the length!)
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