The Inca Trial

Trip Start Sep 06, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Cusco. The historical capital of the Incas.   This was to be our base for a few days so us fragile westerners could acclimatize to the altitude.  We had actually been higher than this in Bolivia but its always good to take things easy I think.  It did take us about an hour to climb the fifty or so steps to our hostel but only because when we did take a breather half way up, all the ladies selling their embroided cloths and knitted gloves would pounce on us and we wouldnt be able to escape.  The hostel we stayed in was a home from home with big breakfasts of cakes, croissants, cakes and more cakes although i was starting to miss a good old fry up!  If you are ever there check out the   Also before you go on the trail, stock up on coca goodies for altitude sickness at the in Cusco owned by Christo a great guy and who is trying to push coca in Peru towards the future.   

A couple of days later and we were ready for our Inca trail.  With 8 Snicker bars (Cath really does have to cut down on her chocolate) some nuts, dried fruit, crisps and biscuits, there was hardly anyroom for anything like ponchos, torches, bog roll, cameras so after a long hard and painful think, I decided to leave 6 pack behind.  We were briefed the night before by our guide Santiago Castello, great name, who was a really nice guy.  Due to fellow travellers panicking me back in Argentina and telling me that if I hadnt booked my Inca trail 3 months in advance that we wouldnt be doing an Inca trail, I somehow managed to book us both with quite a posh tour group.  Images of sterotypically fat middle aged rich yanks started to appear in my head. However Santiago explained that the group would be small just four of us actually and so alittle bit calmer than the normal 18.  Then he told us that our fellow hikers were a middle aged couple from America.  Stay calm now.  Keep an open mind.  The next day a minbus picked us up from our hostel and I slid the door open to reaveal one stereotypically fat American and his wife.  Brad had pale, glistening skin and looked ill and shit scared.  He also had a very interesting hair do.  I'm not sure how many years he had been dying it but it had now reached a twotone peachy-amber effect.  His wife who was originally from Indonesia, resembled something that would crawl out of a TV in the film The Ring.  They were both dentists from Hollywood and we had only driven a mile or so down the road when they both took out their plates and started to clean them.  Well, the next few days were going to be different. 

Writing this is like actually like walking the bleeding Inca trail again so i'm going to try and keep it brief and cut all info up into Days.  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 and Day 4.  Are you keeping up with me?

Day 1 (continued from above)
On the way to the official start, you stop off in the small town of Ollantaytambo to buy yourself a walking stick and use the loo. My walking stick was a fine piece of bamboo and I decided to name it 'Apo' after the Inca god of the mountains - Apo stick!  Get it?  Anyway, in this town which is very picturesque and that is not because Italian Vogue were shooting there, it is of course because there are lots of original Inca walls and narrow cobbled streets with streams flowing down them.  Santiago took us to a friends house to buy our sticks, to show us a typical Inca house and because The Ring wanted to see some guinea pigs which I was very interested in seeing too.  The whole family of five slept, cooked and ate in the one room and shared it with about 200 guinea pigs who mostly hid under the bamboo beds and only came out for the frenzied feeding time.  Unfortunately these bundles of fur are not kept as pets but are fattened up for killing and eating and are a delicacy in Peru.  Santiago pointed out the altar in the house which comprised of llama foetus', figurnines of bulls with crosses, ladders together with flowers and a figure of a saint with a fag in his mouth and explained how Inca beliefs had been mixed with Catholicism due to colonization by the Spanish.   There is a particulary interesting church in Cusco actually, built by the Spanish which rather cleverly uses a black Jesus to symbolize an Inca God but my favourite is the addition in the painting of the Last Supper where everyone sits down to a meal of roasted guinea pig. Mmmm. Ok, enough of all this, keep it brief, off to the starting line now. 

You dont have to line up and run for your lives to complete the Inca Trail, however run it is exactly what the all the porters do.  They are not supposed to carry more than 35kg but they usually sneak an extra tent or gas cylinder in somewhere.  While you struggle with a small back pack and one walking stick (Brad and The Ring has two each, bit greedy) and try to suck in air, the porters carry nearly 45kg and run past you. They are the last to leave a site and the first to the next spot.  What takes gringos 5 hrs may take them 2 if that.  They do this firstly to get to camp before all of you so to set it up but also the only way to carry such an enormous load is to do it as quickly as possible.  They don't look big or strong, some are fairly old and they all wear sandles made of old tractor tyres or something.  Quite how they do it amazes everyone. You have to stand to the side as they pass expecially when they are going down hill, as they aint able to stop they thunder down pass you while you step down inch by inch.  I gave then some coca biscuits for their efforts most days, I think they wanted money. 

Ok, where are we, Day 1, yes.  Well this was not that streneous.  The terrain was 'Peruvian Flat´ until we reached our camp for the first night.  As described by Santiago 'Peruvian Flat' interchanges between uphill and downhill, without doing one more than the other.  It really isnt like say Dutch flat where the land is actually FLAT!  We came to our little campsite which was at the base of a huge mountain.  Our tents were already up and we were brought bowls of piping hot water to wash our faces, hands and in Caths case, feet.  Ater a few minutes of lying down and catching our breath, we were ushered into the dining tent and began our gourmet meal.  How they cook such mouth-watering meals up a mountain, again, amazed us and most of our meals consisted of 3 or 4 courses.  I think we had popcorn, vegetable soup followed by chicken curry and to finish, quite a good chocolate pud and coca tea.  Brad was so excited about all the food in front of him that he actually fell off his chair and broke it.  I think he broke it because he was so fat, but im not sure.  Conversation was flowing until Brad and The Ring started to come out with some very strange comments.  The first was while we were discussing the Wonders of The World and Brad piped up that he, not actually having visited the Pyramids, thought they were a waste of space and that he didnt think that any of the Wonders of the World should be man made.  Hmmm interesting.  I asked him what he actually thought of Machu Picchu then?!  The conversation turned to South America and the issue of poverty.  The Ring spoke mostly in her loud voice and told us that she had thought alot about why people will always be poor concluding that it is all about education and that people in South America just dont help themselves and therefore it is a waste of money trying to help them.  It was at this point that my chocolate pud started to repeat on me so I made sure I was facing The Ring if, for some reason, I needed to do some projectile vomitting. 

Day 2
We were awoken at about 6ish to more bowls of hot water and coca tea and then a huge breakfast.  Now this is what I call camping.   I began to feel alittle queasy again though when we were all then subjected to Brad and The Ring perfoming an odd type of TaichiYoga with The Ring ordering Brad around and telling him to touch his toes properly.  I do believe Brad was really trying as he was going red in the face but I think his gut was getting in the way. It really didnt help that The Ring wore very thin tops without a bra and had extremely protuding nipples.  I wanted to tell her that it was rude to point and especially that early in the morning.  That day we had to make it to Warmiwanusca.  I didnt know where this was or how far so I asked Santiago.  He pointed up to a blurry mountain top way, way up in the clouds which he said is also known as Dead Womans Pass due to the mountain resembling the profile of a woman with a large nose and another pointy nipple.  Day 2 was hard work and it took us about 6 hours to reach the deceased old hag and all of it was uphill at a 45 degree angle.  What you must remember to do at high altitude is to drink lots of water.  Cath unfortunately forgot to do this and so got quite a bad headache and started to drag behind.  I managed to pick her speed up by giving her some Nurofen and promising a Snickers bar at the top.  The last hundred metres were the worst and when you do reach the top its freezing cold and very windy.  It also decided to rain hard while we were walking up so I guess it was a good thing I took the beers out the bag so I could fit the poncho in.  Ponchos are very useful and quick to put on although we did resemble a couple of hunchbacks with sticks.  Brad and The Ring arrived an hour later which was pretty good going and quite miraculous really as they had borrowed shoes from friends which were too small and The Ring had decided to bring her rucksack on wheels so had the handle thingy against her back the whole time.  She professed it was excellant for the posture but still complained every 10 minutes that her back hurt.  Although I hated her she really should have been given a medal or perhaps a kick in the head to knock some sense into it, for walking the whole Inca Trail carrying that ridiculous thing on her back.  From the pass you have to walk down hill at a 45 degree angle for another 3 hours to camp.  This was much more fun and Cath and I spotted deer and sang songs as we went.  Porters passed us at about 30 mph carrying their huge loads and at one point i tripped up on my poncho and they all laughed heartedly at me.  No more coca biscuits for them!  Camp that night was in the valley between the two passes and as we walked down into it the clouds rolled in and wrapped around the mountains, the view was stunning.  Again we were treated to luxury by the porters and a great meal cooked by Arthur our cook.  Unfortunatly we were subjected to yet more crap from Brad and The Ring and it was at this meal that we decided that we wouldnt talk to them anymore!  Santiago told us about how he had worked in the shanty towns in Lima with families who had Aids and how he wept when he had held a 6 month old baby who died in his arms.  The Ring told him that he was too sensitive and that that he needed to harden up.   I have no idea how we got onto the subject of Hitler but she then told us that she sympathised with him!!  Brad had his own fascinating ideas on global warming and believed that these things go in cycles and that the whole thing would sort itself out, anyway apparentely America is now leading the way in alternative means of energy although he did confide that he didnt want some wacko taking away all the C02, hell, he darn well liked his trees.  Cath was at boiling point but the fact that Brad then fell off his chair for a second time and broke it again made us feel alot better. 

Day 3
Its never nice to awake to a marital arguement but in this case it amused us greatly.  Our fellow travellers were hard at it and The Ring knew some pretty terrible language.   Brad apparentely was a real fu#king arsehole not knowing how to pack properly and undoing all The Rings hard work.  He had also somehow managed to lose the toothpaste, what was she was going to use to clean her food encrusted mouth plate with now?!  When we surfaced from our tent we were met with by the porters, cook and Santiago falling about in hysterics but also the most beautiful view.  The clouds had lifted and and we could see right across the valley to snow capped mountains.  After another good breakfast we had to climb up a mountain again, very slowly for a couple of hours and stopped off at the Inca fort of Runkuraqay on our ascent.  Santiago was a great guide and spoke brilliant English and so we learnt alot about the Inca world and how it funtioned, although its far too convoluted to write it all down here plus i seem to be waffling.  Cath and I made it to the second pass in quite good time keeping up with the porters and were actually the first gringos there - not that difficult when you leave camp first an hour ahead of everyone else really.  Then it was another 3 hours down hill to the ruins of Sayacmarca which were amazing.  We had thought Day 2 was hard going but Day 3 was turning into an odyssey in itself.  We hiked through some stunning cloudforest through a couple of Inca tunnels for another 2 hours and stopped for lunch and our tent was literally in the clouds, pretty cool!  Then it was another 2 hours down to the ruins of Phuyupatarmarcaan and then another 2 hours down hill to camp.  Cath and I literally ran the last hour downhill Inca styley, somewhere between a long stride and a bouncy bound, it worked quite well with the use of Apo.   

Day 4        
Although exhausted, I didnt sleep well at all and was kept awake by the most terrifyingly loud storm I have ever heard - thunder, lightening and hail right above us in the clouds.  Our tent actually shook and i thought we were gonna get washed down the mountain. Our guide even admitted in the morning that he thought we were gonners.  Cath of course slept through the whole thing thanks to her earplugs.  I was bit worried that what we had come to see would be covered in cloud and mist and we wouldnt be able to see anything. Santiago couldn't promise us anything different either.  The walk from camp to Machu Picchu was about an hour or so and we literally ran the whole way in our now perfected Inca style. After seeing a picture of the ruins eight years ago, which made me want come travelling in the first place, I was very excited indeed i can tell you!  And as we climbed the last set up steps up and walked through the Sun Gate we both got somewhat emotional to see Machu Picchu at bloody last!  I might even have shed a very manly tear.  It is beautiful and literally a city in the sky, isolated on top of a mounain and surrounded by jungle. The clouds had lifted and were now circling around the mountain tops.  The last descent was a doddle although we nearly ran into a stuffed llama on the way down and fortunately the buses of tourists had not arrived so we were able to enjoy the breathtaking view in peace.  Santiago gave us a tour of the site and then we were left on our own until we had to catch our train back to Cusco - thankfully Brad and The Ring had already left, they´d gone to buy their ´I walked the Inca Trail´ t-shirts.  Machu Picchu is fascinating.  What struck me the most were the walls.  How they managed to cut such huge irregular blocks with stone and assemble them so precisely is amazing, like a huge jigsaw puzzle.  The Sun Temple is pretty cool too with both its windows being placed exactly in the right position for both the Summer and Winter solstice suns to rise, respectively, precisely through the Sun Gate in the north east and between two mountains in the north west so the sun shines directly through the window and illuminates the altar in the temple on a certain day. Wow! Breathe!  That must have taken some working out.  There are many parallels between the Incas and other early civilisations who all were farmers, their life being based on agriculture and saw the world in quite a similar way governed by the weather and times of year.  The Incas believed that the Sun and the mountains were their Gods and from this location, surrounded by the elements I could see why.  I´m not sure I like the idea of child sacrifice to save suffering and and illness though however the odd llama here and there seems fair enough.  
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