On the first day of hiking, we left at 5am. Our backpacks were packed with clothes, toothbrushes, and a lot of energy snacks. We had gotten most of our supplies in Florida a couple weeks before. Soph took a camelback with things she needed for the day, and my mom hired a cheskey for the rest of her stuff. A cheskey is a nicer word for porter, and you may see it spelled many different ways
. The word actually means "strong man" in their language. That suits the muscular cheskeys, who carry 25 kilograms while running through the trails (25 is the maximum the law says they can carry, but it looks like a LOT more). My mom and I carried all of our supplies, as well as our camping mat and sleeping bag. But the cheskeys carried our tent, and all of the cooking things. In our group was 16 people, and around 20 cheskeys. Our guides were named David and Saul. Saul was just starting out, so David did the talking about everything. The food was amazing. Maybe it was just because I was always so hungry after hiking, but I think our chef, Benedicto, was just awesome. Everything was good. He cooked great vegetarian food, and he even made gluten-free things for Kim and Scott, who were allergic to it. There were actually two couples named Kim and Scott in our group, isn't that weird? The gluten-allergic Kim had reddish-brown frizzy hair, and the other Kim had blonde hair. Just so I can remember. We ate every meal under a tent. Every time we had soup, which was every dinner, we had to drop a spoonful onto the ground for Pachi Mama (Mother Earth). Our meals were also huge. We had to eat a lot for all of the hiking we were doing. The first day wasn't really hard. It rained, and it was foggy and muddy. Good thing for my new hiking shoes, I had a lot of tread and didn't slip. The first few miles or so of the trail wasn't actually part of the Inca Trail. The Incas tore down the first part so the Spanish conquistadors wouldn't find it
. But the actual Inca Trail is made of stones put together by the Incas. There were some ups and downs, but the first day was mostly flat. I came to the camp tired anyways. That night, there were already people sick. Two people (Sara and Tom) were already almost going to go back. They ended up staying though. David said that if something happened in the middle of the Inca Trail, there wouldn't really be any medical help. However, 4 of the people in our group would have been able to help. Nick and Joe both just graduated from medical school to become doctors, Kim (blonde) is a physical therapist, and Casey is a nurse.
The second day was by far the hardest. We got woken up in our tents at around 5:30 (I'm not actually sure of the time) with tea/coffee in the morning. We actually did all of the mornings, and it was really nice. I got coca tea every time, to help with the altitude. We started off with a huge breakfast. My mom and I hired a porter for this day, because we heard it was really hard. When we started off, it was pretty warm. We were going uphill. The first part of the hike was in the forest, up big stone steps. I'm glad I hired a porter for this day. It would have been a lot harder if I had to carry a big pack. The whole group was kind of separated throughout the hike. I was in the front with three guys from New Zealand named Joe, Kiegan and Nick. I liked hiking in the jungle, up the ancient Inca steps
. It felt mystical. We hiked through there for around three hours, then when we emerged from the trees we took a break, and got a second breakfast! We were all hungry. At the place of our meal, there were lots of wild llamas and alpacas in the valley. There was even one right in front of the bathroom. Afterwards, we continued hiking, still uphill. After my second breakfast, my muscles suddenly felt tired. We were hiking up to the first mountain pass, called the Dead Womans Pass. Yeah, that name was reassuring. It was extremely hard. This time we weren't under the shade of trees, but on the side of a dry, scrubby mountain. The sun beat down on us. I walked the whole time with Nick. Getting up the mountain took about two or three hours, just as a guess. I was so glad I decided to hire a porter for the day. It was the most exhausting walk I have ever been on, in my entire life. For sure. I felt triumphant when we finally reached the top. The altitude at the top was just under 14,000 feet. Nick and I were the first of our group, and Joe and Kiegan came right after us. We took pictures and looked back on the long trail of stairs that we had just completed. I was hot and sweaty, but as my heart slowed down I realized it was actually freezing. The winds were wintery. Nick was really nice to let me use his jacket, which I put on top of my own. It was probably around 40 degrees, but that didn't account for the winds that whipped my hair and blasted the cold into me. Nick went back down the trail to encourage others in the group, and I sat admiring the view, watching as more of our group members came to the top of the pass
. Everyone (including people in other tours) was impressed with me and especially Soph, as we completed the hard hike without even complaining. People told me, "If I was your age, I'd be crying!" We had spent the day so far walking up, then it was time to walk down. I really don't like walking down for so long. It hurts my knees and makes my legs feel like rubber. The walking sticks we bought in Cusco helped though. We finally got to our second camp site. We had hiked for around 8 hours that day, and I was exhausted. Our camp was near the bottom of the mountain, but it was still at a high altitude and really cold. As soon as I got into the tent, I put on my warm fleece jacket and snuggled into my sleeping bag.
At dinner that night, David told us about the camp site we were in. He said that when the Inca Trail was discovered, people found a cave littered with dead bodies. It's thought that the bodies were killed by the mafia, who controlled the area still about 15 years ago. David said that the bathroom sits right atop the cave. He told us not to go to the bathroom at night, but if we had to, go right outside our tents. If we did go to the bathroom, he said you would first feel brushing at your ankles. Then the restless spirits would be scratching at the walls of your stall. You might just feel the brushing at your ankles if you walk around the camp, so he said to just not leave your tents. David was completely serious as he told us all this
. Nobody left their tents that night. The story was creepy, and we didn't want to take any risks. Right after dinner we all went in a group to the bathrooms. It was cold that night. It was the highest-altitude camp, and I was bundled in pants, a jacket and my sleeping bag. I used my fleece every night for a pillow, which was nice because it's so fluffy.
Day three was the longest day we hiked. We were on the trails for about 14 hours. It was the prettiest day though, and filled with just small ups and downs. In the morning we started off with hiking uphill for about an hour, but that was really the hardest part of the day. We crossed two passes that day, and saw lots of ruins. I had to wear my sunhat because I got really burnt on day two, hiking up the mountain under the hot sun. We actually started off with some ruins. We learned that most of the Inca ruins were built to resemble something. The first ruins we saw looked like a big Inca knife. The stone building was the tip of the knife and the terraces were the blade of it. The rest of our day was filled with long, scenic routes. The mountains and jungles were amazing, though they were very often covered by fog. Throughout the whole day, we ended up seeing around 5 or 6 different ruin sites. Most of them were used for the Inca runners. They were the mail deliverers, and they ran huge distances to deliver messages. These ruins are thought to have been used as resting spots for them
. There was a watch building too. It sat at a perfect spot so the Incas could watch if anyone tried to come up the Inca trail. There were also a couple of storage buildings, which were used by the Incas to hold foods. Near the end of the day, we walked an extra half hour to see a big site of terraces. There were lots of wild llamas there. I came back to the camp tired from the long day. There was an option to take a shower at our camp that night. I felt gross after three long, sweaty days of hiking. I decided not to take one though, because the water was as cold as ice. We were all excited for the next day. It was Machu Picchu! We had afternoon tea and popcorn, then dinner later. At dinner, Benedicto made us a cake. It said "Welcome to Machu Picchu." He said it was for Soph and I because we were very strong to do the Inca trail, and it was good to have kids in the group.
Day 4 was Machu Picchu. We got up really early (around 4:00am) and ate a quick breakfast. Then we left in the dark to get to the park gates. We waited in a long line for about a half hour until they opened. The gates we waited at were several miles from the actual Machu Picchu park gates. We just had to get our passports and everything checked. They finally did open at about the time the sun rose. Then we walked another hour or so. We went up super tall, thin steps to the Sun Temple. It was supposed to have a great faraway view of Machu Picchu, but all we saw was...fog
. We waited for a while, but it didn't clear up. We continued to a closer overlook of Machu Picchu. It was actually on a terrace on the side of the ruins. But what did we see? Fog. With a few small glimpses of stone buildings showing through. We didn't really see Machu Picchu until we got down into the ruins. Then we spent the rest of the day there, until we had to leave in the afternoon. Machu Picchu was really amazing. I put all of the details of it in a seperate entry, go read it!
On all of the pictures from the Inca trail, I have a 1, 2 3 or 4 before it. These are telling which day they are from. Most of the Machu Picchu pictures are in my seperate blog entry.
Hiking on the Inca Trail has been the most amazing experience for me so far. I became friends with the fifteen other people in my group. We trudged through the pouring rain under plastic ponchos to keep us dry. We hiked up and down the slippery steps (though that's not as hard as what the cheskeys did: they ran). We walked through clouds so thick you couldn't see ten feet in front of you. Maybe even five feet. We experienced the heat of summer, and the cold of winter. We crossed mountains! And at the end, after four days, we made it to Machu Picchu. Everyone was still there, though some almost left.