The Inca Trail

Trip Start Jan 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

The day before we set out on the Inca Trail, we headed through the Sacred Valley to Ollayantambo. It wasn't a great day for me; I'd spent most of the night awake suffering from food poisoning and I wasn't convinced I'd be fit enough to do the Inca Trail. But with a few pills from my personal pharmacist, Sam, some herbal tea and quinoia soup from the guide, I managed to shake it off and was absolutely buzzing with excitement on Sunday morning.

We met our guide, Abel (also known as Jose and George, but we can't quite figure out why) and the rest of the support team and headed off. Unfortunately, our tour leader, Lila, couldn't come with us because of lack of availability of permits, and one of the members of the team, Cynthia, also couldn't join us because of health problems But it didn't hold the rest of us back. Day 1 was a good day; we walked 12km, but there was nothing too strenuous, we saw some Inca ruins and the weather was good for most of the day. It rained a bit as we got to the camp site in the late afternoon, but that was fine. We were introduced properly to the 14-strong support team, which included a chef and assistant chef, and there was a good feeling amongst the team.

It rained pretty much all night, and I got only a little sleep, but by the time we set off for day 2, the sun was shining and we were still in good spirits. Day 2 is mostly uphill to Dead Woman's Pass, so-called not because women die there, but because the formation of the rock looks like a breast. Abel pointed it out to us 30 minutes into the hike and it seemed like miles away. Between the 8 of us there were various different levels of fitness, and just to spice things up, Bonnie was suffering from tonsilitis and Meg was recovering from salmonella poisoning. On the last stretch of the 4-5 hour climb, we really started to seperate into small groups. 16 year old Lorcan at the front, closely followed by Jungle Joe and then myself. Then it was Sam and Jo, who it has to be said weren't really loving the Inca Trail at this point. Behind them were Salmonella Meg, supported by loving boyfriend Jacob, and bringing up the rear was Bonnie, supported by Abel. The weather on this last part of the climb had deteriorated to drizzle, then full on rain, then hailstone, which really added to the challenge of the uphill climb at high altitude; Dead Woman's pass is 4200m above sea level.

I reached the top on alone, behind Lorcan and Jungle Joe, but being cheered on by them through the hail. I don't mind admitting, it got a bit emotional, but thankfully the boys were generous with the hugs which was greatly appreciated. We waited for half an hour for the whole group to join us for some celebratory photos, but we were getting cold by then and only Sam and Jo had made it to the peak The 3 of us headed back down the other side of the hill to camp for a late lunch and a well-deserved lie down. We'd hiked a further 12km and the majority of it was uphill; we were exhausted. The rest of the group were all back at camp within an hour of us and there were mixed feelings about the trail. I was trying to keep up the spirirts of the less enthusiastic by pointing out that we were past the half-way point, but it wasn't really having much effect.

Needless to say, night 2 was an early one. Luckily I got quite a lot of sleep (no wonder!) and woke up on Day 3 ready for another full day of hiking. It was 16km with some uphill and some downhill, but nothing as difficult as the day before. Lorcan and Joe were ready to go, but some of the rest of the group were experiencing a low point; mainly Sam and Jo. I won't put Jo's quote of the day on hear as it wouldn't be allowed on a family website, but she made her feelings clear! As we set off, Sam was struggling to get her head into it as well, and the rain started, it seemed like it was going to be a long day. Sam and I took the ups and downs particularly at our own pace and we got there in the end. It was a shame because we were in the clouds so we didn't even have a view to reward us for the hard work we were putting in. We stopped for lunch at the top of another pass and by then it had just stopped raining. Then, the clouds cleared and we had some awesome views. It was downhill for the rest of the day, and we were rewarded with a campsite that had a bar, woop woop!!! And the chef made us a cake and jelly as well, what more could we ask for?

Day 4 was a very early start, we had to get up at 4am! Then we queued at the checkpoint for 40 minutes before the final 6km hike of the Inca Trail. Our legs were aching so much, we were tired (not hungover!), but at least it wasn't raining. As the sun started to rise, the sky was clear and we had some brilliant views of the valley. We all seperated again, we had to go at the pace our bodies needed to go at, so we all reached the Sun Gate at different times, but the time difference wasn't that big this time and we all hung around for group photos, apart from Lorcan the Mountain Goat. I should probably explain, the Sun Gate is the point where you finish climing the hill, come through the gate and see Machu Picchu in the valley below. I've seen the image so many times, but it was breath-taking to see it in real life. And yes, I got a bit emotional again, but I had been hiking for over 3 days, and camped for 3 nights and not had a shoower or even a proper wash, so I can be forgiven!

We started heading down towards Machu Picchu and we were all in really good spirits. We met up with Lila and Cynthia and Abel took us on a 2 hour guided tour of the Inca Town. For those of you that don't know, Machu Picchu is an Inca community that was never discovered when the Spanish conquered Peru. An American called Hiram Bingham found it when he was looking for a different lost Inca city in 1916. He was taken to it by a boy from one of the local villages. It was magnificently preserved beneath a lot of vegetation. The authorities have tried to reconstruct parts of it, but in my opinion, they should leave it as it is. we stayed there for about an hour longer and then headed into the nearby town of Aguas Calientes where we had to wait for the train back to Cuzco. I wanted to spend more time there, but we were all very tired and very hungry.

After Cuzco, we headed to Arequipa and the Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon in the deepest canyon in the world and it really is beautiful. It also has natural hot springs which are used in the thermal baths; that was very nice! And there are condors living in the canyon. we got up early one morning (5:30am!) to drive to the site where they glide up through the valley searching for food. That was quite an awesome site, but I'm not sure my photos do it justice yet again!

We had another night in Arequipa and then headed to Nazca, home of the famous Nazca lines. These are basically line drawings in the desert which date back to Inca and pre-Inca times. Nobody knows exactly why they are there, and what their purpose was, but the best way to see them is from the air, so that's what we did. We got into a tiny little plane, it was even smaller than the plane I got in to do my skydive last year. I'm not normally a nervous passenger on planes, but on this occasion I was. To fully appreciate the drawings, you need to circle them from the air, so there was a lot of tilting and spinning around during the 30 minute flight. I was coping quite well with it all, although I was starting to feel a little queasy. Then the pilot (Jose) decided that we should experience the feeling of zero gravity by doing a nose-dive, heading back up pretty much vertically, and then nose-diving again, despite protests from myself and Cynthia. I was not a happy bunny! I don't want to say it completely ruined the flight for me, but it kind of did! There were a few tears.

The next day we headed to Pisco and en route stopped off for some sandboarding. Now, I wasn't that fussed by the idea of sandboarding, but I joined in anyway and I was definitely glad I did; it was awesome! We got in a big dune-buggy and headed off on the dunes. I think the driver liked having girls in the car because we were screaming a lot! Then at various stages we got on our boards and slid down the dunes. We didn't stand up since it was out first time, we just lay down on the boards and slid down the hills. My board was particularly fast, and the rest of the group referred to me as the human bullet; I almost took Jungle Joe out I was going that fast; good job he moved! But I did get a war wound for my efforts. We were told to keep out elbows in, and on one of the dunes, mine slipped out. I'm now sporting a not very attractive, and a little uncomfortable, friction burn on my arm, and it's taking it's time to heal!

Pisco isn't exactly the centre of the universe, and it's not a very pretty town. There was an earthquake there a few years ago and there just isn't enough money to repair the damage caused. After Pisco, it was off to Lima for our last night on the tour. I didn't really get to see that much in Lima other than the area we stayed in, Miraflores. I didn't even go to the beach! We had a really good last night there, and Sam and I checked into a hostel with girl Jo and Bonnie. The tour was excellent, really good value for money, and the tour leader, Lila, was excellent. But we packed so much into 3 weeks, we're all exhausted now; I could sleep for days. I'm back in La Paz, Bolivia, now and am heading to Uyuni tonight. I've extended my stay in South America by 2 weeks as my old mucker, Jac, has decided to sample the delights of Argentina before I head off to Oz. I've been away for almost 11 weeks; I can't believe it's April already! I'll have to start working when I get to Australia (boo!, but in the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy my backpacker lifestyle, thank you very much!
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