Words cannot describe the feeling of accomplishment when finishing the 4-day trek on the incredible Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. But please come along with me as I share my many experiences during this Inca Trail Discovery tour with G Adventures.
Day 1 & 2
We enjoyed our private group of 8 travelers. The first stop was Lima, Peru, and we chose to sleep over 2 nights instead of the one that the trip includes so we could experience some fun in Lima. So happy that we did! Walking from our centrally located hotel La Castellana was a piece of cake down to the surf, gazing at the athletic folks on the boards. It would have been easy to secure a lesson and gear from some locals, but we walked on to the pier restaurant for our first Pisco Sour. These potent and delicious drinks are the Peru favorite…I can see why! We all had a nice buzz going to fuel our “tired from the flight” bodies for the rest of the afternoon.
A brief taxi ride later to Barranco, the bohemian vibe area about 20 minutes away, had us crossing the “Bridge of Sighs” and we enjoyed encounters with local artists and vendors. We sat at a bar overlooking the ocean from the ridge for a bit, listening to a Peruvian band looking for tips. Enjoyable!
Later, following our briefing by our Lima CEO, Roxanne, we walked to a lovely al fresco dinner on the square, and afterwards bought some trinkets at the vendor booths for gifts. I tasted my first alpaca meat…with rice. We will learn later that Peruvians eat a ton of rice!! But the spices are wonderful. they use lots of red and yellow spices, which have great anti-inflammatory properties.
We rise early for our flight to Cusco, and it’s my birthday! Turning 65 can be a drag, but not on a trip like this! My friends bought me a Beatles record at a flea market yesterday, and all signed it. I celebrate Medicare, independence from my ex, buying a house with my love, and exploring with great friends. I feel grateful for good health, and the ability to take this trek in the mountains.
Roxanne accompanied us to the airport, making a little gift along the way. It was a small styrofoam doll with a colorful hat that says Peru. I named her Priscilla and buckled her into her seat for the flight. That was sooooo sweet of Roxanne. She’s a keeper, G! An anxious moment for me as I was unable to locate my boarding pass, but no worries…the gate attendant had me in the system and waved me on. The flight was a quick hour long with gorgeous scenery.
Another anxious moment as one of my travelers refused to get into the G guide’s van when he didn’t have our names on a board. He spoke to headquarters and quickly sorted thru that and off we went to the Hotel Prisma in Cusco.
We met up again with Rohody, our trail guide, at noon, and then left for a quick tour of town and lunch at a lovely restaurant. I had a yummy soup, meant to, I believe, aid with altitude adjustment. My reaction to the over 11,000-foot elevation was just a slight headache, taken care of by ibuprofen. We drank lots of water, to be sure. Our trail briefing followed, and we rented our mats and sleeping bags. Porters would take 2.5 KG of gear for us, the rest being the bag and mat. All else would be carried in our backpacks, so we all had to be very choosy about what we brought! Our suitcases would be left in storage at the hotel for the duration, so that wasn’t a problem at all. Dinner at the hotel and to bed early!
Off to Ollantaytambo by comfy Mercedes bus. This is a full day of fun tours. First stop the Blanco Christo, the very large white statue of Jesus high on the hill overlooking Cusco. Then to the Cuyo Chico Pottery demonstration, which was quite interesting. G helps the locals create job opportunities and encourages the traditions of the area to survive. The Ccaccaccollo Community women’s coop was a magical site. These women’s husbands are our porters on the trail, carrying up to 40 kg of our gear at fast speeds up and down the trail. Their alpaca wool dying techniques are the same as the original tribes…will the natural ingredients found from the plants and seeds in the region. We fed the animals, watched a dying demo, and had the opportunity to buy their handicrafts. I love my new alpaca winter hat!
The Sacred Valley of the Urabamba River is stunning! We had a delicious lunch at the Planeterra sustainable Parwa Community Restaurant. Located in Huchuy Qosqo, a small village of 65 families, this is yet another example of how G works with locals thru the foundation Planeterra to help the native communities survive. Many of the small villages in Peru are losing their young people to the big cities. The farm-to-table restaurant served fresh organic and typically Peruvian cuisine. Each course was more delicious than the last!
After checking into our hotel (Inka Paradise), off we went for a little test hike up a steep stairway to view the ruins of the Temple of the Sun. We were fascinated by the fact that the terraces and ruins were in the shape of a llama. The Incas were such innovative architects. We learned that a true Inca man cannot grow a beard, and has no hair on his body, only his head. Although short in stature, their endurance is remarkable as is their ability to hold water in their bodies. Kind like a camel, one of the animals brought to the area centuries ago, believed to be an ancestor of the llama.
Rain, rain and more rain…all of us were happy we had made the decision to buy more substantial rain ponchos, as we employed them for much of this first trail day. A short ride by van to the beginning of our hike served to heighten my senses. Lessons in Inca spirituality were given just after we crossed the railroad tracks and onto the trail. We didn’t hit the OFFICIAL trail until I think day three of our four-day hike, but Rohody taught us a prayer to the mountains, verbalizing in all directions and leaving Coca leaves under a small rock. I loved this beginning, as it seemed to make this adventure more grounded somehow. Along the path during the next four days we would bond in our own unique ways, meeting each challenge knowing we were one in the effort. To be sure, this was going to be a special journey. The great anticipation of what would surely become life-long memories was felt by us all.
The entire length of our hike was to be 51 miles, this first part 11 km and about 5-6 hours to the Wayllabamba Camp. We were assigned a porter group of 16, 2-1! We walked an easy section in lots of rain, being soaked to the core even with ponchos. Make a note to do extra waterproofing of your boots or hiking shoes, as those who did not had VERY wet socks which didn’t dry during the entire trail! Passing one gorgeous visa after another, rambling rivers and even a small village, we wanted only for more sunshine to dry our wet socks and pants below the poncho! Though it was supposedly the easiest day, I ate voraciously the tasty dinner at camp. Each day we would meet in the dining tent for “tea” and crackers and heard our briefing of what will happen the next day. Our guide judged the time for wake-up based on our speed of conquering the prior section. With differing abilities, the timing will always be scheduled based on the ability of the slowest. I loved this, as it allowed me to make it a more mindful trip, enjoying the scenery as I traveled. (Translate: I was not the slowest, which pleased me as I was the OLDEST!)
On this day we conquered Dead Woman’s Pass, also known as Warmiwanusca. Starting out in the fog of the cloud forest, the path was a steep stone stairway. We passed a checkpoint where a ranger checked our guides list of participants. It’s 12 km to Paqaymayo Camp, pretty much straight up to the clouds to the pass at 13,769 feet. then we were only halfway there! My strange technique with a single walking stick with a cork handle was one Rohody said he had never seen. One step up I planted with both hands on the perpendicular handle and pushed myself up to the next. It worked well for me, as I just didn’t like two poles. It helped my aching quads! Lots of water and a slow pace to allow the oxygen to absorb into my body thru my gasping lungs was the only way to accomplish the task.
Once at the top, the cold and the wind was a new challenge, but those who were already up and in other groups would clap and whoop and holler as each of us summited. It was exhilarating beyond! As our group gathered together for another Inca ceremony (this one involving spirits of the alcoholic kind!) it began to sleet on us! Quickly gathering our packs, we took the obligatory photo at the top by the sign and down we went. The scenery was stunning as we navigated downward and out of the clouds. The flora predictably changed with the elevation and the flowers were so unique (I think we must go thru four or five different ecosystems on this hike…would love to read more about that!). Rohody pointed out a tiny lady’s slipper species which reminded me of the large pink ones in the woods of Massachusetts where I grew up. The sun shone a little while, making everything glisten and it brought a big smile to my face. The feeling I felt was much like the one when I ride my motorcycle on a curving country road.
This was a special day, as along the downward path to camp we had another Inca lookout ruin to explore. Only 3 of us elected to visit, as the path was practically straight up on a narrow staircase of stone, but shoot, I was there and….well, you know. Camp was directly beside a lovely and loud small river, so the sleeping was extra good!
I love the morning ritual or hot tea of Coca leaves or coffee served at our tent, along with clean boiled water to brush out teeth or wash up. Spa time! Breakfast was typically bread with jam, honey, teas, sometimes porridge or another hotel cereal, and one day a yummy egg dish like quiche. The Peruvian food is delicious with unique spices and lots of rice and potatoes. We had broccoli and cauliflower several times, corn dishes, fun and creative desserts, and yummy fruits and juices. We even had real pork bacon one day. I found due to sweating on the trail that I needed to replenish my salt more than usual.
The coca leaves are plentiful, and it was encouraged to chew them or make tea with 7 leaves or so. I liked it. BUT it is illegal in most countries, as they are grown in the Peruvian jungle and processed to make cocaine. Do not try to bring leaves back to the States. You can be arrested and put in jail. One could bring the processed teas, so I brought a couple of tea bags back with me.
Camp to camp today was over ten miles, so some think that this is toughest day on the trail. I found it wonderful, and had a real sense of accomplishment, although our group came in two hours after dark. Hiking a tough path with a headlamp is a challenge of a different kind, but we traveled through some cool caves and such, making it interesting.
We had some giggles at dusk as a man was being helped by his porters down the trail, struggling with rubbery, weak legs. My friend blurted out, “Drop your pants and I will rub some Ben Gay on your quads. I’ve seen lots of underwear.” We all laughed hysterically. His wife was with them, so she handed it to her to “do the deed”. We heard later that he had to be evacuated. Such a shame, the day before we were to awaken before sunrise for the 2 hour climb to the Sun Gate. We made it to camp after dark to a cold dinner, and after a quick briefing, to bed to prepare for a 3:30am wake-up. As our porters had to breakdown our camp and make it down to the town of Agua Calientes to make the early train home, we had to be out of all tents and dined by 4.
The long-anticipated day had come! Machu Picchu is just over that ridge we could see from our camp. Each group must leave together at a designated time, and we drew the short stick , heading out at about 5:35am. Somehow the hike up took longer than it should (crowded trail/toe/knee/hiking boot issues), but the scenery was amazing, the bird sounds fabulous, and the Andean Flats were relatively easy to navigate. A crawl up the “Oh my God” steps to the Sun Gate was kind of fun, but as the cloud coverage was still pretty think upon arrival, we gathered for yet another group photo and began our walk down to the site. Our first gaze felt a little bit otherworldly. The upper portion (the name of it escapes me) afforded magical vistas of the ruins and the Andes Mountains beyond. Crowds can spread out around the site, and it did not feel crowded at all except for the upper viewing area. The place is vast…incredible to think that it was all but hidden by the jungle vines when discovered centuries after being abandoned after the Spanish conquest of the Incas. We had to que for the best photo ops, though. The sun came out, chasing the clouds away, and we were incredibly blessed.
Our guide walked us through some of the more important areas of the village, and I was fascinated by the Condor Temple. At one point Rohody asked a couple of us to limp a bit to fool the park rangers to allow us a short cut, eliminating a few more stairs. It worked!
One yummy lunch in Agua Calientes later (my first guinea pig shared by all of us) and the train ride back to Ollantaytambo, we checked back into the Prisma, retrieved our checked luggage and repacked for the jungle adventure. Stay tuned for a story about that wonderful add-on to this trip. On the train we were in the same car and the G group from Wales, and I was treated to a good card trick. I shared a small bottle of red wine with another G guide from Peru and another young man from Germany who was traveling alone. The 1.5 hour (? went fast!) train ride was one of the most fun rides ever! An hour-long bus down to Cusco, a hug goodbye to our dear friend Rohody, a great night’s sleep, and a taxi ride to the airport the next morning to take a flight to Puerto Maldonado followed.
Our Inca Trail Experience had come to an end. These are memories that will surely last a lifetime, and completing the challenge felt incredibly good for this traveler. Thank you, Peru. You gave me your heart.
Enjoy a few of my favorite images. Peace, Bobbie
(Special thanks to my travel companions for some of these images.)