The Incredible Inca Trail Part 1
Pre-Briefing and Packing
With the main event looming around the corner we headed off to Alpaca Expeditions for our Inca Trail briefing the night before we set off. We discovered that there were 12 people in our group, which was a surprise as we’d been told there were only 6 people, still except for excessive toilet use we’re not sure what the negatives would be.
We met our two guides, Jose and Filio as well as our fellow hikers, all English speaking from the UK, Australia and the USA. Of the 12 only 3 were men, which was a surprise. We were told that we’d be picked up from our hostel at 4.30am the next day, given our duffel bags with a 3kgs weight limit and a brief explanation of the trail itself. I have to admit I sat petrified, after the tough Rainbow Mountain trek I am really concerned that I may not be able to complete the Inca Trail so was wondering how I’d get back to Cusco if I didn’t last – air lift or carried by porters perhaps??
Off we all went back to the hostel with an anxious atmosphere in the air. The packing was a challenge, but we got there in the end.
Day 1 of the Inca Trail
Day 135 of our great adventure and the Inca Trail beckons. The journey to the beginning of the trail took around 3 hours, with a stop at Ollantaytambo to collect the 19 porters, 1 chef and 1 assistant chef that are going to help us on our trek. We arrived at Piskacucho and sat down for a filling breakfast. We were given our supplies and had the last chance at a western style toilet (s/1) which we all used…whether we need to or not!
At around 8am we were at the checkpoint having our permits and passports checked, the obligatory group photo and off we set. We will be hiking for 5 hours before lunch, then 2 hours after lunch. The scenery all around us was just beautiful and we settled into a good rhythm totally enjoying ourselves. This lasted until around 12pm when I suffered a severe case of the “hangry”. The snacks provided of a banana and a couple of biscuits just wasn’t enough when we were constantly walking uphill from 2,279m to 2,930m.
Lunch arrived just in time and I wolfed down the lovely spread prepared by Chef Leonardo. We were clapped in and out of lunch by the “Green Machine” porters. These guys carry on average 30kgs on their backs and have to walk quicker than us to prepare the camps, and they were clapping us!! The Inca Trail certainly creates tough men! A few years ago the porters ran a marathon of the Inca Trail, with the winner completing it in 3 hours 45 minutes – wow! The afternoon’s hike of 2 hours was tough, being mainly uphill, but we stopped for lessons from Jose on local people and the traditions of the Quechua people of whom the Inca Kings ruled over, together with passing one archaeological site.
There are two Inca Trails – the pilgrim one that we were on and a commercial one that farmers use. The surprise that I had was finding out that the Inca Trail ran from Colombia right down to Argentina, I wonder if all the other countries are jealous of Peru for having Manchu Picchu? Jose is pretty intense during these lecture sessions and I can’t help but wish he was a bit more relaxed and had more of a sense of humour to balance out the tough hiking conditions.
That evening Chef Leonardo did himself proud again with a lovely spread of food. We enjoyed the company of the rest of the group, with Paul and Joel having so much energy it became contagious – just what we needed! I am the oldest in the group, followed by Greg and then Danni with everyone being 10 years + younger than us. I’m not sure how I feel about that!?
It’s fair to say that the whole group was really anxious about day 2 as we will be trekking for 11 hours up to Dead Woman’s Pass (4,200m), then down (3,580m), then back up to the second pass at Runkuracay (4,000m) and down again to our camp site (3,600m) for the night. It will be our toughest day and today was so tough, it doesn’t bode well.
Charley and I have realised that we are much worse campers than Dani, as we almost cried over the awful squat toilets and vowed to wild wee from now on, although neither of us have done that before. Midland girls just aren’t prepared for this type of life!
Sleep came relatively easily for all of us except Dani who had been given a smelly dirty sleeping bag.
Day 2 of the Inca Trail
We were woken with coca tea, which is supposed to help with altitude sickness (read our specific blog on altitude sickness), followed by breakfast and set off on our hike at 5.30am.
The trek was tough, steps up and down for miles and miles. Dani and I also struggled with breathing properly in altitude but nothing like we did at Rainbow Mountain. We met some fellow trekkers, Fiona and Ben who we tagged teamed with. They were really nice and we had a good laugh, terming different places “the seat of sorrow” and the “corner of despair” when we arrived somewhere that we thought was the top and soon found out it wasn’t.
Our group has mainly separated into three, with the “runners” (Paul & Lauren, Joel & Aimee) at the front, followed by the “oldies” (us!) in the middle, then the “Americans” (original I know!) (Alex, Laura and Felicia) at the back. Frances was a floater sometimes being with the oldies and sometimes with the Americans but generally really seemed to like going at her own pace and enjoying her own company.
The four of us had a great day with lots of laughs to distract us from the pain. Greg was Mr Motivator, doing robot walks, fist pumping the Green Machine and starting sing songs. We weren’t sure if this had to do with the coca leaves that Jose gave us to chew or whether we are just a fun bunch to be around!
We arrived at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass with such relief to be met with tea and cheese sandwiches. Greg reckons it’s the best cheese sandwich he’s ever eaten. After that we headed downwards towards our campsite stopping for lunch on the way. The whole way down there were steps made for giants (apparently the Inca generation were much taller than the modern day Peruvians). I was having to do jazz splits to get down half of them. Lunch was awesome again but whilst we watched other groups stop to camp for the night we had another 4 hours of hiking to our stop for the night. This section was tough, so we carried on with our singing, worryingly the only song we seemed to know all the words to was Spice Girls, Wannabee, which we sang to Dani as she seemed to have her zigazigaaa on! Although we did a fair rendition of ”I like big butts!”.
There was a fair amount of uphill work to go, and we continued to see Fiona, Ben & their hiking buddy Joe, who at 61 years old put us all to shame. They were with Llama Path who they were really happy with and their guide Silvio was lovely, laidback and funny. The Llama Path porters had Spiderman trousers on so we began to get tour company envy (as well as chanting Spiderman Spiderman every time their porters passed us)!
During the afternoon we took to singing to all the passing porters, who are just incredible. The Green Machine seemed to love it and we had a lot of fun with them, despite them not speaking English and only limited Spanish. My personal opinion is that the porters are the real heroes of the Inca Trail.
We finally arrived at the campsite around 5.30pm and it started to get dark. Frances followed us in and a little later the Americans arrived. The runners and oldies tucked into the happy hour popcorn and hot chocolate whilst we waited. Happy hour is fun, not least to see what concoction to drink Paul will make, he will be the next Heston Blumenthal with his strange mixes – it wasn’t unusual for him to mix hot chocolate, vanilla tea bags & coffee!
Jose and Filio came back with the Americans, they generally stay last so to ensure no-one goes astray. It was quite a shock as they were both under the influence of something. Jose proceeded to have some mad ramblings, turning our light off and showing us mummified photos of children whilst crazily shouting different things out, like “is Jesus the one true God”. I was really quite livid about it, feeling let down by them as it made for a very awkward evening and dinner was very late as he wouldn’t let them serve it until he’d finished his rant.
We all headed to bed as soon as we could only to be kept awake until 1am by Jose and Filio talking and arguing. I shouted at them finally at 1am and they decided to try to be a little quieter. So disappointing as we have another big day tomorrow and the cost of the Inca Trail is such that you don’t expect that type of behaviour by the guides. Alpaca Expeditions are top on TripAdvisor so I assume this was an unfortunate one off.