I promised I would tell you all about my experience on the Inca Trail and after a very frustrating experience, which resulted in me having spent an hour on a post that got lost, I am now finally finished with my tale of a very long hike. Here you go. Enjoy!
As was expected, we started early in the morning. The first part was very easy. All we had to do was get into a bus and drive to kilometer 82. From there on, it got more difficult, starting with a long wait before we were allowed to go on the Inca Trail.
At the beginning of the trail, there’s a checkpoint that every tourist has to pass through. But it is impossible to do so until the porters have passed through their own checkpoint. Who are the porters, you might wonder? I’m glad you asked.
Porters are Peruvians, mainly farmers from tiny Andean villages, who have made it their job to carry all of our luggage and much more along the Inca Trail. Horses and donkeys are only allowed on the first part of the trail and someone has to carry all that delicious food, the tents and the spare clothes. Those people are the porters. For a group of eight, we had sixteen porters with us. Each of them carried a total of 25 kilograms on their back. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of them is unlucky enough to be the garbage boy, meaning it’s his job to carry all of our garbage down the mountain. I didn’t understand how hard their job was until I saw them racing past us, the heavy weight on their back, a greeting on their lips, as they ran up the mountains to make sure they would arrive at the next resting place in time to prepare lunch for us.
Once everyone had made it through the checkpoint, we could finally get started.
The first few meters were extremely steep but at least, we got rewarded with a nice view.
The part that followed was easy to walk on and fairly level. But as you can guess from the clouds on the picture above, it soon started raining and it was time to use our poncho plastico, an ugly rain coat that we had bought for the price of maybe one dollar and that served its purpose surprisingly well.
Our mood was still good even though we had to watch trains drive past us, with the passengers dry and comfortable inside, every so often.
The first day included a steep part before lunch that I didn’t find too difficult to climb. Seeing as I was the first one up there, I might be the only one with that opinion. Hard or not, the view from up there was once again amazing and I began to love the trail. By now, the rain had stopped and we could enjoy the ancient Inca sites along the way.
Time before lunch got a bit long but on the bright site, from there on, it wasn’t far to the first campsite anymore. We saw some beautiful flowers along the way and I was exhausted but in a fairly good mood when we arrived at our campsite. The weather wasn’t too bad either. The rain had stopped completely and it wasn’t too cold.
Isn’t it funny how one’s mood can turn from perfectly fine to absolutely awful in a couple of hours?
When one of the porters knocked at our tent the next day, I had never been as glad to get up at five in the morning. The night had been horrible. You can’t really see it on the picture above but the ground underneath our tents wasn’t even. The whole night, I kept sliding down my air mattress. I was freezing cold, shivering in my sleeping back, and it didn’t help that at one point, I had to get out to pee.
I must have dozed off a couple of times but it can’t have been more than one or two hours of sleep in total. When I got up the next morning, I was exhausted already. Then, our guide told us that we would have a hell of a climb to do that morning.
On the bright side, breakfast was amazing. We got Quinoa porridge and pancakes, decorated with Nazca lines they had drawn with orange sauce. How the cook had managed to prepare all of that on a tiny camping stove, I will never know.
But back to the walk ahead. See the woman’s shape on the picture below? See the breast with a nipple on it?
That is Dead Woman’s Pass and that was where we had to climb up to. It looked far and it definitely was.
Before coming, I had been aware that the second day would involve climbing up from around 3000 meters to 4200 meters. What I hadn’t known was that the trail consisted mainly of steps. Do you know how difficult it is to climb up all those steps? The altitude didn’t help. At that height, I could climb a maximum of ten steps at a time without being out of breath. Anything more than that and I would feel like I had just run a marathon.
On the bright side, the scenery was beautiful and I saw my first wild orchid.
My mood improved a bit when I pissed off two llamas – literally.
Then I looked back up at the nippel and that it was all it took for me to feel like I would never make it.
I’m sure you can imagine what the rest of the climb was like. Five steps, break. Another five steps, another break. A lot of huffing and puffing and feeling like the nipple was moving away from us. Many turns in the path that looked as if the top would be right behind them – and that disappointed us because we hadn’t even gotten closer.
“This is fun,” people had told me. Stumbling up the stairs, I didn’t quite get what they meant.
I do remember the last few steps. Our guide had told us to wait for everyone just below the top, in a spot safe from the freezing wind. Sitting there, seeing that it was only a couple more steps, I was so tempted to run up and wait up there instead. But when we did start, it took me two stairs and I was so out of breath, I had to stop again. Unbelievable what altitude can do to a person.
Eventually, as you can see, I did make it up. Our guide was right, the wind up there was freezing cold. The view, on the other hand, was great.
It was with a sense of relief that we started climbing down because how much harder could it get?
Turned out, no matter how hard something was, it can always get worse. The climb down was steep. Very steep.
And as you might have guessed from the clouds, it soon started to rain. Now imagine climbing down some very steep, uneven, slippery steps in the rain. Can you think about anything that would be more fun? Yes? Then don’t book the Inca Trail.
My friend slipped on the way down and ended up with a large bruise over her spine. It didn’t help during those sleepless nights when she couldn’t even turn on her back anymore.
I did sleep a bit better the following night. Our guide filled our water bottles with hot water and we stuffed them into our sleeping bags. With warm feet, I was eventually able to doze off. It still wasn’t comfortable and eventually, the water cooled down so I woke up more times than I can count, a shiver running down my spine from the cold.
Once again, when one of the porters woke me up at five in the morning, I wasn’t sad to get up.
Day 3, they had told us, was going to be the best day. We were going to walk on some original Inca steps and the view was going to be amazing.
What they had also mentioned but what I had somehow failed to acknowledge, was the Gringo Killer. But more about that later.
We started by climbing over a pass. Nothing new here. Lots more steps, lots more struggling for air, but with a nice Inca ruin and a beautiful lake along the way.
Getting up the pass wasn’t too difficult this time.
The trail went down again, to a huge and really cool Inca site and then back up.
Along the way, we had many great views. This time, the path up to the second pass of the day wasn’t very steep. There were a few steps to climb but there were also many sections where the path was easy to walk. It was during one of those stretches that my friend turned to my and said, “You know, for the first time, I’m not jealous of those who stayed behind in Cusco and took the train.”
And she was right. The view was amazing.
The previous day, it had all been highlands. Up at that altitude, the vegetation consisted mainly of grass and some flowers thrown into the mix. There was the constant smell of smelly feet and unwashed travellers which, our guide reassured us, was omitted by a plant. I’m not sure if he was telling the truth or lying to us. You do know that there are no showers along the Inca Trail, right?
But anyway. On the third day, after crossing the first path, we were greeted by the high jungle. Look at how green everything is.
The weather was great, too, and you know the best part? When we came to our lunchsite, we were greeted by two llamas. It was time for llama selfies!
Lunch was amazing, too. In fact, the food was always amazing on the Inca Trail. We got a three course menu and I don’t think I’ll ever know how they managed to prepare a cake when all they had was a camping stove.
And then things went downhill. Literally.
After all this going up, it was to be expected that we would have to walk down again. That is the Gringo Killer. A thousand steep steps down that make your legs hurt so much, you’ll start to wonder if there’s a shortcut by jumping down one of those cliffs.
Yes, there were some cool Inca sites along the way. But that smile on the picture just above is more forced than it is real. Damn, those steps were exhausting. And they didn’t end. Some guy said it was a thousand steps but I believe it was more. They were endless. How the Incas had walked up and down, I had no idea. I don’t even know how our porters did it, with all that weight on their back. There must be some kind of secret they know that we don’t. Maybe it’s all that Quinoa soup they like to eat?
We did take a break to enjoy the view from one of the Inca sites.
We also stopped to look at some more flowers.
And eventually, we climbed down the last set of Inca steps. Once again, it is a miracle to me how the Incas did it, with the seeds and all their farming equipment on their back.
By the time I made it to the camp, I was even more exhausted than on the previous days, something I had thought to be impossible. How tired can a person get?
Surprisingly, that night, I managed to sleep. It still wasn’t a good night’s sleep but the weather was warmer down here.
Too bad the third night was the one where we had to get up at half past three to make it to the last checkpoint.
The last day of the Inca Trail started too early. The Inca steps are hard enough to walk during the day but try running over them in the middle of the night, when it’s still dark. Good luck!
Yes, the clouds were beautiful and the scenery, as far as we could see it, was still stunning. But damn those steps.
My calves hurt so much, I could barely walk. Our guide had told us that it would be a short and easy walk and I hadn’t expected it to be that difficult. It involved lots of resting points and lots of cursing. There was a staircase so steep I had to use my hands to climb up. But eventually, I could see the sun gate ahead of us and that was when I started running.
A bit too early, it turned out. My energy lasted for maybe ten steps and then I was left to slowly walk up the remaining fourty ones. But after what felt like forever, I had made it.
You know what the most funny thing is? Now that I’m back home, sitting in the comfort of my flat, it doesn’t seem as hard to me anymore. I would even go as far as recommend it to anyone going to Peru. Anyone healthy and in a good shape, that is. And young, too. I’m not sure my grandmother would enjoy that kind of hike.
So if you’re planning on going to Peru, be warned. The Inca Trail is hard. But it’s also lots of fun, at least on that small stretch of path during the third day. And it is an experience that you’ll never forget. So what are you waiting for?