Trials and Tribulations on the Inca Trail

One of the big highlights of our travels had finally arrived and we felt woefully underprepared. Our pre trek talk in Cusco had made the reality of what we were about to do set in. Neither of us being particularly athletic or kept up our fitness while travelling, made trekking for 4 days sound daunting. Little did we know we would feel immense pride and joy in 4 days time while overlooking our last wonder of the world- Machu Pichu – with blisters, aching muscles and twisted ankles.

We were picked up at 8am from our hotel in Ollantaytambo and walked a short distance to a private bus. Five of our group were doing the Inca trail while the other 12 were doing the Laras trek (a 3 day trek in the same region but doesn’t lead to Machu Pichu). Permits are restricted on the Inca trail and you have to book well in advance to get on it. We were joined by 3 others from another Gadventures group to make a group of 8.

After a short 45 minute drive, we arrived at kilometre 82, the start of the Inca trail. Already it was sweltering, and we had to delayer rapidly. We collected our rented equipment: poles, sleeping bag, and air mattress and put them with our 2.5kgs (a tiny amount for 4 days) of luggage. This meant our total luggage (including sleeping bag and air mattress) was 6kgs. We wouldn’t be carrying this however, which was why there was such a strict limitation. Porters: 22 to be precise for our group of 8; would be carrying our luggage, tents and cooking equipment. Each is only allowed to carry 20kgs a huge amount, we were in awe of. These small men, with enormous calves and mostly over 40; would race ahead of us everyday, set up camp and cook us breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were truly inspiring and would be impossible to do the historic inca trail without them.

We began by walking down to the path and posed in front of the Inca trail sign ready for our trek. Already the landscape was stunning at every turn. Following a river: mountains and glaciers became visible. Within 20 minutes we reached a check point. Passports were checked against our tickets and we were stamped into the historic park.

Day 1s trekking was difficult in places but overall ok. We started at 2650m and finished at 3100m. The first section to T’arayoc and lunch was 5km. It was uphill mainly and quite tiring in places. Mainly through valleys and fields. We encountered our first inca ruin which was once a market town. On the confluence of three valleys goods from the mountains like potatoes were brought to sell, from the jungle exotic fruits and animals, and from the lower lying valley corn and wheat. The ruin was in the shape of a snake. All inca towns and ruins our guide explained where in the shape of a different animal: puma, condor, llama etc.

We reached our lunch spot around 12:30pm and were greeted with a round of applause from our porters; who had already set up and had lunch cooking away. It was them who deserved the applause for the amount they carry and the speed at which they do it. Lunch was by a river and we removed our shoes and relaxed while waiting for lunch. Three courses awaited us quinoa soup, chicken and rice and some very sweet jam dessert. All delicious and way more than we were expecting.

After refilling our water bottles we walked 6km to Wayllabamba in around 2 hours. Here we went through forest and passed a few small hamlets with ladies selling goods for trekkers at inflated prices. The porters races passed us at the beginning carrying their bright purple Gadventures branded sacks. The trek was uphill and exhausting.

Struggling at one point I sat down next to an  exhausted donkey to find a dead tarantula in between my feet! Slightly further along one of our porters stood in the the road with a flag pointing the way to base camp for the evening. A welcome sight and as we passed into the camp, applause greeted us again. Our tents had already been set up and we were given bowls of hot water to wash with.

We had a two man tent and our porters came and blew up our air mattresses as we laid down and recovered. Mike took the opportunity to fly the drone at this point and all of the porters surrounded him to take a look! Unfortunately, he was told by another guide that they were not allowed on the Inca trail and if a ranger caught him, he would be fined. A real shame.

Dinner came at 6pm and we had vegetable soup followed by beef and potatoes. We were in our tents and in bed by 7pm. Day 1 was the easiest day of trekking we had been told as we laid there aching and tired. Tomorrow would be the toughest of the four days.

We woke up at 5:30am for a 6am breakfast. Sleeping on a slope had meant we kept drifting to the bottom of the tent all night so didn’t sleep that well. However at breakfast we were greeted with pancakes with local animals written in toffee on them: llama, alpaca etc. Day 2 would be when we would reach our highest point 4215m. First though we walked from our Wayllabamba camp to Ayapata 2km uphill. This was through forest trails and the path was now no longer dust track but ancient inca stone and steps. Lots and lots of steps. Uneven in height, which made it very difficult. The sky was clear blue and we could see the mountain we had to scale and ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ at the top. We walked the first section quite quickly although the porters overlook us almost immediately, despite is leaving an hour before them.

After reaching Ayapata and having a rest and snack, we continued to Llullucha 2.5km steeply uphill. This path was tough: narrow and uneven. The group separated out quite a bit and we walked with the altitude climbing and affecting our breathing and giving us headaches. Finally we reached Llullucha. We all needed a long rest. We purchased some over priced energy drinks and recovered. If we had thought that part was tough, we were seriously mistaken. After a team photo with the mountain behind us, we set off.

The 3rd section to Deadwoman’s pass, 3.5km was extremely steep and tiring. Tears and aches were our company. Mike and I stayed together and encouraged each other to the top. Several breaks were needed along the way. Sometimes after only about 20 steps. The views however back along the valley were gorgeous, and llamas grasses below us. A porter (from a different company) seemed to be struggling and we offered him a consolatory Oreo. The peak seemed to get further and further away. After an hour and half we summited. But it was worth it. The view was gorgeous and the path remarkably looked flat from the pass. It was one of the toughest hikes we had ever done. We quickly became cold at 4215m and relayed and waited for the rest of our group. We could see them struggling up the mountain but couldn’t do anything to help but shout encouragement. Within 45 minutes or so, everyone made it. Including our guide, Miguel, who played ‘eye of the tiger’ as he came over the top. We rested and snacked, and looked down at the final section of the day.

Last section 4km downhill to Paq’aymayu campsite was an inca stone path more uneven than anything so far. If we didn’t have our walking poles it would of been impossible! My legs turned to jelly and I turned my ankle and fell at one point. 4km went on for ages, Mike stayed with me like I had stayed with him on the uphill. Eventually, the little man with a flag pointed the way to base camp. Relief. The one advantage of doing so much trekking is we now had a whole afternoon to ourselves. Just lunch, tea and dinner to look forward to.

The afternoon passed by quickly in a series of naps and food. Before long, dinner was done and we were tucked up in our tents looking out over the mountains. Our tents were at least level so no more siding for tonight.

We awoke on Day 3 to a gorgeous view of the mountains from our tents. Today would be our longest day of trekking and filled with Inca ruins. From our camp at Paq’aymayu to Runkuraqay our first stop was 1.5km uphill. After some porridge we set off.

Not far from camp was our first set of inca ruins for the day: a look out point over the valley. Circular in shape and Miguel and Raul explained its significance on the road to to Machupicchu. After some pictures we set off again.

The track wound through the hills and we spotted a wild deer springing through the scrub. We passed to lakes and Mike later saw footage from a ranger of a bear drinking there just an hour before we arrived! Close call! At the top we climbed and had a lookout at the surrounding mountains and the trail ahead.

It was now 2.5km downhill to Sayaqmarca an Inca town. The path was steep and uneven but on relatively fresher legs was much easier than yesterday. We reached Sayaqmarca and were confronted by some 100 very very steep steps to it above. We climbed up and explored the ruins. Built on a mountain it offered views of the valleys around it and even some other inca ruins on the other valley side.

Was we had explored we had 6km up and downhill, alone to Phuyupatamarca for lunch. I moved at my own pace and listened to music all the way. The path went through jungle, caves and on the edge of cliffs. It was probably one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole inca trail. Snaking along the mountains just you, the path and nature. It only took about an hour and half and we arrived at the lunch spot two and half hours before we were expected. In fact when Mike arrived at the head of he pack the porters or jumped up and ran into place! Miguel said we were one of his quickest groups!

The lunch spot was on top of a mountain with gorgeous views, at least there would have been, if it wasn’t for the cloud rolling in and blocking it out. Nevertheless it was pretty. Lunch was an enormous meal. Soup as usual to start, then a feast for main. Chicken, pork and beef with roast potatoes, Spanish omelette, vegetables, rice and quinoa! If that wasn’t enough we were then treated to a cake bakes by our chefs. A full on baked cake, over a fire, on the side of a mountain!! And iced with our group name ‘Sexy Llama Warriors’. It was delicious and once we had a piece we offered the rest to our amazing porters. Miguel then set up a meet and greet and we met all the porters and chefs and took a group photo.

After lunch we let the food go down, when a llama entered camp. He provided some good moments as he hurdled our bags and looked off the foggy cliff edge.

We set off again 6km downhill to Winaywayna campsite at 2550m. First their were some Inca ruins just below our campsite we visited and took pictures at. Miguel gave more explanation about the Incas and from here we could see Machupicchu mountain: the end was insight. We could also see in the distance some beautiful stepped Inca terraces were we would be visit later in the day.

After an hour and half of walking down yet more beautiful stone paths we reached the terraces. At least 7 of our group of 8 did. Mike had charges ahead and missed the turning going right instead of left. So while the rest of us took pictures on the terraces and enjoyed the beautiful view of the valley bellow, Mike had to hike back up hill. As we were about to leave he appeared exhausted but just in time for a photo or two. His path led to base camp so he was never in danger of getting lost but it was funny.

We descended the terraces passed llamas (which we used as a selfie opportunity) and arrived at base camp. This was the busiest camp, with everyone else on the trail camping here ready for Machupicchu the following day.

We had dinner and thanked the porters for their service with a tip and got to bed early. We would be up at 3am to get to the sun gate and be one of the first in Machupicchu.

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