Hiking Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - aka I paid to do this?

Machu Picchu Travel Blog

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km 82 starting point
Up until now, all had been a prelude, albeit interesting preamble, to the Inca Trail.  We started at 8am as everyone was ready and raring to go by 7 am, anxious and excited for the imminent physical and mental challenge.  I had been worried about not being able to complete it, and was almost glad to be able to blame altitude sickness for failure instead of being out of shape.  I'm happy to say, despite falling on my culo three times on Day 2 and very sore leg muscles on Day 3 and 4, I made it to Machu Picchu!

Day 1: Headed out from the famous km 82, starting point of what has been known as the Inca Trail (although the Inca Trail or the Inca Royal Highway system actually has more than 20,000km).
First bridge
  The easiest day of the hike, day 1 was warm and relatively flat.  Everyone was super-charged and anxious about Day 2's infamous climb to 4,200m.  This was the first day that we were exposed to the incredible superhuman strength of our porters.  There were 14 tourists, 2 guides, and 22 porters to carry all the tents, our duffel bags, and cooking gear for us.  They were really amazing.  Carrying 50-75 pounds on their back, they would race by us (actually running in some sections) with humungous packs, while we would be panting walking at a snail's pace with just day packs.  It took us 3.5 days to do the Inca Trail...the record for a porter without a pack was 3hours and 45 minutes.  3 hours and 45 minutes!  Most of them had shoddy looking sandals and didn't drink water (thanks to the marvelous coca leaves).
The plan
  And when we'd finally arrive at camps (usually hours after them), they'd applaud us, having already set up our personal tents, pitched the big eating tent, and cooked a 3-course meal for us.  I wanted to take one home with me!We were also introduced to the thoroughly disgusting squat toilets, which were like Eastern hole-in-the-ground toilets.  I won't say more about it except that I took every opportunity to pee in the nature, esp. at night.  Me and my overactive bladder!

There was a beautiful full moon that night and very loud barking dogs nearby.

Day 2: Dead Woman's Pass was the big climb.  I think I OD'ed on coca leaves.  For the last lung-torturing climb, I chewed coca leaves until they were little pulpy bits and then chucked them out to start with fresh leaves.
View of part of the trail
  I felt very Incan and a little druglord.  I later had a headache, but I'm going to chalk it up to altitude instead of the coca leaves.

The climb was pretty taxing but I think coming down was even harder.  Even though we had walking sticks, the descent was hard on the knees.  I also hadn't gotten the skill down of not picking the slippery rocks that sloped downward, and consequently fell on my ass a few times.  Not fun.  But it became a big joke and I would eat a lot at meals to pad my culo for the next day's long and steep descent.

Peruvians celebrate Christmas with a big Christmas Eve dinner.  We had a live chicken brought in an old rice sack by one of the porters.  Not sure where it came from, but I patted it on its head when it passed by me on the hike up.
Me and the first ruins at Llactapata
  I hate to say I was then paranoid that night of getting bird flu.  In any case, the chicken, maybe from hardy living in the mountains, had very rubbery, tough meat.

After dinner, we had an interesting cultural exchange moment when the porters sang us songs in Quechua, and some of us sang carols in English, Spanish, French, and Czech.  Then there was an impromptu dance sesh to the Quechua songs and this was only after very little celebratory champagne.  The tourists were all tired and turned in at 8 am (with a 4:30am wake up call for the next morning).  At midnight, we were woken up by fire crackers popped seemingly dangerously close to our tents...another Peruvian tradition.

Day 3: We walked 16 km (10 miles), climbed 2 mountain passes (including a "false pass" which nearly killed my resolve) and descended 2000 steps through a Cloud Forest jungle at the end.
All our meals were beautifully set
  There were a couple cool Incan ruins but by the end, all you wanted was to sit.  Suffice to say, I was exhausted and in major pain that day.  The whole time I was thinking..."I paid to do this to myself?  Merry Christmas!"  But at the last campsite, there was a bar (yes, Cusquenas!) and hot (lukewearm) showers!  Christmas brunch after 3 hours of hiking of course involved fruit cake. 

Day 4: We woke up at 4:30am to get a good view of Machu Picchu at sunrise after a "short" 2-hour hike up to the Intipunku, the Sun Gate.  The gates from the 3rd campsite open at 5:30am and then it was a mad dash as all tour groups converged towards the Sun Gate.

Day 1 campsite
  Other than a few annoying hikers who sped past, it all was kept it pretty good order.  The view from Sun Gate was beautiful as well as during various viewpoints on the way down to Machu Picchu.  Machu Picchu itself was amazing...just the genius of the carefully constructed buildings and advanced understanding of astrological events like solstices.   After a 2-hour tour, some of us willed ourselves to climb the mini mountain (not the famous Wayna Picchu), but even that ended up being another physical challenge...at one point, a rope was hung to help scale a steep portion of the mountain.  I was thinking, "Oh, f*ck."  Another one of those, "how did I get myself into this?"  moments.  But it was a great feeling to climb it (and even better to get back down).
Home
  Then, I went to relax on one of the many grassy terraces of Machu Picchu.

A note about ancient ruins in Peru: it really is amazing how little of the ruins they rope off.  There were many places along the ruins where a misstep would plunge you literally straight down the mountainside to your death thousands of feet below.  In America, that would never fly.  They'd have built a clear wall in that opening for sure and posted a long disclaimer in huge block letters about how they would not be responsible for any tragic plunges.  I always lean towards the unadulterated...

We took the bus down to the town Aguas Calientes to rendevous with the others.  There was this boy who ran all the way down the snaking mountain with us, every time bursting in front of the bus and running ot the other side of the road to stand and yell hello.

Full moon
  He got on the bus at the end, cocked his head at a level that made me think he had something wrong in the head, and yelled "Good byeeeeee!  Adiooossss!!!! (and a farewell in Quechua!)."  But that definitely deserved a few coins, so I dropped in the equivalent of 60 cents, a suitable donation.

After a calorie-filled pizza and beer, I had a great hour massage for only $20!  Loving Latin American prices.  After another train ride (I really missed the porters on the walk to the train station, which though not long, almost made my legs collapse) and a bus ride, we arrived back to Cusco.  After much needed showers, we grabbed dinner at an Australian pub (don't order the "Get some oriental inside you" stir fry) and called it an early night at midnight.

doliveira says:
What trekking company did you use? My husband and I are going to hike the Inca trail this Christmas!
Posted on: Mar 01, 2008
drobec says:
I hope that i'll be there sometimes also :-)
Posted on: Jan 07, 2008
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km 82 starting point
km 82 starting point
First bridge
First bridge
The plan
The plan
View of part of the trail
View of part of the trail
Me and the first ruins at Llactapa…
Me and the first ruins at Llactap…
All our meals were beautifully set
All our meals were beautifully set
Day 1 campsite
Day 1 campsite
Home
Home
Full moon
Full moon
Day 2 morning
Day 2 morning
On way to Dead Womans Pass
On way to Dead Woman's Pass
Superhuman porters
Superhuman porters
Me and llama
Me and llama
Yay, llamas!
Yay, llamas!
We had just been down in that vall…
We had just been down in that val…
Dinner!
Dinner!
Me at Dead Womans Pass
Me at Dead Woman's Pass
Dead Womans Pass from afar - you …
Dead Woman's Pass from afar - you…
Valley we had come up
Valley we had come up
Crazy descent where I left part of…
Crazy descent where I left part o…
Christmas dinner
Christmas dinner
Christmas Eve cheer with Willie an…
Christmas Eve cheer with Willie a…
Day 3 Morning: Me, Willie, and a l…
Day 3 Morning: Me, Willie, and a …
First ruins...temple representing …
First ruins...temple representing…
Little ponds on the way up to the …
Little ponds on the way up to the…
On the way down from the first pass
On the way down from the first pass
Me and Sophie
Me and Sophie
Me and Dex being Asian at Sayacmar…
Me and Dex being Asian at Sayacma…
Christmas brunch
Christmas brunch
Tired me and fruitcake at Christma…
Tired me and fruitcake at Christm…
Gradual incline in the jungle
"Gradual" incline in the jungle
Tunnel made by Incas
Tunnel made by Incas
I didnt notice Willie hiding in t…
I didn't notice Willie hiding in …
Me at Phuyupatamarca ruins
Me at Phuyupatamarca ruins
Steep decline
Steep decline
Part of the descent
Part of the descent
Me enjoying the Winaywayna ruins t…
Me enjoying the Winaywayna ruins …
Terraces of Winaywayna ruins
Terraces of Winaywayna ruins
Tourism or beer ad?
Tourism or beer ad?
Day 4: Machu Picchu sunrise!
Day 4: Machu Picchu sunrise!
Getting read for the 5:30 gates op…
Getting read for the 5:30 gates o…
On way to Sun Gate
On way to Sun Gate
View from Sun Gate.  No, it wasnt…
View from Sun Gate. No, it wasn'…
One of many Machu Picchu pics
One of many Machu Picchu pics
On way down to Machu Picchu
On way down to Machu Picchu
Group at Machu Picchu
Group at Machu Picchu
One of many Machu Picchu pics (clo…
One of many Machu Picchu pics (cl…
Intricate fountain
Intricate fountain
Ancient water system
Ancient water system
Wind temple: notice crack due to s…
Wind temple: notice crack due to …
Sun temple
Sun temple
Temple
Temple
Door stop
Door stop
Priest house
Priest house
Im leaning because I can barely s…
I'm leaning because I can barely …
Walkway
Walkway
Temple
Temple
Famous Incan sculpture to tether d…
Famous Incan sculpture to tether …
View of mini mountain Huchuypicc…
View of "mini mountain" Huchuypic…
On top of mini mountain...I made i…
On top of mini mountain...I made …
Rope(!!!) that helped us climb the…
Rope(!!!) that helped us climb th…
What was I thinking?
What was I thinking?
To add to the Peruvian nature of M…
To add to the Peruvian nature of …
Llama love!
Llama love!
Industrial houses
Industrial houses
We went the wrong way and ended up…
We went the wrong way and ended u…
Last views
Last views
Crazy sprinter boy
Crazy sprinter boy
Crazy sprinter boy saying a silent…
Crazy sprinter boy saying a silen…
A little more walking in Aguas Cal…
A little more walking in Aguas Ca…
A kitten who ended up on my bag as…
A kitten who ended up on my bag a…
Machu Picchu
photo by: NazfromOz