With my departure into the Bolivian Amazon only hours away, and my blog status already several weeks behind, I am forced to rush through one of the most amazing experiences of my trip thus far: The hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Booked almost 6 months in advance thanks to some intensive itinerary planning (as the 500-person Inca Trail daily limit -- of which over half are porters -- fills up almost as soon as it comes available), the entire South American trip thus far has been dedicated to making our way down to Cusco by July 13th - The day of our departure for Machu Picchu. With the entire trip thus far a constant question as to whether enough time allowed for additional days and/or places, as well as a massive snowstorm only a week prior to our departure that shutdown the Inca Trail for the first time in almost a decade, I consider myself lucky to be writing about a successful experience today.
Nevertheless, while I would love to indulge you all in the daily events of the trail, that would entail almost an endless blog, and in the sake of brevity (mild brevity that is, as this is quite the endlessly extensive blog), I leave you instead with some more general summation, and a plethora of photos:
The Group: (16 Hikers = Group Max):
Day 1 (7.5 miles) - Cusco (8,500ft) --> Wayllabama (10,137ft) - Easy day of "Peruvian Flat" hiking (see below)
Day 2 (6.8 miles) - Wayllabama (10,137ft) --> Dead Women's Pass (13,776ft) --> Paqaymayu (11,480 ft) - Most difficult day of hiking, not helped by an inconveniently-timed onset of "runny tummy" (becoming quite the weekly experience on this trip)
Day 3 (10 miles) - Paqaymayu (11,480ft) --> 2nd Pass (12,916ft) --> 3rd Pass (12,000ft) --> Winay Wayna (8,829ft) - An almost all-downhill-knee-breaking day of hiking.
Day 4 (3.7 miles) - Winay Wayna (8,829ft) --> Intipati / ¨Sun Gate¨ (9,319ft) --> Machu Picchu (7,872ft) - Final day comprised of an early morning "rush hour traffic" sprint to the viewpoint for sunrise, followed by 8 hours of exploration (aka endless photo taking)
The Detailed Highlights:
Hiking Time Overestimation - Although our group was comprised of all levels of hiking fitness, our lead guide Edwin refused to ever provide us with the "actual" time required to accomplish each section of the hike. What was presented to us as 2 hour sections, typically were accomplished anywhere from 40-60 minutes. Gotta love reverse psychology.
Peruvian Flat - Alongside Edwin's preface of our "2 hour sections," we also were constantly told of the relatively easy "flat sections" through which we would traverse on a daily basis. Unfortunately, in Peru, flat ground is not the same as elsewhere in the world. According to the Peruvian Dictionary (I have the only copy if you wish to borrow), flat ground is any specific path that ends in relatively the same elevation, regardless of intense inclines and declines along the way. Thus, a "2 hour flat section," according to Edwin, could actually encompass an intense 30 minute climb, followed by an intense 10 minute descent. Perfectly flat.
Jimmy the Assistant Guide - I honestly have no idea what Jimmy was responsible for, as usually he was seen wandering aimlessly in circles at camp, or nowhere to be seen along the actual trail itself. At one point he imitated the noise a frog by whistling like a bird. Definitely deserving of the $10 tip he earned!
Amazing Food - I have no idea how our chef Louie was capable of putting together the meals he did, but the food along the entire trek was absolutely amazing. Soup, stews, grilled meat, vegetables, and even a birthday cake for two of our trekkers (I am still attempting to figure out where he managed to find an oven). The picture below should do justice of what Louie had to work with.
Inside Joke #1 of the Trek = The Rice-Devouring Chicken - Despite being uncaptured via any photographic device, the most infamous temporary member of our group was a chicken met during the first lunch on the trail. With enough rice to feed a small village remaining after our meal, we decided to feed it to a nearby chicken who had been snaking his way through our legs throughout the meal pecking at scraps. All I know is 30 minutes later, the chicken lay on its side, almost comatose from food exhaustion, continuing to devour away at the rice, despite it's inability to stand up anymore.
Inside Joke #2 of the Trek = Popcorn and Jam - An invention that is soon to hit the States any day now, combine popcorn and some jam, and you have one of the most amazing snacks every invented. As an FYI, Jam = Jelly (been hanging out with way too many Brits this trip).
Notable Mentions - Amazing sleeping bag and tent (a first in my trekking experience), squatter toilets (not sure which puts more stress on the legs -- the Inca Trail or the patient squatting as one waits to relieve themselves), nightly asshole/president card games (I hate being asshole), amazing porters who deserve more respect than anyone else on the trek, my loyal $20 Colombian-purchased shoes which decided to decompose on me during the trail (grass is a great filler for holey soles), Edwin's insistence on our constant chewing of Coca leaves for energy and altitude-combativeness, hours spent discussing favorite quotes and moments from favorite TV shows/movies (primarily South Park, Team America and Family Guy), as well as Llamas, rocks and of course, more Llamas and some more rocks.
Onto an endless array of pics:
Next Week: Lake Titicaca and La Paz