A Final Note: The Things You Need to Know But Probably Don’t Want To
- Whenever you travel in another country you must be prepared for the differences in culture and available creature comforts. Not just the trail, but the majority of the small towns and villages we visited had items not too pleasant for the pampered Gringo traveler.
- Of course drinking water from the tap is always a no no.
- TP in the toilets, also a no no.
- Running water in sinks to wash your hands, optional.
- Toilet seats, optional. TP, optional.
- This hike was challenging to say the least. The facilities on the trail were unpleasant but it is amazing that in the middle of nowhere there can be flush toilets and running water at all. Amazing ingenuity.
- Each camp had a few areas of sorta flat pads for the tents. The tents themselves were mostly waterproof.
- The altitude will kick your ass no matter how tough you think you are, or how hard you trained.
- The toilets were keyhole squat type that were the most disgusting things you can imagine. Getting up and down from a freestanding squat on wobbly trail legs and bad knees was a feat in itself.
- Personal hygiene is high priority or you will find yourselves getting something you totally don’t want on a skinny trail in the middle of nowhere.
- The only exit off the trail IS the trail.
The Camino Inka was both rewarding and absolutely took every ounce of every fiber of my being to succeed. I knew when we set out to do this hike it would be challenging, but I really had no idea what I was in for. There were times when you just would give up because it was just too damn hard and you had nothing left. There were times of triumph when after you gave up… something inside pushed you onto the next goal, even if that goal was just 5 more steps… the next bush or landmark. Bottom line… you only have two choices from the moment you set foot on the trail… move forward, no matter how hard it was…or turn back and face the same path as continuing forward… only on your own. Either way it was going to be hard as hell so suck it up sissy!
Would I do it again… at my age… HELL NO! I accept now my body is not it’s 20 year old self… but I had to try. What I saw can’t really be captured in pictures. What I went through can’t really be put into words. Let’s just say if you ask me about seeing Machu Picchu, if that’s really what you want to do…take the damn train.
After an early night the whole group was ready for the final push the next day. We called ourselves YOHO, You Only Hike Once. Most of us agreed this was a ONCE in a life time achievement and at this point all we wanted was to arrive at the Sun Gate, Intipunku, and ultimately an hour or so later set foot on the sacred city of Machu Picchu ( proper pronunciation “Machu Pict chu” the other way gringos say it means “big penis”… that explains why the porters would all laugh as we discussed the final push.
We had to get up at 3am and be packed and out of our tents by 4am so the porters could break camp and hike down to the train that would stop at 5am SHARP to pick them up… miss the train and it’s a twenty mile hike back into town. We were on our own today. No porters passing us up.
There was no breakfast except dry bread and jam, hot water for coca tea and that was it. We were given the last briefing and gathered outside for our last “let’s do this”! cheer.
A five minute hike and over an hour wait in a long line of eager hikers. The gates to the last part of the trek opened a 5:30am. We had to present our permits and then were allowed to proceed onto the last 2.5 miles of the hike.
This part of the trail has been regulated due to the amount of deaths that have occurred on this, the last push to Mach Picchu. In the past companies have left before sunrise and in the pitch black walked right off the narrow trail. Even in the light of day this was a tricky path. Four to five feet wide and 200 foot drop off on the side.
After about a two hour hike up and down we came to the “Monkey Stairs”. A set of stairs that looked more like a wall rather than a stair case. You literally had to climb on all fours or fall over backwards and break your little cabeza. It was about 50 feet tall and composed of uneven rock steps at about a 75 degree incline. At this point the lack of food, tired legs, and lack of sleep really began to pay its toll. It was quite humorous to watch us all climb.
The view from the top of the Monkey Stairs was almost 180 degrees of stunning jungle choked mountains and the last remaining morning mist clinging to the lower trees. The sun was just coming over the peaks of the mountains in the east revealing the lush greenery and the path ahead still clinging to the steep cliff sides.
In about 20 minutes we reached The Sun Gate. The Sun Gate was used to tell the exact day of the summer Equinox. The sun would rise and shine threw these stone pillars onto a certain wall on the Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu. I found a secluded stone on the edge of this site a released the remaining ashes and Faye will forever be looking down on Machu Picchu and the stunning surrounding mountains.
After photos we set out for the final push to the city of Machu Picchu itself. There were two more stops on the way down to the city perfect for photo ops and closer views of the city from above. Ten more minutes and we finally set foot into the city proper.
Unfortunately the older members of our group, Chris and I included, had to wake up an hour before the rest to hit the trail. This was a 10.8 mile hike which started with another two hour hike straight up.
It had rained all night and continued into the morning with only a slight break that allowed us to get a drier start. As with the day before this pass was at over 12,000 feet and done at 5:30am with little to no breakfast, my altitude sick stomach, and cement legs. We arrived at the top, a 1500 foot gain, in just under the two hours allotted.
I was the first to summit and therefore the first to begin the ascent down the other side. This day was different. We started out before any of the porters so we had the trail to ourselves, the four of us the only ones on the trail for two hours. Soon I was passed by the first, second, tenth and and more porters… one finally stopped and told me I was the first gringo on this part of the mountain. I smiled.
The rain was relentless. It was steady and the mountain engulfed in clouds and mist. Every plant was saturated, the stone path wet and glistening. I watched each porter as they danced across the rocks to see which were safe to step on and which to avoid. A fall could mean a broken ankle, leg or even tailbone. Ouch.
I made it to the bottom of the mountain in good time, this was called the Gringo Killer. I came upon a ruin that I thought was a break area, waited over a half hour before the younger members of our group, and finally Alejandro showed up. I was sopping wet and beginning to feel a chill. No break here I was told, not for another twenty minutes.
Hiking the trail this day in the cloud forest high above the valley below was like hiking in an unfinished painting. The left side was brilliant greens speckled with fauna, the stone path in the middle and the right was trees and vines, to the far right was a blank white space, devoid of any color, shadow or shape. You could hear the birds and river running deep below but the sound came out of a void in space.
By lunch, almost 1pm, the relentless rain had stopped. We were all soaked through to the bone. We arrived and the porters were all moving around feverishly to assure we could warm up, dry out and get a well deserved meal. I of course was still feeling the nausea of early mornings and lack of a good night sleep and probably a bit of altitude sickness… so no food for me. The porters made us a cake that took a whole day to cook on the trail. It read “Congratulations YOHO!” It was so special to know that each of them was pulling for us.
After lunch the clouds parted and by the time we reached our next break, Winayaywayna, another step filled ruin. The view revealed where we had been hiking all day in the stark nothingness. Another history lesson, picture session, and off to our last night camp. P.S., this was a 13 hour hike for Chris and I, but it was by far the easiest day!
This day was a day of personal hell for all the hikers on the trail. We started out at 5am and literally walked straight up flights of uneven stairs for 5 hours for an elevation gain of 4500 feet.
As I passed each climber you would make small talk… if you had enough breath. About two hours in you just looked at each other and tried to smile as we all leap frogged up the mountain. After 3 hours you reached a false high as you reached the half way point to cheers from your group who were all waiting for the final push, like runners at the starting line. You could see the end point far in the distance and a few climbers ahead. The trail looked like a line of ants as they would move and stop, move a bit more and stop.
P.S. As much as I resented the idea of using my iPhone and earphones on the trail they were my saving grace. When I finally was ready to succumb to the pain and nausea of altitude sickness I pulled out my music and it took my mind away from the mental cues from my brain saying ‘are you f#%+ing insane?’ It put me into a type of trance that allowed me to control my anxiety, breathing and pace. God bless technology!
By 4 hours in you were swearing and cursing the trail and each step. You would turn around and look at the absolutely stunning views, convince yourself this is why you are doing this, turn and push on. Step by step. At one point a rain shower rolled in and the path of ants both in front and behind me all at once turned from yellow, white blacks and blues, to brightly colored plastic coated ants in a row. And I push on.
As I got closer to the top I had made friends with other hikers from around the world. I was wearing my Ravens jersey and I became “Hey Baltimore” as I was passed up and passed. Five hours later the the top was in close proximity and I could see Alejandro waving me on. The last 15 minutes seemed like hours, three steps, breathe, three more, breathe. Five steps to go, I wanted to run up and be done but my legs felt like cement. Five hours and 20 minutes summit.
The view was spectacular but we couldn’t stay long due to the altitude. I thought that Fayzee would’ve liked the view so I left a bit of her there with a view that can only be achieved by plenty of sweat, pain and tears. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down.
The path down was almost as fun as the ascent. The difference being you were trying not to break an ankle or fall on the slippery rocks, oh yes I forgot to mention it began to rain. It was a 3500 feet descent, most of which was the same incredulous stairs as going up this insane mountain.
At the bottom of the first set of stairs a porter appeared and gave us a note from Alejandro. The note said “Hello Girls. I have sent this porter to help you any way he can. Let him carry your backpack so you arrive safely.” At first Chris was hesitant. Normally these guys are running up and down. Michaelandro stayed with us for the whole time until Chris saw the next set of stairs and surrendered her backpack. He stayed with us for the next hour as we hiked into camp. We arrived to the same lineup of porters and Alejandro cheering as we entered camp.
Inca Trail: Day One
As usual it was another early morning. The anxiety level was like an adrenaline rush that woke me way before the alarm.
Our guide told us that only the privileged, in the day of the Inca were permitted on the trail, and that we too were privileged. We were in an elite group of hikers permitted to take the pilgrimage that was a spiritual path in its day.
We were all allowed only 6kg (13lbs) per person for our porter to carry. This was to include clothing, gear and bedding. All we really wanted to carry ourselves, was the bare necessities of water, rain gear, snacks and a warm shirt in case the weather changed.
The porters were all about 4-4.5′ tall, stocky build, jet black hair and all donning the GAdventures purple shirts. Each was allowed to carry “only” 20kg (44lbs) which seemed like as much as some of them weighed. The older porters had rounded backs from years of “running up and down” the trail. Their shoes were mostly worn out tennis shoes, open toe sandals or even a few in flip flops. They all had great attitudes and smiled huge toothy grins as they chewed their coca leaves and readied themselves.
The day was beautiful. We stood in line at the gate to get our permits and stamp in our passports for the Camino de Inca. We all paused at the starting line, like a group of marathoners about to start a 27 mile, 4 day trek. My stomach and mind were waging war against my will as we started out. No matter how warm the breezes were… how beautiful the scenery, I still couldn’t get my whole being to get on board. I hiked on anyway.
Today was only going to be 7 miles of relatively easy hiking. The elevation gain of 500 meters or 1500 feet. We were all enjoying the scenery on the trail and thought, “OK this is not so bad”, until the last 2 miles the trail showed us what she was really made of. Quite frankly, this day of hiking was the hardest thing I had ever done, and we were just getting started.
We all arrived in camp and claimed our tents and duffles and lied down exhausted. At dinner that night, the next day was laid out for us, including a 4:30am wake up. Of course we all knew what lay ahead, Dead Woman’s Pass.
Massive Undertaking: The Inka Trail Day One