Travel Diaries #6: Trekking the Inca Trail

When I packed my life into a bag in 2011 and jetted off to South America with no plan, trekking the Inca trail was the only part of my trip I'd arranged before leaving home. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. A trek that you need to secure a booking on three months prior to arrival? That must be something - and it really was. A majestic place one must experience to believe!

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The Inca road system stretches the western side of South America, mainly nestled in the Andean mountain range linking the north and south regions. Machu Picchu served as the Incas royal estate and was well off the beaten path in those days. The trail built to link the lost city to Cusco and the Inca empire.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is around 40km long. Parts of the trail are natural ground and some areas are filled with earth to create embankments and pathways. Stone steps were constructed in some parts of the land as it is so steep. There are three high passes on the trek. Abra Warmiwanusca, most commonly referred to as 'Dead woman's pass' is the first and highest pass, 4201m. Abra Runkuraqay is next at 3780m. The final pass is Phuyupatamarka 3620m high. Generally the trail is walked in 4 days, however the marathon was once completed in 3hours 23min. A record set by a local chaski, most likely done barefoot. Permits only allow for 250 people on the trail at anyone time. My group consisted of 16 chaskis 2 guides and 11 wanderlusters.

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Chaskis are the local, highly trained runners who would deliver messages and gifts throughout the Inca empire. Today otherwise known as porters they made our trek possible. Carrying everything we needed, they would run ahead, prepare our food, set our tents and have cold water waiting when we arrived at lunch. Without these hardworking men, our trek would not have been possible. I cannot thank them enough.

The morning was crisp and quite as we loaded onto the bus in Cusco. The sun was out as the bus ferried us to the start of the trail, just past Ollantaytambo. Chaskis raced around us, packing our bags, tents, chairs, food, cooking equipment. Before we knew it they had loaded them on there backs and were off. First thing was first which meant presenting our permits at the first checkpoint to allow us on the trail. Our group was made up of six beautiful Irish girls, two Swedish couples, an American woman and me, the token Aussie! 

Day one was easy. Energy was high and the landscape was beautiful. We were eager to hear about the stories and history of the magical land. What we didn't expect was the feast we received for our first meal. Three courses of soup, salad, noodles, meat, the works. The food was incredible, every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Day two was set to be a long one. Dead woman's pass was the first challenge, all 4201m of it. The pass was in our sites the entire morning and we set out on the climb. Climbing up on stone paths, green canopies overhead. Occasionally lamas would run by us. Soon the mountains opened up around us and that was all we could see as we trekked up. The day was hot as we powered up the path. Altitude was evident as headaches started to set in. Thankfully my experience on Misti had prepared me for this one. Reaching the top was incredible, but it was still early in the day and we had to descend for lunch. The walk down was tough on the legs, more so than the climb we had just defeated! Energy was low when we arrived at lunch. We ate, only because the food was so amazing and then slumped into a doze on the dirt floor.

 
 

Most groups were finished for the day and setting up camp. Instead we would carry on. The second pass of 3780m was next and up we went. As we occasionally looked back to marvel on the pass we had just conquered we saw the clouds setting in. The rain started to fall, making the stone steps slippery. Our minds having to concentrate harder on each step. Our last stop was at the ruins of Sayaqmarka. The sun gave us inspiration poking its rays through the cloud covered sky. The final walk to camp was uplifting knowing the long days end was in site.

Day three was best described as a fairy tail. The stone pathway lead us to the third and final pass. A cloud forest with mountains falling below us. Lush green trees and foliage engulfed us as sunshine filled the empty spaces. I walked beady eyed though the breathtaking trail. The Yunkapata ruins were the last stop before camp, the aura of this place was indescribable. Our short day saw our group as the first ones to camp.

 
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Up until now we had been fortunate with the weather. However a storm was brewing and you could feel the moisture in the air. Crawling into our tents for the night we secured everything as much as we could. This didn't stop the rain, light and sound show that fell upon us. The storm raged through the night and we half slept in anticipation and excitement of reaching Machu Picchu the next day.

At 4.15am we were given our wake up call. Sluggishly we crawled out of our tents and made our way to breakfast. We waited at the final checkpoint for the gates to open on the final path to Machu Picchu. Rain continued to fall as we climbed along the slippery stones. Finally we climbed an almost vertical staircase and reached the sun gate...and there it was, the lost city of Machu Picchu. Divinely beautiful, mystical and enchanting as the low laying clouds hung throughout. Like a step back in time. The Inca trail IS all its hyped up to be, and more. Machu Picchu is a story for another day.


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