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 summarization, and a plethera of photos:
The Group: (16 Hikers = Group Max)
The Faster Group (aka the ¨You Run/Guideless¨ Group) = Myself, Laura, an Irish couple, several more Irish and Scots, and an Australian (although sounded more New Zealandish) who provided constant ¨Flight of the Conchords¨-esque humor (sounded almost idential to Jemaine for you FOTC lovers) -- We spent maybe 3 hours in total with a guide along the trail, the rest developing our own insight about the path we were on.
The Lesser Faster Group (aka the ¨Wait for Lunch/Double-Guide¨ Group) = An Aviator-sporting girl from LA (even at night), a young deaf couple, a possibly-deaf couple from Hawaii (as maybe 8 words were heard collectively from them during the 4 days) and 2 American daughters and their amazing 64 year old mother (the oldest person seen on the trail).
19 Support = 16 porters, 2 guides and 1 absolutely amazing chef.
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 comotose 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 anyday 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
|Our group of 16 ready to commence the 4-day hike along the Inca Trail (apparently spelled with a K on random occasions)|
|A slightly emaciated (most likely tape-worm/parasite carrying) me, ready to partake on the journey|
|¨The Inca Trail¨ - Lots of rocks|
|Edwin the guide providing us with one of many Inca-related lessons along the trail|
|I really love the donkeys in South America|
|Day 1 - The only section of flat ground experienced during our ¨Peruvian Flat¨ day|
|Campsite #1 - Wayllabamba (the slight downhill of the terraces caused almost every hiker to wake up at the bottom of their tent)|
|Unable to hike for a continuous 90 minutes without stopping for some sort of mandatory food/drink break (I´m not complaining, just stating what occurred)|
|Remaining aftermath of snowstorms that shut down the trail for the first time in almost a decade - a mere 1 week prior to our departure|
|One of only 3 people in our group to successfully make it to the top of the highest part of the Inca Trail (13,776 feet) carrying all our own equipment (most hired an extra porter). +5 points for badassness/cheapness|
|Exhausted porters earning a well-deserved rest|
|Group shot after ¨meet and greet¨ session with the porters (1 porter was 48 years old and had been doing this trek for over 20 years. He looked tired).|
|One of many random Incan ruins along the way|
|I think I included too many random ruins shots in this blog|
|Amazing tent accomodation|
|The ¨Kitchen¨ - Still have absolutely no idea how all our amazing meals AND a cake were created in this tiny, dimly-lit shelter|
|Starting our early morning descent (aka ascent, it was not downhill whatsoever) to the Sun Gate|
|First glimpse of Machu Picchu - A bit underwhelming|
|Although it did inspire an early-morning marriage proposal|
|200+ trekkers taking their first of several thousand Machu Picchu photos|
|The definite highlight of Machu Picchu for me was the overabundance of Llama´s posing perfectly for every backdrop image|
|Llama attempting to eat Wayna Picchu (the famous mountain behind the ruins)|
|Attempting to reach my inner Llama|
|Classic, completely unposed, photo of Machu Picchu|
|¨The Large Field Area¨|
|¨Please do not climb on the ruins¨|
|Standard jumping shot|
|Very happy a lack of fear of heights allows me to partake in such images (taken shortly after an elderly lady crawled on her knees past this point)|
|My favorite shot of Machu Picchu (a bit of photoshop work once I am home should bring out the postcard blue skies in this picture)|
|Llama-covered terraces (the Incas LOVED their terraces)|
|The first form of transportation this trip that hasn´t been a bus. It of course almost fell off the track 38 times, making it a less-than-enjoyable change of transport mode|