NERVOUS, excited and apprehensive of what the Inca Trail would bring, I had waited for this moment for weeks.
I had spent ages thinking about what to pack and how to get through the trail. I had heard so many stories from other backpackers I had met along the way who all told me similar things.
- It’s really tough, especially on the 2nd day
- The food is amazing
- It gets really cold and doesn’t stop raining
- It’s a great experience.
When something like this is hyped up so much you wonder whether it will really live up to your expectations.
I had no idea how I’d cope. I had never done anything like this before so it was going to be interesting.
THE big day had arrived.
We set off from Ollantaytambo – a small, quaint town where the Sacred Valley and a train to and from Macchu Picchu stops. The small streets are full of tourist coaches and minibuses and the whole place is clearly geared towards tourists starting or finishing the Inca Trail.
I was pretty excited as we passed through the start checkpoint and got a stamp on my passport.
The walk started fairly easy and we all coped fine walking at a reasonable place. But soon some short uphill bits and steep stairs pounced on us and it was getting painful to lift my leg up to reach the stone steps.
But some of us kept ourselves amused singing Disney songs along the way and re-writing the lyrics to “I Will Survive”.
As slowly as we plodded along, I was amazed by the porters who manage to run up and down those hills carrying 20kgs each – if not more. The tiny Peruvians carry the tents, our food for four days and all our overnight bags, and most of them wore just sandals on their feet. They were incredible.
Soon we stopped for a delicious 3-course lunch, had a 10 minute siesta and we were on our way again tackling possibly the hardest bit of the day.
As we arrived at the camp it was all ready and waiting for us. The porters had put up all the tents, including a dinner tent complete with a table and chairs, and even put hot water into tubs for each of us to wash our hands and faces. This was my first time camping in 17 years but it really wasn’t true camping. Apart from the makeshift toilet cubicle in the corner of the field made from wooden logs, we were being spoiled.
Maybe it was the adrenaline of the first day of the Inca Trail, but I was feeling pretty good, and raring for more.
THE porters woke us at 6am with hot water and cups of coca tea in our tents. Then an amazing breakfast of porridge, fruit and pancakes got us all ready for the big day ahead.
Straight away we set off uphill and within minutes I was out of breath. I actually felt like my lungs were aching from the amount of heavy breathing I was doing. But the route was to get much harder. For the next hour we walked up a crazy amount of stairs. I tried to count them as I was going up but soon ran out of energy and gave up. Instead I put on my ipod to help me get some strength to keep going.
Even our guide Raymer, who has done the trek many, many times, found this section difficult and said it never gets any easier.
The huge steps seemed to go on forever. Just when you got to a flat section and thought they were over, they started again. It was ridiculous. I stopped every now and again to catch my breath and rest the old legs.
After a short break it was time for the second difficult section of the day known as Dead Woman’s Pass. Looking at it from the bottom the 1,200 metre climb we were about to make seemed daunting. The path got steeper and the stupid steps continued. By now my legs were well and truly about to give way. My calves ached as I moved them to climb each step. And the higher up we went, the harder it became to breathe. At this point, I’m not exaggerating when I say I thought I was dying.
Soon we were right up in the clouds and looking ahead I could see all the people that had already reached the top. It was a huge relief to eventually be one of those sitting and watching as others reached the top of the mountain with looks of joy and utter exhaustion on their faces.
Although after making the crazy climb our reward was spending the next hour walking downhill. I eventually got sick of walking and the only thing helping me through was knowing that the end of it meant lunch and the end of our walking for the day.
This had really been the most strenuous day of the trek so far but after a lazy afternoon in the campsite playing cards, I was ready for more.
Tired and full after another incredible 3-course meal, we were all in our tents by 8.30pm, sleeping in all our woolly clothes and thermals ready for the cold night ahead.
OUR wake up call came at 5.30am and by 7am we were already climbing steep steps to some inca ruins.
Today was a much more cultural day as we saw more Inca ruins along the way than previous days.
By 9am I was ready to stop for lunch and collapse. My legs were officially aching. After three days of walking it was finally taking its toll on my joints and muscles. Even stretching at the beginning and end of each day wasn’t making much difference. They were just tired.
Today we walked down even more steps. It amazed me how the porters managed to run down them with all the gear they carry, especially when it began to rain. I don’t know how they did it without slipping.
Looking ridiculous in a bin bag style poncho I walked slowly to avoid slipping on the rocks, but the rain actually pushed me on to keep going.
With my two walking poles and walking at snail pace down the steps I felt (and looked) like such an old woman. It was a shame it was raining so much as it was cloudy and we couldn’t see much of the views around us today.
But once we got the campsite the scenery around us was amazing. We were surrounded by mountains and just a 10 minute walk away was what the locals call a mini Macchu Picchu. The terraces were just like the real thing but without the hundreds of tourists walking around. Once the rain had passed, it was great to just sit for a while and enjoy the beautiful countryside after another long day of walking.
We had yet another early night as we got ready for the last and most important day of the Inca Trail. Aching all over I was just hoping I could get through the last few hundred metres before we arrived at Macchu Picchu – the grand finale.
TODAY we were woken at the ridiculous time of 3.45am. There was no tea in our tent or hot water to wash our faces this morning though as the porters literally had two hours to pack everything up and leg it down to the bottom to catch their train back to the end. And if they miss it, they have to walk the whole way.
Dark and raining we started to make the last few steps to the end of the trail. The group marched along like crazy to be one of the first to reach the sun gate before all the crowds got there. Luckily in that time the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out.
It was a fairly steady section compared to the previous days but before I thought it was all too good to be true, we were faced with two last steep flights of stairs to climb. By now I was officially sick of walking up and down steps.
From the sun gate we could see Macchu Picchu in the distance. We were finally getting closer and practically sped down the last 2,500 steps
While I was exhausted, had aching legs and in desperate need of a shower, I couldn’t believe that our Inca Trail journey was over. On finally reaching Macchu Picchu it made all the pain and effort seem worth it.
While swarming with tourists who had trekked with us and others who had cheated and got the train there, the little town was still an amazing place to be. I could have easily spent hours walking around the ruins and terraces or sitting and enjoying the view – but I had very little energy left in me. So I just sat for ages and took in the view.
Considering we hadn’t eaten a meal since 4am I was well and truly famished, ready for a hot shower and in need of some sleep. But it is hard to describe how amazing it felt to have got there.
AS much as I moaned over the four days, the Inca Trail was so much fun, and for me, it was a huge achievement. It doesn’t matter if you are the most fittest person or not, you just need some will power and good company to help you keep going….and you will, without a doubt, have an unforgettable experience.