We had been in Peru for three month, and we were told our health conditions would be fine as we had already acclimatized to the high altitude associated with trekking the Inca Trail, however, it wasn’t any easier for us, than the groups that we met along the way.
We were picked up by our trek guide at the hostel in Cusco at 6:30am. A bumpy bus ride took us to beginning of the trail in the Urubamba Valley, where groups of trekkers, independent and those on packaged tours were already gathered for the briefing, and gearing themselves up with walking sticks and coca leaves. After we buckled our backpacks and waved goodbye to our bus driver, we started our trek.
First day of the trek was the easiest, as we were still at the peak of our enthusiasm, and most of the trail ascended only very gently. A group we passed along the way commented on our strength as we lugged our 7kg backpacks each into the altitude, they had hired porters to do the job for them. However, knowing that by my fourth hour my legs were starting to cramp, I admired their will and courage, as most of them were above the age of 50, to be taking on this journey at all.
Porters run past us at lightening speed as we catch our breath by the creek, their rubber sandals flapping along the paths. I laugh at my attempt to look adventurous with my specifically selected shoes and body wear, yet I slump in my tent which the porters had already set up hours before, waiting for the call to dinner.
A five am morning call was delivered with a cup of hot coca. Bleary eyed and shivering, I quickly packed, had breakfast with the group in the dining tent, and braced for another day.
This was the hardest day of the trek, as majority of the time we were going at 45 degree up hill. For 3 hours we continued to soldier on challenging the hills while chewing on coca leaves to relief the slight altitude sickness. The walk was not without its rewards: the scenery along the way can only be described as awesome, with mountains and rivers surrounding us and sounds of nature calling out to us. As I struggle beside our guide, whose energy doesn’t seem to drain as fast as mine, he mentioned that we were on the way to the highest point of the trek. “Dead woman’s path it’s called” he said with a grin. With the air so thin and the cliff falling deep down my right hand side, I can only imagine the reason behind such a grim name. At the top of the hill, reaching the peak at 4200m, the air was thin and cold but the view was breathtaking.
However little did I expect that after reaching to 4200m, there was 2 hours worth of steep downhill, which brought back pains in my knee and I had to use my walking stick as a crutch and push through. The second night’s camp site was on a beautiful hillside which over looked some of the valley and waterfall. Our tents were as usual, pitched and waiting.
Once again, hot tea was the bait to get us all up and ready. Day three was the longest day as we had to trek for 7 hours before we camp, however the grade of walking is easier as the roads were flatter and is also the most scenic day of all. Our trek passed through a fairy-tale-like ruin named Wiñay Wayna (Quechua name meaning ‘Forever Young’) which we took our time to explore and admire, before continuing down hill to the riverside to camp. With our cramming legs and sore backs, I was glad tomorrow we’ll get to the much anticipated city of Machu Picchu. At night during dinner, we had a little celebration with the porters and chefs of our group, patting our backs on making it this far and thanking those who assisted us along the way.
I might take this chance to comment on the incredible porters who’s assisted us with our camping and dining needs. They ensured that we did not have to rough it, as each night’s meal was as good as any ordered from a restaurant. They get up earlier to prepare breakfast for us, set up and break down tents for us each day, run ahead of us to prepare lunch and dinner, and when in need, boiled water painstakingly by wood fire to ensure we had safe water to drink. Without these porters one would definitely be lost among the forest and the ruins.
We were woken up at 4am to start walking towards the town of Aquas Calientes. A landslide nearby had prevented us being able to take the more classic way through the sun gate, and it was only safer for us to go through the town. I didn’t mind this one bit as Aquas Calientes is a town known for its natural hot springs, and I knew would be a welcome relief after this is all over.
We had arrived at the gate around 7am, way ahead of the day tourists that would roam this city when the train arrives from Cusco. When the fog finally lifted revealing the magnificent city of Machu Picchu, I stood there in awe, and basked in an overwhelmed feeling I cannot describe. After a guided tour around the ruins I sat on a hill and just watched the sight from above, a sight I will never forget.