One of the main reasons we were in Peru was to hike the Inca Trail. So one day before we decided to buy a smaller backpack, because everyone told us it was actually hard to carry even 5 kilos. And my backpack was kind of big, and knowing myself I was going to pack so it weighs 15 kilos. We bought it in a small store in Cuzco, one of the many outdoors’s stores. We also bought water bottles, iodine pills to purify the water, endless band aids, and altitude sickness pills. But to be honest, coming from Bolivia, the altitude hadn’t been a problem in Peru at all.
So the day finally came. We all showed up at the agreed time near to Cuzco’s main square and they took us to the entrance of the Inca Trail. There, we had to wait for all the porters to show their permits and to have their bags weighed. Apparently, they used to carry too many kilos, it was almost inhumane, so they passed a law where they can’t carry more than 25 kilos each, and they are very strict about it. I just can’t believe I was complaining about having to carry 5 kilos.
After the first 20 minutes in the trail, my backpack broke. One of the arms snapped and I wanted to kill someone. The guide was laughing a lot saying that’s what I got for buying “Cuzco quality”. Fortunately, it happened close to a house, where a very nice lady lend me some needle and thread and I could sew it and reinforce all the rest. I was lucky, in a way that it happened during the first day, were there was still some civilization.
The first day was pretty simple, the terrain was flat, we were in good spirits and we didn’t walk that long. We saw our first Inca ruins, had lunch, and before it got dark we put up our tents and relaxed.
We had our own guide, but we were part of a bigger group that consisted in a 4 Argentineans, a couple from Canada and a 50 plus year-old couple from Belgium (RESPECT!) Everyone walked the trail at their own pace but we usually had lunch and dinner together.
Our guide warned us that the second day was the hardest and the longest one. Even with his warning I was not prepared at all for the upcoming physical challenge. Previous to our trip to South America, I had been doing cardio regularly and thought I was ready. Nothing really prepared me for this day. It was HELL. The moment I thought we had reached the highest point and the worst had passed, my guide would look at me with a pitiful look and say: no, we are not done yet! The higher we hiked, the colder and mistier it got, but it also got harder of course, making me sweaty and warm but cold at the same time, you know what I mean? There was so many stairs, up, up, up all the time, and then down, and even if I felt thankful for the rest while going down, I knew it meant that at some point we would go up again.
There were moments I wanted to cry (I think I did) and wanted to give up. I didn’t think I was in such bad shape, but my guide assured me it was due to the altitude, I guess that explains why I felt I couldn’t breathe at times. We were ascending to the mountain pass called in Quechua “Warmiwanuska” (Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 mts /13,779 ft) What an ironic name! I am a woman and I was dead when we reached it.
They promise you spectacular views from here, but it was very foggy and I felt too bad to even care. And so it began the descending. I was happy for this, as going down is usually easier than going up, but again, I was wrong. It was very steep and hard for my screwed-up-by-football knees, and the walking poles we thought so much about hiring came very handy! At this point the weather was like: “Oh, I don’t think you are uncomfortable enough!” and it started raining. Hiking with one of those plastic rain jackets is horrible, it’s super warm and sweaty. I know I sound like a huge pessimist and that everything sucked, but it kind of did that day haha. The only possitive thing was that with the fog, there was some serious Mordor feelings, and pictures came out great.
The view of the camp brought the best feeling imaginable. The worst was over, finally.
A very hard day was followed by a very hard night. It was probably my super tired body combined with the altitude and weather, but it was the coldest night ever and I could barely sleep. I was actually happy to wake up and start hiking again just so my body could warm up, and also because it meant we were getting closer to Machu Picchu.
The third day was the longest day. We were going to walk 15 km, but after the previous challenging day, this was a breeze. It also switched from Mordor to tropical forest, full of green and little ponds here and there. This day was tough as well but my favorite one. During this day, we learned a lot about the Incas. Our guide Luis was born in Peru and had studied many years to become a tour guide. His main language was Quechua, his second language Spanish and the third English. I couldn’t believe it when he told me he does the Inca Trail every week, I just thought about that second day, and I can’t imagine someone doing that every week! Our porters were the toughest men I’ve met as well, they woke up before us to make us breakfast, and stayed behind to pick up and pack everything, so we usually had more than one hour as head start, and then, during the hike we would just see them running, in flip flops! passed us. When we arrived at the campsite the dinner was ready, and I’m sure they even had time to take a nap.
The fourth day, aka, the last day, the Machu Picchu day, we woke up very early. This was because we wanted to get to Machu Picchu very early and avoid all the crowds coming with train (lazy bastards!). So we woke up at 4:00 and hiked the last 2.5 hours to Machu Picchu. The goal was to reach the Sun Gate at sunrise, so we could enjoy a magnificent view of Machu Picchu from there. Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t want to cooperate and the view was completely cover by fog. We wait there for almost an hour, with no luck, until we decided to move on and see the real deal sooner.
On our way there, we were blesses with a double rainbow, at one of the ruins before reaching the lost city.
I believe we turned somewhere, or maybe the fog just began to disappear, but we started to gradually see our destination. I screamed when I recognize Huayna Picchu (That iconic peak that it’s so characteristic of MP), I could see it! Finally! That view, that us, Latin-Americans, see and study since we are little kids. A dream come true.
At the end, everything was so worth it. I’m sure it must be spectacular to see Machu Picchu no matter how you get there, but the fact that it took us 4 days, by foot, and all the physical effort, made it much more rewarding. Machu Picchu felt like our prize after those days, a prize we deserved. I know I complained during the hike, but the views along it were the best views I’ve seen and I would do it again. To walk that path full of history and culture, that same path Inca Kings, peasants, warriors and farmers walked, it’s an experience I will treasure forever.
If you are debating whether or not hiking the Inca Trail, my answer is DO IT! Yes, it is demanding but not impossible and it is super rewarding. The experience of going to Machu Picchu is by itself amazing, but it is even better when you have done the Inca Trail. Your age doesn’t matter! Your guide will be with you and follow your pace, and you will have the best experience of your life. I PINKY PROMISE!