https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/shinenyc/Tuesday morning at 6:15am, I was half-awaked and picked up by Tucan's bus already filled with all our porters for the trail. An hour or so later, we stopped at Ollantatambo for a quick refreshment and last-minute shopping. On our way to the trail checkpoint, smoke started coming out of our bus. We got off and waited around the river bank for a while before hopping onto another bus for the last stretch.
The trek started at the km82 at River Umbambra after all our passports were checked by the guards. Our groups consist of a canadian family, a new-zealand couple, Chris, Ofri and me. Jacque, who had just returned from Jordan training Iraqi police, had quickly established himself as the intelligent comedian of the group with a sense of humor and endurance that enabled us to stay strong for the next four days.
The first day of the trail was quite flat with our guides stopping occasionally explaining different flowers and plants. But what come next had surprised all of us - our dedicated and hardworking porters deserved so much respect that I could not even start to describe. The amount of money they make is nowhere close to the unimaginable working conditions they have to endure. Each porter is allowed to carry about 25kg including tents, cooking equipment, our clothings and food etc... Approximately one porter for each of us.
The first day ended quite easily. Dinner at campsite, again, had surpassed our expectation. After a decent sleep listening to a dog-barking symphony and brushing my teeth next to a curious sheep, we started our second day with spectular weather.
Hiking up to 'Dead Woman Pass' was a killer, as everyone had predicted. With irregular stone steps more than a feet high for hours, I had to stop and rest almost every 30 steps. It was a mental battle as well as physical. The sight of crowds at the top gave me motivation. After a torturing three hours of uphill, I finally made it to the freezing top (4198m or 14000ft) with an unexplanable sense of achievement! No need to say the next hour, all downhill, to our campsite was a breather. Our achievement was treated with afternoon tea with biscuits and Milo, I took a nap until dinner. Dinner started promptly at 7 with absolutely the best pervian family-styled soup. After dinner, we all passed out in the sound of rushing river and frogs. It was a cooooold night!
Coca tea was served (our tent service) bright and early the next day. We started our third-day hike with another delicious breakfast and up to the second highest pass (3998m) where small stones were piled up as a symbol for protection by puchomama (mother earth). We passed by a few more inca ruins including the Inca Tunnel, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarca (towns above the clouds) the next few hours. Taking extra caution at the tall and narrow steps, I was able to finish another day with no sored muscle while keeping up with the group pace. Instead of camping at Winay Wayna, our group were so fast that we actually made it back down to camp right in front of another inca ruins by the river. On our last night, we gave our most sincere gratitude to our porters after dinner. It was a very touching moment.
Due to a landslide, the proper entrance to Machu Picchu, the Sun Gate was closed indefinitely. So the next morning, we started hiking in the dark along the Perurail train track for an hour to Machu Picchu town and took a bus up to Machu Picchu. The sight was definitely impressive no matter how many pictures you have seen. However, I had a serious congestion from the past few days and medication had kept me a bit spaced-out while admiring this beauty. Julio patiently explained to us how the inca cut stones so precisely in the several important locations. Afterwards, I wandered around with a half conscious mind and tried to soak in the spirits with the perfectly harmonious landscape in the surroundings.
Just when the sky cleared up, loads of tourists flowed in, completely destroying the serenity and spirituality in the air. I quickly escaped and took the bus back to town. Once back in town, I walked up the touristy streets lined with restaurants and went to the hot springs. No showers for four days had promptly led me for making the decision of trying it even though it is not quite my expectations. We boarded the PeruRail at 5:40pm expecting to get back to Cusco around 8pm. Of course, our already slow train had its engine broke down in the middle of nowhere. I looked out at the roaring Umbambra River for hours while waiting. It was not until midnight did we arrive at Ollantatambo and 2am at Cusco. We were all semi-conscious by this time.
Overall, the Inca Trail experience was not only a personal challenge, but a revelation. The trekking, camping, the spirit of the group, Julio and the porters (the Inca descendants) were more memorable to me than the actual Machu Picchu ruins. To appreciate the Inca culture is to walk the same stones they paved in the landscape they so strongly associated themselves with.
More pictures here: