Sunday, November 12, 2006
Peru: Hot on the Inca Trail
In the summer of 2005, I felt a need to leave the country and do something physically challenging. So, after hounding everyone I could, I finally convinced my college roommate to join me in Peru to hike the Inca trail. The trip was for one week and we spent 4 days on the trail hiking and camping at very high altitudes.
When we arrived in Peru we spent one night in Lima. Lima is a busy city on the arid coast and is not very pretty. However, there is some great shopping to be had at the bigger Alpaca 111 stores and local markets. I would focus my energy on bead necklaces and 100% baby alpaca or vicuna fabric items, the alpaca beanies are invaluable for the hike. Be wary of inexpensive alpaca fabrics across the country, as they are typically 95% brushed polyester.
On the second day we flew to Cusco, a quiet town, which is at about 3,800 meters. This is where I became very sick the first day from the altitude. However, my friend didn't feel the effects of the altitude at all. My suggestion is to be prepared for the worst and plan on staying in Cusco for more than one day to adjust.
Cusco Recommendations: Inka Grill (dinner), Hotel Monasterio (accommodations and food), Explorandes Tour Guides, plenty of coca tea!
Sign up for the local tours as a package. This includes guided tours where you can learn about much of the regions history. A visit to Sacsaywaman will supply you with a good laugh when you hear how it is pronounced. I won't ruin the surprise.
The third day is when we took Peru Rail down to the start of the Inca Trail. Beginning the trail is very exciting because you don't really know what to expect. The porters carry your large bags and all of the accommodations on their backs and consistently beat you to every stop, wearing nothing but recycled rubber sandals on their feet. You almost can't believe it without seeing it with your own eyes.
The trail is a journey of its own. Each day the terrain becomes more lush and the mountain views more breathtaking. Peru has some of the largest hummingbirds you will ever see and there are wild orchids along the way if you look carefully.
Camping and hiking on the trail was so much fun. We saw so many stars, including the Southern Cross, it was absolutely incredible. The night we stayed at the highest altitude (near Dead Woman's Pass) was below freezing and a little brutal, but totally worth it to get to the top the next day. Just make sure you have a great sleeping bag and warm clothes and you'll be fine (REI is my favorite place for gear). Don't forget to give coca leaves to the mountain gods in a ceremony at the top. This will ensure your safe passage on the rest of the trip.
Preparation is key to enjoying the hike. Make sure you are very active and lift weights to gain strength. Take care of your knees. The steep declines along the way are tough to take, so buy a walking stick from one of the locals if it's offered. I paid an equivalent of only $2 for a hand-carved walking stick and it was very helpful!
Prior to reaching Machu Picchu you will come across Wiñay Wayna, which I found to be even cooler than Machu Picchu. I had seen numerous pictures of Machu Picchu, but Wiñay Wayna was totally unexpected. If it's lush and green when you get there, look out for the waterfall on the far side. After Wiñay Wayna you will make your way to the Sun Gate, where you will get the first view of Machu Picchu, renewing your energy for the day.
It's all downhill from the Sun Gate, where you will beam with excitement. Strategically placed llamas will greet you when you arrive and you will feel very territorial after seeing the day hikers that don't appreciate the 4 days and nights you just spent getting in touch with nature. Take pictures, do a quick tour and then get yourself down to Aguas Calientes to enjoy $20 massages, the local hot springs and a much needed Pisco Sour at the local bar.
Our last day was wasted due to a Peru Rail strike. But, we learned that the locals can pack tightly into the last train and still enjoy themselves singing, everything from Guantanamera to the Beatles.
Photography by me (except the awesome cow picture taken by a fellow hiker).