After four days exploring and acclimatizing to the higher altitude in the Andes Mountains of Peru, it was time for the next challenge – Hiking the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu.
Early morning, I headed to the square where I would meet my guide for the hike. The streets were misty with cool, damp air. The only other person there was a girl with a backpack dressed in hiking gear. We chatted for a while and discovered that we were both about to take on the Inka trail.
Our guides arrived and we drove to the starting point. By this time, the sun was up and what was threatening to be a rainy day, soon turned to clear, comfortable weather. Christian, my guide registered me and we started the Inka Trail journey. Turns out I had him all to myself – a private guide! At first, it felt ridiculous, but ultimately, I was grateful to go through this lifechanging pilgrimage practically alone. I was in a really bad emotional stage at the time and felt like just walking and thinking and putting it all behind me.
Day 1 – Starting the Inka Trail
The first day’s hike was fair – a little up, then a little level as we made our way to the first campsite. We hiked for a few hours and shared camp with another small group. The group had four people and a guide, including the girl I met earlier that morning. Altogether we had two Peruvian guides – Christian and Mario, a Colombian, Frenchman, an Irish girl and a Brazilian. Each had his own porter who carried 25 kilos of tents and food supplies.
At the camp, the porters took care of everything. They set up our tents, cooked delicious meals, cleaned up, and broke down the tents again the next morning. I was really amazed by these guys. They effortlessly carry so much weight and after all that hiking still manage to take care of everything.
After enjoying dinner with the whole group, I found a plug to recharge my camera’s batteries. This was the last opportunity I had as there were no other power points along the way for the rest of the hike. I then made my way down to the river and spent some time just staring at the water. The wind was rustling through the trees and besides the humming of porters talking in the background, I was surrounded by absolute silence and peace.
Around 10 pm, I passed out in my tent but at midnight, I woke up to the sound of fireworks. What a surreal experience to be sleeping in the middle of the Andes when the inside of your tent lights up from the fireworks outside. Apparently, Peruvians wait for midnight and celebrate Christmas with fireworks and drinks.
Day 2 – Conquering Dead Women’s Pass
At 5 am, the porters woke me up with Coca tea and an hour later, we started our trek to Dead Women’s Pass. This was the toughest day – physically and mentally. The steps just kept on going and going. I remember my guide telling me how many people quit while taking on Dead Women’s pass. Quitting was simply not an option. No matter how much my legs ached and my mind told me to turn back, I would conquer this peak.
At one point I could see other hikers at the top of the pass and my heart sank at the realization that I have at least another twenty minutes to go. After about six hours of climbing, I made it to the top. At 4,200 meters above sea level, it was freezing cold, but the view and the sense of accomplishment made it completely worth it.
We rested for a while and enjoyed the view before taking on the last stretch. Turning my back on Dead Women’s Pass, it dawned on me what was next. We had to go down again!
The descent was so steep, that we practically ran down. My legs were shaking and towards the end, all the steps and patterns started to blur.
When we finally arrived at the campsite, the porters had everything set up already. The landscape was strewn with multi-colored tents, the buzz of satisfied hikers, the sound of a river and mountains topped with snow. I immediately passed out and they had to wake me up for lunch. Never before have I felt this tired. It was like having extreme jet-lag.
After lunch, I slept for a few more hours. The porters woke me up for tea time at 5 pm and after dinner, a couple of us placed our chairs looking out onto the valley and San Francisco glacier. We played a few rounds of “snap” and then made some Irish drinks with Whiskey, sugar and hot water. It soon turned into a drinking party and the whiskey turned to rum and finally Pisco before bed.
Day 3 – Misty Mountains
The third day of the hike started uphill as usual. When we stopped for lunch, the entire mountain suddenly got overcast to the extent that we couldn’t see more than ten meters in front of us. We hiked in the rain for about an hour and I finally felt like I was starting to come back to being myself. I felt energized and happy as we followed narrow paths with nothing but mist around us.
Along the way, we stopped on a peak and Christian explained the ritual of making a sacrifice to Pachamama. I placed three coca leaves under a rock that I picked up by the lake. We gave thanks to the North, South, and West mountains and placed the leaves under the rock while making a wish. This moment was probably the highlight of my trip. I felt connected, for the first time in a while, to something greater than myself.
Along the way, Christian taught me the three rules of Inka times: Don’t lie, don’t be lazy, don’t steal.
After another four hours of downhill and the most incredible forest scenes, we finally made it to the campsite. Taking a shower was long overdue, so I braved the icy mountain water.
We sat down for another magnificent dinner after which the porters introduced themselves. Introduced themselves! They were setting up our tents, carrying our supplies and cleaning up after us for the past three days, and I didn’t even bother to pay much attention to them. It was an absolute eye-opening moment. I got so involved in my own journey that I selfishly overlooked the men who took care of us. The introduction was a somewhat theatrical experience after which we showed our gratitude with tips.
Day 4 – The Inka Trail Reward
We woke up at 3 am, packed, and watched the porters fold and pack away our tents. At 4 am, we headed down towards the control gate where all the hikers were lining up. Some were sleeping, while others were playing cards or fiddling with their belongings. I sat down and watched the sun rising over the back of the Machu Pichu mountain.
At 5:30 am, the control gates opened and all the hikers streamed through on the rush to the Sun Gate. People were literally running past each other to make it there first. It took about an hour and there was only one steep climb. As I passed through the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu revealed itself on the most perfect, clear day. There were no clouds, except on the top of the surrounding mountains.
We took many photos and had the traditional Machu Picchu moment when a llama stared straight at me with the ruins in the background. Christian took us on a tour around the ruins, but besides the mind-blowing architecture, the location of the site was even more astounding. Surrounded by huge mountains stood this incredibly well-thought-out structure of precision and grace.
Time to Go
After the tour, most of us split up and we took a bus ride down to Aguas Calientes where we had lunch and explored the local market. We enjoyed a beer on the market walls and then made our way to the train station.
I was the last one to leave and for some stupid reason, missed my train. Something just had to go wrong. Luckily, I managed to get a seat on the next train to Ollantaytambo and Cusco. Exhausted from hiking the Inka Trail, I was now worried whether my lift will still be there when I arrived in Cusco. I was extremely grateful that the driver decided to wait a little longer and met me at the station. He took me back to the hostel where I was staying before and I developed a new appreciation for a warm shower and a comfortable bed.
Visiting Peru and conquering the Inka Trail filled me with the feeling of accomplishment and sense of closure. It is a trip I will never forget. The Inka Trail should definitely be on your bucket list if you want to challenge yourself and experience something mystical.
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Have you ever traveled to Peru? What was your favorite experience? Please comment and remember to follow me on Instagram @onkeytravel.