Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Surviving the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

As many as 3,500 people visit Machu Picchu every day but only 200 reach it on foot. Almost all travel by train, and I am proud to say that I am one of the foolish few who chose to walk through the Andes for four days to get to the Lost City of the Incas. It’s been exactly a month since we first walked on the legendary Inca Trail, or the Camino del Inca, the footpath that leads to the gates of Machu Picchu, yet until now I cannot believe that I, an inexperienced hiker, made it. Surviving the trek seemed impossible until we finally did.

High altitude passes, steep stairs and sore knees

The trek involves long ascents along precipitous hand hewn stone paths and stairs that strained the lungs and made me gasp for air and arduous knee-jamming and toe-jamming descents that felt like an eternal downward spiral into agony. I had to focus on where to put my feet in order to maintain my balance and not fall off the cliff in those sections that hug the mountainside. The high altitude, which made breathing even more difficult, didn’t help either. There were moments when, desperate for more air and my legs already beyond exhaustion, I felt that each step was the last that I could take or the most that I could do. Yet I trudged on.

descent from Sayacmarca (Day 3)
I was so determined not to falter that it appeared believable: The other hikers in our tour group mistook me for a college student hardcore trekker. People would definitely see me as what I really am—33, wimpy and inexperienced--if not for the months of rigorous training and days of acclimatization that I went through. All through those months of preparation, I had this in mind:

"Make no mistake, the Inca Trail is a fairly difficult trek and you should be well prepared and healthy prior to starting it. You have to be fit and take regular exercise. Try walking 15 km in a day or go to the gym in the months leading up to the trek. It is also important to be well acclimatized to the altitude." (Peru Treks FAQ)

our tour group
Comfort amid discomfort

The toilets, as I expected, were indescribably nasty. All camping sites have toilet facilities with running water, but some trekkers probably do not have enough respect for their fellow trekkers to keep the facilities clean. Those who can’t put up with such unpleasantness do their thing hidden in the bushes, away from the stench and excrement.

Temperatures varied from 21°C (70°F) during daytime when the sun is out to 1°C (34°F) come night time till the early hours of the morning. And because of this variation in temperature, we had to dress in layers – layers that, when taken off, added more weight to our daypacks.

The Inca Trail gets its most number of visitors from June to August because these months coincide with Peru’s dry season. Sunny skies with chilly yet clear nights were expected during our trek, but it rained on the night of the third day and the morning of the fourth. On the last day, we woke at dawn to a heavy downpour and after a hurried breakfast put on our ponchos and headlamps and started hiking down to Machu Picchu. Walking for hours in the rain, in the dark and within inches from falling off the mountainside was scary, annoying and uncomfortable – all at the same time. Yet the fright, annoyance and discomfort disappeared when we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu enveloped in mist.

Amid all the discomfort is the unexpected luxury of waking up every day to steaming coffee and coca tea served in our tents. Every meal was thoughtfully prepared by the trek team. It is amazing how the crew came up with such delicious three-course meals with their equipment and mobile kitchen tent assembled on-site. How they managed to set up our tents and prepare everything before we arrive in camp is an amazing example of efficiency, organization and excellent service.

A world of beauty

The Inca Trail is part of the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, a 325 sq km national park designated as a UNESCO World Heritage natural and cultural site. It traverses high passes, rushing rivers, tunnels carved into rocks and cloud forests inhabited by rare orchids, ferns, hanging mosses and different bird species. Against this dramatic landscape are several Inca ruins that showed the architectural sophistication of the Incas and their utmost regard for nature.

The dazzling mountain scenery was simply breathtaking. I gazed and stared, stupefied by the world of beauty around me. The Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu gave me the greatest wealth of experience any individual could ever know in such a short time.

(Click here for more pictures of the Inca Trail.)


Unknown said...

day 1 pa lang baka sumuko na ako. i'll probably make it to the second or third hour of day 1, tapos, uwi na lang ako mag-isa. hehehe. congrats ulit, angeli! galing!

ps: naisip ko, i can probably handle the distance, but with the ascent factor? grabe. :-)

Angeli said...

sa descent ako mas nahirapan. isipin mo yun, 4 na oras na tuloy tuloy na pagbaba sa isang matarik na hagdan. sobrang sakit sa tuhod. :)

Arti said...

Waiting eagerly for more pics! These are fabulous... I love the mountains and the treks, looks wonderful...
Have a nice week ahead Angeli:)

Angeli said...

Thank you, Arti. :)

Kayni said...
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Loree said...

Wow. Awesome. I cannot imagine walking that trail - although i would love to. It must have been an incredible experience.

Anonymous said...

we were the hiking FNG's in the trek group. :)

Amelia said...

wow!! what an experience :) galing! di ko ata kakayanin yan...baka magtrain na lang ako...ahihihi!! but kidding aside, it's amazing!

Angeli said...

yes, it was incredible, Loree. :)
try it, amelia. you won't regret it. :)
anonymous, i didn't look like an FNG, did i? :)

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