Peru: the Inca Trail

Day 1. And so, 11 intrepid souls set off on a journey to Machu
Picchu.  There is an idiotic custom in this country to issue tickets,
including train and entrance tickets, with names AND ages of
whoever it was issued to.  Moreover, my train ticket has a list of all
the members of our group.  So that is how I know their ages.  No, we
didn’t have a 10year old but
A British man, 55
his two strapping young lads, 20 and 22
two girls from San Diego, 40 and 35
two women (nurses) from Atlanta, 49 and 51
two guys from South Africa, 31 and 32.
So the first day started at 730 am on a fairly flat ground. Now the
ground on the trail is never really flat, it is always on an incline,
usually a steep incline, and always made of rocks, but the first
stretch we walked for 5 hours was not too bad.  After lunch the trail
went up.  This was an endless stone staircase going only up, no
breaks, I immediately fell behind.  Between the altitude of 11,000
feet, steep stairs, and nasal congestion which made it totally
impossible for me to breathe through my nose, I basically climbed for
one minute and rested for two.  I gotta tell you, that was awful.  I
felt I was on a death march, only they didn’t shoot you if you fell
down and fed you well.  The guide who was bringing in the rear, that
is me, was trailing behind me.  Her English vocabulary consisted of
as many words as my Spanish vocabulary, which rendered us both mute.
That horrid climb lasted 3 hours.  I arrived at the camp site a little
after 5, and, according to our guide, we were supposed to arrive
between 5 and 5 30 PM, but our group got there between 4 and 4 30.
Lisa with them, I was very impressed!
The camp was at about 11,500 feet, and it was very cold,  Everybody
bundled up and gathered in the dining tent.  The food was actually
very good. After dinner, everybody piled on all the warm clothes they
had and climbed into their sleeping bags for the night.
Day 2.  This morning almost everybody reported pain in their lower limbs,
but me.  My limbs were fine, I was just completely out of breath,  So
we set off on another horrid stone staircase to the highest peak of
Dead Woman´s Pass at 13,600 feet. That took me two hours, from there
it was down, down, down on the huge stone stairs, and then up again to
the next peak from which we descended to our next camp at 9,500 feet.
That was like being on a StairMaster for giants for eight hours.  I
was panting behind everybody else, the worst thing was that all of them had a
lot of rest stops but I had practically none, having arrived to the rest
stops when everyone was ready to take off.  I felt that was an
endurance test and I was failing.  I can´t even describe how utterly
exhausted I was when we finally reached the camp.  The worst thing. in
my opinion, was that all the energy went towards surviving the march
and there was no time to stop and smell the coffee.  I felt that there
was too much rush to get to the campsite before dark.  That night one
of the nurses gave me sudafed, and the next day (Day 3) I could
breathe.  Also, the altitude was lower, and we were going mostly down,
so I caught up with the rest of the group and leaped like a mountain
goat over the rocks with everyone else.  Now mind you, you have to
understand, even the way down is steep and stairs are made of huge
stones, there is no easy stretch on this trail, really.  On the way, we
visited several Inca sites which are always set up amidst the most
beautiful mountains. We passed through Idiana Jones type passages and
wild alleys.  Part of the trail was on a ledge built by the Incas 500
years ago and still holding.   When we arrived at the campsite at 12:
30, our guide said, that was that for today.  I couldn’t believe the
torture was over!  Now, that decline did a job on everybody’s legs.
Most of the group was hobbling around on stiff legs.  In the afternoon,
we walked a short distance to the nearby Inca site, resplendent in the
setting sun.  This last campsite, the closest to Machu Picchu, housed
several groups and many porters, so the few bathrooms became quite
foul,  But so were we after sweating on the trail during the day and
not having had a shower since the beginning of the trip.
Day 4.  Up at 4 AM, at 5 AM got in line with other campers to get onto
the trail which opened at 5 30 AM, started a brisk walk on the sore
legs and reached the Sun Gate at 6 30 AM.  And there it was, down
below. If I weren’t so exhausted I’d cry.  From this vantage point, in
the dim morning light, the Lost City of the Incas lay beneath us under
a light veil of mist.  It is not Machu Picchu itself that is so
beautiful but the setting of the mountains surrounding it, a picture
perfect art piece of nature.
From the Sun Gate we walked to the Temple of the Sun, and finally, to
Machu Picchu.  The site itself is amazing and incredibly well
preserved and it sits on the slope of a mountain in the midst of
breathtaking peaks of various shapes and heights.
From Machu Picchu, we took a bus to the nearest town of Aguas Caliende and all our senses
were assaulted by the hustle and bustle after four days of being with
nature.  The shower felt like the most luxurious thing on earth!

So, the Inca Trail.  I read a lot on the Internet how difficult it
was, but no one mentioned it was a boot camp, not a hike.  We passed all
these beautiful vistas, groves of myrtle type trees, and whatever else
I didn´t notice because I was trying to breathe and climb the giant
stairs.  For future travelers I would recommend to skip the trail, stay at Aguas
Calienede and take a short hike to the Sun Gate and from there down to
Macchu Picchu.

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