And the food. Oh god, the food! Every meal we got 4 or 5 separate dishes of insane yummieness, popcorn and biscuits at tea time and fancy desserts à la bananas flambé, and jello cake.
(can you feel more like a spoiled tourist than having stuffed avocado while camping in the Andes?)
When us tourists would start leaving, the porters would pack up the entire camp and bypass us while we were walking at snailspeed (while they were sprinting up and down insanely steep paths) to the next resting stop to set up the camp and kitchen again. A very weird experience for me, since I’ve never been on such an organized camping trip. Every day 250 hikers are allowed on the inca trail, and the same amount of porters, who would all stop on the same resting point, creating a sort of highly organized chaos, with several little camps and sanitary blocks.
Walking the trail the first day wasn’t that insane, and our guide Angelo also kept repeating that it’s a practice day to get a bit in the rhythm of hiking. Mostly because the next day was very notorious for being extremely heavy. It was one day of nothing but uphill, climbing about 1000m (going up a full kilometer vertically!) until reaching dead woman’s pass on 4,200m above sea level.
Our group was quite diverse in tempo’s and levels of fitness so we quickly drifted apart. I mostly walked the entire day with Helen, who was on the same level of not being completely rubbish, but also not the type to be wearing half-marathon-shirts.
Being on heavy painkillers and feeling lightheaded from the altitude made me feel a bit high, and I sang ridiculous songs most of the trail, for which I still don’t know how much Helen and the rest of the group hated me. All in all the dead woman’s pass didn’t create a dead woman out of me (btw; sexist much?) and I was only struggling in those last 300m where you can see the ending but you have to pause every 2 minutes to breathe (and so imagine me singing in such state).
But the view was absolutely amazing, standing on such a high point, seeing both sides of the mountain and valley.
The base camp of the 2nd day was another 2 hours downhill on the other side of the mountain. Right when we arrived and took a nap in the tents it started pouring rain, after having had 2 days of only beautiful weather. We would stay lucky like that, and we were such fortunate people to not have to take out our rain poncho’s and backpack covers even once.
When I was first told it was the most preserved Inca trail, I didn’t really understand the big deal and importance, but the longer I walked it, the more I became astonished by the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the incas, who literally built a pedestrian highway through mountains. The entire path was made out of perfectly fitting carved stones and heavy boulders.
The steps were quite well designed for walking this rigged and rough mountainous scenery, and our guide told us that back in the days messengers would be able to pass a message along the trail in less than 4 hours. 4 HOURS! And it took us 4 DAYS!! Thanks to national geographic they even tested the theory that a message could be passed along the entire Inca trail running from Ecuador all the way to Argentina in 24 hours. Switching messengers in the watchtowers along the way made it perfectly possible and the theory was proven correct!
They were very well advanced in knowledge of the universe and stars. But the Spanish had seen the Incan’s gold, which had no significance for them except for it symbolizing the sun, their god. And they had to go and abuse the Inca’s trust and friendliness and destroyed and enslaved them.
An interesting perspective our guide added to this, is that because of this insane brutality of the Spanish, the Quechua never wanted to assimilate with them and a lot of Quechuan history and customs is still preserved and accessible. Compared to Brazil where the Portuguese were less ruthless and came with gifts, a lot of native Brazilian culture disappeared, or is only to be found deep in the amazon. The true Brazilian doesn’t really exist because it is born from many cultures. The true Peruvian is the descendent of the Inca, and is damn proud of it as well.
Our guide was very passionate talking about the Incan history, and had been required to take at least a 5 year historical education in order to guide groups, showing that Peru cares about how their history is being taught to foreigners.
Macchu Picchu is of course a super big touristic attraction and the government and private companies make a ton of money out of it, but there was also a very strong element of preserving it as good as possible to teach about their ancestors.
Arriving at Machu Picchu on the fourth day meant getting up at 3am to wait for an hour and a half at the last checkpoint for the inca trail leading to the site. We had to get up this early because otherwise our porters would not have been able to catch their train. The train company to and from the site is in private hands and has only 2 trains a day running for locals (our porters); at 5h30am, or at 9pm. So that meant if we didn’t get up in time, our porters would have to wait all day for their train. All the other trains were reserved for tourists, where the big money lies of course.
We arrived at the sun gate after another hour walk, with almost all the 250 hikers walking like cattle in speedtempo behind each other. The view from the sun gate was spectacular, being the highest point from where to view Machu Picchu.
They just didn’t feel like the world should know about it like Bingham felt. He was also not the great archeological hero it seemed, since he was mostly just looking for gold, writing in his diary that he was disappointed after he found the city (since he didn’t find gold).
It has an energetic, medicinal and nutricious value that was useful for a variety of purposes back in the days, like anesthetics during operations and a cure for nausea, headeaches etc. which makes it logical that they needed better access to this magical plant. While it became disgraced because of the cocaine extraction, Peruvians still see the coca plant as an important part of their history and culture, and I was also very thankful for it during the Inca Trail to help with altitude sickness.