Our hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu started easy enough, despite the light rain. (8,923 feet). The trail was relatively flat as it slowly climbed and followed the Sacred River. The entire area was a protected National Park, but there were a few families living in stone and makeshift structures along the way. These families have been living along the trail for generations.
The Inca Trail is a fairly well defined, wide path. It is paved with large stones and has kilometer after kilometer of stone stairways going up and down mountainsides.
The entire trail was handcrafted by Incan workers centuries ago. It is still in excellent shape today. The trail is surrounded by vegetation and mountain flora, including beautiful flowering cactus. Farm animals and wild llama roam the path freely.
We walked past numerous archeological ruins and enjoyed sweeping overlooks of the Sacred Valley. At each of these stops, Claudio, our guide, told us about the Inca architecture and history that we were immersed in. I had feared that the trail would be crowded, but I was surprised that we only saw one other tour group which was roughly the same size as ours.
We were also schooled in the lingo that we would be using for the next few days. Our porters were called “chaski’s.” Their job was brutal. They were carrying all of our food, pots, pans, eating utensils, and tents for the next four days.
To encourage them we would say “Supikey Whikey” which means “thank you brother.” I couldn’t remember the words and Ol kept getting me to say “Tighty Whitey.” It was something to behold to see teams of chaskis, all dressed in their agencies colors, running by with backpacks that looked to be twice their size. It was tough to gauge their ages, but many appeared to be as old as Ol and I. When they came running by my strategy was to just get out of their way.
Once the porters passed us, the hike was relatively peaceful. We each fell into our own rhythm during the hike. Some people liked to find a partner to visit with, others liked their solitude, and others seemed to just struggle to breathe.
Personally, when I hike, my mind begins to wander. I couldn’t help but think about the Incas. I was thankful that Ol and I had immersed ourselves in their history and culture for the past week. It made what we were seeing much more meaningful. It was hard to imagine that this civilization had built over 4,000 Km of these amazing roads. How did they fall so easily to the Spanish?
After a few hours the rain finally stopped and the sun was shining. Before we knew it, we had reached our first stop for lunch. We were all a little surprised to be warmly greeted by our chaski’s who were applauding and giving us high fives. As soon as our backpacks were off, we were handed warm tea. A washing station had been set up for each of us. We each had a plastic tub, with a bar of soap and a clean towel.
After we cleaned up we were ushered into a large tent where llama table cloths covered long tables. The table was set with folded napkins and real cutlery. I had heard of “glamping” but this was my first experience with it. After four days of this it would be difficult to go back to pitching our own tent and eating dehydrated food.
The table setting was our first surprise. We were then served a lovely four course lunch that could have been found in any nice restaurant. We had an individually plated appetizer, a delicious bowl of soup, and entrees and vegetables served on platters, family style. It was beyond any expectation I had ever dreamed of on a hiking trip. Finally, after lunch we were served a hot tea for digestion.
Everything was so good, that I forgot that I would have to strap on my backpack and walk for a few more hours. My expectation was for a sandwich, chips, and a cookie. I had not expected fresh guacamole, chips, quinoa soup, pork chops, grilled trout with a wonderful sauce, potatoes, rice, and a tray of grilled vegetables. Everyone felt like I did, we needed a nap.
I had to loosen my hip belt to get my pack back on. Unfortunately, the afternoon portion of the trail appeared to be all uphill. All I could taste was the trout. It was time for a coca candy. I quickly fell to the back of the group and visited with our other guide, Rene.
Rene had only been a guide for a few months but had a passion for hiking and history and had a great deal of knowledge about the Inca Trail. I learned that he was a newlywed and was hoping to start a family soon. He asked about the United States and the places we had travelled. He also wanted to know about our families. Talking helped to pass the time and I was thankful that his English was excellent. Before I knew it, we were at our camp for the night, Llulluchapampa in the village of Wayllamba, 9,842 feet. It was a beautiful campsite overlooking misty mountains and a valley below.
Again, the chaskis had raced ahead of us, carrying all of our supplies, and were waiting for us when we arrived. Everything was set up, and we were again given an ovation by the chaskis when we walked into the campsite. We were escorted to our tents, brought hot water, and to our surprise there were local families selling bins of gatorade, cokes and beer! This was glamping at its finest.
We were told that tea time would be at 5:30. One of the reasons that I love to hike, is that I generally drop a few pounds. Apparently that will not be the case on the Inca Trail!