The Inca Trail…Kind Of

So I’ll start my story of Peru in the middle. Because I’m sure it’s what you all want to hear about: the Inca Trail.

As I mentioned in my intro, I went with a tour group via G Adventures, so in terms of the administrative stuff and things about getting permits for hiking, how much it costs, etc. etc, I really have zero idea. Google it and I’m sure you’ll find a lot of people talking about the logistics.

All I know is this: you need a permit, you must have a guide and porters, and in order to actually hike you need to bring your passport day of. So if you fall off a cliff or something they have record of you existing, I guess.

The town before the hike is Ollantaytambo, which is a quiet little town sitting nearly on top of the ruins and terraces it’s named for. From here, most people either do 1 of 2 hikes – the Inca Trail or the Lares Trail. The Lares Trail is shorter, but actually goes higher in elevation. And unlike the Inca Trail, which has more architectural ruins, the Lares Trek actually takes you through more villages, or so I’ve heard.

The drive from Ollantaytambo to kilometer 82 (the start of the hike) is about 45 minutes – and it’s actually not a well traveled journey, at all. Or if it is, it’s not well maintained. Dirt roads and side streets are at least half your journey to get to the starting checkpoint.

Your porters will meet you at a staging area before the checkpoint, where everyone’s bag is weighed; the porters have quite strict weight regulations to follow. Including sleeping bag and air mattress, you’re only allowed 6kg (about 3 pounds) – for a 4 day hike. So pack light and know that you are going to be quite ripe by the end of the trip. And that’s okay. You’re not there to impress anyone.

On the way to the actual checkpoint to start the hike, there’s a sign. People generally take pictures in front of it.

inca-trail-start
if we really knew what we were in for we wouldn’t have smiled so wide.

Here you might run into a bit of a paparazzi, taking photos of you happily on your way to a ridiculous hike. They will find you in Aguas Calientes when you’re done with the hike and try to sell you the picture they took. Really.

And then you wait to show your passport to the nice men and women manning the check point. You cross a bridge, and the hike begins, ‘inca flat.’ Which means not flat at all. Kind of a false flat, but worse.

It was winter while we were here – the dry season. And it still got up to the 20s (C) – the 70s (F) – during the day. And a good chunk of day 1 you’re in the sun. Sunscreen and a hat (ridiculous as you may look) will be your friend.

Stopping frequently to ‘take pictures’ will be your friend as well. As much conditioning as you do – unless you do legitimate altitude training, you will be out of breath a lot more quickly than you expect. Especially when you’re carrying a day pack and hiking ‘inca flat’.

inca-day-1
looking back at how far we’d come

The first day of the hike, generally before lunch, you hit the ruins of a fort with some terraces near it:

inca-day-1-ruins

I remember it because not long after there’s a steep downhill section…that I later had to climb uphill with altitude sickness. I think it took me an hour to climb back up, and about 10 minutes to hike down.

So yeah, I was one of the lucky few that had to deal with altitude sickness on the actual hike, before Dead Woman’s Pass. Dead Woman’s Pass is generally where everyone gets altitude sickness, and guides expect it – it’s 14,000 feet (about 4,200K), and at the end of the second day.

Me, I was lucky enough to start feeling shitty the evening of the first day, after we got to camp. Though that first night I put it up to nerves – it wasn’t overwhelming, I just kind of had an unsettled stomach. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I probably woke up at about 2am and had some chocolate and biscuits (smart me)  to try and settle my still roiling stomach. 

I threw that all up not long after the porters quietly came around to wake us up with a ‘Hola Senorita, coca tea?’ at about 5am. Also at 5am, we were for-sure woken up by a group of Brazilians hiking the trail who decided to get themselves psyched up for the day with a shouting chant of awful that echoed throughout the valley. Because 5am.

Then we had breakfast. Bad idea on my part, as that was the point where things got really bad. I got ill again and kept getting ill for a good chunk of time. I started getting a headache. It wasn’t until after we started hiking that the dizziness kicked in.

I maintain it was the dizziness that did me in. I literally couldn’t focus on anything. Not the path in front of me, not the horizon line, nothing. Which meant I couldn’t hike 5 meters let alone 16k.

I made the awful, gut-wrenching choice to not keep going on the hike and turn around, with a strong suggestion from my guide. As much as I wanted to, it wasn’t physically possible for me to keep going – and I knew (and was told by our guide) if I kept going it would only get worse, because day 2 is all about the ascent. Frustrating to say the least. It happens, though.

So at about 9:30 in the morning, we met up with our porters, and one of them re-packed their gear, distributing it to the other porters, and came back down to the trailhead with me. It took me until 2PM to hike back to the beginning of the trail, the less said about it the better.

For probably about half the hike back, my porter was only carrying his stuff and my duffel. Then it just got too difficult. I had zero energy because I couldn’t keep anything down and it was not pretty. So I caved and gave him my day pack to carry as well. Poor guy.

I was so out of it when I got back to the beginning that the guy at the entry checkpoint kept asking me for my ‘nombre’ and rather than hearing ‘name’ I heard ‘number’ (like, passport number) and made a massive fuss of getting out my passport to see the number when I could’ve just written down my damn name.

We got back to Ollantaytambo in a gypsy cab (e.g. just a guy driving a van).

I went to bed at 7PM.

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