Pilgrimage to the Past

September 21, 2009

I've always believed that you appreciate a beautiful vista more if you hike up to it; that the reward is greater if you have to work for it. If you agree with this idea, than a view of Machu Picchu is undoubtedly worth four strenuous days of hiking. Four days that will alternately take your breath away and leave your aching body begging for mercy.

The beginning of the Camino Inka (Inca Trail) is about a 2 hour bus ride from Cusco, the magnificent Peruvian city that was once the capital of the mighty Inca civilization. Our group of 12 brave trekkers was supported by an even braver group of 19 porters, one cook, and two guides. The first day of the journey was the easiest, although it still seemed more difficult than an average hike. Perhaps it was the high altitude (nearly 2 miles up), or the large quantities of water that I carried on my back. Regardless, it was a relief when we got to our campsite, had a surprisingly delicious dinner, and laid back to stare at a star-filled sky.

Our first campsite was shared with a ragtag assortment of donkeys, dogs, and fowls. At the early hour of 5am, I was suddenly awakened by a shrill rooster who just happened to be standing directly outside my tent. Almost as unwelcome as an alarm clock! No matter, as we ate breakfast at 6am and were hiking again by seven.

The second day of the Inca Trail is torturous. You spend the first 6 hours in constant ascent. In the last brutal section, you climb the side of a mountain on gigantic stone steps laid by the Incas 500 years ago. With the sun beating down and the thin air leaving me gasping for oxygen with every difficult step, I couldn't help but ask myself: "why did I pay money to be put through hell?" Upon reaching the top, I finally caught my breath and took in the awe-inspiring views. My body was sapped of all energy, but we still had a 2 hour hike ahead of us to the campsite; a hike straight down precariously steep steps. Needless to say, I slept like a baby that night!

The true magic of the Inca Trail becomes apparent on the third day of the hike. On this day you truly feel that you are following in the footsteps of a lost civilization. In the early morning we came upon some ancient ruins made all the more mystical by a drifting fog.

Afterwords we hiked down a long valley and passed by more fog-shrouded ruins.

The next stretch was through high jungle with an amazing diversity of plants, not to mention jaw-dropping views.

By the time the following Inca site comes into view, its easy to question whether you have left the planet Earth and are observing some sort of alien formation.

As a fitting finale to an epic day, I arrived at some stunningly situated ruins right at sunset, and had the whole site to myself. It was a true "pinch me" moment.

A storm thundered down right before our final dinner. Everyone huddled together in the food tent and heartily devoured our last big meal before visiting Machu Picchu. My fellow hikers asked me to give a "thank you" speech on behalf of our group to the porters and cook for all of their hard work. In my best formal Spanish, I gave a few words of appreciation before presenting them with tips. Inspired by my bright orange getup, our group then proceeded to sing "Poncho Man" to the tune of the Village People's "Macho Man".

We arose at the deathly hour of 4am on the last morning in order to get to Machu Picchu at sunrise. The start of our hike was in pitch black darkness, and after 3 hours of trekking we arrived at the Sun Gate, only to have a view of thick fog. Undeterred, we carried on and eventually the fog started to clear, unveiling an otherworldly scene.

The experience of being at Machu Picchu cannot be put into words. I cannot imagine a more spectacular place in the world. Even though there were many tourists, the site is so large and majestic that being there feels like a unique experience.

The four day walk had been the most exhausting trial in recent memory. I definitely will not miss the subpar toilet facilities, the aching muscles, and the unpleasant smell of not having showered for days. However, the amazing scenery, the star-filled nights at the campsites, and the friendships formed in our group will always stay with me as a vivid memory. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is waiting for any willing and able souls. Are you up for it?

1 comment :

  1. Hey Adam--

    You picked a great title for this post and got some serious photos to show your grandkids.

    I can only imagine the fog and the stars...unbelievable...it's on my list...

    Where next?