Alex's Corner: The Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

Best. Trip. Ever.

As I mentioned in my last “corner” the highlight of my trip to South America was bound to be the Inca Trail trek. It was what I had been planning for and looking forward to for a year, since we started to plan to meet up for this adventure. It is hard to be the most amazing thing among so many other amazing things, but that’s exactly what the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu were for me.

The trek took place over 4 days involving steep up, steep down, and “Peruvian flats” (up and down, just somewhat less steep). No showers for four days, bathrooms that rivaled the worst of any that Steph and Vince had seen on their travels, and absolutely amazing scenery, Incan ruins, and history. We were travelling with a great couple from just outside Tel Aviv, Ofer and Ronit. Ronit had torn her ACL and had surgery in December and I am still in awe of her for deciding to do this trek and for owning it the way she did. Way to go Ronit!! In addition to our new friends, we were also accompanied by 10 porters to carry all of the gear, an excellent chef, and a fantastic guide (who was totally Vince’s Peruvian brother from another mother), Jimmy. We had a great team.

Day 1 was kind of a warm up, hiking for approximately four hours with a break in the middle to get us to our first campsite in time for tea, then dinner, and then bed because we had to get up at 5:30 am! Plus it was dark and we had no electricity or fire (no fires allowed anywhere on the trail). We were provided with tents and sleeping bags and slept in layers of clothes with hats and gloves on because it was going below zero! I froze but managed to get some sleep and was woken up to a knock on my tent and a bowl of hot water to wash my face. And then began Day 2, which I am going to call the most eventful day of the trek.

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Day 2 is known as the hardest day, as it is the day of going up, up, and up, to the highest point on the trek, Dead Woman’s Pass (4215m above sea level). Steph set a personal challenge for herself and decided to see how quickly she could blast up the mountain. She totally rocked it, completing what our guide said is generally a 5 hour climb in less than 3 and a half hours. Way to go Steph! I eventually joined her and Vince at the top and it was totally incredible. When you look down at where you’ve just come from, it truly shows you what you are capable of. After passing the highest point, we worked our way down to our second campsite in the beginning of the “cloud forest”, which is the higher part of the jungle. We had tea and watched a storm across the valley against another mountain, which was beautiful…until it wasn’t across the valley anymore. While we were sitting in the tent chatting about the day, we started hearing thunder and then heard hail start to hit the tent! All of a sudden we were in the middle of a huge hailstorm that continued for at least an hour! At some point it occurred to me that I should probably check on my tent to make sure that none of my stuff was getting wet. Well, I was a bit late. My tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, bag, and clothes were all different degrees of soaked. Awesome.  I rescued what I could, but it was really a mostly lost cause (hence the picture that Vince took of me climbing out of my soaking wet tent). What to do on the Inca Trail when you have no dry clothes or place to sleep? Cuddle up with your wonderful friends who have a nice dry tent of course!  Steph and Vince were kind enough to share their tent with me that night and, all in all, it was really just a fun little adventure within our adventure.

On to Day 3, waking up at 5 a.m. instead of 5:30 this time. What follows a day of uphill climbing you might wonder…a day of downhill, naturally. The longest day, and definitely the hardest on the knees, Day 3 ended at our last campsite after a good 10 hour hike. We were exhausted. After another awesome meal and a little ceremony (ed: tip-fest) for our team of porters, we went to bed ready to wake up at 3am to start our last day. We had to get up at 3am so that we could wait for the checkpoint to open so we could hike to the Sun Gate (the main entrance to Machu Picchu) by sunrise. On that particular day there was too much fog to see any kind of sunrise but the fog created a gorgeous mystical effect that was just as amazing as any sunrise. After the fog lifted and we looked down from where we were standing, we saw Machu Picchu down below us.

It was honestly like standing in the pages of a history book. Pictures can’t possibly capture how incredible this place is. I couldn’t believe that I was standing looking down at a truly magical place that I had learned about years and years ago that always seemed like a whole lifetime and a world away.

We made our way down to the ancient city and proceeded to have the best possible history lesson provided by our guide, Jimmy, while walking through the massive stone walls. The sun was now beaming down and we were exhausted, sore, and un-showered, but so, so happy!  We made it!  Vince slept in a tent for multiple nights! Steph exceeded her own expectations for herself! I was standing exactly where I had dreamed of being for years! This was honestly the experience of a lifetime for all of us.

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There is so much more to say about the trek, about Machu Picchu, about the amazing porters who run the trail in a fraction of the time it takes us with 25 kgs of weight on their backs, about everything. Just as in pictures, it’s impossible to capture everything in a few paragraphs of writing. All I can say is that this is, by far, the best thing I have ever done. Ever. When it was over and I was back in Cusco, I felt sad that it was done.  That was it, no more trek. And then I immediately decided that I will go back to Peru and do another trek, a different one, maybe in the jungle next time! Next time :)

I’m writing this from my balcony back home in Toronto and sending it to Steph who is (eagerly, I’m sure) awaiting it in Lima before they leave Peru. I miss the trek and I miss South America and I miss my dear friends. So to Steph and Vince I say: we all can’t wait to have you back in Toronto and I can’t thank you enough for the amazing time I had with you both. This was the trip of a lifetime and I won’t ever forget a second of it. Lots of love and looking forward to seeing you soon!

- Alex