When I took out my passport from my backpack at the Machu Picchu (MP) check point I have realised that the things are getting real. With all my stuff on the ground trying to organise them by priority, I suddenly understood that I know nothing about hiking. I didn't even know where to start. One thing was for sure: there is no way back.
With a little bit of confidence and hope, I left Cusco and began the journey to the most incredible and famous trek in South America. A peruvian glory which is considered to be one of the best-known archeological sites on the continent. Sitting 2430 m above the Urubamba river, the Inca citadel breaths mystery and adventure. I have been very lucky to get to step on the 40 km trail that has been once walked by the Inca emperors and local quechua people.
There are a couple of options to get to MP but the most famous one is Inca trail. I have been offered a two and a three days trip by bus, bike but nothing sounded more exciting then hiking up the snaky ways through the cloud forests, aggressive rivers and snowy mountain peaks which have made this trip so unforgettable.
I have approached a local travel agency about the tour and have been offered a good deal despite the fact that it was a last minute thing. Usually, in the busy season you need to make a reservation at least six months prior the trip. It cost me 500 USD for 4 days and 3 nights tour which included breakfast every morning, lunch and dinner, the sleeping bag, the tent, the entrance to MP and the train ticket on the way back from the hike. What was not included in the price was the water and snacks you can by along the way, the service of the porters that can carry your stuff in case you have too many kilos (I gave 5 kg to one of the guys and payed 40USD) and sometimes the extra fees you pay for using the restrooms or showers.
In case you think that you need to be extra fit for such a hike, honestly you don't. The first day allows you to warm up a little bit and adjust your equipment accordingly. After you get a feeling of what is like to live in the wild, get used to it. You'll have to do this for 3 more days. Each day gets better promise. It's very important to eat well and drink plenty of water. After each day of completing an average of 10-12 km I was visibly loosing weight even though I kept on snaking all day long. But in the end it all pays off when you stop for a moment, look around, take a deep breath and get mesmerised by the incredible view of the Andean beauty.
In one day you can witness 3 seasons since the peruvian weather up in the mountains is so unpredictable. I did the trip in January, month which is considered to be the beginning of the rainy season. But don't get intimidated, even in dry season you'll have to deal with temperature below 0. It was funny to have a little game with my jackets, I was putting them on taking them off, over and over again. Thing which I can't say about night time. I made sure I had as many layers on as possible.
The highest point of the trek reached 4200 m above sea level at Warmiwañusca Pass ( Dead woman Pass). After a knee- jarringly decent to an altitude of 3600 m above sea level we stopped in one of the campsites at Paq'amayo and spent the night there. That was the time when I had to put on 3 layers of clothes, gloves, scarf and still woke up in the middle of the night to cover myself with a jacket. It was really cold. But other than that it was ok. The coca leaf tea served early in the morning by our tents definitely helped to warm up.
Taking in consideration the advises from your guide will definitely ease your way when climbing. Zigzagging along the path puts less pressure on your muscles and makes the process more enjoyable. Most of us had green teeth from chewing coca leaves all day long. It is considered to be a natural remedy for high altitude. And plus it gives you a nice relaxing feeling, maybe it's also intended to make tourists smiling. Usually in the pharmacy you can find pills for altitude sickness like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Our guide P, was generous enough to give us all a shot of Pisco (the local traditional alcoholic drink) which he claimed to help even more. Try it.
Ladies might be a little bit concerned about the hygiene in specially during such a long trip. Me too, I was so worried that I will have to get to know the scary feeling of being in the jungle in the middle of the night. But trust me, it's not that bad. In some camps you have showers and toilets. You just have to pay around 5-10S and that's it. Good to go again. If you can handle the ice cold water than you have pretty much shower all the way till the end of the journey but who is crazy enough to do that! My advise is to take extra t-shirts (not cotton) and keep changing them every day. Also thank the once who invented the wet-wipes and carry a pack or two with you. It actually feels good to be make up-free for a couple of days so, ladies, enjoy it. Don't forget to reapply sunscreen though. The sun is burning even if you don't see it.
I must mention about our lovely cooks that did an amazing job preparing all that delicious peruvian food. The meals were freshly made with the products carried by the diligent porters. High in protein and fibres, the dishes helped us to stay healthy and fit for the entire trip. There was not a single meal without the traditional hot soup (usually quinoa or chicken), a main course that consisted of: fish, chicken or beef and of course dessert (we even had a goodbye cake). It was a great way to get to know the traditional peruvian cuisine prepared in a homy style. For those who ordered vegetarian meal or any other special requests, the chef made sure they got their meal at the same time as the rest of the team.
Sometimes it was getting really tough, the backpack felt heavier and heavier, the abundant andean rain was filling my boots with water, my hands were cold and wet but still I was happy. Just having a set up goal to reach the majestic MP was giving me strength. Once arrived there, everyone could tell that we've been hiking for the last 4 days. We were dirty, maybe smelly, full of mud on our shoes, carrying huge bags covered with plastic to protect what was left from our clean stuff but also we were content. Standing in front of the grandeur MP, I have realised that all this effort was totally worth it. Maybe if I didn't do the hike, I wouldn't probably appreciate the power of the humid woodlands so much and the splendid history behind the historical walls of the Inca citadel.
It was a great experience which definitely pushed my powers to the limits. One thing I can tell about hiking: the harder- the better. You will feel such a great achievemt at the end of the jouney that will make you addicted to the beauty of the world.
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"