Off We Go
Three steps off the bus and almost straight into our packs. Before us was the checkpoint to start the Inca Trail. The hustle and bustle of the congregation of hikers gave the air an exciting energy. Passports out and off we went.
A line of colors and hiking sticks were all moving at different paces to get a taste of what life was like for the Andean culture of the mountains. The excitement and energy moved us right along on what our guides called "Inca-flat", and one could say it was far from flat.
Built out of stones from the surroundings, the trail wound around the mountain sides; we were climbing our way to our day one evening camp. The surrounding mountains could make a giant feel small. Along the path for day one, novelty stops frequented the trail. Water, Gatorade, and an assortment of candy and trail mixes were available for purchase, and they sold out of water very quickly.
After a while, the early chatter of the groups seem die off as everybody focused on their breathing techniques in ever climbing altitude. Caught up in the surrounding beauty of wildlife, mountains, streams, and Inca ruins the day passed very quickly. Teasing us, our guides pointed to a very high peak and said that's where our camp was.
Because of that comment, the look on our faces must've been priceless. They laughed and took the next turn down to a little green plateau 100 yards away, where tents were set up for us. The night was filled with top notch cooking, laughter, and some early bedtimes.
The Big Climb
Shaking off the cool morning and getting a relieving stretch from the previous days hike, we saw what day 2 had for us: Warminwanusca (Dead Woman's Pass). Cresting the Inca Trail at 13,796 ft. above sea level, this was the highest point of our journey. It was colossal! After morning tea and a hot breakfast, we strapped the packs and tightened the laces.
We set out on a constant uphill trail, riddled with large stone steps that were as high as your knees. Our day was abundant with culturally breathtaking views, breathtaking stairs (literally), and the humbling feeling of the history coming from Andean region of the Incas. Natives with flutes played throughout the trail giving a nostalgic feeling to the atmosphere. Up and up we went with occasional stops to learn unique tidbits and history about the Inca civilizations and ruins.
Onward we pushed on what seemed to be never ending stone steps. A porter trotted by, yes trotted, and told us we were almost there. With the relieving thought of the top being close, a new energy was put forth.
Within the next 20 minutes we found ourselves staring across the peaks of the surrounding mountains only to turn around and look back at where we started that morning... 4,000 ft. below us! The mountains scraped the clouds. Some of the locals were waiting at the top to congratulate all of the hikers who made the journey. Very kind and humble people. Smiles were all around on top of that mountain.
A descent down to camp, and we were kaput for the night. Hot tea to relax the muscles along with a gourmet meal made for a mellow crew of hikers watching the sunset welcome in the stars.
Drizzle came from the skies early morning of our 3rd day and cooled the mountain air. The rain awoke the smells of the mountain which made for very refreshing breathing. In addition to the fresh air, the porters welcomed the crew with a hot, enticing breakfast and tea. It seemed to revitalize the energy for what would be our longest trek.
The day would consist of "Inca Flats" and an ample amount of time exploring some ancient ruins. A nice easy pace along the meandering stone pathways provided for some spectacular views and irreplaceable moments. Hikers laughed and chatted the whole day. Up we go and back down, up again and back down. This pattern seemed to carry through the day. Flutes once again accompanied us adding that magic feeling to the air. Finally, the surroundings started to become a bit warmer and greener. With that, we came to the gardens of Intipata. Since the slope on the mountains was fairly steep, these gardens were built like steps. Because of this, the Incas were able to farm in the mountains. Our guide told a tale of one native who would travel the entire trail in one day delivering wheat. While looking at the gardens a group of llamas moved in. With the city of Aguas Calientes (the modern city below Machu Picchu) now in view, we slowly descended to our camp for the night. The downhill portions were starting to be harder than uphill.
The Sun Gate
An early 3 am rise for the race to the Sun Gate. The whole camp was up buzzing around. The sheer excitement to see the city of the clouds made for an electric morning. As fast as we were up, we were hiking(more like running) to the checkpoint. The checkpoint was way backed up. Once out the other side though, it was a full on 3 mile race to reach the Sun Gate before the sunrise. Furthermore, we would see Machu Picchu for the first time. The trail was "Inca flat", but the ruggedness didn't seem to matter. 4 of us were passing people like cars on a racetrack. Finally, we came to the stairs to the Sun Gate. They were more like a ladder. Up and up we went and then voila, the first Look at the city of the clouds, Machu Picchu. The silence of awe stricken people intensified the moment. It was a indescribable moment being with the mountain. Soon, the sun peeking over the cloud scraping peaks, the first few rays started to light up Machu Picchu. Murmuring and chatter increased. Hikers were soon laughing and climbing around the surrounding rocks to get a better picture opportunity. The hustle and bustle picked up, and loads of trail conquering comrades joined the swarm at the Sun Gate. With the city below waiting to be explored, our guides led us down our last leg of the hike.
The ancient vibes of the Inca City was incredible as we entered. We were led all over the city walking in which felt like a maze. The stones used for building were massive! Structurally this city was mind blowing. With that, our guides were incredible to have such depth in knowledge about the ruins. There didn't seen to be a dull moment as we navigated around. The llamas even were entertained. Machu Picchu became loaded with people coming from the trail and from Aguas Calientes. After more exploring, it was time for goodbyes to the mountain and our newly made friends.
The Inca Trail wrapped up to be an incredible journey filled with history, nature, challenging obstacles, and new friends. This expedition is one of my favorite trips to date.