Friday, March 13, 2009

The 4-Day Inca Trail.

DAY 1: The Easy Day

Tueaday the 10th I awoke at 5am. Didn´t sleep well the night before, as the ginea pig I ate near Pisac ruins gave me nightmares. I left my hotel and walked to the SAS hotel where I stored some of my stuff. at 5:50 all 16 people in my tour group boarded a bus and drove to Ollantaytambo (1.5hr). We stopped for breakfast on the way and I bought an additional wooden walking stick.

At Ollantaytambo we got our stuff together and and took our group photo at the trailhead. We crossed a bridge and were on our way. It was too hot but as we acended it got cooler. After 45min we stopped for a half. After an hour we stopped for 45min. There were houses with children running around and locals trying to sell us red flavored water which we were not brave enouph to try. As we hiked the dirt path I floated around the group, trading stories with the people that would become my family: 5 americans, 4 canadians, 2 aussies, a kiwi, Singaporian, a German and 2 Norwigians.

The path turned to stone pieces and we acended to a plateau in a valley. Here our guide, Carlos, had us sit down and listen to a story about the ruins below (Patallaqta). From this point it was a 6hr walk along the Urabamba river to Machu Picchu. HOWEVER, there was a longer, 4 day route around the long way. This was intended to clear your conscience, connect with Pachamama (Mother Earth) and go through a form of repentence. Why didn´t I just kneel and say 10 Our Fathers and 50 Hail Mary´s? I was about to find out.

The next hour or so till lunch was a dream. The path led along a green valley with a river roaring far below. Crumbling houses and curious rock formations, silent evidence of ancient rituals and magical vortices. The Andes surrounded us, delectable views from all directions as usual.

We came to our lunch spot. Our team of 22 porters had 2 tents set up and bowls of hot water for us to wash up with. In the dining tent was a long table with plastic benches. We sat and talked till the soup came. Great! Then 4 identacle plates of food for each side of the table. All pretty good. There were female cows with horns watching us dine from 20ft away. My group was a very positive and fun one.
We continued along this awesome valley then began ascending quicker. This path was a like paradice actually. If this, the Sacred Valley, was where everything was created from then surely it must be the actual garden of Eden? Animals grazing on the hillsides, overgrown terracing from centuries ago, floral scents from pathside bouquets, crude wooden bridges ready to last another 600. The video will illustrate this a little better.

We reached our campsite at 6p, dinner at 7p. Tents were set up and my tent buddy was an energetic Aussie named Matt. Night fell and the moon shone brightly over our place between the mountains, heat lighting taking the natural beauty too far. Bed by 9p for me! Phew. Carlos kept telling us this was the easy day and we were wiped (except for the triathelete and the bodybuilder).

DAY 2: Dead Woman´s Pass.

After 2.5hrs sleep (food adjustment time), a 5:45 wake up call. 6:30 breakfast. 7a walking. Tea and hot water always await us every morn with a pile of cocoa leaves in the middle. Yogurt and granola, pancakes, flat bagels, marmelade.

We hit the path which was rock pieces (much of which constructed in the 80´s for tourism). After 2hrs we stopped and this was the last outpost for overpriced gatorade, candy bars, and water. Stupid me, I didn´t read the fine print that this was the last we´d see the rest of the day. Now, the terrain turned steep. Big stone steps with a sharp drop on the right. We were ascending the highest peak of the Trail: Dead Woman´s Pass (named after the mountain formation that´s supposed to look like a woman lying down?!).

Now it´s time for a lesson, dear readers. This trail is supposed to be hard to teach us some things. We have to feel the interconnection between us and the sacred mountain. The more we respect Pachamama, the less fear we have. I had to stop and understand my breathing as we strained into the clouds. The altitude sending me splitting headaches. I had to stop and gather myself, shed my fear by knowing that I am loved by the mountain (Apus). I pressed upward in restitution. Porters with giant packs full of camping equipment would run by every now and then. Thankfully, a Quechua man with a wooden flute was playing an old song and it was very soothing as it echoed around the thin air. It was time to be the condor and take flight over my problems and turbulances. The Diamox could only do so much.

I reached the 12,600ft clouded peak. This was the highest I´d ever been on a mountain. It was misty and cold up there and you couldn´t see any distance. So I happily began my descent alone. Following the group single file didn´t suit me well. It feels like we´re part of a chain gang. So I would catch up to people when I felt like talking to someone or fell back when I wanted some Jan time.

The descent was eased by my two poles absorbing the impact of the huge stone steps. There were a couple Norwigian dudes without poles that I would talk to every now and then. The nausea in my head began to subside as I felt some relief for reaching the summit and heading down. An hour later I was at a camping spot and we stopped for lunch. Whenever someone from our group showed up we would cheer for them, even though there were looks of dismay on the faces of all at first. One Canadian girl was nauseus and had to have our medic whip out the oxygen tank he was hauling as he followed us. It was drizzling and miserable then. I felt horrible from the altitude. After lunch I was so tiffed I took off by myself to continue the trail. I burned off some anger over the morning on the ascent to the next peak. Lots of groups were camping where we had lunch but there are only so many spots.

We all gathered at the ruins of Runkuraqay 3780meters. Now let me break down these ruins for you. They are all only accessable by this trail. There are no guards, fences, garbage cans, etc. You´ll just be wandering around the bend and come upon stone structures of houses without roofs in symmetrical patterns, all overseeing some inspiring view. This is by design. When the Inca culture began with Manco Capac (1st Inca) in Qosqo, Father Sun said "Where you see natural formations in your path, I will be there. This is where you will construct your temples. God ordained these places for us and here we must improve these formations." So wherever the energy was the strongest (most awesome), there would be something built there. I´ve found that when I was framing shots I always move to the most pleasing, scenic point. Either when I am in that point, or what is in my frame, there is some rock Waka or building. I get it completely. Even in the temples framing things through windows was important. They grasped perspective very well. This made every inch of the Inca Trail path an utter joy to traverse.

Carlos told us about more folklore and history of the Incas and we were on our way up past some black lagoons. The sky began clearing up (clouds roll over the mountains quickly). And we had a pleasant, slow descent towards our campground. I rounded a bend with Denise the American and we both just stopped and fell silent. Jess the American saw us and was trying to talk to us but we couldn´t speak. She kept asking what´s wrong. About 1km away on top of a mountain was the sprawling archeological site of Sayaqmarka. We took our time getting there and it was after 5 when we climbed the dangerous steps to the fortress. The view was one of the best on the trail. The clouds surrounding distant peaks was just perfect and the lighting was transcendental. I did a video walkthrough like I did for other sites. Some other folks from our group showed up. Bobby (who does grip / camera op work in USA) and his 57 yr old mother Kim were there. That´s right. Kim put others in the group to shame with her lust for life and positive attitude. She took the extreme steps easily, always finding orchids and other unique plant life along the way. We were a lucky group to have her for inspiration. I had at this point totally lost my crankiness from Dead Woman´s Pass.

It was getting dark and we needed to get to camp. We descended the steps and passed another site called Qonchamarcha. We were in the high jungle! Moss covered stone steps leading "nowhere" straight out of the Tomb Raider games (or the other way around). Trees looking like beef jerkey covered with green fur accompanied my rock jumping walk to the camp spot. PHEW what a day!

After dinner Carlos brought out some rum and mixed it with some hot juice of some kind. We drank it and Matt led us in some songs. Everyone sang their national anthem - loudly. Then Celine and Christina sang a couple songs in native Norwegian tougue. Being out there camping in the Andes was probably the furthest I´ve ever been from an automobile or plane.


I actually slept about 7hrs that night! Felt the aches from the trail so far but good about getting some shut eye. I was ready to go and excited at what would be next. Everything was so awesome. I had started drinking the porter water, which is boiled for us each morning. It has a funny taste which is followed by rotgut. We trudged on. Here we were allowed to take our time because once we arrived at lunch, that would be our campsite for the night. So it was like a half day.

After some really steep steps we got to Phuyupatamarka, a high archeological site that had some amazing water channels dropping through 4 small stone baths. It´s genius how these water channels still flow peacefully and even after 600 years. Water fills a bin from the mountain and flows out a small slit at the bottom. this 4inch by 1.5inch channel flowes through carefully carved rock till the next drop, where it collects and continues in the same fashion. This site was at 10,860ft. So my head was yucky as we sat in a circle to listen to another Carlos speech. He told us about the ice mummies. If there was an earthquake, volcano or landslide, it meant the mountain was angry. So Quechua priests would climb to the summit and make an offering: killing a child and burying it up there. These offerings have been found in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

When I came across the site of Intipata, I took my time exploring. It was just me and this huge structure with classic terracing below. I climbed steps to the very top, shooting all the way I think ; ). Then I just sat up there. It had a magnificent view of the Urubamba river. Water is life, mind you. To see the river is a great place to built something neato. After much contemplation there I continued to the campsite. We ate lunch in what looked like a derelict ski lodge, a hostal outpost. But it was nice to be in there with other groups.
Then we had a choice to go to a site minutes from the camp; and from there to a waterfall where we could swim! Most of us went on this outing and we saw a steep site with ceremonial rooms on top: Winaywayna! There is no denying this place was built to worship the sacred water fall it faced. We wandered around this mountainside place then descended VERY steep steps to a jungle trail. Wooden bridges and dirt paths led to the bottom of the falls where we got down to the swimwear and waded in. Cold but refreshing in an energizing way. Yes, there´s video! After that we just about ran up to Winaywayna again because we were filled with a new energy from ?!? Bathing in the ancient sacred waters could do that to ya I guess. Then it was dinner time and then I laid down for a nap after buying a Pachamama T-shirt.


Pitter-patter of rain woke me round 3am. 4a our head porter made the wakeup call rounds. I was up, feeling queasy in the stomach. We ponchoed up as it was raining lightly. All the groups were up in fact. In the clubhouse eating breakfast, but we forwent ours, opting for chocolate bars and crackers instead of a real breakfast in order to get a better place in line?!
So a third of us walked to the gate (to the Inca Trail), which doesn´t open until 5:30a. So Why the heck were we waiting in the dark for 45min in the rain with a few candy bars?

Finally the they began letting groups through and people silently and quickly filed onto the trail. The vibe was bad- everyone was rushing for an unknown reason. Well, we were told that if we hurry we might have a chance at getting a ticket to climb Wayna Picchu (the tallest mountain in the trilogy (Machu Picchu is the 2nd)). So we marched on. One girl hit her head bad on something in the dark and had to stop. Good thing I had my head flashlight! After a while I realized the rediculousness of the situation and stopped to take off my jacket and slow the pace. I was peeved, because we had to wait as a group at certain points- so WHY was I waiting for 45min at the start?! Grr.

It was still raining lightly as the sky lightened. My mood did also as I kept a distance from other trekkers. The foggy views where surreal. The stone path beneath my feet was glowing. I felt very alive as I breathed in the clouds.

I was whipping out my camera again as we passed the Intipunku ruins with their steep stone steps. Then we collected as a group and 7 of us ran ahead to get try for the tickets (there are only 400 per day). I walked past neat stuff like Inca hangout posts; like stone rooms built into the mountain.

We passed some grazing Llamas and then...our first view of Machu Picchu! I didn´t recognize it at first. So I got the shot I´ve been dreaming about. As soon as I stopped recording, my camera broke. DEW DETECT. That´s what I get for shooting in the rain!

So the 7 of us followed Washi (our medic\guide), rushing through the whole site of Machu Picchu to the ticket booth for Waynapicchu. I was bewildered at this site. It looked absolutely nothing like any photos or video I´ve seen of the place. We only were able to score 2 tickets for the 10am slot. We would have to sort it out later.

We joined our group and began our 2hr tour led by Carlos. We wound up through the Temple of the sun, the underworld area with mummy niches, the priest and Inca houses (not as nice at the sun temple, because the sun is more important than anything). The priest room had a small stone ¨table¨that held water so he could see reflection of stars...or place offerings to God...or put on makeup. All theories are only allowed to be made by what little evidence was left after all the damn looting. Then we saw the busted sundial the Incas built (kaput now- sun moved 3 degrees since the rock was carved). Awesome temples that were still under construction when it was abandoned. The courtyard has interesting acoustics and a few of us played around shouting into echoes.

At the end of the tour, my camera had dried out (I was airing it out as we walked around). So I went with a few peeps to get some pickup shots. Hope they came out well! This was the most magnificent location I´ve seen in Peru. The smallest mountain is in full view top to bottom and the Urubamba river encircles it. Breathtaking and inspirational.

We took a bus down to Aguas Caliente for lunch in a hostal. Then a couple hours later (I screwed up and went on the internet while others went to the hot spring) those of us going back to Cusco walked to get on the train. 1.5hrs later, still awake, we got onto a bus. 1 hr later arrived in Cusco and I got a room at a hotel that Denise and Jess were staying at.

The next day was Saqsaywaman, which is written about above.

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