Back in April, I shared the first photo essay of my South American adventure. Here’s the second installment: Peru’s Inca Trail, the biggest challenge of my life so far!
Touching down in Cuzco, the gateway to the Inca empire, I immediately felt the altitude change; the city’s elevation is about 3,400 m. Travellers come to acclimatize before their journeys to Machu Picchu, which has an elevation of 2,430 m.
Known as the city of the Puma, Cuzco is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is lovely; from its cobblestone streets, to its lush green lawns in Plaza de Armas, the main square, to its mix of old and new architecture. There is so much to take in.
Roaming around Mercado San Pedro, my senses were on overload. The market was broken up into sections: breads, cheeses, meats (out in the open without refrigeration), fruit and an endless supply of potatoes. In fact, Peru has over 2,000 kinds of potatoes! And who knew? According to our tour guide, Peruvians LOVE Jell-O.
The route to the Inca Trail is a windy one, with many small villages along the way. The night before we set out, we stayed in Ollantaytambo, home to a very significant archeological site within the Sacred Valley.
The next morning, the adventure began bright and early. With my hikers now broken in, my abundance of layers (and trust me, I used every single thing I brought with me at one point or another), snacks and a water bottle, I set out on the biggest challenge of my life.
Just a few minutes on the trail and we were ‘welcomed’ by a band of horses and mules, coming back down the mountain. In the background, you can also see the huge 25 kg packs the porters took up. These porters were unbelievable! Most are farmers, who know the Trail like the back of their hands.
The first of our four-day trek was definitely the easiest, not that it felt that way at the time! The trail sloped up and down, but luckily we were enchanted by the majestic land surrounding us, and this helped distract us. The Incas used terracing expertly for farming and agriculture; these terraces have lasted the test of time.
If we thought the trail was difficult on day 1, we had no idea what we were in for on day 2. The Andes can look breathtakingly beautiful; yet in the blink of an eye, the fog rolls in and they become eery and menacing. The weather conditions turned so quickly, one minute I was rolling up my sleeves and putting on my sunglasses; the next, I was throwing my poncho on over my clothes and backpack because of a torrential downpour. We were told to prepare for all the elements and that was no joke! But the weather wasn’t the biggest challenge; the altitude was.
As I climbed higher and higher to the summit, it became increasingly harder to breathe normally. At times, I felt sheepish seeing the porters on the trail, since they carried massive packs with provisions, and I could barely catch my breath walking slowly. Many would literally RUN past us, as we struggled to take a couple of steps.
But every huff and puff was worth it, as we descended on Machu Picchu, the morning of the fourth day. One of the world’s most significant UNESCO sites, Machu Picchu was “the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height”. We spent half a day exploring the wonders of this sacred and still very mysterious place. I was astounded most by the Incas’ ability to build so masterfully. They didn’t have sophisticated tools, yet were able to shape rocks so expertly that they fit together better than puzzle pieces.
After four challenging, yet amazing unforgettable days, I rewarded myself with an alpaca steak dinner! This local cuisine was delicious, tasted very similar to steak and paired well with a local brew.
I just couldn’t partake in this other local delicacy, particularly after I saw these guinea pigs playing so happily alive. The restaurant treated them very humanely, even building a massive house for them to run and squeal around in… until that fateful day when they become someone’s dinner.
If you’re looking for a challenge, walking in the footsteps of the Inca will be a very humbling, yet rewarding experience.