Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited tourist attraction and I won’t lie – it was the reason we went to South America.
I knew a little bit about the Inca Trail, and from the little I knew, I thought it would be cool to do. But I deliberately didn’t learn too much about it.
I knew it was a four day / three night trek and ended at Machu Picchu, I knew that there would be porters and all we’d have to do is walk, but beyond that most of the details were a surprise. And oh, what a surprise. I was suprised both by how easy AND how difficult it was.
The easy first.
There’s no denying it: it’s a very cushy way of doing a trek. We were in a large group – 16 tourists – and for our group alone we had 20 porters, one head chef, one assistant chef, and two guides. 500 permits are issued by the Peruvian Government each day for the Trail, and while that sounds like a lot, 300 of those permits are for the porters and guides. There’s only 200 for tourists.
The porters? They are amazing. They did everything except carry us. They carried 25kg of stuff each (that’s all they’re legally allowed – it’s very strict) but that was everything that was needed for the trek: sleeping tents, air mattresses, dining tent, table, stools, cooking equipment, food, and tourist belongings. Each tourist is allowed to give 5kg of stuff to the porters to carry, which meant that we only needed a day pack each. (Though all my camera gear meant that I was probably carting around 5kg in my day pack. Ridiculous.)
On the first day, the porters set off first and raced off – literally running. They outpaced everyone, and it was very common to hear shouts of “porter!” which meant: get the hell out of the way because if you don’t, you might accidentally get pushed off the mountain by a running porter.
At the designated lunch spot, the porters set up a dining tent and started cooking lunch and waited for us to arrive.
The first day was sunny and hot. When we eventually reached the lunch site, all sweaty and gross with only half a day’s walking under our belts, we were greeted with applause (seriously), a cup of warm cordial, and a basin of water each to wash our hands. Applause, cordial, and water basins happened every lunch and evening stop.
After lunch we resumed walking while the porters packed everything up and raced past us to reach the evening camp site.
In the evening, we reached our campsite and were again greeted by applause. Not only that, but our tents were already set up with air mattresses inflated.
Donkeyspam. Donkeys, I like them. We only saw them on the first day, because after that they’re not allowed on the Trail (the hooves are too damaging).
And the food. For goodness sake, the food. We ate FOUR meals each day on the Trail, plus we were also provided a snack to take with us in the morning (normally a piece of fruit, a small packet of biscuits/crackers and lollies). And how they managed to churn out such amazing food was beyond me.
Lunch was always two courses, and dinner was three. For breakfast there was always toast, and other things.
There was also afternoon tea at 5.30pm – crackers with jam and butter, freshly popped buttery popcorn, as well as tea or hot chocolate.
Okay, meal show and tell! For lunch on the first day, we started with potato soup.
Followed by the meatballs pictured in the first food photo, plus vegetables, really, really good fried cauliflower, and rice.
Dinner on the first night was semolina soup, followed by pasta, trout, and potatoes cooked with onions.
There was also a little dessert – banana with chocolate sauce.
On the second day, breakfast was at 6am, and first up was terrible toast. The toast was the only bad food on the trek and that was because only one side was toasted. So it was kind of like cold, stale bread.
Fortunately, it was followed by amazingly good porridge and fluffy pancakes with a mini banana fritter.
Were we being carbloaded for the day ahead? The second day was the most physically taxing (as you’ll read below in the hard section).
While the second day was the hardest, it was also the shortest, and we arrived at our evening campsite not long after midday. The thought of lunch made me fly down the mountain after we were allowed to leave Dead Woman’s Pass, but sadly the porters weren’t expecting us so soon, so we had to wait anyway. Plus we had to wait for the rest of the group. Fail.
But when lunch was served, it was great! There was cheese filled pastries.
And rice with two beef stews. One was like a green curry thingie (except not spicy) and beef and vegetables in a tomato style sauce.
But the best thing was these quinoa fritters, which were super tasty. Peru made me rethink my ambivalence towards quinoa.
For dinner on the second night, we had vegetable soup, followed by pasta, yuca, sweet potato and stuffed chicken legs.
Dessert was an interesting purple corn pudding. In the dim lighting of the tent, it looked kind of like congealed blood (oooh appetising!). It had a custard texture but tasted slightly sour – like jelly.
On the third day, breakfast was again at 6am, and there was terrible toast, plus cornbread.
As well as fried plantains and omelette.
The third day was the longest day of walking – 16km – and again, hunger drove me to speed to our lunch stop.
Well, you think I would’ve learned from the previous day, but again we were too early, and again we had to wait. AHHHHH. Reading this you’d think all I wanted to do was eat (oink oink), but I think it was just having breakfast so early.
Lunch was great when it was finally served. There was vegetable soup, plus a pork and vegetable stew with rice.
Another dish was this chicken salad that was really good – all crunchy and salty.
And we had slices of broccoli cake. This lunch was probably my favourite meal.
And at afternoon tea there was the usual popcorn, plus fried pastry with chocolate sauce.
And for dinner on our last night we started with chicken noodle soup.
Then had rice, with grilled chicken, fried chicken and vegetables.
There was jelly for dessert part 1.
Dessert part 2 was cake. One of our group had her birthday on the last evening, so the head chef steamed an orange cake. Awwww.
Finally, breakfast on the final morning (at the ridiculous time of 4am) was terrible toast and pancakes. I was SO CRANKY that morning (4AM plus see below in the hard section) however the smiley face on my pancake helped a little.
See how much we ate? Spoilt, right? Despite all the energy needed for walking, I’d be surprised if anyone lost weight on those four days.
Okay, the hard.
I’d be lying if I said the trek was all easy. It was definitely hard work at times. I am moderately (?) fit, but it was a struggle going up the mountains. At high altitude, everything takes so much more energy, and even though we had several days beforehand at higher altitude (Chivay, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco) it still wore me out.
The second day was the hardest day, as we had to ascend 900m from our campsite to Dead Woman’s Pass, located at an altitude of 4200m. It was a steep climb over several hours. And dammit, while the legs and body were willing, the lungs were weak weak weak. I did my best to plod along and not stop because stopping for more than a few minutes is BAD – I found that once I cooled down, it took a lot to get going again.
Still, even going slow was a big effort and there were many points along the way when I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing here??”
On the third day, we tackled the second pass – fortunately a smaller climb than the previous day, only 300m from our campsite to a height of 4000m, but when I reached the top I distinctly remember thinking, “Never. Again. Ever.”
Sheer bloody mindedness carried me up those mountains, coupled with the thought that the faster I walked, the sooner I could sit down. That and the knowledge that people in their 60s and 70s do this trek. I don’t even know what to say about that. Whaaaat.
Andean flat (which is basically a “gentle” up and down – gentle being relative in the Andes) and downhill was much more to my liking, but walking down presents its own problems. It was steep and rocky and sometimes there were lots of big uneven steps – it was really hard on the knees and required a lot of concentration to prevent falling down the mountain. A few people on our group had bad knees to begin with, and the downhill parts really aggravated them.
My knees are fine, and I was so ecstatic to not be going UP that I fairly skipped my way down. Wheeeee!
The walking, combined with no showers for four days (yes, yes, I am a princess), plus bad sleeping in the tents, all added up to: hard work. The night before Machu Picchu was THE WORSE – Alastair and I both had a maximum of three hours sleep that night – and we had to wake up at 3.30am. Awful.
By the time we reached Machu Picchu we were both exhausted, and after a couple of hours wandering around the ruins I was over it. O.V.A.H. So that sucked (quite) a bit.
I suppose it was worth it? It was fun at times. And we saw several Inca ruins along the way, which were fascinating.
And Machu Picchu *is* amazing. Photos don’t do it justice at all. It is massive and beautiful but… I was so tired I couldn’t wait to leave… (truth).
So I’m guess I’m glad we did the trek but now that it’s done – NEVER AGAIN. If we ever go back, I am taking the train. No more treks. Stick a spork in me and call me done.