Climbing the Inca Trail is something that most avid travellers should do. I firmly believe that. I think it’s one of the very few places on earth where you can experience stunning vistas, the natural outdoors, ancient ruins and a ton of history in one amazing place.
I’m going to tell you some of the highlights and lowlights of my Inca Trail trek in three chapters.
1: Eating, Sleeping & Inca Toilets
One of the best parts about climbing the Inca Trail was the camaraderie among our group of trekkers (at least at first…more on that later). P & I met a lot of wonderful people from all around the world who were in our group. There was a newly engaged Australian couple, another fantastic Aussie named H (he’ll make an appearance later), a newly married couple from Argentina, three women from somewhere in the southern United States of America, two fellow Canadians, and four people from China (one was 66 and another was a famous travel writer!).
Each day we would set out as a group but would naturally separate over the trail because we each moved at our own pace. At mealtimes though, we were all squished into our food tent and we forged some pretty fantastic friendships. I remember best the conversations I had with H and A&N (the betrothed) about how amazing Australia is. We talked about marriage and engagements (A&N came to Peru from Dubai – they got engaged at the top of the Burj Khalifa building!) and we talked about life in general. H struck me as the type of person who was really living life after a recent split from his wife. He was traveling the world and enjoying every minute of it! His travels sounded spectacular. We talked to the people from China about the different travels that they had done over the years and what motivated them to climb the trail in Peru! The oldest person in our group was probably the youngest in spirit. He was such an inspiration – and he was able to keep up with all of us! Eating in our tent – we called dinnertime “happy hour” – was some of the most hilarious fun I had over the 4 days.
The food we ate was delicious. I hadn’t been too impressed with Peruvian food thus far on my trip (obviously…) and so I was a bit nervous going into this – especially as a vegetarian. However, there was variety every day. The food wasn’t too heavy and yet it filled you up and provided you with the energy necessary to plug onward. I didn’t realize that there were so many ways to use quinoa. I am thankful that our porters were such excellent cooks. Renaissance men, really.
The porters also set up our tents each evening. As much as I like the comfort of my pillow-top mattress back home I actually love camping and sleeping in tents. All of the necessary camping gear was provided by the company we booked with including tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads. Each night P & I would dress in our warmest clothing and wrap ourselves snugly in our sleeping bags. The thing about Peru in June/July is that it’s cold. The thing about being in the mountains is that it’s freezing. Something about it made me feel so comfortable and at peace. Waking up in the morning each day was a challenge though: the porters provided each person with a bowl of warm water to wash with each morning. So, when they shook our tents (our wake-up call) it was necessary to wake up right away to get your water before it got cold.
On the second night we camped at a place that looked out into the mountains. The night was so dark that it felt like you could see every star in the entire night sky. We spent a lot of time just staring off into this stunning view and enjoying the stars.
The washrooms at the campsites were, unfortunately, not akin to the other stunning views. Along the trail itself we only ever encountered one porta-potty. So, generally speaking, if you gotta go – you gotta go along the trail. We dubbed this the “Inca Toilet.” Nasty. However, in my opinion, the Inca Toilets were preferable to the campsite toilets. I’m not exactly sure how – but there was shit smeared all over the walls and floors of the stalls. The toilets themselves were simple holes in the floor of a private stall. This is a complicated situation as a female: it’s very dark inside the bathroom because there wasn’t proper lighting, you had to squat in a way that prevented you from pissing all over yourself (a trial and error process, to be sure…), and you had to hang on to your roll of toilet paper while going to the washroom ensuring all the while that you don’t lose your balance and topple into other people’s fecal matter. Generally speaking, I didn’t have too many problems with the washrooms aside from the times when I was still figuring out how to manage to not cover myself in my own urine…and once I dropped my entire roll of toilet paper – after I used it – in a pile of god-knows-what. Once at MP there were proper toilets with cleanliness and toilet seats! $1 didn’t seem too high a price to pay for use after 4 days in the wilderness.
2: Nature & Two Purple Testicles
I’m a huge nature nut. Some of my favourite adventures that I’ve had in my life have occurred in nature preserves, jungles, or at some natural landmark. The trail is literally awesome from the very first steps you take. The most stunning mountains and vegetation surround you and you can’t shake the feeling that you are embarking on something life-changing.
We learned so much about the history of the Inca people and about how the many trails to Machu Picchu were used. We were able to walk through ancient ruins along the way that were just as impressive as Machu Picchu itself. It’s an incredible feeling to be both in the middle of a forest and on the top of a mountain at the same time.
One of my favourite factoids from our trek involves the over 200 types of orchids you can find along the trail. Orchids happen to be my absolute favourite flower – so much so that my entire left rib cage is tattooed in them. Of course, I was extraordinarily pleased to see all of the different varieties as we were hiking. Our entire group stopped to talk about the orchids and our guide Raul informed us that the term “orchid” is derived from the Greek orkhis (or, orchis), which means testicle. Thus, I have two giant purple testicles tattooed to my left side. Our group got a kick out of this, let me tell you.
What I remember most about hiking the trail was the wonderful solitude. I was with P, of course, and a few other trekkers who kept our pace, but over all we all seemed to stay lost in our thoughts. We enjoyed the overwhelming feeling that we were partaking in something historic, something so meaningful and important, that words weren’t required.
3: Dead Women & Rainbows
The most difficult part of the trail for me, by far, was the Dead Woman’s Pass on day two. According to our guide, this portion of the hike can take anywhere between 6 to 8 hours depending on the level of fitness and the effects of altitude for each individual trekker. The hike itself begins with trails that meander through the absolutely stunning Andean Forest. There is heavy vegetation and small rivulets on either side of the path as you continue your gradual assent. The pass itself derives its name from the shape of the mountain at the very top. I had a difficult time making out a supine woman from the peaks of the mountain ahead – but others swore that they could see it.
We hiked at our own pace up through the pass and stopped frequently to rest and hydrate. I remember watching the mountaintops get closer and closer, and yet somehow also further and further away at the same time. I think altitude was playing tricks on my mind. But, when we did make it to the top we could see the entire pass through which we just trekked. It was unbelievable. P & I just sat in awe looking back at what we had just accomplished. As we were seated there, it began to snow. Even though we are hardened Canadians who love wintertime, this somehow felt special. We rugged up in our hats and mitts and enjoyed a very brief majestic mountain snowfall. It did a spectacular job of cooling us off after our arduous hike. The snow cleared almost immediately – as it is wont to do in a mountain climate – and we all sat in silence as we watched a rainbow form almost directly over our heads. It was one of those life moments. Raul told us that seeing a rainbow would bring us good luck moving forward in our trek.
This rainbow brought us everything but good luck.
Stay Tuned & Keep Wandering,