We spent three days partying in Lima before arriving in Cusco. Truth be told, a good idea would have been to cut out one of those partying days to come to Cusco earlier. An even better idea would have been to come to Cusco first and did the partying afterward. This would have been better for us physically. All that drinking…. Oy.
The way we did it, we only had 1.5 days to adjust to the altitude. I did not have any significant issues, just slight fatigue, but 47 had trouble breathing. She also had a nuisance headache. Our hotel was awesome but we were on the third floor. Even with just backpacks I felt like we were climbing mountains. We would come up to the room and collapse into bed like we’d just been on a marathon.
Arriving earlier would have given us more time to explore Cusco. We just did not do the place justice. Because 47 was feeling poorly, she stayed in the room while I went out. I was a history major and a religious studies minor, so I could have spent a lifetime combing through the churches and museums dedicated to faithful nuns and priests. We just didn’t give ourselves enough time.
The day before the hike began, we met with our tour guide Ruben at the Wayki Trek office. We also met with two of our fellow hikers: Gina, a Peace Corps volunteer from Eastern Europe and Martin, a graphic designer on sabbatical from some French territory.
Ruben did a great job of outlining everything that would happen during the trek. Truthfully, I had been having serious misgivings about the whole thing. 47 and I made these plans eight months ago when we were deployed and doing two-a-days at the gym. Everything I had been reading stated that a hiker should be physically fit. I am anything but. Ruben kept going on about how Day 2 was the challenge day but he had never had a client that quit or couldn’t make it. Buoyed by this, I told myself everything would be just fine.
The next morning, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. It’s cold out and my bed is warm; why should I go on a 26 mile hike anywhere? I am a person that can sometimes be blasé about money—which is stupid, because I don’t actually have money to throw away like that. I was thinking to myself, “Who cares about the couple hundred dollars I spent on this trip? I’m sleepy.” Eventually we did get up and get going.
We were the first to be picked up. Then we stopped to pick up two married couples: Sam and Jessica, and Chris and Katie. Gina and Martin opted for the Wayki Experience, so we had to drive out to the porters’ village to pick them up. Once we had everybody we started out for Ollaytatambo.
After leaving Ollaytatambo, we headed down what can only be described as a Road of Death to the Kilometer 82. Seriously, I’ve been in quite a few foreign countries and driven on some hair-raising roads but this road… it’s like a one lane dirt road and our driver must have thought it was the Indy 500 because he was blazing and then we had to scoot off the edge of the road near the river so another blazing fast truck could pass.
We made it safe enough but maybe that’s an experience I would not care to repeat. At Kilometer 82, we prepared for the hike. Ruben introduced us to the porters, which he kindly asked us to refer to them as Quechua. There were a total of 13, and we couldn’t remember their names except Señor Condor, the senior porter and Señor Alfredo, the head cook.
“Well, I’ll remember Señor Alfredo, because he’s the cook and that’s the most important person because he knows where the food is,” said 47. My thoughts exactly.
My hike was almost over before it even began. It was very windy that day and my entrance paper almost blew into the river. Thankfully someone and their hiking pole saved it from blowing in.
After you take a dozen pictures under the Camino de Inca sign and clear all the formalities, the hike begins.
Right away, I saw this was maybe not a good idea. My friends don’t talk to me into drugs or illegal activities. My friends talk me into feats of physical abilities that are quite beyond my capacity. Three years ago, my so-called friends talked me into doing the Bataan Death March. It was a terrible idea. My friends also talked me into doing a marathon. Also a bad idea, but I have completed two more since. I’m sorry to say the Inca Trail was MY idea.
That first little incline into the trail and I was like, “What are you doing!!” Five minutes later we saw a British woman COMING BACK. The trail is one way, folks, so obviously she was quitting not even fifteen minutes into a four day hike. She said, “Stomach bug.”
Yeah, okay, if that’s what you want to tell yourself.
Within thirty minutes it was clear that I was the weakest person in the group. 47, with her freakishly long legs, is a strapping Polish-Irish girl who can balls her way through anything physical. She Crossfits, so you know, physical torture is a national pastime for such people. Gina and Martin had done such hikes as Patagonia and some wilderness experience in Nepal. Jessica was an Olympian, for heaven’s sake. Seriously, she said she competed in the Olympics and holds several national records in her sport.
The first day was not specifically horrible. I just realized that I should have been in better shape. The up-hills were the worst. It wasn’t the altitude; it just going up that was so bothersome. I’m only 5’1 and my stubby little legs just can’t eat up the terrain like that.
I am so glad that we hired a Quechua to carry our extra gear. So, here’s how that was almost a fatal mistake. When we booked everything we did not initially hire an extra porter. For some reason, I thought I did but I never did. In the months leading up to the hike, I kept having these nagging little feelings like I forgot something. Two weeks before the hike began I was like, “YOU DIDN’T HIRE A PORTER!! IT’S TOO LATE!” I will never delude myself into thinking that I could carry my own shit. I immediately emailed Wayki Treks. I was so scared because I started reading other TA reports about how they wanted a porter at the last minute but couldn’t because the porters are under the same guidelines as the hikers—having to get clearance to enter the trail, same as everybody. In the hour it took for Wayki Treks to respond to my email, I sweated my whole life away. But thankfully, they were able to accommodate us.
That first day was a little warm, but not uncomfortable. It did not rain at all. I arrived last to the campsite, but I wasn’t horribly far behind everyone. No one made me feel like a loser for being in the back, and it wasn’t that big a deal. Seriously, the slow walking gave me ample opportunity to take in the scenery. Isn’t that the reason you’re out there, to enjoy nature at its finest?
I have never been camping before—at least, camping that wasn’t military, and it was a good experience for me. It is something that I would definitely do again. The other hikers laughed at me because they decided that this was not camping, when someone pitches your tent and cooks for you. They all started going into stories about trying to set up tents in the middle of a storm and then having to cook when you’re starving, and blah blah blah. You know what, that’s awesome you do those things, but it doesn’t sound fun to me. There’s shit that a person MUST do (like work, take care of their kids, etc), and there are things that a person WANTS to do. Things you WANT to do are usually fun. Setting up a tent in rainstorm doesn’t sound like fun, but if that’s what you like to do, more power to you!
This seemed to set the tone for the rest of our trip. Gina and Martin started going into all these awesome, rugged experiences they had. Actually, it was really annoying. It’s one thing to talk about an awesome trip you went on; it’s quite another to brag about it and then lord it around like you’re the shit. It was also super obvious they hooked up, even though they just met. Hey, more power to them. Wish I could have had a holiday boo.
It also became apparent the type of money the two married couples had. They met each other at the wedding of a mutual friend. Chris and Katie had been on a riverboat cruise on the Zambezi. I think Sam and Jessica went diving with great white sharks, or some shit. Basically, they went on all these trips that sounded horribly expensive.
47 and I seemed to be the only regular working class people without a wealth of exotic experiences, but you know how I don’t really give a fuck. When Gina, Jessica and Katie started up a yoga session before dinner, that is when I realized that I was on some other hipster planet. Yes, I know some yoga moves. I got an app for that, but they seemed to take it way too seriously. Me and 47 were like… whatever.
The one thing I worried about was the food. If it’s not soy sauce, teriyaki sauce or drowned in some kind of spicy chile I don’t really want it. The food wasn’t bad at all. Señor Alfredo really surprised me. I mean, they’re cooking shit in a tent, with what? I don’t even know. I tried to peek in one time to see how they did it but there were like 10 dudes in the tent and I couldn’t really see. They do feed you a lot.
Gina, who claimed to have gone on all these amazing expeditions, freaked out about the water. I guess she felt like she was gonna get diphtheria, or something. She insisted on buying bottled water and dragging it around everywhere she went. She carried it and didn’t complain, so that’s her issue. First, the water is coming out of a pipe from an actual glacier. It don’t get no purer than that. Then they boil it. Problem solved. I was worried about the taste, but it tastes like the same crap you get out of an Evian bottle (actually better, Evian water is gross). You won’t get salmonella dysentery, I promise. It’s not even a real thing anyway.
Sam bought a bottle of pisco from the locals that live around the campsite. I have to say that Sam really helped to liven our sad little crew. He had a great sense of humour and cracked jokes the whole time. It’s really great to have someone like that whose spirits can never be dampened. His wife, Jessica, was also pleasant. Chris and Katie, not so much. In fact, I don’t even know how these two couples are friends. Katie was a straight up bitch. I feel sorry for dudes who have clingy ass wives. He seemed like he could have been cool but his wife was uptight and annoying. 47 and I predicted their marriage wouldn’t last long. Petty, I know, but whatever.
Anyway, I thought the camp was nice. Yeah, so what it’s not real camping, but as Katie said, “This is my standard.” 47 and I shared a tent, which they claimed was for three people. If they had shoved a third person in that tent they would have been shoved right back out. Two people, yes; three people, hell no. We had a dining tent where we ate our meals, and a tent with a toilet in it. It’s not the best toilet, but it’s better than fumbling around in the bushes or trying to look for the campground toilets in the dark. I thought the whole setup was decent.