Trip Report: Inca Trail (Day 4)

Untitled

We were informed that we would have to get up at 330 to start the short hike to Machu Picchu. They tell you it’s so you can reach the Sun Gate at dawn. It’s actually so the porters can get on the first train. The trail will not open before dawn. Ruben told us the trail used to be open at all hours but there were too many injuries. The terrain is not easy; I could not imagine trying to fumble around on some rain-slicked rocks with just a stupid headlamp. There are a few steep drop-offs and as of this writing, one section of the trail is severely damaged due to a mudslide. The go-around requires a rickety bridge that you’d typically find on your way to meeting a mystical Shaolin monk somewhere. It doesn’t make any sense to have a group of people traipsing about in the dark like that. I don’t know how litigious Peru is, but you know some American would find a way to sue the pants off any tour company that didn’t take proper precautions.  So, you get up at an awful hour only to go down to the bottom of the hill and rest there for 1.5 hours awaiting the opening of the trail.

I had such poor sleep and my fat overworked body was failing me. Frankly, I was quite glad of the opportunity to go back to sleep, but there’s always some asshole who doesn’t respect that it’s quiet time. Almost every hiker out there pulled out their poncho and laid down for a little rest, except this one guy.

on that stuff

Smokin’ that la-la-la-la

This little shit had a 2000-watt headlamp on that he was shining in people’s faces. He was talking to some guy who did not actually appear interested in the conversation. He kept his 2000-watt headlamp glowing while he chattered away with someone who did not appear to be interested. He happens to see this bottle a few feet away from me and 47, and he comes up to us.

“Hey, is this your agua de florida?” he said, motioning to a bottle in Ruben’s pack.

First, of all, he reminded me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo. He talked like a surfer but with an accent. It was soon obvious that he was high as shit. 47 tried to ask him where he was from.

Her: Where you from?

Him: You know, countries. They’re such bullshit. Like, do we even have to have borders. People should be able to go wherever they want to go.

Me: ………………. What the?

Him: Yeah, the concept is so 1800s.

Her: So, where are you from?

Him: Well, I’m from Poland but I have a passport from the UK and I’m going to get one from the US, and then………………………..

Me: #DEAD

He asked us again about the agua de florida.

Me to AK: Tell your fucked up brother go somewhere.

AK to me: That’s not my brother. That’s your fucking brother.

AK to him: We’re not sure what it is, but I think you could just Google it.

Him: Nah, man, I don’t trust Google. I don’t Google. Google watches me. It knows what I’m doing and it shows me stuff that I want to see. It knows what I want.

Me: ……………… what the……

Call me crazy but don’t you want Google to show you want you want? Ruben eventually explained that agua de florida is medicinal for people who get altitude sickness. You don’t drink it; you make the sick person sniff it. I think this dude wanted to drink it to see if it would get him even more messed up than he already was.

Thankfully the trail opened and the guy went off to find his own group. That is when I noticed he was wearing pants similar to what firefighters wear when they are actually fighting fires. In fact, I’m certain they were.

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the background.

Started from the bottom, now I’m here

Now that you are at the end of the hike, you really want to hurry it up. I scurried along as fast as I could. Occasionally you catch a glimpse or two of the Sun Gate, but it’s really too far away to see it properly. It does something to you, to see the finish line but you’re not quite there yet.

This last little bit is more up and down. It’s very dewy, so, of course, the trail is slick. We are not the only ones at the end of our endurance. More and more hikers are holding up the rear with us. At some point we caught up to Katie who was having a difficult time. During the downhill on Day 2, she had injured her hip. Under normal circumstances, she would have rested and been okay, but since this event requires consecutive days of physical activity she had done more damage by trying to keep up with her husband and the rest of the forerunners.

Now this bitch is crying and is on obvious pain. No stranger to double-rucking, 47 offered to carry her pack to ease her burden. Katie declined. We asked if there was any way we could help her. She said no, and I think really she wanted her husband to be with her. She seemed incredibly clingy, and it’s obvious she’s one of these chicks that needs her husband right there with her at all times. Since she did not want our help, bye, Felicia.

Just part of the trail.

A normal person can reach Inti Punku (Sun Gate) in just under two hours. We got there in maybe 2.5 hours. Again, the terrain is very slippery. There is more up and down. The final killer is what I call Stairs of Death: a set of stairs with a very sharp incline. My hiking poles were useless. I ended up passing them off to 47 and I crawled on my hands up the steps. Did I mention that I’m scared of heights? I dared not glance down or even around me for fear of being paralysed by that very fear. I stared only at the steps and put one hand in front of another, one foot in front of the other until I got to the top.

Totally worth every moment of agony. The view is breathtaking. At this point, you can now catch a glimpse of Machu Picchu. Now you begin to feel a sense of accomplishment. You are now reminded this is why you’re doing all of this. You could have easily taken the train in relative comfort with a pisco sour in hand, but no, you’re made of stronger stuff and you wanted an adventure.

Untitled

Ruben proved to be quite enthusiastic in his class on the ruin. The first thing he wanted to impart to us is that Hiram Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu. The local population already knew it was there. I would wager they didn’t know anybody was looking for it, and if they did, they probably did not care. I personally believe that you cannot discover something that already exists to someone else. I guess it’s like the whole Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, but there were already approximately 2.1 million people living on the land. I’ve read a few papers on the subject, and most of them clearly state that Bingham asked the locals if there were any ruins around. There were farmers actually farming on some of the terraces.

These are the men who uncovered Machu Picchu.

Peru credits these men as the true discoverers

Maybe we can say that Bingham was the first outsider to see the ruins. Although there is a controversy that maybe even that is not the truth. Apparently, on two different occasions some Germans may have plundered the site before Bingham even showed up.

At any rate, Machu Picchu is quite a fascinating place that makes the entire four day hike worth it. I always marvel at these ancient things that were built without modern machinery and technology. The Inca also did not really utilize the wheel as other primitive cultures did. My guess is that the wheel would have been utterly useless on the terrain, with its steep grades and intense vegetation. I think it is unknown precisely how they moved the rocks around. There is a wild theory that aliens may have built the place.

We spent nearly three hours touring the ruins, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things. After Ruben’s discussion, I wanted to stay longer but the truth is the exhaustion finally caught up with me. Also, the weather cleared up significantly and it was now quite hot and sunny. I advise being prepared for anything because when we first entered, it was raining and within a matter of seconds the sun came out and the temperature rose.

So, remember the whole tipping fiasco? Remember I said Martin cited socialism for wanting to tip Ruben and the others all the same? Well, near the end of the tour of Machu Picchu, Martin pulled us aside and said that he wanted to tip Ruben a little something extra.

“He’s put in a lot of hard work, and it’s obvious that he is really passionate about his job,” Martin said.

47 and I just looked at each other. In the wee hours of the morning when they were packing up, I slipped Señors Condor and Alfredo a little something extra because I felt they deserved it. I had to do it hastily because after Night 3, you don’t see the porters anymore. 47 and I already had plans to give another tip to Ruben at the end of the Machu Picchu tour, and I just found it hysterical that Martin realized the error of his ways. I’m really good for diming people out, but I decided not to and just went along with it.

All of us got together for coffee, beer and snacks in the little café at the bottom of the hill. We arranged to meet each other in Aguas Calientes at a specified time. 47 and I didn’t really want to but we would have looked assholes if we said, “No, we never want to see any of you again.”

Jammin' in Aguas Calientes

Rockin’ out in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is a quaint town completely overrun by tourism. There are dozens of restaurants packed in the streets, catering to every size pocketbook. We met up at Hot Springs restaurant, because this was the location of our duffle bags the porters had been carrying. The food isn’t anything to write home about but it’s not the worst you’ll ever eat. I had a decent pizza and several glasses of wine.

Now that physical discomfort was behind us, everyone was cordial and pleasant. The two married couples had booked a hotel in AC, so they were fresh while the rest of us were still bedraggled. We laughed and joked for several hours, whilst waiting for the train back to Cusco. Ruben was with us and it did make for a great way to pass the time.

The train ride back to Cusco is the final test of your patience and endurance. Seriously, it’s got to be at least three hours long. I did not find the seats to be particularly comfortable, plus, you’re still stank and dirty from the hike (and so is everyone else). I fell asleep several times, only to wake up like, “I’m still on this fucking train?”

We were none the worse for wear by the time we arrived to our hotel. I took the world’s longest shower when we got into our room. Then we ordered a bottle of wine, got trashed in the hotel room whilst asking ourselves, “what the fuck did we just do?” and then we lived happily ever after.

Untitled

Advertisements

Trip Report: Inca Trail (Day 3)

Intipata Ruben told us that as far as distance goes, Day 3 is the killer. Day 1 and 2, we’re walking about 10 kilometers. Day 3 we walk 16. He told us that it would not be the brutal uphill climb of Day 2, but there would be a lot of up and down and lots and LOTS of steps.

47 decided to walk with me. She said her knees were bothering her and she wanted to take it slower. We let the rest of the group set off on their breakneck pace, while we lollygagged somewhere in the back. Actually, with her walking with me I did end up picking up the pace a bit. I also didn’t take as many sympathy breaks.

Day 3 brought rain. I opted for a poncho, but I wish I had had a rain coat. The poncho was hot. Rain does not equate cold. A poncho is essentially a plastic bag trapping the heat inside. Also, ponchos are made for tall people. I truly felt like a Hobbit in an Elven cloak, only my poncho did not have all the magical properties of the Elves. Untitled Basically, you are in the clouds here. It is actually magnificent because you can touch the clouds. Not really, but hopefully you understand what I’m saying. As you start to descend, the clouds are beyond reach, leaving this mystical feel about the place. Ruben stopped us several times to discuss key features. There were some Inca sites and a lake. He showed us the weaving techniques the Incas used on the grasses.

He was accurate (of course) that were was a lot of up and down, a ton of steps and uneven terrain. There’s nothing for it but to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. The rain was a non-issue. I ended up using the poncho to cover up my daypack. It was not a drenching rain and I had plenty of dry clothes so I did not care if I got a little bit wet. My feet stayed dry, and really, that’s what’s important.

If 47 had not been with me, I seriously would have given up. I was just so tired. I kept tripping over rocks. I stubbed my toe a hundred times. I rolled my ankle 1000 times. I was too hot, then I was too cold. It was always something, but when we started out together we kept up a steady stream of chatter. We just talked for hours up and down the mountain. We both decided that our next adventures would be luxurious. That is a joke between us because the only time we come together is during some horrific conditions.

When we stopped for lunch Katie and Chris are still mad at each other. Gina and Martin are holding hands. Sam and Jessica seem normal. 47 and I just laugh because we really hoped to meet some new friends. It just didn’t work out that way. Gina suggested they clear out the lunch table so they could do yoga.

If this bitch says yoga one more time….

Sun terraces Day 3 is a really long day. We did the best we could but I am not sure that I can say that I enjoyed it. It was more like enduring, just doing what you have to do to get through it. For the better part of the day, there aren’t even any good views to lift your spirits because it’s really cloudy and then sections of the trail are heavily buffeted by foliage. The rocks were slick because of the moisture and I never got proper footing. Every five seconds I was tripping over something. I just wanted to stop walking. Really, I was miserable. By the time I made camp that night I just wanted for it to be over. “It is over,” 47 said. we have to do is wake up really early and after about two hours we would be at Machu Picchu. I remember thinking there had better be some gold left in the ruins to make it all worth it. Untitled

The third campsite was my least favourite. The sleeping area was downhill from the food area. After all that up and down, I don’t want to climb up some steps for my food. Then the tents were on this incline. It was uncomfortable. It was also a lot warmer and wetter at this campsite.

The evening at the campsite was very weird. First, I was too tired to participate in afternoon tea but Ruben said Señor Alfredo had a treat for us. I was like, “Unless it’s booze…” Of course, it wasn’t. It was popcorn (ugh) and some kind of fried banana thing. The banana thing was pretty good but I didn’t eat too much because sometimes my face swells after eating bananas.

The surprise was a cake. And by cake, I do mean an actual cake. A two layered cake with buttercream frosting and real fruit decoration. I don’t even understand how this man did this. I believe they were carrying some kind of oven, like an EZ Bake oven, or some shit. I do not know any other way to make a cake except in an oven. The only other thing I can think is maybe they had a cast iron pan over a fire. An experienced person would know how to gauge how much heat to give it to bake, but now that I’m writing this I’m going to discount that idea because open fires were not allowed. I give up. I have no idea how they made a goddamn cake on a mountain.

We took a bunch of pictures with the porters, the chef and the cake. Ruben also talked to us about tipping the Quechua for their hard work. AK and I believed Wayki Treks had really done an outstanding job and that we should tip well. As far as Wayki Treks is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to complain about. We both observed other tour groups on the trail. We agreed there were some that appeared just as good as Wayki, but there were a few we noted that were clearly very feeble.

When we arrived at the campsite for Day 3, we saw that there was one tour group that did not have their tents set up yet. A few of their hikers had arrived but were waiting for their stuff. We saw one group have to continue hiking on the brutal Day 2 because their tour company did not have permission to camp at the second campsite, making for an even longer day. Ruben was knowledgeable and extremely informative. Wayki Treks is awesome because it’s indigenous owned and the porters appear to be treated properly. We did see other porters from other companies getting yelled at. Maybe they had done something wrong, but I feel like adults should not be yelled at like toddlers, no matter what.

47 and I were quite pleased and were prepared to tip generously. The other members of our group did not feel the same way. Rich people kill me with how much money they spent on shit and all the amazing things they do, but then when it comes time to paying people what they are worth suddenly they are broke and they don’t give a fuck. The married couples did not come out and actually say they did not want to tip well. It was just their attitude. Then Martin went on this shit about, “I’m a socialist, and everybody should get paid the same.” What?  How does that even make sense?

feliciaNot sure why he felt the need to bring up his political leanings, but clearly he did not do his research. The thing about the tipping was very specific. There was an order of precedence: the guide, an assistant guide (if any), the cook, the head porter, followed by the rest of the porters. Whatever we believe in from our native countries does not matter.

Usually I like to argue when I feel that people are wrong, but for whatever reason I did not say anything. Now that I’m home, I’m ashamed of myself because if you know me at all well, I never let a perceived injustice slip past me.

The rest of the group did not seem to care one way or another. It was like nobody wanted to argue about it, so we went along with this stupid idea to give the porters an equal tip. Then I felt like the tip was miserly. I think they thought the same thing.

Martin ended up being the appointed spokesperson for the group. During the final good-byes at the end of the night, he said to them, “It is our wish the money be distributed equally.”

When Ruben translated Martin’s words into Quechua, I was watching Señor Alfredo. I don’t think he was pleased with what transpired. He and Señor Condor have done the Inca Trail over 400 times. Some of the younger guys had a lot less ticks on their belt. Señor Condor ran up the mountain carrying a sack of eggs in his right hand. Señor Alfredo made pizza and a CAKE, for heaven’s sake. It wasn’t right.

Later, 47 and I agreed that we should do the right thing and tip them separately.

Just part of the trail.