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The rarely updated blog of Joel Dixon
< Lima & Cusco, Peru - 2015 | Pittsburgh Penguins - 2016 Stanley Cup Champions! >

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Inca Trail, Peru - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 11/11/2015 02:47:14
Updated by Joel Dixon at 11/11/2015 03:04:48


I would assume that most people are filled with a sense of achievement and awe once they finally reach Machu Picchu after the long and gruelling Inca Trail hike. As for me - I was simply ecstatic that I had finally reached a site with a proper toilet. A regular western-style toilet with ample paper supply was such an improvement over the portable toilets, squat toilet or makeshift "to the side of the path next to an archaeological site" toilets I had been forced to utilise until this point. Given that something was forcing me to evacuate all of my hopes and dreams through my backside every 1 to 4 hours - I can't stress enough how delightful that toilet was.

Machu Poochu
Such a comforting sight - aside from the weird "chuck your soiled paper into a trash can instead of the toilet" system they insist on
(I didn't have the foresight to take a photo myself so I had to find this one on the internet - part of a very informative article about the state of toilets on the Inca Trail - great reading!)


But I digress. How did I get myself into this situation in the first place? More than six months ago Pao and I were planning our next trip to visit her family in Argentina and we decided to tack a Peruvian stay to the start to check out Machu Picchu. I had the bright idea that we should attempt the four-day classic Inca Trail for some added adventure. This was towards the end of my first season of ice hockey and I was feeling pretty fit and ready for the challenge - we figured we'd up our gym visits as well to get ready.

So towards the end of my 6-month hockey break I had a whole heap of work to keep me away from the gym and my fitness certainly wasn't at the highest point. Adding to that was the horrible altitude sickness in Cusco which capped off an entirely insufficient preparation. Oh well, we were going to complete the trek or die trying (both appeared to be completely possible results at various points)!

Unprepared
The start of the trail was final point that I was feeling confident about the trek

The first day was the "moderate" testing phase with a leisurely 14 km stroll without too much steep elevation gain or loss. I was quite enjoying it although Pao's cold was causing a constant usage of tissues and I needed to carry her pack up the final hill. We checked out some nice scenery, listened to interesting stories from our guide, ate a few great meals and visited our first archaeological site - Llactapata. Overall I was quite happy with the first day, though feeling a tad worried about the next "challenging" day.

Red Bits
The source of red carmine dye - I've always been interested in where colour dyes came from - I got to see a brilliant red in its natural habitat

Llactapata
The first of the archaeological ruins - reminds me of my Geography homework when we first learnt about isobars

Day 2 was tough. Waking up at around 4:30 am, 16 kms over 11 hours, starting the day with a 900m climb, then a 600m descend, another 400m climb and finally 400m down to the night's camp. Our highest point was 4,200m above sea level which is when the altitude difficulties were most obvious. Pao and her cold struggled mightily with the climbs on this day - so I was carrying her pack as well as mine for most of it. I think I overdid it on day 2 - at the end if it I was incredibly exhausted and pretty much left my dinner untouched (another bad idea but altitude removes appetite). The night of day 2 also had the added bonus of not being able to sleep (presumably also due to the altitude) - all issues culminating in a terrible day 3 (for me).

Jungle Time
There certainly was beautiful sights, but the longer we walked...

Dead Woman
... the less I cared

Stones
Presumably a Beastie Boys Intergalactic remake

I got messed up pretty good by day 3. It was listed as the "Easy Day" because it was only 10 kms mostly downhill. But when "downhill" consists of 1,000 meters of descending via steps, easy day doesn't seem to cut it as a description. I was getting extremely weak as the day and my feet dragged on, by lunchtime the guide needed to carry my backpack as I limped through a shortcut to get to our camp quicker. Thankfully day 3 did have nothing planned after lunch (to recover for the final Machu Picchu day) so I gathered my strength and slept a whole lot.

More Stones
I'm glad I took these photos, because at the time I was passing zombie-like through most archaeological sites

Stop Looking
Stop looking at me, deliciously edible swan rice!

Forever Young
I did take some time out of my busy napping schedule to join the group for a visit to the Winay Wayna site - very impressive

Day 4 was supposed to be another easy day, made more so by the fact that Machu Picchu was the destination that spurred us forward. We awoke at around 3 am so that we would be ahead of most trekkers when we arrived at the Sun Gate - the first chance to see Machu Picchu. That first hour of trekking was actually as easy as advertised and I was starting to feel some confidence returning. When we reached the Sun Gate and took a photo of our first glimpse of our final destination I was feeling pretty good. That's exactly when my stomach and beyond decided to let me know that pure evil was brewing inside me. As I clenched my last line of defence even Pao could hear the gurgling that was coming from deep within me - and it scared the both of us.

Suntastic
The Sun Gate shows that Machu Picchu is still quite a walk away, but we were on the final stretch

We scurried down the hill for what should have been a mere hour of gradual downhill moseying but turned into series of 15 minutes of walking followed by a quick visit to the "Inca Toilet" for some mountain painting (solely a watercolour palette). I tried with all of my remaining strength to keep a hold on my evacuations - but the ferocity of the call seemed to be threatening to find another exit if I was not to comply. This is when I reached a new level of weakness and any semblance of joy for the whole "adventure" evaporated as quickly as my water stores. By the time we reached the "Gringo Killer" portion of the final stretch (the last, almost vertical, set of steps before Machu Picchu) I didn't even have the energy to take a photo of what confronted us. As far as I'm concerned, we arrived at Machu Picchu without a minute to spare as I raced towards to afore-mentioned golden toilet.

Made It
I do admit, after an hour or so of sorting my issues out, I was finally awestruck by such a beautiful example of the early civilization

Jack Smile
I am exhibiting a "Jackson Smile", a smile through gritted teeth named for my nephew

Another View
I can see why so many people want to make the trek out here - I just wish I took the single day option more seriously

And thus ends my harrowing tale of a trek up (down, up and down) a mountain. I'm very slowly coming around to Pao's opinion that that Inca Trail was worth the effort even considering the 5 days of feeling horribly sick afterwards. Not completely there yet (I'm still yet to have a solid poop with almost 2 weeks having elapsed) but I can see the chance of it happening sometime in the future.

Certainly give the Inca Trail a go if it looks like something you'd enjoy - but take seriously the warnings about altitude sickness (we clearly needed more than 2 days to acclimatise) and the level of fitness required. We probably would have made it easily if it wasn't for illness - but you need to account for anything I guess. Oh, and pack extra toilet paper in your day bag just in case.


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