We awoke at 3:45am for our 4:00am departure to begin our climb of the Inca Trail. Leaving the Cuzco town square we realized the local night scene was just winding down and there were people stumbling all across the Square.
One the way out we stopped by an ATM to exchange currency and saw was a man sleeping next to the ATM. Sadly he didn’t appear to be one who had let the local night scene get the best of him. It appeared this was a place he slept frequently or was his home.
After two and a half hours of one of the worst rides, we successfully completed the 40-mile trek and officially were in the middle of nowhere; also known as close to the beginning of the Inca trail. Multiple people came out of a nearby home and I think my buddy and I both had a slight feeling that this could be the end for us. Fortunately, we were picking up porters who would be part of Team Kize and Grind as we attempted to tackle this four-day climb towards historic Macchu Picchu.
The 1st quarter of this trip (yes, we looked at it as a game) was beautiful. Great weather, a pretty easy climb, and encounters with some locals who lived on the trail. Several people coming the other way were headed towards town with their donkey or horse and local crop to sell at market. It was neat to be on a trail and cross paths with people in their daily routine.
Part of our way through we passed a small village and noticed a young girl, probably 4 or 5 years old, standing there and taking a very unpleasant bathroom break. Being gentleman we quickly turned away but then heard “Hola”. No upset stomach or embarrassing moment was going to stop her from showing some local hospitality.
The 2nd quarter was quite different. It began to rain and we still had a way to go to the lunch-time stopping point. Fortunately, we had rain gear but it began to get so hot I wasn’t sure what would have been more unpleasant – getting soaked or sweating to death.
Luckily we arrived at the final village before the trail really began and had a small hut we could get under and eat lunch.
This was our first experience with Windor aka “The Black Magician” as our guide Paul Wall Baby referred to him. Paul told us in our briefing that the food would be gourmet and I don’t think either of us believed it to be any more than maybe a nice sandwich or two. Boy, were we wrong and glad to be wrong. We had these GIANT pieces of corn, unlike any I’ve ever seen in America, with cheese (a common dish in Peru) and Rainbow Trout. It was incredible!
The 3rd and 4th quarter began our experience with the part of the trail where the Incans had actually built a trail made out of stones from the mountain. It was an incredible work of art. How they got these pieces out of the mountain and down on a trail that had dangerous and uneven terrain was a remarkable engineering accomplishment. Our first encounter with the steps we termed “the stairway to heaven”. These were brutal.
We then had about 3 hours of very steep climb towards our campsite for the night. There’s steep, and then there’s Inca Steep, as Paul kindly told us after our legs and lungs started taking a beating.
Thankfully we arrived at our camp site around 12,000 feet that night. The view was magnificent. We could see for miles and were right next to a waterfall, which would provide an incredible sound to sleep to that night.
We had another excellent meal then stepped out the tent to see one of the top views of my life. It was dark by then and when I looked up it appeared there were 10,000 fireflies about 20 feet in front of me. These fireflies turned out to be stars and Paul said it was the entire Milky Way. I’ve seen some prominent stars and constellations before but this was my first experience seeing an entire galaxy at once. Shooting stars were going everywhere and I was making wishes on wishes on wishes.
Day two on the trail had us going to the highest point on the trail named “Dead Woman’s Peak”. This was a continuation from the stairway to heaven from the day before and would have us at about 14,000 feet. It sure felt like we were literally climbing to heaven as each step we got higher and higher. This was the first time breathing became very difficult. The entire situation was difficult. The elevation was rising, and the steps were higher. We had to shorten our intervals just to try and regain oxygen.
After probably two hours of climbing we arrived at the peak. It was such an exhilarating feeling. A great physical accomplishment rewarded with a view from the top unlike any we’d seen. We were looking down on clouds that seemed so high up at the beginning of the trail they had looked unattainable.
Sitting up there was just so peaceful I didn’t want to leave. But the hike must go on and we made our first descent of the trip until we camped for lunch.
After lunch we made our second climb towards the second of three passes on the trail. On our way up we came across our first Incan site we could walk up to: “The Dominant City”. This was once used as a fortress that looked over the valley as well as the only trail the way up. We would learn that all the site locations were strategically placed in the best places with access to resources as well as protecting from possible trouble.
Our third day of hiking saw the final pass on the trail as well as a huge descent through the jungle. We had rain all through the night and morning so the trail was very slick. Shortly after reaching the third pass we begun a three hour decent towards the campsite.
This was our first experience going through the jungle and was completely different from the terrain we had experienced earlier. Unfortunately the steep and slick steps down got the best of me and I fell and cut my hand pretty good.
We continued to grind and arrived at Winay Wayna or “Forever Young”. This was absolutely huge. We counted 50 different levels or terraces to it. We sat on the top of one of the highest ledges and just looked out over all the earth.
My buddy joked about how he’d like to take a shower in a few inches of water we saw. Our main man Paul jokingly said something about showering in the waterfall way in the distance and we jokingly said something back. Paul established he was serious. I wasn’t sure at which emotion had us more excited – the desire for an unplanned adventure or a shower but either way we were off on our trip the waterfall.
When we got there we had to navigate some rocks to make it directly under the falls. The water was roaring down and felt like a cold, refreshing punch to the body. The initial shock was both freezing and exhilarating. 3 days worth of sweat, bug spray, and sunscreen all swept away in a hurry. I felt cleansed on so many different levels. By far the best shower of my life.
We got back to the campsite and said goodbye to our porters as they weren’t making the climb the next day to Macchu Picchu with us. None of them could speak English but we had a nice exchange through Paul’s translation and they took a horns down picture with our crew. It was a great and hilarious moment as they had no idea what was going on but you could tell it brought a lot of joy and laughter to them. (Editors note: Texas Sucks)
One thing we learned today was how to say “Let’s Go” in Quechuan, the native language of the jungle that the porters spoke. Since “Haku” was “Let’s Go” I naturally asked Paul how to say “Let’s Grow” and “Beasts”. “Purisun” was “Let’s Grow” and “Supaykunu” was “Beasts”. Always have to strive to grow and be your own beast!
We went to bed at about 8pm as we had a 3am wake up call the next morning to head towards the Sun Gate and finish at Macchu Picchu.
Part three coming soon. Read part one here.