Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 3)

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 3)

I’m back with the third installment of our trek to Machu Picchu via the world-famous Inca Trail. The first part concentrated on the start of the Inca Trail trek hike. The second part focused on hiking the trail and altitude sickness. 

Day 3

Breakfast

I was still sound asleep when the porter announced coca tea. Completely dehydrated from the day before, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. The noises of the local Mother’s Day party lasted deep into the night, keeping me awake. Mother’s Day is a multi-day celebration in Peru.

It was cool, although the sun beamed brightly. Breakfast today was pancakes, fresh fruit, toast and juice. Caramel and jam were the toppings offered for the pancakes. As Canadians, it surprised us that there wasn’t any syrup.

I drank a ton of juice trying to prepare for the 12 km (7 mile) we still had to walk. Eddie wanted to take us another route back. A route that the porters use that is slightly shorter. We were fine with that.

Inca Trail, Peru

Walk of Shame

We started on our walk of shame. The porters carried my pack again, but this time at least I had bottled water to drink. Some trekkers we passed told us we were going the wrong way or asked us why we turned back. We did our best not to scare them.

One thing that they don’t advertise is that a quarter of the people that start the Inca Trail do not finish. Eddie, our guide, told us he once had a group of 48 people and a third of them turned around at Yacanchimpa. This made me feel a little better.

As the day wore on, we stripped layers. We started with winter coats and hats, progressing down to t-shirts. The temperature rose to almost 30 C (86 f) and my daughter felt the effects of sunstroke.

Inca Trail

The detour did not have as much up and down except for two occasions where we had to ascend. We took those sections extremely slow. Eddie had gone ahead of us, and we wondered if we lost him on the unmarked trail. Eventually, we caught up to him. We passed by Llaqtapata and Qhanabamba again and took more pictures. We could also admire the Véronica glacier without turning around.

Mile 82 on the Inca Trail… Again

Finally, we could see the bridge over the Urubamba River. My daughter desperately needed to get out of the sun. I urged her to go ahead as it was all I could do to keep walking. At least we were back at 2,800 metres (8,500 ft) and I could breathe comfortably. Altitude is no joke.

We arrived back at the staging area. The porters and our chef who had passed us hours ago were hard at work making lunch or cleaning the gear. We collapsed in a screened-in porch, exhausted. Eddie went to find transportation back to Ollantaytambo.

We made good time back to the starting point. Originally Eddie thought we would have to stop and have lunch on the trail. Maybe knowing that a shower and a bed would be available that night increased our pace.

After a delicious lunch, we had to wait about an hour for the ride. We got in a Volkswagen van with 4 rows of seating. We paid the drivers a few soles. I am not sure of the setup for this taxi or combi as they call it. At every group of houses we passed the driver would honk his horn and if people were waiting, he would stop. Sometimes a passenger would ask to get off at a location. This continued all the way to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo Train Station

Once back at Ollantaytambo we headed for the train station. The area wasn’t too busy. Eddie helped us buy the train tickets. Condor Travel had already purchased our return train ticket, but since we had turned back on the Inca Trail, we had to pay for the train ticket to Aguas Calientes and accommodations.

Ollantaytambo Train Station

The fee for the vista dome train for tourists was more than I expected, $74 US dollars each, but if we wanted to see Machu Picchu, the next day we had no choice but to pay the price.

We had a few hours to kill while waiting for the train, so Eddie found us a shady spot to rest. As two women travelling alone, it impressed us how Condor Travel never left us to navigate by ourselves. Eddie walked us to the gate after explaining that Peruvians travelled on another train that was much cheaper.

Mile 82 by Train

Peru Rail

Students from Jacksonville Florida filled our train car. We sat across the table from two of the professors/chaperones. They had been on a volunteer mission for two weeks and were visiting Machu Picchu before they left Peru.

It only took ten to fifteen minutes to pass by the start of the Inca Trail again. We pointed it out to the professors. We exchanged stories of our time in Peru during the two-hour train trip. They fed us on the train while we watched the scenery and were thankful not to be hiking anymore.

Closer to Machu Picchu

A Condor Travel guide met us at the train station in Aguas Calientes. He didn’t speak much English, but we figured out that he wanted us to buy our tickets for the bus to Machu Picchu for the morning. Again, Condor had paid for the return ticket but not the ticket to get there.

Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo is a tourist town. There are tons of souvenirs to purchase.

Since it was beginning to get dark, our guide walked us to our hotel for the evening Tierra Viva facing the Urubamba River. He left us with a map and instructions to be in the hotel lobby at 8 a.m. to meet Eddy.

The Terra Viva hotel had a North American feel to it. We showered, ate in the hotel restaurant and called it a night.

Final Thoughts

Today we experienced the Inca Trail and Peru Rail. Next week in the last installment of this adventure I will discuss more about Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.

Which sounds more appealing, the train or hiking? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time

Frankie

All images in the article are copyright Frankie Cameron Writes.

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 2)

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 2)

I really can’t emphasize enough the beauty of Peru. The stunning scenery is literally breathtakingly beautiful. As promised last week in part 1, I am back with Part 2 of our adventure on the world-famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. 

Day 2

Coca Tea

Day two began with the soft voice of a porter announcing “coca tea”. It was just before daybreak. Besides the tea, the porters brought us warm water to wash up. Not a tea drinker, I still drank it for the warmth. The tea had a mildly bitter taste, but it helped with the altitude.

Although I had slept in a tent on a thin mattress with a sleeping bag almost fully dressed, I froze most of the night. My daughter and I slept back to back, trying to generate heat.

The porters prepared a good hardy breakfast of fruit, hot oatmeal, and toast.

 

Inca Trail, Peru

Over breakfast, John and Jane decided they would return to Ollantaytambo. Jane was still suffering the effects of altitude sickness, and the only way to feel better is to descend. A porter would walk them back to the starting point at mile 82 and get them transportation. Eddie, our guide, called to Condor Travel headquarters to arrange their accommodations for the night.

Onward and Upward

We packed our day packs, then said goodbye to John and Jane. We planned to meet them in Machu Picchu in two days. My daughter and I ventured forward with Eddie. The porters would pack everything and follow us. They gave us oranges, chips ahoy cookies and some candies to fill our clip-on bags. The sun was out. We left camp wearing layers of clothing, knowing we would strip and add layers all day.

Inca Trail, Peru

I felt eager to get started knowing that today we would climb for Warmiwanusca better known as Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest altitude on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu at 4200m (14,200ft). This is the day I had prepared and trained for. The hardest day of the hike.

The trail was a sharp, steep uphill. We passed a weigh station for the porters. The Peruvian government has strict laws on how much weight they can carry, and they must weigh in at certain points.

Pushing myself not to lag, we made good time to the first rest point. Yacanchimpa sits at 3152 meters (10,341 ft), some trekkers camp here, there are picnic tables and washrooms. Entering the bathroom, I discovered only a hole in the floor and a handle you can pull to have a cold shower.

Inca Trail, Peru

Here Come the Stairs

There were no ruins on this part of the Inca Trail, but this is the section where the endless stairs begin. It is just stairs, stairs and more stairs. My walking sticks were a godsend since the stones were uneven and unlevel. I took a moment to feel thankful to be walking on stairs built in the 15th century that were still 85% intact. It felt like walking through history.

Can you image climbing these stairs for 4 hours straight?

Inca Trail Peru

Our sunny skies turned to rain. Luckily, we brought ponchos, which we could have sold for ten times the price that day. The packs had rain covers to keep everything dry inside, including my Canon camera. Our porters rushed by in a hurry to set up camp for lunch.

Altitude Sickness on the Inca Trail

The next section of the trail is where things went bad. The effects of altitude sickness began. It became harder for me to breathe. Every step felt like slow motion, as if I were wading in water. My head throbbed, and my stomach became nauseous.

I made deals with myself. Ten stairs, then I could stop and rest. Five stairs, then a pause. Eventually, I almost had to halt on every stair, stopping several times to empty my stomach. At this speed I wondered how I would ever get to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail.

Eddie called ahead to have a porter run back to grab my pack to make it easier for me. The porters and guide do their best to help you accomplish the trek. I would highly recommend Condor Travel. I plan to use them for all my South American Vacations.

Somewhere along this point the scenery changed. The constant moisture from the clouds caused this section of the trail to become lush with vegetation, like the heart of a jungle.

Inca Trail, Peru

I Can’t Breathe

Losing my pack helped, but I realized that I also lost my water source inserted into the backpack. My daughter asked if I wanted to descend. Eddie said we had less than an hour until the lunch break. I determined to keep going until then, hoping that a rest would help. My mouth was so dry my tongue threatened to stick to the roof.

Several of the other groups passed us by. Looking at me with pity and praying the same thing wouldn’t happen to them.

I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. The last ten steps were the longest. Eddie and my daughter helped me the best they could. We arrived at the lunch location Llulluchapampa 3840m (12,598 ft). The porters clapped as we came into camp. I wanted to lie down and sleep, but I sat in the meal tent, thankful to be still.

I tried to eat lunch, but my stomach wouldn’t settle. My head was ready to explode from the pressure. We explored our options with Eddie. Llulluchapampa was 360m (1182 ft) from the summit. We could push through, hoping that my altitude sickness would improve, or turn back and camp again at a lower altitude.

Descending the Inca Trail

Over lunch my lips turned blue, a sign that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. We decided we would descend. I felt horrible for wrecking my daughter’s dream of trekking the Inca Trail, but she assured me my health was more important. As if the sky knew I was sad, it rained again.

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Inca Trail, Peru

Two of the porters wanted to get a head start on making camp, so they skipped lunch and went ahead to the next campsite. The remaining porters got a big laugh out of the fact that they were now behind. The chef asked if he could cook anything for dinner to help with the sickness, and Eddie suggested chicken soup.

Eddie adjusted our walking sticks for the descent. We passed many hikers and porters still ascending. (If you are going to Peru walking sticks are a must.)

By the time we returned to Yacanchimpa, (the first rest point) my stomach wasn’t the only part of me that was unwell. I raced for the washroom using the hole in the floor.

Inca Trail, Peru

Back at Camp

As we descended, my lips returned to their natural colour. The throbbing in my head lingered, as did the nausea. Our porters passed us once again. Since we didn’t have a campsite booked for a return, the porters had to scramble to find a location. Eddie was in constant communication with the porters. I couldn’t believe his phone got a signal on the Inca Trail.

Finally, we reached our campsite for the evening. Another Condor Travel group let us use part of their site. Another reason to trek with Condor. It was all I could do to take off my boots and crawl in the tent. I fell asleep immediately while my daughter organized the tent. Eddie woke me a bit before dinner. The porters gave us more warm water to wash with. To say I felt disgusting would be an understatement.

The chicken soup the chef made was yummy and felt good in my hollow stomach. I drank a bunch of juice, trying to rehydrate. After dinner with Eddie, darkness fell, and we crawled into our tent to sleep.

Come back next week to find out what happens on Day 3 of our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Adventure.

Final Thoughts

Interested in the story? Check out part 3. If you had altitude sickness, would you keep hiking or turn back? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time

Frankie

Note: All photos are copyright Frankie Cameron Writes