Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Travel adventures - The Inca Trail

Today, I'm participating in the 20SB blogger carnival, which involves posting about your best travel adventure. I don't know quite know how they define adventure, so who knows if my story about trying to change a flat tyre on the side of the interstate in Tennessee and having to be helped out by a random and slightly scary trucker (my mum started singing Duelling Banjos when I told her...) counts as adventure or just the prelude to a horror movie...

So I'm going with the Inca Trail in 2008. It was the hardest three days of my entire life (well, apart from the whole traumatic saga of the next day with Nessa winding up in hospital, but that was a different kind of hard), but boy, was the destination worth the work.

In hindsight, I was pretty freaking unprepared. Sure, I'd been working out three days a week for a year, but I was pretty half-arsed about it (secretly, I was hoping that I could persuade Ness to take the train to Machu Picchu rather than doing the Inca Trail...). Riding an exercise bike for half an hour three times a week doesn't really help with the Inca Trail. And yes, I did a three day hike a couple of months before. But hiking in Australia was never going to be anything like hiking in Peru, even if we did do it with 20kg packs... I sucked pretty badly at the test hike near Mt Feathertop. And that was at around 2,000m closer to sea level.

Well, hello Mt. Feathertop. Compared to the Andes, you're a speck on the radar...
Day 1 started out well. It was reasonably flat, and we had some spectacular views. And I got to take photos of ruins - what more could an archaeology nerd want?! Then we reached the test hill. If you don't reach the top of it in 20 minutes, they deem you not fit enough and force you to turn back. I made it well within the 20 minutes (I think...), but it took me a disturbing amount of time to get my breath back. Which I covered up by taking photos of the ruins you could see from the top... After lunch, the trail started heading slightly uphill, and I started to fall further and further behind. By the end of the day, I was about half an hour behind the rest of our group. (With the exception of the couple we referred to as The Watermelons - Mrs. Watermelon remains the most annoying person I have ever met, and put herself and her husband at risk by refusing to turn back, despite being strongly suggested to do so throughout the afternoon. The Watermelons finally staggered into camp about an hour after I did)

The view from the top of the Test Hill

Day 2 started with me being completely terrified. Day 2 is the day where you literally climb mountains. The trail progressively got steeper and steeper. And Nessa and I (although to this day, I suspect she could have gone on without me) fell further and further behind. Our tour leader actually sent one of the guides back to make sure we didn't collapse/give up/die. He, bless his heart, claimed it was so he could practice his English. But it was pretty damned obvious that he was there to push the fat girl up the big hill. When I rounded a corner and saw that Dead Woman's Pass (the highest point on the Trail) was still at least half an hour's stagger up some of the steepest track to date, I sat down and cried. At which point Nessa came back and told me to pull myself together, because if I cried, she'd cry. And then we'd both be screwed.

I have to walk to WHERE?????????

I still don't know how, but I made it to the top. It took me a mere six hours.
Me and Nessa at Dead Woman's Pass - 2,000m above the highest point in Australia. Don't I look completely thrilled to learn that I have two hours to go until I can collapse in a heap?!

Most of our group made it in four. And then there was the hour and a half trek DOWN the other side to camp. During which I couldn't even stop to enjoy the view because my legs were shaking so badly. On the plus side, I did better than Mrs. Watermelon, who had to have porters sent back to her with food and water. She was finally carried into camp as we were all eating dinner several hours later...

Day 3? Less sucky. It featured another climb, but it was only a short one - the rest was downhill. And it features most of the actual Incan part of the trek, so it was pretty awesome from an archaeological perspective. AND we got to see Mrs. Watermelon, the bane of our collective existence, being carried on a stretcher by the porters (who thought the whole thing was hysterical) because she literally couldn't walk any more. Oh, plus? I saw a rock on Day 3 that looked like someone flipping the finger. It pretty much made my whole day.

The awesome 'screw you all' rock

The original Inca Trail
Night 3 featured saying goodbye to our porters, who were heading back to Aguas Callientes first thing in the morning rather than heading to Machu Picchu with us. Every time one of the girls in our group said we were unmarried, we got a huge cheer. Nothing quite like that for a confidence boost when you haven't showered in 3 days and nearly get stuck using a squat toilet because your quads seize up! :S

Day 4 started early. I mean EARLY... The plan is to make it to the Sun Gate in time for dawn to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Shame it started raining when we got there... After a very skiddy trip from the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu, the rain had settled in. But it cleared after an hour or so, and that made all the pain, all the tears, all the embarrassment of staggering into camp two hours after everyone else worth it. I even managed to climb one of the mountains overlooking Machu Picchu to get an aerial view over the whole city.

My favourite photo from my whole nine weeks away - WE MADE IT!

Worth every freaking second of pain...

The Inca Trail remains the most painful and torturous thing I've ever done. But it was worth every single second...

K xx


  1. So... I'm thinking about tackling the Australian Alps walking trail http://www.australianalps.environment.gov.au/walktrack/index.html , in bite-sized pieces, spread across the next year and a half or so. I want to get it done before I'm thirty because I found a list I wrote years ago, with only one item ticked off it - "Climb Machu Picchu" - and which I had clearly discarded after being diagnosed with Long QT because I hated the world and decided that I was going to be a cripple forever.

    But then I realised that I'm more stubborn than that, and that I'm not willing to be a cripple.

    It is only in its imagination stages at present, and will involve pretty freaky levels of organisation, including ensuring I have a (backup!) defibrillator with me, plus two strapping young(ish) men in case anything goes wrong (and also to carry more of the load when it's a tough uphill day), but I reckon it's achievable if tackled in a series of 5-7 day hits .

    So... can you handle the pain? Of even one little section of the voyage? :) Don't forget the pace will be enforced snail's pace...

    ~* Ness

  2. (the list was entitled "Things To Do Before I'm Thirty")

  3. Five to seven days of hiking and camping???? Nessa, you know I love you. But Jesus fucking Christ, never in a million years would I go hiking for five to seven days... :S


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