I'm buzzing. And not just from the coca. The past four days have been some of the most majestic, trying, spiritual and physical days of my life. I didn't write much while I was trekking, but the one entry I wrote is as follows: "I found God on the Inca Trail. The majesty of nature always blows me away - combine that with extreme physical exercise and a mouth full of coca leaves and God will find you. I have a splitting headache from the altitude." That was written at camp on our second day at about 13,000 feet above sea level.
If you know me you know I have a certain scorn for religion, so for me to talk about finding God I must have been on a good one. And the Inca Trail is a good one. In fact, I can't recommend it highly enough. To be completely honest, it was easy. I was prepared for the absolute worst - I bought DAN insurance just in case I needed to be air lifted off the mountain - but it was not needed.
Over four days our group of 16 people and 25 porters trekked 26 miles along the Inca Trail, a lot of which is original stone steps built by the Incas over 500 years ago. We hiked under glacier capped peaks and through ancient ruins, camped by waterfalls and arrived at Machu Picchu on the summer solstice (not planned, just coincidence).
Machu Picchu deserves a post of its own, but in case I don't get around to it I will tell you that it is as spectacular in real life as it is in the pictures, if not more. I thought I would be kind of over it after three days of 8-12+ hour hikes, but when I came through the Sun Gate that morning and caught my first glimpse of the sacred city, I immediately got the chills. Machu Picchu seems to float in the clouds, perched on a steep mountain top surrounded by equally majestic mountains on all sides carved out by a river far down below. In spite of the fact that I was exhausted, dirty, and had been woken up to start the day at 3 AM, I felt like I could have explored the city all day. After our formal tour I spent a few hours wandering around by myself, completely absorbed in imagination of Inca life 500 years ago. It was as close to time travel as I will ever get.
As for the actual hike, I thought it was phenomenal. I booked my trip through G Adventures, and our guide Evert, helped us every step of the way physically and mentally. He made sure our group was introduced to all the porters - the people who carry 6 kilos of our stuff along with all the camping gear, cooking supplies and food needed for the entire trip. Evert does everything in his power to make sure his clients and his staff are well taken care of, which I can't say the same for all tour groups.
The porters do the same hike as the tourists, but carry 25 kilos of gear in massive backpacks that would crush the average person. After breaking down camp every morning they take off running to get to the next camp site before us, to set up our tents and prepare food for our arrival. They are pretty shy and quiet, but Evert made sure we all introduced ourselves and showed our mutual appreciation for one another. You can imagine that 16 Anglos who aren't used to hiking or camping might be a bit needy, but they made us as comfortable as possible, and I thought they did a great job. We had three meals every day, the food was good and I didn't get sick once.
The weather was amazing as well. It is the rainy season here in Peru but we only got rained on as we finished day 3 of the hike. It was quite dramatic actually - as we hiked down through a massive, steep stone terrace to camp, the mist turned into rain drops and thunder began to clap in the distance... the drops of water got heavier and the thunder closer... I booked it down those slick stone steps and essentially dove into my tent upon arrival as it began to pour. It made me realize how miserable it would have been to hike any portion of the Inca Trail in the rain - slippery, steep steps and heavy soggy gear - which has happened to groups in the past. We offered coca leaves to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) at the beginning of our hike which is why we lucked out with the weather, I'm sure.
In the beginning of our trip Evert told us it isn't about the destination, hiking the Inca Trail is about the journey, but for me it was about both. Every day of the trek was unique and stunning in its own way, and it ended at a pinnacle of the Andes in the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. If you're ever looking for a breath taking experience (in more ways than one), want to challenge and immerse yourself culturally and physically, I can't recommend hiking the Inca Trail enough. Who knows, maybe I'll do it again with you. It was that good