The Inca Trail Hike – Days 2-3

by Bob Sparrow

Day 2

DWP

Dead Woman’s Pass

If I just had one word to describe the hike on Day 2 it would be, ‘hard’; if I had two words, it would be ‘very hard’, if I had more than that this blog wouldn’t be rated PG.  It is a ball-buster! It’s only about 6 miles, but it all up – very up. Patrick calculated that today’s hike is like climbing the stairs of a 30 story building . . . 10 times. We are on the trail at 7:30 and Humberto reminds us to take tiny steps to keep the heart rate down. He reminds us that there is no hurry to get to the next camp, that there is nothing to do once you get there anyway, so take our time.

The first section is 4 miles, all up, going from just under 10,000 feet elevation to just under 14,000 feet elevation at the summit at ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ – so called because the mountains at the summit resemble a woman lying down. No women have died there to my knowledge. While we are on the subject of women, we saw a lot of them on the trail, so I asked Humberto if there were typically more women than men on the trail. He said yes.  Did you hear that Dorie Riddle?

Without a doubt there is a certain amount of euphoria when you hit Dead Woman’s Pass, but it is short-lived as the next two hours will be spent pounding down the granite stone steps – not an exercise that is particularly good for my ‘vintage’ knees. After a ‘mere’ 6 miles, we make camp at 12,000 feet, and retire early to another evening of partial sleep.

Day 3

Misty summit

Heading into the ‘rain forest’

As we awake on Day 3, there is a certain amount of relief that we had survived Day 2, but Day 3 is no walk in the park; in fact today it is rainy and cold much of the day, so I guess you could call it a walk in the parka. The day starts with another up-hill climb that lasts about two hours and then levels, which in Incan means up and down. Rain, fog, clouds and mist greet us at the summit as we now entered a more ‘rain forest’ environment – complete with rain!  As miserable as the weather sounds, we all agreed that these conditions added an almost mystical aura to the trek.

When we stopped for lunch, it was cold and windy and the soup the cooks had prepared really tasted good. We actually had soup for almost every lunch and dinner and, I know we were always tired and hungry at mealtime, but the cooks did a great job of offering a good variety of food, which always included cocoa leaf tea – I think I’m hooked; I need to find a dealer in the U.S.!  We continued on until we stopped to make camp (OK, the porters had already gone ahead and made camp for us!) and had covered nearly 12 miles. Coupled with Day 2, it was two really challenging days of hiking – without much sleep.

Since this would be our last evening on the trail, we had a little farewell ceremony with the staff, where they presented us with a bottle of wine (our first alcohol in three days, although we did have the cocoa leaves going for us), and we presented them with their tips. We wanted to present the ‘rookie’ porter with a little higher tip, as he was the one who had to carry the ‘potty’ and the gas butane tank (a bad combination), but we were told that would just spoil him and he’d always want to do that. The cook also ‘baked’ us a cake – I don’t know how he did that out in the wilderness with no oven, but it tasted pretty good!

We were excited that we would finally get to see Machu Picchu in the morning and we were also very excited at the thought of taking a hot shower and sleeping in a real bed tomorrow night!

Next: The Inca Trail – Day 4 to Machu Picchu

 

 

Moray, Salt Mines and On to the Inca Trail

by Bob Sparrow

Humberto

Inca Trail guide, Humberto

After a good night’s sleep, we wake up Tuesday and meet our guide, Humberto, at our hotel. Your guide can make or break your trip – Humberto made it, in spades! He is 54 years old, head of the Inca Trail Guide Association and has made nearly 1100 trips (yes, 1100!) up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; we felt fairly confident that we weren’t going to get lost. Aside from his technical skills, he had an engaging personality, and easy smile and a great sense of humor; he fit right in to our group.

Moray

Moray

Today we drive out of the city to our first stop, Moray. It is best described as an Incan agricultural laboratory. From the picture it looks like it’s just a hole in the ground with some circles dug out of it. It is that, but the location is well chosen for it topography and rain fall and the circles are intricately scribed at precise levels creating various microclimates so that a variety of vegetables can be planted to see which ones thrive best under which condition. Ingenious!

Our next stop is the salt mines. On the way we are surprised to see prickly pear cactus and agave lining the road – very desert-like. Humberto tells us that the road to the salt mines is “lined with tequila” and with the salt from the mines, all we’d need is a lime and we’d have the start of a great margarita!

salt mines

Incan Salt Mines

The salt mines were originally created by the Incas and have been a source of salt and employment ever since. We were able to actually walk through the sections of salt and see how the natural salt water coming from inside the mountain collected and produced literally tons of salt each year.

We hiked about 5 miles down the hill to our van; I think it was Humberto’s way of giving us a little test run – we all did fine; it was mostly down hill and we were starting to get acclimated to the thin air. By late afternoon we were back at our hotel for a little rest before we went to dinner at a restaurant that Humberto had recommended.  We had a glass of wine to celebrate starting the hike in the morning and to the fact that we would not have anymore wine for the next four days!

The Inca Trail – Day 1

4 start

Me, Steven, Graydon & Patrick at the start of the hike

Our ‘team’ consists of the four hikers, Patrick Michael, who is not only a hiking buddy and a neighbor, but a good friend, who reignited my interest in hiking when we hiked Mt. Whitney several years back.  We have done numerous hikes together since then including Half Dome and the Himalayas. Steven Bernardy, who I just met while training for this hike, is a successful financial planner, who’s full of life and rarely at a loss for words – good hiking companion, as there is never a dull moment. Graydon Bernardy, Steven’s 22 year old son, is a recent graduate from the University of San Francisco and an intelligent and insightful young man; and me, AND our guide, Humberto, a cook, an assistant cook and 8 porters; so yes, a cast of 15 set out on Wednesday morning.

Meal tent

Meal tent

Today’s hike will be approximately 7-8 miles that are fairly level – actually there is no ‘level’ in the Andes – ‘fairly level’ just means not crazy up hill. Our porters and cooks take off a little after we do, but quickly pass us like we were standing still. We will see them about 3-4 hours later when they have set up our ‘meal tent’ and the ‘kitchen tent’, had lunch themselves, then cooked and served our lunch. Once we finish, we head out on the trail again, while they break down the tents, clean up the pot, pans, dishes, stove, pack them up and then we see them passing us on the trail again to set up for dinner. This is how it works for the whole trip, except when they get to the spot where we’re spending the night, they also sent up our sleeping tents and the ‘potty tent’. Patrick even saw a porter carrying a woman ‘piggyback’ up the trail – that’s above and beyond the call of duty! These guys are truly amazing athletes and just great people.

cocoa leaves

Cocoa leaves – illegal in the U.S.

Due to the barren topography, low clouds and mist, there is not a lot of great sights along the trail, but it’s just as well, with our heads down, our brains oxygen-deprived and our mouths full of cocoa leaves, we probably couldn’t see anything even if there was anything to see.  But the trail has history and it is a true hiking test. Oh, the cocoa leaves?  They are offered to us to chew on, put in our tea or do with as we wish, as they help the body remain strong under stressful hiking conditions. These are the same leaves from which cocaine is made, and are against the law to grow or import into the U.S. The reality is they’re really safe and I could hardly feel the affect of them, except that one time I saw a psychedelic llama dancing with a lavender alpaca.

tent

Our luxury suites

We cover about 7.5 miles before we reached our ‘home’ for the night, which is a two-man tent on the ground; our shower is a bowl of warm water and a paper towel and our bathroom is a small tent around a seat with a bag under it – not exactly the Ritz Carlton. Sleep, even after a long, hard day of hiking, comes begrudgingly if at all.

Next: The Inca Trail – Days 2-3

 

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – Floating Down to Peru

by Bob Sparrow

“Come fly with me, let’s float down to Peru

In Llama land there’s a one-man band, who will toot his flute for you”

llama2

———“Float this!”———-

 Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me has been playing in my brain throughout my flight to ‘Llama land’. Frank may have ‘floated’ down to Peru, but I’d hardly describe a cramped airline seat in the back of the plane, on a full flight, with turbulence over the Andes on a ‘red eye’ then sitting in the Lima airport waiting for our connecting flight to Cusco, as ‘floating’. We didn’t see any one-man bands either, unless you count the guy sitting next to me on the plane who had beans for lunch. I’m thinking Frank traveled First Class. After 17 hours of travel and layover, our flight arrived in Cusco at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning.  Sleep-deprived, jet-lagged and disorientated, we half expect to get from the airport to our hotel on a flatbed truck filled with pigs and goats. We were wrong – the truck was filled with Llamas and chickens. Nah, just kidding, our Global Basecamp guide was there to greet us and rushed us off to Hotel Midori in the heart of Cusco for a much-needed rest.

cusco

Cusco

We’d all been watching the weather Cusco and Machu Picchu from home over the last 2-3 weeks and it showed nothing but rain nearly every day. I figured that could be a good thing, in that it’s getting the rain out of its system before we get there; or it could be a bad thing in that it was a signal of an early start to the rainy season. We are in luck, our first day is clear, mild and in the mid-70s.

The Midori, is strategically located in the center of town, so after a little rest, we head out on foot to explore the city. But wait; did we forget something? Yes . . . air!!! The first thing we all noticed was that we couldn’t breathe! After walking just a few feet on level ground, I was panting and puffing like a lizard on a hot rock. We were quickly reminded that Cusco is over 11,000 feet in elevation – the ‘two miles high city’! In spite of its rare air, we managed to make our way through much of this streets of cuscogreat city. A majority of the economy of this city is based on tourism and thus it is filled with many charming hotels, restaurants of every description, most serving local cuisine to include llama, guinea pig and a hundred varieties of potatoes. Being the jump off point for trips to Machu Picchu, there is also a lot of trekking outfitter stores and of course your requisite t-shirt shops and street vendors plying everything from alpaca sweaters to hand carved gourds. But the best part of Cusco is its people. As a group they are very friendly, hard working, nice looking and always seem to have smile on their face; they were sincerely a joy to be around.

We visited a number of museums and churches and saw some great examples of Inca stonework that, while the more ‘modern’ Spanish buildings crumbled to the ground during three major earthquakes in Cusco, the Inca foundations of mortar-less, tight fitting stone, survived them all with flying colors. This stonework is truly amazing; you couldn’t get a razor blade in the space between these giant stones and they did it all with fairly primitive tools, or with the help of ancient aliens. Amazing!

It was only a matter of time before we found what I’ve sought out in almost every city I’ve visited . . . Paddy'san Irish Pub. We stopped for lunch at Paddy’s Irish Pub, which claims to be the highest Irish Pub in the world at 11,156 feet. Even though we had to climb a flight of stairs to get there (which was no easy task!), we enjoyed a great lunch and a cold one before we continued our tour of the city.

We opted for an early dinner at a nice, second story restaurant which over looked the main town square, where a band and group of young school children were celebrating something – it was a beautiful, but short evening, as we had been going fairly strong for the last 30 hours, and we needed our rest and our bodies to acclimate to this rarified air if we expected to hike the Inca Trail in two days.  As a matter of fact, I’m getting winded just writing this, so time for a break.

Next: Outside of Cusco and Hitting the Trail

 

The Hike

by Bob Sparrow

Machu Picchu

—————-The ‘Lost City’—————–

It is the most famous hike in South America, perhaps the world; it is said to be life changing. Making the four-day trek on the Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley to the spectacular lost city of Machu Picchu is said to be the perfect travel combination of the excitement of the journey and the joy of the destination. It is an experience that is both arduous and awe-inspiring.

In two weeks our flight will take us from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru and then on to Cusco, located near the Urubamba Valley where the snow capped Andes Mountains gives way to the lush Amazon jungle. It’s also not far from Lake Titicaca, not that that’s important, I just wanted to get the word ‘Titicaca’ into the conversation.

The ‘us’ on this trip include, of course my hiking buddy and good friend, Patrick ‘Trail Boss’ Michael, newbie Steven ‘Yogi’ Bernardy, a friend of Patrick’s’ since childhood and Steven’s son, Graydon (No Nick Name Yet), a recent graduate of University of San Francisco, who is headed to Med School.

Ironically, we arrive in Peru on Columbus Day and since Columbus’ explorations led to the subsequent colonization of the New World and specifically to nefarious Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizzaro and his three barbaric brothers’ conquering of the Incas, it is not a particularly joyous day in Peru. They celebrate Columbus Day in South America with the same enthusiasm the British celebrate the 4th of July in England.

Our first order of business upon arriving in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire which sits at 11,000 feet in elevation, will be to ‘acclimate’ to the altitude; as our four-day hike will take us to nearly 14,000 feet. Below is a graphic that’s been haunting me ever since I saw it . . .

Inca_Trail_Elevation_Profile

–After seeing this, I started looking at bus schedules–

Our hike is scheduled as follows:

Day 1 is about 7.5 miles of slightly up-hill hiking, that evening we will sleep in a tent and have no shower facilities.

Dreaded Day 2, as you can see by the graphic, has a lot of ‘up’ in the 5.5 miles we cover going over ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ (more on that later) – it is by far our toughest day. We will try to keep in mind that getting there is half the fun! We sleep in a tent that night and have showers, but there is no hot water. I suspect we all may be a bit ‘gamey’ after two days of no hot showers.

Incatrail_in_Peru

–Mist Shrouded Inca Trail–

Day 3 is a little up and a lot of down, covering about 8.5 miles; our tent accommodations do have warm water showers after the hike – for a price.

Day 4 is only three fairly flat miles, but we’ll be getting up between 4:00 – 5:00 a.m. so that we can see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. The remainder of Day 4 will be spent exploring the lost city with our guide.  At the end of the day we will board a bus that will take us to the train station where we will head to the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is a collection of small towns and archaeological sites that offers both a glimpse into daily Peruvian life as well as a full picture of the accomplishments and operation of the once-glorious Inca Empire.

After a night’s stay there we will head back to Cusco and try to find all the things we left there before we embarked on our hike. We will spend the night and then leave for home the following morning.

It shouldn’t surprise any of you to know that there are no cell towers, Wi-Fi or any other kind of connectivity along the Inca Trail, so this will be the last blog you’ll get from me until I’m back in some form of civilization. I promise to take notes with a pencil and pad (if I still remember how to use them) at the end of each day and get them into the blog when time and connectivity allow.

I know that some of our readers have been to Machu Picchu, so please let me know if there is anything I should make sure to see or anything I should make sure to avoid. Thank you!