The Inca Trail is one of the most popular hikes in South America that extends over 42km, with 200 hikers and 300 staff going up the mountains every day. Every group has to have a guide in order to go up to the glorious Machu Picchu, but the G-Adventures tour group tops other options. As nice as it is to experience the solemn beauty of the Andean mountains alone or with a few friends, the privilege of being surrounded by a wonderful group of spirited people makes it even more special … I was brought into the group in La Paz, Bolivia, but fell ill for the first few days of my trip with them (altitude sickness and larynx infection) so I couldn’t enjoy their company as I wish I could have. Nevertheless, as I grovelled and took plenty of medicine to recover, I learned more and more about each individual making up this amazing group of people. On the Inca Trail, I finally became part of the group.
Juber was our guide throughout Peru and is without a doubt one of the most cheerful and positive person I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Not only did he take care of everyone who fell ill (HUGE shout out to him for looking after me during my week of misery), forgot stuff or lost them altogether, he also provided us with all the necessary information about our trip without being too pushy about anything. I’ll speak more of Juber in the full Peru article – he deserves a page to himself really!
At the start of our Inca Trail, we met both our guides: James and Edyy. I’d say both are very different characters but are both wonderful people. James was the first guide, often seen as the guy in charge and leading us up and down mountains, while Edyy was more often at the rear of the group quietly chatting with members of the group and making sure everything was going okay.
Then there was the porters … (we learned to call them by their Quechua nickname as ‘chasquis’) We were 12 in the group and had 18 chasquis slaving around for us, plus James and Eddie. These guys are beasts, without a doubt. Not only did they make these four days hiking look easy, they also made my camping experience the most luxurious camping trip ever! They carried our duffel bags, each containing about 6kg of clothes, sleeping bag, etc. but they also lugged around the tents, chairs, tables, cloths, pots, stoves, plates, cutlery and SO MUCH MORE. It’s difficult to express just how incredible they made the Inca Trail, from a simple camping trip to a (in my honest opinion) genuinely lovely time in the mountains! To put things in perspective, most of us were carrying day bags weighing in roughly at 5kg, whereas the chasquis were painfully hauling up to 25kg of gear up the mountains for us. Our typical five-hour daily hike would take them less than half that time – they’d also have time to set up camp for lunch in one location, then dinner and night camp in a different location further along the trail – all before we even arrived at the place in question. If that isn’t crazy dedication, I don’t know what is.
DAY 1: The easy part
One the first day we separated from four of our companions who (two of them) went off to hike the Lares Trail which went in a completely different direction but is much less popular. The transfer came to get us 8am to start the hike around 10am at the base of the trail in the Sacred Valley.
This day was warm and sunny, with a light breeze to make life a bit more comfortable. The views were of the Sacred Valley, the mountains and ancient Inca ruins that were built as stopovers for the pilgrims at the time. Back then, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu extended for more than 200km from Cuzco … not the mere 42km we completed. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the day’s hike despite its underwhelming feel of simplicity, in order to take in the views and breathe the fresh mountain air.
I believe my surprise to find such an elaborate campsite already prepared when we arrived, is shared by the rest of my group … We had snacks which mainly consisted of lovely salted popcorn, crackers and tea. We’d have four meals every day prepared for us: breakfast around 6:30am, lunch somewhere around 1pm, happy hour at 5pm and dinner at 7pm.
DAY 2: The hard part
We were warned about Day 2. It would be tougher than any of the other days and that we would struggle; but honestly though, it wasn’t that hard once we made it, was it … I actually found it to be the most enjoyable day of the four, although some of my travel companions will vividly disagree with me on that point. I, as most of you know by now, love a challenge and this was nothing short of one as it definitely was a struggle to reach the summit that morning. The gruelling climb in the jungle was the fun and relaxed part as the sun was not hammering down on us.
DAY 3: The chill day + the surprise
The aftermath of Day 2 was felt right through day 3 especially on the downhills. My knees had taken a bit of a beating on the way down from the summit of Day 2 … but I powered through it and this time I stuck to the pace of the group.
Most of Day 3 was misty and walking among the clouds, so the views were not as spectacular as we had hoped. Nevertheless, I still find this was the most relaxed day of all and offered the most serenity and time to talk with people from the group. I did spend most my time chatting at the rear and taking pictures of everything and nothing, but it was definitely worth it! Eddie was good sport and had me chatting about everything from cultural traditions in Peru to traditions in other parts of the world that I’d visited.
One of the most beautiful things I found on this trip is the overwhelming sense of cheerfulness of Peruvian people. They are always willing to help and always wear a smile to accompany their words and actions. Eddie and James delivered that to an extent far beyond anything I might have expected.
Now. The surprise was somewhat of a surprise. We were supposed to have another person join us in the group called Emma and it would have been her birthday while hiking the Inca Trail. Unfortunately, she never came and I never found out what actually happened to her. We were however promised a birthday cake despite her absence (by Juber) and would be able to celebrate amongst ourselves. Well, we never did get that cake nor did we celebrate her birthday – sorry about that if you ever read this. Nevertheless, our lack of a birthday cake for her was compensated by another one prepared by the chefs of our chasqui group … One that sparked some of the most amazing reactions and screaming from our lunch tent!
Huge thank you to the whole team for this. It really made our day and looking over the pictures still puts a smile on my face.
DAY 4: The early rise to Machu Picchu
Getting to sleep at 8pm seems excessively early and too much of an effort, but I found it surprisingly easy to do. When the cold settles in around you after a superb warm dinner and tea, all you can think of is snuggling into that sleeping bag of yours to warm up again. I read my book, like every night, for about an hour until sleep took me. The wake up call was at 3am … Even with 7 hours sleep it’s not pleasant to have to wake up, get up and pack your gear in complete darkness. But we did so in order to reach the gates and be the first to cross them at 5am.
For those of you who have continued reading all the way to the end of this page, I honestly thank you. It was a long post with lots of pictures and I hope you enjoyed it all. There will be a separate page about Peru as a whole in the next few days from posting this where pictures all the way from the beginning of the trip in La Paz to Lima will be displayed.
On a more personal note now. I’d like to thank James and Eddie for their invaluable contribution to our hike on the Inca Trail – I know you do this every other week and you meet people like us all the time, but hopefully we were a group that stood out in all the best ways. James, your quick-witted jokes were on-point, even if I was often the only one who listened closely enough to laugh at them properly! Edyy, your stories were amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you throughout the course of the hike.
To all the chasquis: you guys were incredible. Without a doubt insanely strong-willed, displaying the utmost respect and encouragement to us all as we hiked up and down (they clapped every time we arrived at camp!! We should have been clapping at them for being so incredible!!). The food, the service and the company was invaluable and very much appreciated from all of us. I had the pleasure of chatting with some of them personally and they are such nice guys with so much to talk about! Good luck to you all and hope you continue to make people wonder if you’re even human on those sacred hikes to Machu Picchu.
To our little travel group: Thank you so very much for all the support and sympathy you gave me while I was ill that first week; thank you for your consistent positivity during the hike (even if at times, people were getting pretty tired and nervous at the prospect of climbing more flights of stairs …); finally thank you for being an absolutely AMAZING group of individuals who really make me wonder why I travel alone across this wonderful planet of ours!!! You all acknowledged my type of personality of being mostly quiet but chatty at times, and really made me feel incredibly welcome into the group – for that I am eternally grateful and hope to inspire you to travel more through the pictures and stories on my blog and social media accounts.
Stay tuned for the full post on Peru in the coming week!
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
Until next time.