Saturday, June 7, 2014

Inca Trail, part 1

Day 1

At kilometer 82 where we started, the Inca Trail begins as a footpath that was built and maintained in the 1980s.  The actual path built by the Incas is now buried underneath a railroad which runs to Machu Picchu.  The scenery is spectacular, with glaciers poking out behind mountains carpeted in green - a huge difference from the dry, completely barren mountains near the coast.  Our first day did not really follow the path, though we witnessed where it would go through the Urubamba river valley.  Our guide Ramiro told us that we would see parts of the original trail the next day, and that it was 60% "new trail" at this point.

This new trail was very smooth dust and gravel and allowed for an easy day of walking, with several ruins along the way.  My favorite was Llaqtapata, a paw-shaped settlement set in a dramatic valley.  The ruins were very green and, Josh noted, shockingly orderly.  It is obvious that Peru puts a lot into maintaining this area.  It was a bit difficult to imagine a day in the life of the people who lived here, but we can see that they had lots of decorative niches in their house, and no windows.  It was also obvious to see that they had intense city planning and really liked landscaping!  I was not as moved as I had been with some other ruins on this trip, where you could see individual etchings or inscriptions, and imagine some ancient story behind it.  But they were beautiful, almost otherworldly in their smooth, terraced shapeliness.

Speaking of otherworldly, Ramiro told us about a theory that the Incas had uncovered the secret to teleportation.  We both gave him quizzical looks.  He said, "Who knows?" and went on as if he might actually believe it.  But really?  We figure, if the Incas had teleportation, why would they have built this trail?

Day 2

This day is known as the challenge day. We started at 9,800 feet, climbed up to the Warmi Wañusca pass at 13,800 feet, and descended down to our camp at 11,800 feet, all within 6 hours.  It was definitely painful and slow going.  The path was a continuous steep slope.  And while we did see the original trail today, it was not exactly a relief.  The Inca had built steep stone stairs that made the slope even harder to climb, in my opinion.  We had to take big steps that challenged the limits of our glutes.  Meanwhile, the porters (local men hired by the trekking companies) were carrying gigantic backpacks (at least four times as big as ours) and passing us constantly.  Some were like sixty years old!  The climb was a humbling experience whose details are, sadly, hard to remember due to the fatigue.

There were no ruins along the way, other than remnants of the trail.  While relaxing at the camp, we shared pictures from our entire world trip with the porters.  They laughed at the pictures of women carrying baskets on their head in Africa, and they did not know who Nelson Mandela was.  I did not get much farther than that because lunch was shortly served - lomo saltado, barley soup, rice, and salad with cheese.  (The food on the trail was always really good!)  We relaxed all afternoon, but the German couple in our group did not make it down to camp until 4:30pm.  We think the altitude really got to them.  Fortunately they brought some meds that they shared with Josh, who also had altitude symptoms that evening.  This did not stop him from getting out of the tent in the middle of the night to admire the stars (and use the toilet...) which in his words were wondrous.  Altitude has its benefits!

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