Inca Trail: Day Four

The horrifying hour of 4am came WAY too soon.  We had been dead to the world in our unexpected hostel bed and trying to pull ourselves out of bed was extremely difficult.  Not only because of how tired we were, but because our leg muscles were practically incapable of motion after the grueling 22km of the day before.  Considerably less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we met at the restaurant for breakfast and then took off.  Half of our group had decided to tough it out and finish the trek on foot (including stubborn us), while the other half opted to take the bus for $8.  This is the one aspect where I think Peru Treks failed us–our detour and change of plans caused us to have to foot the cost of a hostel room (20 Soles=$7) and the bus, if we chose.  I know that Peru Treks had no control over the trail closure, but with how much we paid them for the trek, I felt that they should have been able to adjust with us and foot these costs.  (More on the cost/value of the trek later.)

What we naively assumed about hiking from Aguas Calientes to the front entrance of Machu Picchu was that we would be walking up the same road that the bus took.  Wrong.  After a couple turns along the road as the sun was coming up, Juan pointed out the “short cut trail”–1,760 steps UP.  Our jaws dropped.  We were all feeling dead from the past three days and now THIS???  It was almost too much.  But inspired by the unwillingness to pay $8 for a bus ride and the stubbornness of wanting to make it the whole way on foot, we started.  One foot in front of the other, stopping for frequent breaks, and sweating profusely in the humid air, we progressed grumpily.  I was so sore and tired and not in a good mood.  By the time we finally made it (after about two hours of steps) I felt like crying and Zach felt like throwing up.  All this to arrive at the main entrance of Machu Picchu along with all the lazy bums who took the train!  We exchanged exhausted high-fives with our guides and the bus-riders from our group, who had beaten us there, and then entered.  By the end, we had hiked 50.5km, 7.5km MORE than the normal Inca Trail!  We basically rock.  Arriving early definitely paid off…we got there around 7am, beating the crowds and the clouds!  We hurriedly pushed ourselves up to the top of the ruins on about-to-fall-off legs in order to get the classic Machu Picchu photos.  Despite all our bad luck on the trek, we were extremely lucky to be at the site on a clear, non-rainy day!  Cheers to that!  The site was stunning.  I couldn’t believe I was finally there after so much planning and hard work, but unfortunately caring much about it was quite an effort due to how tired and sore I was.  I think other group members felt the same way.  You could definitely tell the hikers from the train-riders at Machu Picchu because we were the ones hilariously hobbling up and down the steps at the speed of arthritic grandparents.  Percy gave us a two-hour tour of Machu Picchu, highlighting the most important parts.  It was really interesting, and I wish I would have been more awake and alert for it!  All in all, I think I personally appreciated having seen Machu Picchu more and more after the fact, as I recovered from the trek.  I think that if there hadn’t been landslides and we would have stuck to the original route, we would have been much more energetic and excited to be there in the end.  But what can you do?  Woulda, shoulda, coulda, you can’t control the weather!  Lest I come across like a total Negative Nancy, let me share our AMAZING pictures with you now!

Looks like a postcard, no?
Kind of good for an arms-length photo

We’re sooo tired!
Llamas responsible for trimming the grass

After touring the ruins, we decided we had had our fill and headed back to Aguas Calientes to have one last lunch as a group.  Aguas Calientes is an unapologetic tourist trap, like the Times Square of Perú.  Anyone coming to Machu Picchu HAS to go there, and they definitely know how to exploit the gringos.  Food and beer costs are nearly triple what they are in Cuzco.  We didn’t really find anything redeemable about the town, although if money was not an issue for you, you could probably have some fun and some tasty food.  Luckily our group had a whole restaurant reserved for us all day, so we hung out on the couch reading, writing, and napping until our train left at 6:45pm.  The British-run PerúRail company has a monopoly on the railroad in Perú and thus is also a ripoff.  The ride was unremarkable, highlighted only by obnoxiously yelling drunk people and free coffee and peanuts.  We got off the train two hours later in Ollantaytambo, and spent the last two hours on the Peru Treks bus back to Cuzco sleeping.  We finally got back to our hostel around 11pm, more physically exhausted than we’d ever felt before!

And here we are a week and a half later, finally finishing our recaps!  Despite our complaints about the trek, we were so glad we did it and we would recommend it to others.  Basically, it’s way more satisfying, and, we believe, a better value than taking the train!  Just KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO!  It’s not easy; you must acclimatize; and you have to be in good-enough shape!  You might struggle and get sick despite acclimatizing and being in good shape.  The person in our group who had the hardest time was a former NFL football player.  Also, be prepared for the fact that you might be too exhausted to enjoy it by the time you get to Machu Picchu.  People who are more excited about Machu Picchu then they are about hiking and the Andean scenery should just take the train.  We were equally pumped about both, so we’re for sure glad we trekked!

Cost/Value of the trek:

There is much debate on the effects of the commercialization and popularity of the Inca Trail.  The trail was crowded but not unbearably so.  The limit on the number of people on the trail per day is what makes booking so far in advance necessary.  It’s also important to make sure you use a company that treats their porters fairly.  Here is what we paid and what we ultimately thought about the value of our experience (all prices are per person):

Peru Treks total cost=$490

Included: bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo ($10), 4 days of hiking, guide and assistant guide, porters, Inca Trail and Machu Picchu entry permit ($93), 10 big meals, tents, water on Days 3 and 4, sleeping pads, Machu Picchu tour, bus ticket from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes ($8), train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo ($37), bus from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco ($10).  (Breakdown info taken from Andean Travel Web.)

Not included: Sleeping bag ($20 to rent, we brought our own), personal porter to carry your sleeping bag and pad ($40, we carried our own stuff), breakfast on Day 1, lunch and dinner on Day 4, water on Days 1 and 2 (you can buy it for inflated prices along the way but we brought our own), snacks, coca leaves, walking sticks, tips for cook, guides, and porters ($25 minimum).

Extra costs we incurred due to landslides: Hostel on the night of Day 3 (20 Soles=$7, this was a decision our group made together; we could have chosen to camp and pay nothing but then it would have taken longer to get to Machu Picchu in the morning), Bus to Machu Picchu ($8, what a huge ripoff for those that didn’t want to hike anymore!).

Overall, I am totally impressed with the service, food and equipment provided by Peru Treks.  I know they’re not making an enormous profit on these treks with all the expenses involved.  Still, because of how much we shelled out, I can’t help but feel that Peru Treks could and should have included some of those extras, especially the three meals they are missing.  We were picked up at 5:30am on Day One and didn’t get back to Cuzco until 10:30pm on Day Four, so the meals on those days should have been part of the price!  Also, as I said before, I think Peru Treks could have shelled out some dough for our hostel and bus tickets due to our forced detour.

I also have one criticism of the Machu Picchu facilities.  Despite the loads of money the park brings in, the bathrooms are absolutely atrocious.  I am not usually one to complain about bathrooms (ummmm, hello, I’m Returned Peace Corps Tanzania, what can I say?) but what is the point of having modern toilets if you’re going to let them be so disgustingly filthy?  There was no toilet paper in any dispenser and literally every single stall was covered in pee or poop splashes.  Not what I expected from the most famous place in South America.

Hiking the Inca Trail Day 3

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Inca Trail: Day Three

Day three started with bad news.  Our final campsite and last 5km of the trail were closed due to landslides.  This meant we would have to hike an extra 8.5km (5 miles) and enter Machu Picchu though the front entrance with all the lazy people that took the train.  There were two options: hike to the river, camp, then walk to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and take the first bus up to the ruins from there or hike all the way to Aguas Calientes (22km=14 miles), spend the night in a hostel and hike from town up to Machu Picchu in the morning, completing the trek on foot.  Finishing the adventure on a bus sounded terrible so the group voted to hike all the way to Aguas.   That decision changed Day Three from a relatively easy day into something brutal.  We had never walked 14miles in a day, let alone hiked up and down hills and mountains at high altitude.  To top it off we were super sore from yesterday’s uphill battle.  I heard the question “Why didn’t we take the train?” so many times!

So after our usual awesome breakfast, we left camp in the rain.  It had snowed above our camp the night before, covering the Dead Woman’s Pass that we had crossed the previous afternoon.  The first hour was uphill and our legs were proving very tired already.  We passed a few more ruins and reached the second pass where there was supposed to be the best view of the whole hike.  Unfortunately it was still raining and cloudy.  Our guide Percy, who was Quechua, had us bring stones from the river that we stacked at the top of the mountain in a spiritual ritual for good luck, then we began the decent.

The trail was nice in this section, gradual downhill most of the time.  The trail wound through several tunnels and the vegetation was thick and almost jungle-like.  After what seemed like forever, we made it to our lunch stop.  It was still cloudy but the rain had slowed, thankfully.  Not that it mattered since we were already soaked to the bone.  From here the trail was down steep steps all the way to the river (8 km/5mi).  At first it was not so bad, different muscles than we used up yesterday going uphill.  But soon our knees started to quiver and our toes started to push into the tip of our boots, blistering.  We relied heavily on our walking sticks and soon even our arms were tired.  About halfway down the clouds cleared and we could see the town of Aguas Calientes.  It was still SO FAR AWAY!

One of the chaskis. They ran down the steps.
There is another chaski under there somewhere.

We finally made it to the bottom and sat down in the grass waiting for the rest of the group.  Some of the other groups were camping there but we had decided to walk along the train tracks two more hours to town.  After sitting, our legs were super stiff and everything was hurting.  At least the trail was flat from here and we focused on putting one foot after the other, trying not to trip and hurt ourselves when so close to the finish.

Right as the light faded we saw the town.  Dawn ’til dusk, what a day.  Our Day Three definitely did not go as planned, and many of us agreed that it was actually harder than Day Two due to the long detour.  Our cook fed us our last dinner, including a tasty cake, then we showered and quickly fell asleep in our hostel rooms.  Wake up time: 4am to hike up to one of the most famous sites in the world.

Day 2

Day 4

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