Walk: The Inca Trail, Peru
Distance: The longest 43km of my life
Accommodation: A tent. That leaked.
Date: 2-5 March 2011
Walked with: The nicest bunch of random strangers you could hope to meet
Pubs: Paddy’s Bar, Cusco (the day after we finished the trail)
We’d been following the weather reports for Cusco with growing levels of anxiety for months. It was always raining. Fair enough, it was the rainy season, but we had been clinging on to the hope that we would be lucky. We weren’t.
Even though the Inca Trail is probably the best known, most trodden walking trail in the world, it’s not one you’re allowed to walk on your own; you have to go with a treking company and you have to book about a trillion weeks in advance (that translates as 4-6 weeks ahead at least). So off we went, the day before the start, to our briefing, where we were told to buy a poncho (We didn’t. We should have) and given an ‘I survived the Inca Trail’ t-shirt – which seemed more than a tad premature…
I’ll be honest; the Inca Trail is hard work. The distances involved aren’t that long but walking up hill when you’re over 3.5kms above sea level is tough. To do that in the pouring rain and cold as well… It’s fair to say that some of it wasn’t fun. I’d assumed that the advice about getting a waterproof poncho was aimed at those people daft enough not to have waterproofs with them. I didn’t realise that the amount of rain we’d get would leave my previously reliable jacket a sodden, useless wreak of its former self.
At least the magnificent views made up for it though, right? Well yes, I think they would do. Normally. In the dry season, when you aren’t surrounded by – or walking in, or walking through – cloud. Our guide, ‘Max’, started a lot of his increasingly bizarre explanations (too much coca leaf, me’ thinks. At one point he earnestly explained that there are a lot of earthquakes in South America because it has sea on either side) with the preface ‘In the dry season you’d see blah-de-amazing-view-blah from here’. I have greatly expanded my collection of cloud photos though!
Everyone says that the second of the four days is the hardest, and they are right. There’s just something about climbing 1.2km (when your starting point is already 3,000m above sea level) and then walking down steep stone steps for a further 600m that does work out as being kind of knackering! And it’s cold at night when you’re camping at 3,600m – especially when it’s pouring down and your tent leaks!
The best thing about the walk, apart from getting to the fabulous and fabled Machu Picchu ruins at the end, was the people in our group – every single person was really nice and had a GSOH, as they used to say in the classified ads. Oh, and the food the cook managed to produce was incredible – I have no idea how he managed it.
This wasn’t really my idea of a good walk – it’s more something you do for the personal challenge. I’m sure the views are spectacular when the clouds lift, but when you’re sharing the footpath with 200 other trekkers and 300 porters, the experience, at times, is more Oxford Street on a Saturday than it is rural retreat! I’m glad I’ve walked it, and it’s certainly a classic walk to tick off the hiking list, but I much preferred the West Highland Way!