Jed Appelrouth

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Peru

Peru: The Inca Trail

January 2006

David Poline and I flew down to Lima, Peru to partake in a trek on the Inca Trail. This trail is most famous for its ultimate destination, Machu Picchu- one of the most well-preserved Incan cities, and supposedly one of the 7 energetic vortexes of the earth. From Lima, we took a short flight to Cusco where we spent the afternoon acclimatizing to the 11,000 foot altitude. In Cusco we drank copious amounts of coca tea to accelerate the acclimatization process and drank Inka Cola to embrace the true tourist experience. Whereas Lima is famous for its fava beans, Cusco is not renowned for its Couscous. It is, however, quite celebrated for it's variety of meats and tubers. We heartily consumed some Alpaca (mmmm…..Llama…..), drank more Inka Cola (el Sabor des Incas) and found a massage shop where we were able to get hour-long massages for $16 (life is good!). We met with our tour guide, got the info on the trek and called it a night.

A word to would be trekkers. If you are considering taking this trek, our company, Inca Explorers treated us like gold. I'd use them again in a heartbeat. And also, if you plan to do this trip- I'd recommend going in April, May, September or October. Dec-March is the rainy season and you lose some of the views. June-August is apparently a tourist free-for-all. These 4 middle months will give you the best combination of good weather and relative solitude on the trail.

For our trek during the rainy season, David and I were the only ones who signed up with the company: we would get a private tour. Our support staff included our knowledgeable guide, a cook, and 4 porters. 2 tourists, 6 support staff. Love the ratio!

Our journey began in Cusco as we hopped in a van and drove towards the highlands. Along the journey we saw all the marks of the third world- incredible poverty, dogs abounding, piles of trash and half-developed buildings. This was counterposed with a majestic landscape of towering mountains reaching to 16,000+ feet.

We arrived at the starting point of our trek and met our porters, several of whom had already been traveling for days. The porters loaded up their packs and took off down the trail. Throughout the trek we would continually be amazed at the strength, speed and endurance of these men. They would pack 50-80 pounds on their backs, and literally run up and down the mountains. They made it look effortless. The porters did for the calf muscle what Brad Pitt did for men's abs.

For Dave and me, the first day of the trek was relatively easy and relaxed. As we hiked up and down the hills, the fog was constantly shifting, advancing and receding up the sides of the mountains. We had to jump for our cameras when a good view appeared, or the opportunity would quickly pass. The rain began to fall around 1:00 when we arrived at our first meal. The porters had arrived an hour earlier to set up a cooking and dining tent. When we pulled in- we were greeted with hot coca tea and a 3-course meal. I'm used to gorp and power-bars when i hike, but this was an entirely different game. This was 5 star service. Whenever we would stop, we'd dine in our tent and drink hot tea, coca matte, or hot chocolate. It was easy to get use to this part of the trek.

Day 2 of the trek was the mad ascent. The sun occasionally peeked out from behind the cloud cover as we began the climb from 12,000 or so feet to almost 14,000 feet. I had a losing battle with the altitude as we ascended from 13,500 to 13,800 feet. It quickly became apparent that the half-day we had spent in Cusco was not enough time for my body to fully adjust to the thinner air. Heart pounding, head throbbing, stomach doing back flips, I finally made it to the top, took a few shots of oxygen in a pressurized canister, and bolted down the other side to lower heights and easier air. It ended up taking my body most of the afternoon to get physically recentered and over the altitude sickness. In hindsight, it would have been smart to spend a full day or two in Cusco to fully adjust to the altitude. Luckily this was only a blip, and didn't take away from the experience.

Day 3 was a bit of up-and-down and then the mad descent. The descent was 2.5 hours straight down over uneven terrain and steps of varying heights. The Incans had some really small feet, and the 1,300+ steps were quite tricky. We watched in amazement as the porters bounded like spring-alpaca down the path. Our guide advised us that going faster actually made the descent easier. So Dave and I gave this a shot, planting our poles and hopping/jogging down the steep terrain. Later, our knees would issue cries of belated protest, but for two hours, we jumped down the hills, singing and making up songs to help speed the journey.

At the final camp our guide brought us down to the ruins of Winyawina: this would prove to be the high-point of my trip. It was nearing sunset when our guide took us to this ancient residence perched on the hill. The landscape was perfectly terraced and the buildings blended into the mountain-side. It was incredibly well-preserved, and you could imagine what this must have been like during the Incan times with thatched roofs over the stone-buildings, vegetables in the terraces, people running about. Surrounding the ruins for 360 degrees loomed massive, verdant 16,000 foot mountains, breaking through the cloud cover as the sun set. Dave said I may have had too much coca-tea, but I was deeply affected by this experience. It was one of those moments when everything was perfectly balanced: god's creation and man's creation completely in harmony. I was almost overwhelmed with how beautiful this was. The photographs fail to capture even a hint of the majesty of this moment.

That night, we slept for some 4-5 hours and rose at 4:00 AM to begin the final day's trek to Machu Picchu. At 5:30 the floodgates opened and all 150 trekkers were allowed to begin the final 2 hour march to Machu Picchu. In a giant chain, we filed down the narrow path of this sub-tropical rainforest, bound by the mountain on one side and a steep cliff on the other. At 6:45 we arrived at the Sun-Gate and saw the prize- Machu Picchu looming below. The pilgrims all broke out their cameras to capture the image of the Sun-City perched on the mountain. We made the final descent and amazingly, the sky cleared and gave us breathtaking views of the city. We knew how lucky we were to have clear skies in January. We had the city to ourselves as the bus and train tourists were several hours away. We took in the city, learning all we could from our guide, and enjoying the prize of our trek.

The return trip provided us with a few additional adventures as we drove through several highland towns, explored the many markets of Cusco and the beaches of Miraflores. The trek itself was everything we had hoped for and more. The Peruvian highlands were magnificent, and the experience was one of the best travel experiences I've ever had.

Enjoy the pictures. They will give a glimpse of the world we got to experience.

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