It has been 378 days since Rita and I first got the crazy notion to hike the Inca Trail. Since then we have logged 1817 miles of walking/hiking; we’ve climbed and descended 36,237 stairs in our condo building; we’ve completed a dozen practice hikes at altitudes between 9,000 and 13,000 feet; we’ve improved our overall health; I’ve lost over 60 pounds; and we’ve had a hell of a time exploring new places, seeing beautiful sights, and just generally growing closer as a couple.
So whether we successfully complete our 4 day, three night, 27-mile hike that starts tomorrow morning, we still feel like winners. And actually, we feel pretty good about our chances of making it to Machu Picchu on schedule. That hasn’t always been the case. The past few weeks, we have both suffered a few bouts of anxiety about whether we would be physically able to go the distance. When you spend a year getting ready for an event, it also tends to loom a little large as it gets close. But events since then, especially the last few days here in Cusco, have boosted our confidence.
We started the final countdown 11 days ago, when we arrived in Cotacachi to begin acclimating to higher altitude – and when you live at the ocean, everything is higher altitude. We had our usual pleasant stay with the folks at La Cuadra, and we got in some hikes at Laguna Cuicocha and Fuya-Fuya.
A few last days in Quito, and we then traveled to Cusco, Perú to complete the acclimation process, and have a look around. Our hotel is at just over 11,000 feet, so our arrival Thursday gave us some time to adjust. We were welcomed with our first cups of coca tea, and we settled in to see some sights around town, and work our way into the groove slowly.
The first night here, we just walked up to the Plaza de Armas to look around and find a light dinner. It’s about a mile up a gently sloping street, so it was a good introduction. We were able to find a great restaurant, Tunupa, overlooking the square. We walked about 3 miles that first evening, which was a good warm up.
Friday it was time to check in with our tour outfitters. We let them know we made it to Cusco, and we were given some maps and additional information. After that, we decided to take a walk out to the Plaza Vea Mall and pick up a few snacks and things for the hike. We cabbed back, but walked up to the city square again for dinner (pausing to watch a parade going by), so we got in a respectable 5+ miles of walking the second day.
Saturday (yesterday) we had a terrific time, taking an all-day Sacred Valley tour. Rita and I were the only ones in our group, so it was even more pleasant and unhurried. We started the day up at the “Jesú Blanco” statue overlooking Cusco. The name technically means “White Jesus”, which sounds a bit racist, but is just a comment on the color of the statue. It is Jesus standing, arms akimbo, similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio.
The view was great, although it was cloudy and cool. But the day soon during sunny and warm.
Our next stop was at an Alpaca and Llama farm, where we were treated to a wild young vicuña strolling around like it owned the place. We enjoyed looking at the different breeds, and taking time to feed a few before heading on our way.
We stopped to buy our 10-day tourist passes for archeological sites, then visited an overlook of the Sacred Valley where we took a few pictures.
Pisaq was next, an impressive site of the terraced farming done by the Incans. Our guide took us on about an hour tour, so we got in some good hiking and a little stair practice at over 12,000 feet.
We made a few brief stops for pictures on the way to lunch, which was at a place called Don Angel. They had a buffet that was just wonderful – we all ate way too much. In fact, that was the heaviest meal we’ve had in weeks. It’s a testament to our acclimating that we didn’t run into trouble because of it.
Especially since about a thirty minute drive from lunch, we got out at the most impressive site of the day, and the biggest workout. Ollantaytambo, which at one time was a major grain storage site, as well as a defensive fort and sun temple.
The town of Ollantaytambo was packed with tourists and all of the restaurants, souvenir shops, hiking supply stores, and so on that comes with it. In fact, we were impressed by the number of tourists at all of the sites.
Our goal was the impressive sweep of terraces and stone stairs leading up the mountainside. We began to regret the heavy lunch as we worked our way up the stairs, but we made it without any real difficulty or shortness of breath. We made our way to the Sun Temple, then followed a narrow rock trail around to some rather steep stairs back down.
These stairs were for the most part without anything to hold onto, and varied enough in height that you had to be careful. Our hiking poles would have been very useful, but we had foolishly left them in the car. The good news though was we made it without any problems anyway. In fact, when we got back to the bottom we both felt perfectly fine, no sore knees or problems breathing.
We took a different route back to Cusco, which afforded some great views of snow-capped and glacier-topped mountains.
One last stop on the way home at the town of Chinchero to look at textile weaving, and watch a 15 minute presentation on how they make the items, from freshly shorn wool all the way to finished product. They were delightful people, and we spent enough soles on things we didn’t really need that the whole family came out, dressed us up in traditional clothes, and posed for pictures with us.
Back at the hotel after dark, we were feeling oddly good. We were not sore or worn out from the day at all. We had no problems with trails and terrain our guide told us was very similar to the Inca Trail, and after observing us allday, he expressed his opinion that we would be fine. We are breathing well, and seem to have adjusted to altitude completely. We’ve got our bags of snacks, a sack of coca leaves, some coca toffee, enough water to start out with, and I’m charging all of our electronic devices now.
This doesn’t mean we think it will be a piece of cake. In fact, we are sure it is going to take every bit of energy and determination that we have to hike for four days in a row, and sleep on the ground in a tent at over 10,000 feet for three nights. But for the first time, I think, we both really feel like this is something we can do – and in fact, look forward to getting started.
The only thing we really have today (other than me catching up some writing assignments that I should be working on now instead of this), is a 6:30pm meeting with our guide. He will bring us our duffle bags, which we will fill with our sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and another 8 pounds of items that the porters will carry. The plan is we only need to carry what we need that day in our backpacks, and everything else will be at camp waiting for us.
Rather embarrassing the amount of support we will have. We’re outnumbered 4 to 1. Rita and I will be hiking with a guide, a cook, 5 porters and one head porter.
So as a result of our preparations, and buoyed by how well we did on our tour yesterday, we are feeling very optimistic and excited about tomorrow. After over a year of waiting, at 4:30am tomorrow morning we will jump in the van, and head off to the start of our adventure. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to make an entry about our trip sometime on Friday, and there are plenty of stories to tell about the last few weeks.
It has been a long journey just to get to the starting line, but we are proud of all that we have accomplished so far, and looking forward to our first sight of Machu Picchu after three days on the Inca Trail.
Wish us luck and good weather!
August 27th, 2017