Inca Tinca Trail
Updated: Jun 9, 2019
At the end of 2017, I decided to sign up for a personal fundraising and adventure challenge. To do myself what I spend most days asking others to do to support the Cornerstone Foundation, to help local people with support needs to live a valued life. And so I pledged to walk the Inca Trail and to raise funds for the lovely people we support. I then somehow luckily managed to persuade my good friends Susan and Debbie to sign up join me!
With most of the hard work done - over 15 months of various fundraising walks, Fizz Fridays, ceilidhs, racing nights, raffles and general badgering of our friends, families and colleagues to give us their money, a fantastic sum of nearly £11k we raised for the charity.
We then somehow fitted in the many hours and weekends of training (many of which was in the rain btw!) and the gathering of all the required equipment, trek clothing, medicines, first aid kits etc etc etc and so FINALLY, the time had come for us middle aged Scottish- ish wifies to head to Peru and take on the mighty Inca Trail!
After a lovely send off from our own and the Foundation family, 3 flights and 24 hours later, we arrived safely in Cusco.
We met most of our lovely trek team on the flight. A nice small group of 12 trekkers of all ages from across the UK with Teri from Global Adventure leading the pack. First impressions was all good as we checked each other out and checked in to our wee local traditional hotel in down town Cusco.
First things first and coca leaf tea was encouraged to help us acclimatise to the 3,400m ASL altitude. It didn't taste as bad as expected, pretty much like a green herbal tea, and really seemed to help.
We headed out almost immediately for the great Inca 'square of the warrior', the Plaza de Armas, and much to our delight there was a local festival in full swing making us feel most welcome!
A wonderful parade of people from many local villages gathering to celebrate their cultures with bright coloured flags, music, dance and song.
After a fabulous quinoa salad for lunch (I wasn't quite ready for the alpaca n mash!) and fighting off tiredness from lack of sleep we took to the hilly streets to get used to the elevation and stretch our legs. A hustling bustling city with lots going on it was easy wasting a few hours chatting to our new friends and taking in the sights and sounds.
After a very much needed good night's sleep, having had been awake for 42 hours! we were all up early the next day bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready for our first trek day with Teri and Omar, our local and hugely knowledgable guide who spent the week with us sharing his endless insights and knowledge on Incan culture and Peruvian history, along with plenty of laughs and jokes to keep us going... "vamos a la playa!"
It was still too early to have completely climatised, but the symptoms were pretty mild. My lips had turned a bit purple, which I quite liked!, my nose bled during the night and it was hard taking in air, particularly going up steps, so the trick was to take things slowly and give our bodies time.
After breakfast, we headed up in the mini bus with Nachos our driver to Sacsayhuamán (pronounced and aka 'SexyWoman') an astounding hilltop archeological site on the outskirts of Cusco, originally built by the Killke dating back to early 13th century and further developed by the Inca.
An impressive fortress with huge and precisely cut stonework that seems impossible that human hands could have set them in place... fitted so close together that a pin cannot be inserted between them.
The whole fortress was built up in terraces and flat spaces. The numerous rooms were used as storage and filled with military equipment. The importance of its military functions was highlighted in 1536 when Manco Inca lay siege to Cusco. Much of the fighting occurred in and around Sacsayhuamán, as it was critical to maintaining control over the city.
Omar kindly spend some time sharing his knowledge and views on this significant site and piece of Incan history.
From Sacsayhuamán we took a lovely long walk through beautiful Eucalyptus forests and countryside back to Cusco. Stopping off for a tasty al fresco picnic lunch prepared by chef Alex and his family surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Not a bad way to spend a day!
Day 3 was another early start as we set off for the 3 hour transfer with Nachos for the Inca Trail checkpoint to pick up our permits and start our trek. Despite some bumpy roads that could desperately use some attention, the journey was pleasant as we passed through local villages and a quick stop to check out some amazing hats from local vendors and to take in views of the Sacred valley.
We then arrived and got straight to the business of sorting out our permits and kit.
We were each allowed to pass on a small holdall with 6kg of weight to be carried for us which could hold my sleeping bag, a fresh set of clothes and a few toiletries. The rest I was on my own with and had to go in the day pack. Restrictions have recently been introduced to ensure porters are not carrying too heavy a load, which makes good sense, they are weighed at the start of the trip and again mid way to ensure they don't exceed the 25kg carrying limit, which includes 5kg of their own personal kit.
Our support team was made up of 22 'waikies' which translates from the local Quechuan dialect as 'brother', 2 local guides - Omar and José plus Teri (who soon became 'Teeeerrrree, Teri baby') our UK support and all round amazing mountain Mamma.
With our kit all sorted, snacks stock well topped up, coca leaves distributed to waikie's, a couple of quick photos taken to mark the occasion and we were happily off on our merry trail!
The start of the trek was relatively easy going and beautifully lush with plenty of interesting flora and views to keep our attention as we hiked up the sacred Urubamba river heading to Llactapata (2,888m).
About an hour or so in, we passed a local 'bar' where some of our waikie's had stopped off to enjoy the local chicha. A beer fermented from corn which seemed to be their refreshment of choice, along with the coca leaves, to keep them full of energy for lugging their heavy loads up the trail. José paid his respects to the chicha and the mountains by slugging some on the dirt, whilst we politely declined partaking on this occasion.
The following day, when I passed our waikie's enjoying their daily chicha, in my best pidgin Spanish I wished them a happy chicha time. I was delighted to be met with their response of laughter and smiles, until José pointed out my pronunciation sounded more like chichi, which translates as bosom .... woooops!
We hiked until mid afternoon then stopped for a beautifully prepared 3 course lunch near some spectacular ruins. The food we enjoyed on our trip was incredible, beyond all expectations and we were always met with a warm welcome from our waikie's and a basin of fresh water and soap which went down an absolute treat.
We didn't hang about too long before we were off and heading up Kusichaca valley, stopping only briefly to take in some of the magnificent sights before reaching our camp in the small hamlet of Wayllabamba at 3,000m, just before sunset. A long but enjoyable day and good to get some kilometres, around 11k, under our boots!
On arrival at camp each night, our wonderful waikie's brought us a warm basin of water to soak our feet as we checked in to our tents.... it's the little things in life!
The temperature during the night was generally around -1, -2, so I tended to wear most of my clothes, including hat, gloves and a few hand warmers thrown into my sleeping bag for good measure. Not always the most comfortable of sleeping arrangements but could have been a lot worse.... well actually, come to think of it, it was on the first night as I fell asleep on my water pack which then flooded my mat and bag leaving me to spend the night in a cold pool of water :'-( ....... but I've lived to tell the tell.
Omar woke us early next morning with a lovely cup of tea... not too bad a service really! After a quick wash, we re-packed up our tents and kit then it was time to enjoy a hearty breakfast of tea, toast and omelette in the mess tent before spending some time being introduced to all of our waikie's, to learn their names, hear a bit more about were they come from and tell them a little about ourselves. Good fun and a nice touch.
We then set off for what was our most challenging day. 3,000m to 4,200m to Warmihuanusca or ‘Dead Women's’ pass.
The first part of the day was absolutely amazing. Walking through the canopy of the rainforest with an abundance of varieties of birds singing, colourful and succulent plants and many trees which I'd never seen before, alongside the dreamy backdrop of waterfalls and streams.
However, as the day passed by, the track got steadily steeper, and soon the welcome shade of the trees disappeared and the hot sun was beating down hard. The impact of the altitude really starting to slow us down and we were stopping frequently for a few minutes to regulate our breathing. At this point, all you can focus on is one foot in front of the other and taking in water at every break. My main concern at this point was heat stroke, which I can be prone to. Thankfully, our guides kept us right, and we looked after each other.
After 7 hours or so and a 1,200m climb, we made it to the summit. A huge achievement and emotional moment for everyone. We cried. We hugged. We drank in the spectacular view. The group by this time being a tight team.
With a big temperature drop, we didn't hang about for too long, but added a few layers of clothing and started our descent from 4,200 to 3,600m.
Everyone was shattered and soon became evident some of the group were really struggling with the pounding of the steep downhill on their empty legs.
Henrietta lead the charge to camp with a noisy chorus of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' followed by a medley of cheesy pop tunes, whilst some of us slowed our pace to walk with others and enjoyed the wild orchids, humming birds and various other alpine flora and fauna that caught our attention.
We made it to Pacaymayo valley camp (3,600m) just before dusk, and this time shared the space with some other trekkers, of which we'd not really seen many of until now.
Wash, dinner & bed.
Despite the busier campsite, I slept really well. Having a dry bed helped!
A slight change to our plans for our 3rd trekking day due to the campsite being flooded meant a shorter day ahead and less pressure for us to rush off quite so early.
Another gorgeous sunny day as we set off to complete our first pass of the day.
Everyone was feeling good as we reached our first archaeological site stop and caught a breather.
We marched on up a little further and were soon at Runkurakay (3,998m), our second mountain pass which gave us spectacular views of the Vilcabamba mountain range.
And then it was a nice easy stroll downhill for an 1 hour on a well-preserved Inca pathway until we reached the Sayacmarca ruins – another archaeological site that Hiram Bingham III had visited on his legendary trip in 1915.
After a good look around, we walked on a little then stopped for lunch in a gorgeous valley, and again were fed like kings. The waikie's carry all the food for the trip for 4 days with them, along with cooking equipment, mess tents, the loo, their kit and ours.... etc etc.. it was astounding how we could be served such fine local and fresh food, which was generally 3 or 4 courses, and always served on clean tableware with a smile. These guys have learned to cook on the mountains by watching their peers before them, really quite impressive.
After lunch, we headed off through more lush rainforest on original Inca trail.
Our camp that night at Phuyupatamarka (3,650m) ‘the place above the clouds’ was everything and more. As we sang our way into base, which had become a bit of a regular thing, the other trekkers didn't quite know what was going on!
We arrived earlier than originally expected so we took advantage of the daylight and squeezed in another Foundation flag picture pose!
As Susan & I checked into our fabulously positioned tent to unpack our kit, and I have to admit we were thrilled to bits with our latest residential location.
I heard a commotion outside, and peered my head out to find all our waikie's heading down the mountain to have a game of football with some mountain rangers who they'd chatted to at lunchtime, and who had agreed to walk the 8km's to have a game. Not bad after hiking 7 hours and at altitude!
June, Dougal and I made our way down and made the most of the evening's entertainment.
"Come on the waikie's!"
The next morning, we were wakened just before 5am, quickly pulled on our boots and jackets and made the short climb to the mountain top to watch the sun rise.
A special moment spent with very special people and a great way to start our final day. As we washed and packed up, the team prepared a special al fresco breakfast for us. The porridge and pancakes with maple syrup and fruit were delicious and what better a setting to enjoy it.
After breakfast, as it was our last camp night, we prepared to say goodbye to our lovely waikie family. They had looked after us so well, we wanted to give them everything we could and decided to leave them with as much of our kit that might be useful for them, sleeping bags, pillows etc as well as some extra cash to express our gratitude.
We stood around in a circle and each said a few teary words before having some fun drawing the lottery José and Omar had set up to keep things fair.
And then we were off on the last leg of our epic adventure. We had about 12km left to cover before we'd reach Sun Gate. The walk was pretty much downhill from here, again with spectacular backdrops and scenery.
We started to see more people from here as we picked up trails from the shorter treks.
It was a very long day, we were all absolutely shattered but mustered one last very steep push and made it through the Sun Gate.
And this was the moment we were all there for.
But sadly no sun at sun gate, for the first time during the whole trip, except a couple of night showers, it started to rain.
Through the laughter and tears, we politely nudged our way forward past the well manicured and fresh smelling tourists (who had taken the transport option to get there!) and claimed our well earned space for our photos.
We then had to make our way down to Machu Picchu. Another 45 minutes on very tired and weary legs, so we took it slowly.
Machu Picchu was busy. There is a limit to how many people can enter each day but still they were there by the bus load!
Omar did his very best to impart his wisdom and teach us about this amazing heritage site, but I'm afraid only a fraction of what he was telling us went in as I was simply exhausted.
The site was originally built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti around 1450 then abandoned a century later due to the Spanish conquest and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham, whom the Indiana Jones character is allegedly inspired by, brought it to international attention in 1911.
It was a very special experience to walk around this site and soak up the atmosphere.
With our time slot up, we then headed down a very windy road by bus to Aguas Calientes. Quick bite to eat and a cold glass of wine went down easily before we headed to the train station to start our 3 hour journey back to Cusco.
It was no ordinary train journey! Scotrail please take note - after the rail crew had checked us on, served us some coffee and cake, they then provided us with some traditional music and dancing, followed by a catwalk show of the latest alpaca wool fashion... you couldn't make it up! Well done to Kerry for having the oomph to get up and take part in the fun.
The next morning, back in Cusco, we took the day at our leisure. Nice slow breakfast then we headed to San Pedro, a local colourful and vibrant market to spend some time and sol.
That night, we scrubbed up and headed out for a special dinner, to celebrate the end of our successful trek, Aaron's birthday and June & Dougal's wedding anniversary.
Oh what a night!
After dinner, we were presented with our lovely Global Adventure medals we said our heartfelt thank-you's to Omar, José and Teri for looking after us and guiding us so well. In such a short space of time we had all become good friends. And as we all had suspected, Teri finally admitted we were actually her favourite group ever.
Then it was time to let our hair down.... singing and dancing into the wee small hours, no idea where we found the energy!
The next morning, with a slightly foggy head, Susan, Debbie and I were up sharp and down for breakfast to say one last goodbye to our fellow Tinca's.
With another small kit bag packed, we were heading off to enjoy our trip extension and the next part of our Peruvian adventures.
After an easy short flight to Peurto Maldonado, we enjoyed a nice cool boat ride up the Rio Madre de Dios river to our base at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica.
We checked into our cabana, which felt rather luxurious after our tents, and made a B-line for the hammocks and some down time whilst we watched the local rodents who'd come to say hello!
We headed out on our first night for a moonlight cruise and spotted a Capybara (giant rat) and a small Caiman on the river banks.
Next day aonther short boat ride then we hiked through some very muddy forest to Lake Sandova where we spent the morning cruising in a canoe in glorious sunshine and spotting plenty of birds as well as otters and bats.
We spent most of our time either reading and relaxing in our cabanas or out in the rainforest with our guides trying to spot wildlife. The canopy walkway was great fun and at 345m high, gave a great perspective from the treetops over the forest.
One of my highlights of the trip was our early morning trip upstream to the clay lick to watch the parrots and macaws feast on the clay banks. What an amazing sight and the chorus of the birds as they fed was spectacular. We were well looked after well and enjoyed a picnic breakfast as we slowly sailed back to base.
We headed back down river to Peurto Maldonado, and enjoyed one last stop at a butterfly farm before we headed to the airport for our return flight.
Back in Cusco, this time just the 3 of us. We enjoyed the morning looking around Qorikancha and then spent the afternoon being pampered and chilling at a Spa.
I was now time and I was ready to switch my phone back on and head home. What an incredible experience. Visiting Peru and walking in the Andes has been a dream of mine since reading 'Out on a Limb' back in the 80's. A beautiful country with amazing people and culture. Memories made that will remain with me forever. I am thankful for the experience.