At 5:30 the porters came to our tents with coca tea and bowls of warm water. We all slept horribly and struggled to get moving. The coca tea is made from the leaves of the same plant cocaine is made out of. It’s supposed to help with altitude sickness and headaches. And it’s illegal in the US. We drank a lot of coca tea. The porters chew on it and carry bags of leaves with them everywhere.
We packed up our stuff and handed off our sleeping bags to the porters. Breakfast was toast, jam and oatmeal. I definitely didn’t eat enough, but there’s only so much bread one can eat.
The trail was immediately uphill and I did ok for the first hour or so. But, the other groups that left after us quickly caught up and it seemed like every time I stopped to take a break there was a group passing me. It was slightly embarrassing, but I just kept thinking “I’ll get there eventually!” One of the groups was some younger people from Texas. There was one guy in particular who was super encouraging. There was another group of people who had all gone to UofM. We chatted with them a few times about Michigan life and the Inca Trail. I also got passed by some llamas carrying goods to the pit stop store farther up. There were three and they just trotted by with no one guiding them. Smart llamas!
I slowed down a lot after the first hour and trudged into our first stop about 20 minutes after our group. The views going up the pass were absolutely incredible and we were just stunned the whole time. We spent a good amount of time taking pictures and trying to take it all in. At the break, Ali got a bottle of Gatorade and more toilet paper (we were very happy they had it for sale because we were quickly running out of the two rolls we stole from the hotel). The Gatorade was heaven and definitely lifted my spirits.
We couldn’t stay at the stop long since we still had two more hours straight up hill. We headed out after only a few minutes. The trail is made up of fairly large, flat rocks and is sometimes an incline and sometimes stairs. Either way it was murder on my knees and feet. I would much prefer to walk on dirt, but I guess the rocks are easier to maintain with the amount of rain they get. We were visiting at the end of the rainy season, but it still rains every day.
The rest of the way up was very difficult. I was stopping every 5 minutes to catch my breath. The views just kept getting better though and I was amazed every time I looked back. Snow capped mountains and lush greenery everywhere. ‘Twas magical. The stairs, however, were not magical. They were awful. Somehow, we were still walking within the 4 hour time frame. Oliver from our group was well ahead of us and was probably already on his way down the pass to our lunch spot. The man is a machine I’m pretty sure. I felt a little bad that everyone ahead of us would have to wait, but I also didn’t want to get injured. By the time we made it to the top, Ali had been there for about 40 minutes and Desda, Wendy and Maaike had already headed down. Richard was a few minutes behind.
Finally getting to the top felt amazing, but the clouds had rolled in so we didn’t get a great view and they made it cold and wet. Gross. Even worse, the way down was steep stairs and they were slippery. We didn’t spend much time at the top. Ethan took a few pictures from a little higher up and we headed down. As soon as we got over the crest, it was a wall of white. The clouds were super thick and you could only see about 40 feet ahead of you. It was super creepy. Ali and I stayed together with Primo and by that time we were getting really hungry and we were exhausted. We stopped at a tiny mountain side toilet along with a couple other groups and continued down the steep stairs. The going was rough and absolutely brutal on our knees.
We were getting a little loopy and giggly, but still had to try to watch every step we took. As a result, I ended up slipping a couple times and twisted my left ankle at one point. It wasn’t too bad so I tied my boot up pretty tight for extra support and kept going. Ali slipped once too and we saw several other people fall, so we felt better. The worst part was some of the stairs were along some pretty steep drop offs so if you fell the wrong way, you might be in serious trouble.
It only ended up taking us and hour and 15 minutes to get down which was well within the two hours we had to do it. Primo was happy and we were elated to finally be getting lunch and another bathroom. We had some time to chill out before lunch so we grabbed a couple stools and laid on the ground with our feet on the stools. Sweet relief!
Lunch was delicious and filling, which was good because we had another two hours of uphill walking after lunch to the second mountain pass. This one has an Inca site halfway up that we stopped at so Primo could tell us about it. We could see people still coming down from the first pass. They looked like tiny brightly colored bugs. Primo told us that the Inca site (can’t remember the name) was used as a lookout point. It made sense since you could see into the valley below and to the first mountian pass. He also told us about how the Incas did sacrifices to the gods for rain and for dry weather, often using children (who I guess were volunteers). It seemed like every Inca site had some sort of use for sacrifices. Eeeek!
It was another hour to the top and an hour or so down more steep stairs. We got into camp soaking wet and beyond exhausted. This camp was a little more spread out than the first, but that meant that the toilet was farrrr away. Looked like I would be peeing right outside the tent! There were also a couple llamas hanging around the camp. They were cute, but the whole camp smelled like llama poo. We had another great dinner and went straight to sleep. Day three was supposed to be much shorter and easier. Thank God!!