the inca trail – it begins…

If someone had told me how hard, scary and puff-inducing the Inca Trail was going to be, I’m honestly not sure I would have done it. Rich and I had several moments along the trail where we would stop to catch our breath, look at each other, and shake our heads in a ‘What the crap are we doing??’ fashion. It was a tough slog – the toughest, most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it. I’m feeling pretty chuffed, in all honesty.

Our Inca adventure started a week ago. On Monday night we met half of our tour group – a Canadian army fella, a luvverly couple from Sydney, and two Danish chaps – in a Lima hotel for briefing, got our plane tickets for our flight to Cusco the next day, that sorta thing.

Next morning we were up bright n early for a tres borink breakfast (cold toast and jam) and  bad coffee, and we were off to the airport. The flight to Cusco was pretty hair-raising. Cusco itself is at an altitude of around 3,400m above sea level. It’s surrounded by mountains that are even taller (I’ll tell you about those) and it’s windy and it makes landing aeroplanes a leetle beet tricky. Our plane came in, the wheels lowered, we were about to hit the runway and then suddenly… The plane sped up and we were up in the air again. We did another circle of a mountain and a valley and came in again for take 2. This time the plane dropped suddenly. Sheesh! I gasped (loudly) and clutched my armrest and the man next to me said “That’s the trouble with these winds”.

After a bit more lurching and bumping and dropping, we landed. Safely. A little shaky, but OK. Phewf!!

Our leader for the next six days – Abel – met us at the airport and took us to our hotel in a mattress-lined street in the city, then the eight of us went on a tour of the old part of town and then to lunch. Ingredients for Pisco Sours were brought to the table, and we each shook up our own lemon and egg white cocktails. Delicious, yes, but probably not the wisest move. Drinking alcohol on day one at such high altitude is kind of a recipe for disaster. Later in the day, Rich and I were both afflicted with monster headaches, nausea and squashy lungs that made breathing a little tricky… It was a fairly unpleasant night.

The next day we packed up our bags – 3kgs of clothing, toiletries, ponchos into a duffle bag carried by a porter, and whatever else we needed we carried in backpacks – and got into our little tourbus, bound for Ollantaytambo. We were a full group now. Along with the five peeps we met on Monday in Lima, we were joined in Cusco by a family of four from Castlemaine, a mom/daughter duo from Canada, and three uni lads from Melbourne/Perth.

Along the way to Ollantaytambo we stopped at an artisan village where, after receiving hugs from three Peruvian ladies as we stepped off the bus, we watched as wool was spun and blankets were weaved (or is it wove?) and deft hands knitted socks and hats and miniature llamas. That’s right – MINIATURE LLAMAS!!! With aloof llamas faces!!! Needless to say, I bought four. Don’t even get me started on the llamas and alpacas just milling about in the carpark. THERE WAS A BABY!!! WHO HAD A BIG FREAKOUT BECAUSE HE COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE HIS LEGS!!! Clearly, I almost collapsed from the cuteness. Sigh.

Big alpaca, little alpaca

Peruvian ladies, doing their thang

After lunch (where the speakers blared a panpipe band covering Guns N Roses and Bryan Adams as we ate) we headed to a chicheria, where chicha is made. Chicha is a fermented fruit beer that has an alcohol content of about 2%, is served in ENORMOUS glasses and smells revolting. We weren’t allowed to taste it, because it would almost certainly have made us ill. I’m kinda glad. It really didn’t look good. The chicheria also housed a (gulp) guinea pig farm. I won’t go into details – I’m sure you can guess what they were fattening them up for. Wah!

The Guinea Pig farm. O dear...

We arrived in Ollantaytambo at about 4 o’clock and took a stroll around some Incan ruins. They were quite beautiful, but the steps to the top were very steep and narrow and did nothing for my fear of heights. I was starting to get a little bit worried about the Inca Trail… What if it was gonna be like this? All stairs and steepness? Surely not. I googled ‘Inca trail fear of heights’ not long ago, and everything came up roses. Things would be OK. This was just a particularly vertigo-inducing site. Nothing to worry about.

I hobbled slowly down the stairs, as Rich helpfully guided me along, and admitted to a few others in our group that I was a little scared of heights. More than a little. Quite terrified.

Carmel – the mum from Castlemaine – looked a little surprised and said “Well, good on you for facing your fears and doing the Inca Trail!! By the time we climb all the stairs at Machu Picchu I’m sure you’ll be right as rain!”

Super gulp.

I went to sleep early that night. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay awake forever so tomorrow wouldn’t come. But as Annie once sang: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”. And as Silverchair once sang: “Yooooooooou way-ait, til tomorrooowwwww”. And as The Eurythmics once sang: “When tomorrow comes!!” So I guess there’s no escaping it. Whatever time I went to sleep, the next day was going to come and I was going to hike the Inca Trail. May as well rest up.

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