In the footsteps of the Incas – part 1

27 May

There is one word that is universally understood and that expresses the same intensity of feeling in all languages.


What started out as a tick on my bucket list, ended off as a personal pilgrimage for me. But in the end, I completed the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I don’t want to run ahead of myself, but when I (finally) entered the Sun Gate and had the first view of Machu Picchu, I cried. Amidst all the congratulatory hugs and high fives, I had to swallow back the tears that welled up in my eyes. I made it. I could not remember the last time (if ever), I was in so much physical pain, but I did not regret a moment of it. As we posed for a group picture and the designated guy to take the picture said ‘Say Never Again’, I thought I probably would never do it again, but I am so glad I did. For me, to prove to myself that I can do it.

But, let’s start at the very beginning, which is always a very good place to start.

After our trip to the Amazon Rainforest, we set off for Cuzco, which is the historical capital of the Inca Empire. We arrived quite late in the afternoon, after some flight delays, but had a couple of hours spare to explore the beautiful mountainous city. We managed to fit in the ‘best hot chocolate in the world'(according to Manuel, our guide) and had an excellent dinner, which was coupled with a hands on practical lesson on how to make the local cocktail, Pisco Sour. Actually, we made the passion fruit version, which was delicious, but at an altitude of around 3 400m, it went straight to my head…:-).

The city of Cuzco, the historical capital of the Inca Empire

The city of Cuzco, the historical capital of the Inca Empire

A Llama being carried around like a baby in Cuzco

A Llama being carried around like a baby in Cuzco

The next morning, I got up early to pack for the trip. We were given duffel bags that we had to use, and each hiker had an allowance of only 6kg. That may sound like quite a bit, but once you deduct the sleeping bag and inflatable thermarest mattress (anything to make the sleeping bit more comfortable, I thought), it basically meant we had 2.5kg to 3kg maximum for 4 days of clothes. No easy feat, I tell you. After my first attempt, I went to borrow a hand scale from the front desk, and the bag was over 5kg… What to take and what to leave…? Of course, you can carry extra in your day pack, but THAT you have to carry for 43kms…so better think carefully about it. Eventually, I took out my takkies (sneakers) and some extra clothes, and stuffed some of the other essentials in my day pack. This would mean that I would have to wear my hiking boots ALL the time, but I had blister plasters and an extra pairs of socks, so that should be okay, right?

At around 7:30, we set off for Ollantaytambo, with a visit to the local community of Ccaccaccollo, funded by the Planeterra fund, where we were shown how the local people still make Llama and Al Pacu wool and woollen products by hand.

Local women demonstrating how they weave Llama and Al Paca wool

Local women demonstrating how they weave Llama and Al Pacu wool

A fine art...

A fine art…

Little kids playing around

Little kids playing around

We took a drive through the sacred valley and soaked in the awesome views.

The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley

After a lunch stop, we headed for our first Inca site visit on the trip, Pisaq. This was also my first realisation that I may have some troubles with my digestion on this trip. I generally don’t eat a lot of carbs, as it aggravates my IBS, so I try and stick to lean meat and lots of fruit and veggies. I overindulged at lunch and felt bloated and uncomfortable all afternoon. The guide told me that the altitude generally slows down your digestive system. Great stuff… After a light dinner at our hotel in Urumbamba, I went to bed early, to get my last night’s sleep in a proper bed for a few days.

A window on the Sacred Valley, from the top of the ruins of Pisaq

A window on the Sacred Valley, from the top of the ruins of Pisaq

Day 1

We set off for Ollantaytambo, and made a quick stop in the town for some last minute supplies, and then made our way to Km 82 (Kilometre 82), which is the start of the 4 day Inca trail. Passports in hands, eager to get a stamp on entering the trail, we set off after the first of many group pictures. Our guides for the trail was Vladimir (yes, that was his name…), Nellie and Jesus. The porters made a head start and we were amazed at the speed at which they almost ran up the mountain with 25kg each on their backs, so that they can set up lunch for us…

The group at the start of the trail

The group at the start of the trail

The porters getting a head start...

The porters getting a head start…

The first day was not too hectic and we did about 11km, which took us roughly six hours to complete. The most  difficult bit was an hour stretch of steep uphill stairs after lunch, climbing about 300m in elevation, which scared me sufficiently for the next day! But one of the high points of the day was the fantastic three course lunch, served in a tent with tables and chairs. Our trek guide, Vladimir, informed us that we would not be camping for the three days, but rather, we would be GLAMping.

Lunch in style!

Lunch in style!

Upon arrival at our camp site, our tents were all set up, and each hiker was brought a bowl of hot water to clean up a bit, before we gathered in the tent for a card game or two (‘Shithead’), with tea and biscuits. Dinner was another two course meal, after which we all went to bed early, as we had a 6:00am start again the next morning.

Day 2

After a fitful night of sleep in an unfamiliar small tent, where I could barely sit up, we were woken up in the morning at 6:00am by the porters with another bowl of hot water, and a cup of coca tea. Now, coca tea (mate de coca), is made by dipping leaves from the coca plant into hot water, and is said to lessen the effects of altitude sickness and according to Vladimir is effective for any kind of illness you can think of including ‘a broken heart’. However, coca leaves also contains about 4.2g of alkaloids which, when extracted chemically, is the stuff cocaine is made from. I said, bring it on!

On top of this, we were treated with a breakfast fit for a king, with pancakes stuffed with roasted apple, each one personalised with caramel syrup. It was delicious and exactly what we needed to get us in the right frame of mind for what can only be described as a gruelling day ahead.

Breakfast fit for a king!!

Breakfast fit for a king!!

The second day of the Inca trail is also the toughest, and although the distance covered is only 12km, this includes the notorious Warmiwañusca pass or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, which takes you to a maximum elevation of 4200m, from a starting point of 3200m for the day.

The Inca trail elevation map

The Inca trail elevation map showing the linear distance covered. Including terrain geography it is about 43km

Honestly, after the steep climb the previous day, I have to admit that I was shit scared very nervous for day 2. I noticed on the previous day that I was quite out of breath and that the stairs are very tough on my legs. I started suspecting that maybe I was not fit enough…But there was no way out now, and there was only one way to go!

And it was tough. I was very happy and relieved when we finally reached the summit of Dead Woman’s Pass. Towards the end, I could barely climb 15 stairs before I had to take a break, but the beautiful views made up for it!

Navigating the stairs on day 2...

Navigating the stairs on day 2…

The view looking ahead on Dead Woman's the trail winding up

The view looking ahead on Dead Woman’s Pass…spot the trail winding up

A group picture on top of the pass. I am the one with the blue shirt and HUGE smile in the middle

A group picture on top of the pass. I am the one with the blue shirt and HUGE smile in the middle

After reaching the top of Dead Woman’s Pass; which incidentally has nothing to do with a real dead woman or anything sinister, but rather, the shape of the mountain from a distance looks like a woman lying on her back; we still needed to do another couple of hours before we reached our camp site. This time downhill. I celebrated too soon.

The trail winding downwards towards our camp

The trail winding downwards towards our camp

By the time we reached our camp, my legs felt like jelly. I could barely stand, and spent an entire five minutes debating which way to go to the toilets. Uphill, which meant I had to return downhill. Or downhill, which meant that I had to return uphill. Eventually I decided to go downhill.

The views from the camp site were magnificent though, and it was with a sigh of relief that I finally settled in my tent and surveyed the view ahead of me. I was silently wondering how I was going to be able to carry on walking the next day, as my legs did not feel like I had any more miles left in them, but it was time to relax.

My last snapshot on day 2, the view from my tent!!

My last snapshot on day 2, the view from my tent!!

The next and final post…the ups and downs of day 3, and finally…Machu Picchu!

Click here to read this post.

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction. ~ E.O. Wilson


Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Travel


Tags: , , , , ,

21 responses to “In the footsteps of the Incas – part 1

  1. Colleen

    May 28, 2013 at 12:30 am

    I always knew you were a crazy woman. Now I know that you are formidable woman with an iron will! You inspire me to be more, see more and do more. Hats-off to you Girlfriend

    • Justcallmegertie

      May 28, 2013 at 5:51 am

      Crazy, indeed, my friend! But there is just something, a inner satisfaction, to doing what you didn’t at first thought you could do. The shortest iron lady??

  2. lisa@notesfromafrica

    May 28, 2013 at 8:35 am

    A wonderful post – and what an adventure! I am in awe of you doing this – taking yourself out of your comfort zone and trying something so new and different. May I re-blog this on my site – WordPress just creates an extract and then has a link to the full post on your blog? Please feel free to say “no”! 🙂

    I haven’t been online much lately, but I’m going to go back and read your other posts.

    • Justcallmegertie

      May 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

      Hi Lisa
      It was a fantastic experience! I am so happy that I did it, for me, to prove to myself that I could do it.
      I would feel honoured if you re-blogged the post :-). I initially wanted to one post, but it was just too much. Will do the final part ASAP!

  3. alicat1707

    May 28, 2013 at 9:26 am

    This is awesome Gerda, can’t wait to read the rest!! My feet are itching as I read 🙂

    • Justcallmegertie

      May 28, 2013 at 9:36 am

      Ooh! Can’t wait to post the rest…I am writing the post in my head so long! 🙂

  4. lisa@notesfromafrica

    May 30, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Reblogged this on Notes from Africa and commented:
    Many people have a “bucket list” of things that they would like to do “one day”. Gerda from justcallmegertie (AKA The Blogging Accountant), is one of the few people I know who is actively working their way through their list.
    Her sense of adventure, and willingness to try something new and completely out of her comfort zone, is truly awesome! Her most recent trip was to South America to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

    Don’t miss this post!!!

    • Justcallmegertie

      May 30, 2013 at 9:01 am

      Thanks for reblog, Lisa! 🙂

    • Eha

      May 31, 2013 at 5:20 am

      I would not have missed it for the proverbial quids and may just re-repost myself during the weekend when life perchance less hectic!! Thank you Gertie and Lisa 🙂 ! One always believes one has seen ALL the photos of the area we all ‘know’, yet the photos/story here prove that what we oft know is only that one final photo, and not the wonderfully inspiring journey there . . .

      • Justcallmegertie

        May 31, 2013 at 5:48 am

        Hi Eha!
        Exactly! They don’t know exactly why the trail was built in the location where it is, as it is certainly not the easiest way to ‘walk’ to Machu Picchu from Cuzco, so they reckon it was built as a pilgrimage route. And how magical to be able to retrace the footsteps of a nation that has been lost for hundreds of years…
        Thanks for visiting!

  5. georgettesullins

    May 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    What a hike! Congratulations! The sense of “there’s no turning back” had to be a defining moment.

    • Justcallmegertie

      May 30, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      Hi Georgette!
      I think it was 80% in the mind, even before the time. There was no way I was going to quit. But it is actually scary, I asked the one guides what they do if someone gets hurt. In extreme circumstances, they can airlift someone out by helicopter, else if someone can’t walk, the porters piggy back the hikers…imagine!
      Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  6. Madoqua

    June 2, 2013 at 1:01 am

    I came to your site via Lisa’s and have not been able to stop reading!
    Have subscribed and also have all your back issues to read.
    Loved the whole Inca adventure and am looking forward to the next installment! What an amazing person you are!

    • Justcallmegertie

      June 2, 2013 at 6:53 am

      Hi there! Thanks so much. Glad you enjoy my ramblings…:-). The Inca trail was by far the most magical thing I have ever done! Tough, but amazing. It has only been a few weeks but already now, when I think about it, I am starting to forget the pain and just remember being in awe. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      • Madoqua

        June 2, 2013 at 1:56 pm

        Humans are so resilient like that. If you haven’t written or recorded the finer details, this might be the time, before they also slip away into the memory banks 🙂
        Based on your stories, I just might be tempted to go to S America!

      • Justcallmegertie

        June 2, 2013 at 2:12 pm

        To some extent, I see my blog posts as exactly that, an opportunity to record what I experienced, before it slips away. Peru is fantastic, I would strongly recommend it to anyone. But then again, I have a bucket list the length of my arm, that keeps growing by the day, and I love experiencing new cultures and places. But I would still say, go!

      • Madoqua

        June 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm

        I am really enjoying your blog. For what it’s worth, I grew up in PE, and have been back a few times. Love the wildlife and the flora of SA!

  7. Sally

    June 2, 2013 at 4:03 am

    What a fantastic fantastic diary description of this trip. I can’t wait for the next part! Macch Picchu is on my bucket list too but now that I’ve read about your trip, I realise I am nowhere near fit enough to do it. Time to lose weight and go to the gym me thinks.

    • Justcallmegertie

      June 2, 2013 at 6:57 am

      Hi Sally! Of course you can do machu picchu without doing the Inca trail, and take the train there. But I think you lose some of the magic. And the Inca trail is an excellent fitness goal! Thanks for visiting!

  8. Kathryn McCullough

    September 27, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Okay, this is the one I somehow missed! I’m going to do this–SOON!

    • Justcallmegertie

      September 27, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      It was absolutely spectacular! It is tough, but a lifetime experience. You gotta do it!


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