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Inca Trail - Day 2

Written on: Saturday November 3rd, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Dead Woman?s Pass, Inca Trail, Peru

Author: Julie

Napaykullayki (Hello in Quechua)!

We woke up early this morning to a ?Good Morning!? coming from the other side of the tent wall. It was 5:30 and Moses, one of the porters and our waiter, was waiting on the other side with a couple of cups of Coca tea and hot water basins. There?s nothing better than waking up with a hot cup of tea in bed. At 6 AM, our tent was packed up and we were in the dining tent having toast, pancakes with caramel spread, eggs, and oatmeal. Again, delicious! Today was going to be the hardest and longest day of our trek so we needed all the calories we could get. The trail would lead us from the campsite at 3000 meters to 4200 meters and over Dead Woman?s Pass. Our guide Orlando warned us to take our time and to walk at our comfortable pace. That?s no problem for me, I?m slow as a turtle!

At 6:30 PM, with clouds still in the sky we left our campsite and started the long uphill that is the bane of all Inca Trail Ttrekkers. We quickly entered a high-alpine forest with never-ending stairs. This would have been fine except they were high enough to be for giants. Some had 2 feet in height, so I made good use of my trekking poles by pushing myself up using my arms and taking some of the work off my legs and knees. Kevin was feeling much better than he had in a long time so I quickly lost him to the faster trekkers. I kept my slow, regular pace, taking few stops and meeting other trekkers over and over. Many would run by me only to be met 5 minutes later when they were stopped to catch their breath. Slow and steady wins the race. Although, I was quite surprised to be passed by 3 llamas. They kept venturing off into the woodlands for a bite to eat then rejoining the trail. One of the members of my group, Ken, and I were hiking up together and had pulled over to let them go by when they spit at us. We quickly ran up the stairs to get away from them. I guess they thought this was their trail and we were in their way. They were loaded up with bags full of water bottles to be sold to us later on at break spot. This would be the last place we could buy drinks until the campsite on the 3rd day.

It took us about 4 hours to finally make it to the top of the pass. Kevin had been there about 10 minutes by the time I had made it so he was able to catch my final sprints up the stairs. It certainly was a hard climb up, especially with those huge stairs and my short legs, but it wasn?t as difficult as I thought it would be. I spent 10 minutes at the top, admiring the trail we had just climbed, the mountains around us, and the valley we had slept in far below. We were blessed with a sighting of a native deer, slowly eating in the hills above. Once rested, we started to get cold as the wind was quite strong and we were covered in sweat. We gathered our bags and poles and headed down the other side. It felt nice on the legs to be going downhill after the never-ending stairs up. It was all stairs again but we now appreciated the height of them as we could skip down all of them with the poles. If only we could always be going down, it wouldn?t take long for us to get to Machu Picchu.

We arrived at our campsite in the mid-afternoon. We gobbled down our lunch and crawled into our tent for a quick nap. We woke up to our groupmates playing cards in the dining tent. We had just learned to play the game Shithead a few weeks earlier with Slade and Kristen but the rules were slightly different. It didn?t take us long to learn them, although Kevin was having a bit of trouble remembering what a 2 did. We all laughed whenever he asked. We had lucked to be in a really great group of people. We were all athletic, slightly competitive, and got along really well. We stayed in the tent, playing cards, then eating our supper, then back to playing cards till 9 PM. I remembered from my past experience of climbing Kilimanjaro, that it was probably where the porters would be sleeping since they didn?t have personal tents. I asked Orlando our guide, who by the way loves playing cards, if it was true. He confirmed my fears and we quickly ended our game to retire to our tents and to allow the poor porters who were outside this whole time a chance to get warm. Orlando assured us it was okay since they spent most of their time in the cook tent but I still felt really bad. Especially when on my way to the tent, my head lamp illuminated a couple of them sleeping against a rock outside. Gah!

Over the past few years, the situation of the porters has definitely improved but much still needs to be done for them. They now have dining tents to sleep in, which was not the case in the past. They used to have to find caves near the campsites. How horrible is that?! Most of them hike with old-fashioned leather sandals which to us boot-wearing foreigners is incomprehensible. Although, to be honest, I get the impression that this is what they prefer, that it is part of the traditional dress of these Andean mountain men, that has been passed down from generation to generation. Also, they have minimal clothes to shield them from the continuously changing climate. Some of them were wearing jackets that were obviously donated to them by past clients. They now have an association representing them to the various tour agencies. SAS, our tour provider, did assure us that they are paid a fair wage as per the contract they signed with the Porter Association of Machu Picchu and informed us on the proper tipping ethic to ensure that they get fair payment for what can only be described as back-breaking work. There is a weight limit to how much they can carry, but I wouldn?t be surprised to learn that it is ignored since we saw some carrying loads that were longer than their bodies, other were carrying 2 full propane bottles, another had a large cooking-stove. On the trail, they are given much respect with all hikers stepping aside the moment one nears as to give them the right-of-way. In our group, the porters ranged from the age of 18 to the oldest being 46. Their body shape (short body, short legs, massive shoulders) and their natural acclimatization made them the best people to do this necessary, but hard, work. We were informed by our assistant guide, Raoul, a past porter and a resident of these valleys, that the work provided by us tourists is very much appreciated by the local residents as it gave them a chance to earn much needed money and another alternative to subsistence farming. I?m of two minds about porters, on one hand I feel horrible that someone has to work so hard so that I can hike across mountains with a small daypack on my back, on the other hand I?m happy that my presence provides a much needed revenue to the local communities. I feel very grateful to these wonderful people for opening their valleys, their mountains, their culture, their heritage and their history to us.