Kees Hendrickx

Recording Artist / Producer

Cusco – The Lost Days, Machu Pichu Inca Trail

Cusco – Flight from Puerto Maldonado (listening to Funkadelic – Maggot Brain)

The reason I named this part ‘The Lost Days’ is because we got a bit lacks and hardly took any pictures of Cusco, even though we were there for over 6 days. I actually don’t know why because Cusco is one of my favourite cities in the world.

We had actually been in Cusco before for a night but in honesty it wasn’t worth talking about. A shitty hostel, some altitude sickness and another taxi driver who ripped us off, so nothing major. This time however, we were meeting some of Susan’s friends who we would do the Machu Pichu Inca Trail with. The girls were staying in an Irish party hostel aptly named, The Wild Rover. Jessica, Noreen and Trish were staying in a 4 bed dorm. The hostel had made some kind of feck up which meant 5 people would have to stay in a 4 bed dorm. The hostel had already allocated beds for us and decided that Susan would have to sleep with Trish in the same bed. I’m not sure where the hostels logic came from but sure. We arrived just as the girls were making Halloween costumes for the party being held in the hostel that night. They were putting great effort into it so Susan and I had to follow suit. We hit the streets of Cusco in order to find some costumes which wasn’t very hard since all the streets were lined with people selling Halloween crap to tourists. A bit weird. Susan got herself a Cape and Fangs for her Vampire costume and I got a pirate hat. I had some clothes with me that I could use for the rest of my costume. My costume was fairly shite though, especially compared to the girls and the rest of the people at the party that night. Jessica had made a great one out of purple balloons and green foam paper, she was a bunch of grapes. I thought she was onto a winner for the best costume. Some of the other costumes though were crazy. The hostel bar had brought in a professional face painter and she was unbelievable. She painted one of the bar staff in total camouflage, he had a bald head so it worked really well. Another guy was the joker, some people were zombies with faces hanging off, B.A. (you can’t have a fancy dress without B.A.) and a scarily great Tina Turner with an adams apple. There were around 15 pirates there and mine was still the worst out of all of them, oh well. We all ended up pretty drunk and I can’t remember who won the best costume prize.


The next day Susan and I explored Cusco a little bit, we knew we were going to be here for a while so we were in no hurry. We also wanted to start buying some things to send back home. Cusco has so many little markets with so much cool stuff. If I could have bought it all I would have. We went to a market called San Fransisco and it had loads of Alpaca jumpers, fleeces, socks, gloves, hats, you name it they make it. Its also great to haggle with them. I usually tried to halve the price of everything. Trish had told us a story of how she was haggling with an old lady who was asking 60 Soles (17 euro) for something and Trish replied 5 Soles. The old lady just looked at her in astonishment. I suppose you can go too far. Worth a try though. We didn’t buy much that day, we were scoping the place out and comparing prices. Problem is of course, once you get them down to a good price, if you come back another day you have to convince them they gave you a good price before. Its good fun though. We went to the square and had a walk around. Cusco is a very historic city being the capital of the Incas and therefore has a lot of statues, Murals and old restored buildings. Also when the Spanish came and overthrew the Incas they built churches in European style which is very apparent when you look around the square. Because the square is such a historic place, shops are not allowed to advertise their names on the buildings. This is really nice, even McDonalds has no Golden M above its door. You wouldn’t even realise it’s there. As we walked around the side streets of the square all we heard was “Massage?”, “Massage, please?” “15 Soles”, so annoying.


In south America they have this weird habit of placing the same type of shops next to each other. Cusco was really the most extreme I had seen up until then. We were walking along a street when we saw loads of matress’ stacked outside on the pavement. It was a matress shop, which in itself was weird enough I thought. Then as we kept walking we kept seeing more and more matress shops with matress’ thrown all over the place. They were everywhere, it was so weird. I suppose in a strange way it makes perfectly good sense, for a matress you need to go down to the matress shop, on matress street, in the matress district. They do the same with furniture, music and book shops.

We had dinner in the hostel that evening and there was another party on. There’s a party on every night in that hostel, its mad. The staff are totally crazy too, they all drink with the customers so they are pissed serving everyone. I don’t know how the hostel could be making money from the bar, the staff actually drink more than the customers. Although I think they might have had to pay for their drinks, if that is the case I think they are spending alot more than they earn.

The next day, our group gained another 2 people, Nora and Donagh came and also stayed in the same hostel. They were also part of the Inca Trail expedition. Although Noreen and Trish were now in two minds about whether to do the classic Inca Trail which we were all doing or to do the Inca jungle trail, which consisted of rafting, cycling, zip lining and walking. We all were a bit wary about doing the trail because we had heard some stories from other people and also the effects of the altitude were being felt by nearly all of us. Of course, we were not helping matters by not following the two main rules of avoiding altitude sickness, large meals and alcohol. Denis, Jessica’s boyfriend arrived today in Cusco too. He flew from Lima to Cusco, he also agreed that Lima was a shithole. The group was now complete and to celebrate we decided to go out for dinner to a place called Bambuu, it was some kind of oriental restaurant. The food was very nice. On the way back we were walking down a side street from the main square and these dodgy Peruvians kept asking if we wanted hash or cocaine. One guy asked Denis this question to which he replied “MASSAGE?”. Legend.


The next day we woke up late, since after coming back from the dinner we had some more drink. Susan and I started taking our altitude pills that morning in the hope that they would help some bit. Not really sure what is in those pills but we took them anyway. Susan wasn’t feeling too well, we thin it was either from a meal in Arequipa or still the lingering effects of that infamous fish in Paracas. There was a lovely pharmacist just down the road from the hostel who had great english and really helped us with everything we needed for the Inca Trail. We had altitude pills, zyrophlaxin (for when you get food poisoning), blister plasters, insect repelent and since the zyrophlaxin wasn’t working for Susan, she recommended something stronger for her. After our visit to her and to the supermarket we were almost set for the trail. Next was to check in at the trail companies office.

The trekking company building, Peru Treks, from the outside looked like a small weird office, they barely had a sign on the door. We hoped this wouldn’t be representation of how the trek would be. Once inside though, the office looked good and our orientation guide was a nice fellow. His name was Eddie, he was a small Peruvian man, he went into his spiel and explained the ins and outs of the whole trek. He had obviously learned it off by heart because once we started asking questions he was lost. When Susan asked him “Will we survive?” he kind of laughed and said nothing “haha….ehm”. We all looked at each other thinking ‘oh shit’. although when we explained what Susan said in simpler english he said we would make it no problem. As long as we “go our own pace”. As we left office we felt very comfortable for this little peruvian with more or less no english to take us safely over a huge mountain for 4 days. It would be interesting to say the least.

We had to get up early the next day to get a bus to the start of the Inca Trail. At 5 o’clock we all got up weary eyed and met at the front door of the hostel. We were picked up by our 2 guides Juan and our little friend Eddie. We drove to collect the rest of the people, including the dutch couple Susan and I met in Nasca. There were 12 of us in total, the others were an English couple and a Danish Couple. They were all around our age so it looked like a good group. The drive out to the start of the trail would take 3 or 4 hours. We would stop for breakfast along the way, also to buy walking sticks if we wanted and to use the last normal (!) toilet for a few days. On the way up through the outskirts of Cusco we passed many little shack like looking houses, many people were already up and about. Some pushing trolleys with large dead pigs on them, some already ready for the market and others still needing to be gutted, some locals were already getting a good seat near the street to sit on for the day ahead. There were so many dogs around, they seemed to come out of everywhere. We had to turn around and pick up our porters at one stage and on the way back down we turned a corner and, though I did not see, Susan screamed saying the driver in the jeep that passed us ran straight over a dog on the road. The driver didn’t even slow down or stop to see if the dog was alive. I hope it died quickly, I would hate to think it would be lying on the road suffering. It probably happens alot here.

We picked up our porters in various places and each one seemed to be carrying more bags than the last. They packed all the bags at the back of the bus and we drove on out of the city towards to start of the Inca trail. We got to our breakfast stop at around 10, it was in small town called Urubamba. It had Inca ruins all around it, it was really beautiful. We had the option to buy walking sticks here but we had been told by our little reliable friend we could rent them at the start of the Inca trail. We still were not sure if this would be the case and Nora decided to buy a pair of them just to make sure. She was the smartest of us all as we’d later find out. After breakfast and a quick stop at some other shops for coca leaves we headed on again in the bus. We only had another hour drive to the start of the trail.

Inca Trial… sorry Trail

At 82 kilometers the 4 day Inca trail begins. Once we arrived there we were given sleeping bags and roll-up matresses. We could have hired extra porters to carry our bags, matress and sleeping bag but we decided against it. We also would have had to have booked this before the trek, although on day 2 and 3 you could request a porter to do this for you. For a fee of course. We clumsily tied our matress’ and sleeping bags to our small backpacks and hoped nothing would rip and break. They were not too comfortable on your back and my sleeping bag kept sliding off to the side, but it would have to do. During all this time of getting our bags ready were charged upon by locals selling ropes and walking sticks. They kept nagging and it got so annoying as you were trying to tie your sleeping bag to your backpack with ropes being shoved in your face. We eventually got through it. We asked our guide Juan where we could rent proper walking sticks but he looked at us with a blank expression. Instead of nice proper walking sticks we had to buy cheap wooden ones with a little woolen cover at the top for a grip. The design on the woolen cover was very nice though. The sticks were only 5 Soles or something so we didn’t care as long as we had some kind of support we could use for the trek.

Once all ready to go, Juan made us line up for a group photo and then paraded us down to the passport control office at the start of the trail. There was a short line with other groups waiting to leave also. Somehow Juan got us to the front of the queue and we got our first passport stamp. There is a stamp for each day of the Inca trail so its a nice souvenir to carry along. We started the walk up a small hill, Juan assured us this was steepest hill of the day and nothing compared to what we would face in the coming days. He said it would be an easy first day as he sped up the path like an olympian athlete. Eddy would follow at the back picking up the stragglers like myself. He kept telling us to remember to “Go your own pace”. Not even 10 minutes in as we turned the corner at the mid point of the hill I was sweating like mad and already out of breath. I couldn’t believe it, Susan was the same and we were already dreading the next few days. What have we let ourselves in for I thought. Eventually the path leveled out and there were some ups and downs along the way but nothing major. We started the trail at 2600 meters above sea level and our fist encampment would be at 3100 meters. Along the way we stopped at a ruin which looked out over large terraces. Denis (Jessica’s Denis, not dutch Denis) was not feeling well and Susan luckily had her usual emergency supply with her. Juan said it was probably dehydration, at high altitude one of the most dangerous and fastest effects is dehydration. We all had a good supply of water with us but we were half afraid to use it because we did not want to run out during the day. The sun was very hot that day and we had to make sure we kept drinking.

At the ruin Juan told a little about the history of the Inca people and the trail. When the Spanish first came to Peru they took over the main cities at first and then moved on to the country side. The Inca king of the time fled to the mountains and as he went he created a path straight through the mountains to avoid being spotted by the Spanish, along the way he would tell all the Inca villagers to come with him. This is why all the ruins were abandoned but not destroyed. The paths become very narrow in the mountains but for the Incas and their Llamas this was perfect and they could mobilise and transport things quickly. As they travelled along the trail they destroyed most of it leaving it almost unrecognisable as a trail. The Spanish who followed up the mountains never found the trail and so were not able to follow. Juan told us that the trail to Machu Pichu is a ceremonial and religious trail, it was not used to carry goods usually. There were other trails, easier trails that were used for this purpose. The person who discovered the Inca trail was a US man called Hiram Bingham, he uncovered the trail and it led him to discover Machu Pichu. Also Juan told us that Eddie ran the Inca trail in 9 hours as part of a marathon. I don’t know why, but I believed him at first, I really am very gullable sometimes.

We walked on again for a little while and stopped at a place called Tarachayoc, its a little area with a few houses. When we got there we were amazed. The porters had everything set up, a big tent with table and little fold out chairs to sit on. The cook had a 3 course dinner ready made and they got there so much faster than we did. These guys are ridiculously fast and strong. Some of the packs on their backs weighed up to 25 kg’s! One was even carrying a large gas bottle like it was nothing, where do these guys come from? Juan told us later most of the porters are descendants of the Incas that used to relay messages and supplies between places in the Incan empire. The Inca name for these men is Chasqui which has three meanings: exchange, give and take, and is a very suitable name for these men since they exchanged, received and gave messages from village to village. Now they still work the routes of their ancestors, just in a different way, carrying all the stuff tourists like us are to lazy to carry. To be honest I would never be able to carry as much as they can without collapsing in a heap halfway through the first day. Our dinner was really good, we had guacamole for starters, then soup, our mains was fish, rice and vegetables. It was truly amazing how this chef was able to prepare such great food on a little gas cooker. Hats off to him. The porters would not cease to amaze us throughout the trek.

After lunch (which was like dinner really), we walked on towards our camping spot for the night. Along the way Juan spotted a spectacled bear way up in the mountains across from us. The mountains were really grey and it had started to rain a little so it was really hard to spot the bear, which turned out to be two. Someone had binoculars and we eventually found them after some great directions, “do you see that rock over there?… the one that’s grey?… near that plant that’s green?”. “That’s where they are… What do you mean you can’t find them?”. It went like that for a good while. Meanwhile Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jessica’s Denis) was taking some amazing photos with his super good camera and massive lenses. He seemed to have an endless supply of these cool lenses. He got some pictures that were so close and detailed. I got some photos of the bear too. You can compare them below.


We arrived at the camp at 4 and our tents were already set up by the extraordinary league of porters. We walked in to a boisterous applause from our porters. I felt like a proper nob, these guys had just ran the trail we struggled to walk, set up a whole camp, made food and now were applauding us. Susan and I picked a tent close to the ditch, handy for a quick pee at night. I walked around a bit and the camp was placed in a field in a little village. Juan had told us the people here get paid to look after the trail and to give camping sites to groups walking the trail. I could hear a bit of noise coming from behind the house we were staying next to and I took a walk around. I walked though the small yard and came to an edge with a massive drop, at the bottom of that drop there was a small football pitch surrounded by mesh fencing and had two proper goals in it. Really nice. Although on one side if the ball went over or in some parts under the fence it was more or less would fall off the mountain. There was a pretty big drop there. The locals were just finishing up a game of soccer. At this altitude I don’t know how they could do it, I suppose its different for them since they grew up here in the mountains. They must be super athletes when they come down to sea level. No wonder all the Olympians train in high altitudes. Most of us were pretty tired after the first day, one of the group though, the Danish guy Brian, was a super fit Iron Man and he looked like he was ready to run alongside the porters. He had actually carried his girlfriends backpack and sleeping bag that day.

We had dinner at 6 so we all decided to have a quick nap until then. It had been a long day and we were all wrecked. Juan called us in for tea at 5.30 and there was a big bowl of cookies there for us to spoil our appetite. It was already dark at this time so we all had our flashlights at the ready. The dinner was another 3 course meal including dessert, we had soup for starters. I can’t remember what our main course was but Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jess’ Denis) was sure that there was Maracuya (passion fruit) in it. After dinner we would have sat and chatted for a bit but the porters kept hovering over us. We weren’t sure why at first but then Juan told us that the dinner tent is their communal sleeping tent. Now we understood and we quickly went back to our tents so that the porters could get ready for bed and another day of running with huge bags on their backs.

The tent was actually pretty comfortable, we could here some random noises outside, dogs barking and donkeys neighing but I actually slept pretty well. I have always felt once you close your tent it feels like you could be anywhere. The canvas of the tent always looks and smells the same. We could have been camping in Kerry like we did last summer or even right outside Susan’s house and it would have felt this way. I love that feeling about tents.

We were woken the next morning by Juan and Eddie banging on the  front of the tent, they had tea with them. One of the options was coca leaf tea so I went for that. It gives you a bit of energy and helps with the altitude. We would need as much as we could that day. Day two of the Trail is supposed to be the hardest, it is the climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass, the name alone would put fear into even the fittest people around, so we felt we were pretty screwed. We got our backpacks together and headed to the dinner tent where the cook had already our breakfast ready. We had some weird porridge drink, bread, pancakes and fruit. Once we finished Juan called us all together, including the porters. We all stood facing the porters and Introduced ourselves and where we were from in Spanish. There were around 16 porters. The oldest porter was 57 years old, he didn’t look the fittest but later we met him on the trail and he was carrying 25kg on his back and more or less running up the mountain. The chef was only 26 years old and he could have easily been working in a high class restaurant, he was brilliant. The porters all had similar features, round weathered faces, a slight hunch in their stance and great big smiles, some toothless. On their feet some had sports shoes others only beat up sandals. Later Juan told us the company gives them proper shoes but the porters prefer to use their own footwear. I don’t know if this was true or not as I am a little skeptical after some of the stories I have read about how trail companies treat their porters. I’d like to believe our company was a reputable one, it certainly seemed like they were and the porters definitely did not look unhappy. Most of them wore colourful peruvian style hats, one man in his fifties was especially friendly giving everyone big smiles with his multicoloured hat on, he was also missing most of his teeth. A great character.

Since today was the big climb we all decided to hire an extra porter to carry our sleeping bags and mats. I am so glad we did because the second day was seriously tough. We started with a short 10 minute climb to our second passport control and stamp station. Here Juan gave us all Coca leaves for altitude and energy. Most people in the Andes and in the highlands in Peru and Bolivia chew these leaves and it has become part of their culture. It has been proven that it is a natural herb and not a drug like many people say, it only becomes a drug when it is processed into Cocaine. However, the UN wants to control and ultimately outlaw the use of the coca plant by the local indigenous people of the Andes. I really do not understand their reasoning behind this as chewing coca leaves is an 8000 year old tradition. There is obviously a huge lack of respect in the UN for ancient traditions of rural and indigenous people. Anyway, rant over. Juan gave us a black chewy mineral to wrap the coca leaves around and then chew it with. This mineral extracts the coca juices and makes it more potent and effective, for the best result Juan told us we had to chew on it and then keep it between your teeth and cheek for 15 minutes. Most of us spit it out after 5 minutes but I decided to try it and I think it did actually help me with the hiking. My mouth went a little numb after a while but it definitely gave me the energy to walk on.


It was very humid that morning and it didn’t take long before we were all sweating mad. We walked through a wooded area, these beautiful moss covered trees living more or less in the clouds. The path was a constant climb, sometimes leveling out for a few meters and then more steps, more steps and more steps. All these were hand made by the Inca people, which is really noticeable because they are carved really uneven, as that priest in Father Ted would say “Cowboys Ted, they’re a bunch of cowboys!”. Juan told us that there is a team of restorers working on the steps all the time since some parts of the trail were washed away and broken from the mountain. Tough job. On our way up all these steps we made sure to take a lot of breaks. We seemed to be moving pretty fast still because we passed out two other trekking groups. Eventually we made it to our camp for second breakfast, it was still early in the morning and as we had started climbing the clouds slowly came and it started raining. The tent was dry luckily, although a few times it seemed like the wind was going to blow it off the mountain. We had our second breakfast and nobody wanted to leave, it was now storming like mad outside. Even as we ran to the toilets we got soaked, it was the first and only time I was grateful to go into a toilet on the Inca trail.

After the break we once again moved up the mountain towards Dead Woman’s Pass. The top would be only 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours away but it was going to be tough. Especially in the rain and as we got higher it got much colder. By now my walking stick with its lovely woolen design was totally mangled and it kept slipping down the stick. Very uncomfortable. About an hour into the climb I started feeling sick and light headed. It was the altitude finally catching me, we were so close to the top, we could see it but I could only take a few steps at a time. I was chewing coca leaves, sniffing herbs and eating coca toffee for energy but it did not make a difference. The others went ahead and Susan stayed with me, she could have easily made it up with the others but stayed with me in case I would collapse and die (I’m not dramatic in the slightest). Funny thing was, Eddy, our guide was nowhere to be seen, and he had the can of oxygen we would need if someone was to collapse. I wasn’t the only one feeling the effects though. Our Danish Iron Man Brian was really struggling too. He was a few meters behind me and could only take a few steps at a time, he had turned a ghostly grey colour. He did not look well at all. After about an hour of stop starts we made it to the top, it felt so good. We waited for the rest of our group, yes, amazingly I was not the last. We took some pictures and then realised we would have to walk the whole way down to the camp. It was far away! Eddy made sure to tell us his great words of wisdom “Go at your own pace”. Surprisingly once I made it to the top I more or less stopped feeling light headed and sick, on the way down it totally dissapeared.


As we made our ascent down the steps Susan sped off with the English couple, Susan is a bit like a mountain goat when going down mountains. She seems to hop seamlessly from rock to rock, in this case step to step. She was probably sick of me being so slow so she was halfway down the mountain before I turned the first corner. I was walking with Donough and Nora as we passed a porter lying on a step, it looked as if he had taken a tumble. I couldn’t see his face as he had it covered over with a hat, at first I thought he was on the phone or listening to the radio or something but it seemed like a strange place to do that. We tried to talk to him but since we do not speak Spanish, let alone Quechuan, we were pretty useless. By this time Denis and Jessica had reached us and now we had a little crowd gathered around the porter. We tried to stop some porters on their way down but they were more concerned about getting to their camp on time than helping this man. We eventually stopped one and he told us that the man had been drinking and fell, apparently this wasn’t the first time either. It sounded a bit too crazy for us really, we could barely walk these steps sober and this guy was drunk running down them, no wonder he fell. After a while we decided to move on and leave the porter there, the other porters would not help us and said to leave him. We reluctantly left him. I could just picture him still lying there that night wondering why nobody helped him.

The walk down was pretty tough, I always find climbing easier than going down. Luckily we had the walking sticks because it would have been alot tougher without them. After what seemed like a lifetime we made it to the camp, camp Pacamayu. It was right next to a river and was layered like the Incan terraces with each travel company taking up their own terrace. The bathrooms (a term which was used more and more lightly) was all the way down at the bottom and to reach it you would need to cross a slippery bridge. Susan and the English couple Sam and Mary had already picked the tents and were sitting waiting for us. After the usual embarrassment of undeserved applause as you walked into the camp we got some hot tea.

Eventually everyone made it back except for Brian and his girlfriend Maria, they arrived as we were having lunch. Maria wasn’t too good on the steps on the way down. Tomorrow would be even worse for her because it is the downhill section with about ten million steps. The lunch, as I remember, was really good, we had wantons, soup and Lomo Saltado and Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jessica’s Denis) was sure there was Maracuya in it. We all went for a doze after lunch and got up later for tea and then dinner. It seems weird now but at the time we were so tired after the huge climb and the descent we really needed our sleep. All the food that the cook prepared for us really kept our energy up, it was very well thought out. Not just any food at all was prepared for us but a specialized food menu created for hikers. It had now started to drizzle again and it was also dark, I had to go to the toilet so I took my flashlight and walked down the path and over the dodgy slippery bridge to the little stone toilet. You could smell it before you could see it. It was pretty busy and as I stood outside the toilet I got talking to an older guy who said his group were still waiting for some people to get back. Since it was pitch dark now it seemed fairly dangerous to be climbing down dodgy steps in the rain. Hopefully they made it back safely. Once I entered the toilet I knew I made a mistake, it was the scariest toilet I have ever been in. I looked around with my flashlight which only added to the eeriness of the whole thing. There was also a little window next to the toilet, so if someone fancied they could have a quick gawk at you in there. It was quite a big room for a toilet, the walls had damp streaks on them which when lit up with the flashlight just looked like blood to me. I let my imagination run away with me quite a lot, I never know where I end up with it. This time I was in an Andean horror movie. The toilet bowl was, as usual for the Inca trail, planted in the ground. This really fascinates me, how do people use these things? It seems like you have to be an amazing acrobat to be able to hunch over one of these things. I must confess I held off going number 2 for as long as I could. Lovely.

This time dinner was Chicken, Potatoes (did you know that Peru has 3800 different types of potatoes? I thought the Irish were kings of potatoes but were nothing compared to these guys), vegetables and rice. Very filling and Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jessica’s Denis) was sure there was Maracuya in it. After dinner we were all so full we were only fit for bed which is exactly where we all went. Before we did though Juan had to warn us about some of the dangers of the camp, 5 years ago an Israeli couple were staying in this campsite and in the middle of the night the woman needed to go to the toilet. She walked down over the bridge to the toilet but didn’t return for a long time. She was found murdered in the river the next day and no one knew what happened. A local porter was eventually blamed for the murder but years later it turned out the woman’s husband had killed her. Juan told us on rainy nights like this you can sometimes still hear here scream over the sound of the waterfall. He’s some messer that fella. Although Eddy looked a little scared.

In the morning we got our usual wake up call from Eddy and Juan with some tea, I had the coca tea once again. I got up out of the tent and we had this amazing view of clouds and mountains. The fog was covering some mountains and other parts were clear, it was truly spectacular. It was only just getting light so my camera didn’t capture the true essence of the scene but it was incredible. We had eggs, sausage and toast for breakfast, enough to give us the energy to climb up for another 700 or so meters before the big descent. We were delighted to be able to climb some more after the great climbing day previous and were only too eager to get started. The steps we went up that morning were very steep and slippery, the fog didn’t lift for the whole morning and so we were more or less soaked after a few meters. Luckily we had our ponchos and as we climbed up the steps one by one we looked like proper Lemmings. About halfway up the pass we came to large Inca ruin called Runkurakay, this was similar to a ring fort we would have in Ireland. It was built in a strategic location over looking the valley to spot intruders and also a safe house for traveling chesqui messengers where they could eat and rest. It has a great view usually, not the day we were there though, all we saw was fog.


We continued up the mountain pass and as we looked back we could see the fog clearing a little and we were able to get some pictures of the ruin. As we came to the top I was already pretty wrecked and sweating like mad, despite it being misty it was not very cold at all especially as we were walking the whole time. We had a short walk down to were we would have lunch. There we had some soup, some rice and I can’t remember what else but Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jessica’s Denis) was sure there was Maracuya in it.

We headed on again after lunch and it was time to start the big descent. Juan had already warned us to use the walking sticks carefully on the slippery stones. One slip off these steps and you would be falling for a good while, unless you fell on top of someone, which would not be nice for that person. Eddy had his usual advice “Go your own pace”. The first few hundred steps were fine but you could really start feeling it in your calves. Some people felt it in their knees, luckily I didn’t have too much trouble with my knees. We passed another few ruins, some we stopped at and some we didn’t. One in particular was very interesting, we had just come down through a small cliff walk covered over with trees straight towards a large wall of a building we would have to circle around, I was leading the group and as I turned the corner there was a large Llama standing in the middle of the path looking straight at me. It was so surreal for me but he looked for a moment and then just turned away and went about his business again. The usual surprised, smelly, tired looking tourist passing him for the thousandth time. Of course we took loads of pictures of this oh so rare discovery of a Llama on the Inca trail. As we turned the next corner another 3 Llamas and their cousins popped out. Still very cool though.


All this time it was still very misty and we were still going downhill. We passed through some amazing Inca tunnels that were all man made, it must have taken them years to chip away these walkways and dig through these mountains. Truly incredible will and devotion to complete them with their basic tools. I don’t think people today would be able to pull this off to the scale that these people did. We are now too nurtured and spoiled with tools that can do the jobs for us. Before I went traveling I was talking to a guy who never even held a spade in his life! How could our society ever create something like this. We kept going down more and more steps, it was getting quite frustrating. Just as you thought we might be nearing a level path, we would take another sharp turn and look down another 100 or so steep steps. We kept each other half sane by chatting and cracking jokes, mostly about Eddy, the man who goes at his own pace and ran the full Inca trail in 9 hours 4 years ago in the Porters Inca Trail Marathon. This is an actual marathon that is run with the porters competing against each other. The fastest time set by a porter to date is just under 4 hours… 4 hours…. 4. We are doing the same course over 4 days!


At one stage we came to a very steep and dangerous part that Juan told us is called the “Gringo Killer”. Self explanatory really. On the most dangerous corner of this “Gringo Killer” Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jessica’s Denis) and Roos nearly got pushed over by a rushing porter. The porter was trying to pass Denis and Roos but there was no room, on this corner you only have space for one person to go down at a time. It was such a stupid and ridiculous thing to attempt by this porter and he nearly felt his foolhardy exploit as Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jessica’s Denis) was very close to punching his lights out. At the bottom of the steps the porter got a good earful, half in dutch and half Spanish/English. Juan looked unsurprised after we told him and said the porters are on a tight schedule to get to the next camp to set up. A pretty ridiculous statement since they are setting up camp for the people they could have injured, as always, its safety first in South America. We joked afterwards that it is called the Gringo Killer because they push us Gringos down them. Hopefully that’s not true although after what happened it cannot be ruled out.


At the bottom of the Gringo Killer there were ruins of an Inca village and Juan told a little about the history. Unfortunately I was not really listening and can’t remember much about it. We did have an incredible view (another one) of a ruin of a really large Inca terrace farm where they experimented with planting different vegetables and crops at different levels to see which would grow best. The terraces at the top would be the coldest and the terraces at the bottom get the most heat. The Incas were very smart and people still use these methods today. This ruin was like a large farm to provide food for Machu Pichu. Unfortunately the ruin was miles away and what seemed like thousands of meters below us, we would have to walk past this ruin to get to our camp. It was great news.


We carried on down more steps. By this time Susan and Nora were not feeling too good, a combination of the altitude and the endless unforgiving steps were taking its toll. As we arrived to another ruin we had to climb a very steep and alarmingly narrow sequence of steps with a large wall on one side and a few 100 meter drop on the other. So dangerous. Susan stayed at the bottom of the steps for a bit because she was light headed and did not want to risk climbing the steps and fainting halfway up. In the ruin Juan explained that this was where the high priests of the Incas lived and also where they would be buried, although before being buried they would be placed in a hole in the wall until the Feast of the Dead and then they would have their death celebrated along with their burial. They would always be buried with riches like gold and silver, the reason the Incas had so much gold was because it represented the sun which they worshiped. It was a very interesting place. However it started raining a little more when we were up there so we decided to move on. We still had a lot of ground to cover.



As the afternoon went on and we kept going down more steps, we all started to get fed up. I have never seen so many steps in my life. They just went on and on. It really was amazing. We walked along high mountain sides where the trail would become very narrow and other parts where it was very steep. Unfortunately the clouds stayed for the day and we missed some, what I only can imagine to be, spectacular views. As we all started to get tired our legs started to hurt too, you can imagine walking down steps for 6 hours non stop. It was pretty brutal. My calves really felt it and I noticed when I did little hops and sped up a little the pain would ease and the going down got easier. For the last hour Susan and I decided to start using this technique and first we hopped our way down the steps which worked really well and then as the trail got a little flatter we just ran. We even passed 2 porters as we ran, they probably thought we were totally mental. Thinking about it, it was, one slip and one of us could have ended up off the cliff next to us, luckily the trail was very wide at this stage. We got to a cross roads in the trail and there were 2 other guides sitting on a stone telling people which way to go. There was the easier but longer way or the steeper but shorter way. At this stage we just wanted to get to the camp and we opted to run down the steep part which consisted of endless zig zag paths. As we were running down these zig zag paths holding our walking sticks in our hands, I could only think about the Last Of The Mohicans film. It felt great, it felt like we were in that film, which also helped with the tiredness. The pretending to be chased by Mohicans like in the film got me through the last half hour or more of going downhill.

Once we got to the camp we were so overjoyed we didn’t even mind the fact that our tents were right above the toilets. However, after 2 hours our minds had changed. The toilets were as horrible as usual and after Juan’s many promises of a hot shower, he told us the hot water had run out. Jessica took it the hardest, her motivation for completing that day was the promise of a hot shower. I think she was fit to kill him.

The view from our camp was amazing, it looked out over this massive valley with many mountains and even an Inca ruin. So beautiful. We had a snack and sat around reminiscing and sharing our tales of how we now really hated steps. Later that evening we had our last dinner. I’m not sure what we had for our last meal but I remember Denis (Dutch Denis, not Jessica’s Denis) was sure there was Maracuya in it. At the end of the meal the cook presented us with a cake! We were shocked, a cake in the middle of the Andes, how the hell can you cook a cake here? We worked out that there was nowhere they could have bought the cake either so he made it that day. What a man. The cake tasted delicious too. After the dinner Juan explained we would need to give our tips to the porters tonight as they would get up tomorrow morning and once packed away our tents they would run (yes literally run) down to the train near Machu Pichu somewhere and some would go back home, other would go back to the start of the trail to start again with a new group doing the trail. They would get no break whatsoever.


All the porters were lined up across from us in the tent after dinner. All with uncomfortable smiles and with shy looks laughing and joking with each other. We handed Juan two envelopes, one for all the porters and one for the cook. The cook always gets a larger tip, this is common practise Juan told us. He deserved it too, the food was great and nobody got sick. Brian the Danish guy made a short speech. He had a great line in his speech “You are the true Iron Men of this world”. It might have gone over the porters heads but it was very fitting and very true. On the way out of the tent we shook all the porters hands, I couldn’t help but notice their hands felt like really tough leather, more so the older guys but I suppose years of carrying massive bags on your back in every type of weather takes it toll on your hands too. After saying our thank you’s and goodbyes we headed to bed. Wrecked after what I felt was the toughest day of the trail.

The next morning we got up super early (3.30am) to beat all the other tourists to the main gate of the final part of the trail to Machu Pichu. The reason for the gate is so that they can monitor how many people visit here and you also get your final passport stamp here. We waited for around 40 minutes until the gate opened and then we went through. Knowing it was the last day of the trail and it would only be a half day walk meant we were all in good spirits. However the weather was once again against us and it was really cloudy again so we missed some more amazing views. Our first destination would be the Sun Gate, this is where the most famous pictures of Machu Pichu are made. Not today though. we walked down to Machu Pichu and it slowly started clearing revealing more and more of the ancient city as we approached. We stopped at a popular photo stop where we took some group photos.


The mist around the city actually made the view more spectacular and mysterious. It felt like we were in a magical world of Inca ruins. As we entered the main part of the city we had to exit and enter again(!), ridiculous but you stop asking questions in South America after a while and just go with it. We entered again along side the fresh faced and nice smelling people that got the easy train journey that morning and we received our last and biggest stamp for our passports. It’s really cool. Susan hadn’t been feeling the best and once we got to Machu Pichu she started feeling even worse. As Juan gave us a tour of the city the sun came out and it started to get warm. We all put on our “Survived the Inca Trail” t-shirts for some photos and explored the city. It really is a huge place.


We stayed in the city for around 2 hours and then got the bus back to the nearest town called Agua Calientes (hot water), its called this because of the hot springs in the town. The whole group met up in a restaurant that Juan had told us about and as we came in Juan and Eddie were already there. Everyone looked wrecked and most of us smelled pretty bad. We couldn’t wait to have a shower, a hot shower that is. We had some food there and then Denis (Jessica’s Denis, not dutch Denis) made a great speech and handed over the envelope with the tips for Juan and Eddie. We had to pull Eddie away from Facebook on the computer, he seemed to be chatting up some girls again. We also noticed he has a different name on Facebook. That Eddie… he’s a man of mystery. We all received a certificate to say we completed the Inca Trail successfully and then Juan left to go back to Cusco to his family. Eddie would wait around with us until the train at 6.45 in the evening.


Agua Calientes is a fairly strange place. The railroad runs right through the middle of the town and all the streets are just lined with restaurants. There are loads of massage places, which is a good idea because all the people that go to Machu Pichu need to come through here. We decided to go to the hot springs and relax and warm our bodies a bit. The hot spring pools were up a small hill and as you walk up they look pretty nice but looks can be deceiving. Once you enter the reception area you’re greeted with a large Rastafarian man and posters of psychedelically coloured indians and unicorns. We went down to the pool and it was really nice to get into the hot water, all our muscles relaxed for a bit, although we didn’t stay too long because it did not look the cleanest. We walked back to the main square where we had dinner and then leisurely strolled back to the restaurant to meet Eddie who had our tickets. We met some of the others from the group who were already heading to the train, they were told us Eddie was having a panic attack because we had to be at the train station at 6.15. Maybe he should have told us that before. He ran up to meet us and told us to grab our bags quickly and follow him to the station. He went as fast as his little legs could carry him, the station is placed in the weirdest part ever. We had to go through a large market taking lefts and rights all over the place. There would be no way I could have found it, Susan probably would have though. Eventually we got there right on time and lined up on the platform and had to wait some more. The platform was full of tired heads all heading back to Cusco after doing the Inca Trail.

The train journey was around 2 hours or so and once we got to the station Eddie told us to follow him to the bus. He got out of the train and he was gone. We had no idea where he went except for the English couple I think, they had somehow found him again. The station was a mad house. It was so busy. Loads of tourists and loads of locals trying to sell you bus tickets, food, souvenirs and of course trying to rob you. To leave the station we had to walk through these two large metal gates which kept most of the locals out, as we walked out it looked like a wave of people coming to greet us. It was pretty unnerving really. We just kept walking straight out the road through the people and eventually found Eddie waving frantically at us. He took us to our bus and after vanishing again to find the bus driver, who was probably in some bar, we were off.

I can’t remember how long the bus journey back was but the bus driver was keeping himself awake by listening to some Kurdish music. It kept us nicely awake too. Once we got back to Cusco we said goodbye to the rest of the group and went back to our hostel the Wild Rover. We had a celebratory drink and went to bed to get a long deserved proper sleep. My dreams that night were filled with endless rows of steps and would keep doing so for another few nights.