Inca Jungle Trek (Day 2): hiking the heights of the Inca Trail

I love early mornings, I’m just not very good at them. Breakfast was at 06:30am, back in the cafe from last night’s supper, a five minute wade back through mud piles and slop. It had rained all night and we were all dreading a full day trekking in constant downpour. It was a miserable prospect, our clothes and shoes still soggy from yesterday. Plastic bags over our fresh socks and we were ready to go. The rain stopped.

Crosses in the older section of Santa Maria

The first hour took us along a track by the flood destroyed buildings of the old part of Santa Maria and the clothed memorial crosses for the dead, and onwards into the jungle along a little pathway framed by coffee plants, mango and avocado trees, and coca plantations. The rain held off.

The sound of insects and birds filled the air, and I couldn’t fully understand why some people plugged themselves into their MP3 players and shut out this part of the experience.

Coca plantation

By 09:30am we started to climb, reaching the entry point for the part of the Inca Trail that we were going to trek. After twenty minutes of hiking up steps cut out into the mud, we took a breather, rehydrated and hung out with a crazy, greedy monkey before continuing our ascent.

Entry to the Inca Trail

The longer break was at Casa del Mono (Monkey House), a further half hour of climbing and shortness of breath and burning calf muscles. At this point Rodrigo, our guide, showed us a load of local produce including cocoa beans, organic chocolate and achiote (which is used for body painting and food colouring). We got painted up. Well some of us did, wannabe Inca warriors.

Wannabe Inca warriors

And then we started on the Inca Trail for real, up and down steps and pathways perched on the side of the mountains, winding through woodland patches, by bright, red flowers and over fat stick bridges.

The Inca Trail

The views across the green, green mountains were breathtaking whilst the drops down from the path made you hold your breath and tread carefully.

How the Incas managed to run this path, I don’t know, but the magic of this place gave me some energy and I had a spring in my step. I tried to stay at the front of the group, my views undisturbed by human presence and my mind working through a million and one thoughts. It was a calming place to question and battle and deal with some of my demons, nature healing and helping me to make some sense of the world.

Self indulgence aside, this section of the trek was a favourite of many of the eleven in my group and even the steep drops down to the valley below didn’t detract from the enjoyment of this path (on many occasions people have frozen, stopped dead and refused to continue out of fear, so, ‘if you have this problem‘, Rodrigo had said yesterday, ‘then I need know now because it is a problem to stop’).

Walking the stretch down by the river

After lunch, we left the Inca Trail behind and wandered along the river bank for a further two hours, a fairly flat and occasionally awkward walk over big pebbles and makeshift pathways that had at times disappeared under a splattering of falling stones. Just before the final steep climb up and down the hillside, we did a river crossing in a man powered cable cart to avoid the rushing, frothy river below. Sandflies feasted on my legs as I awaited my turn, little bloody dots with swollen red surrounds adding further decoration to the prominent bruising from my bike incident.

River crossing near Santa Teresa

I didn’t join the rest of the group in the hot springs at Santa Teresa. Open wounds in hot, sulphuric water in which people had been lounging all day didn’t seem like the smartest move to me. Maybe it would have been just the thing for a speedy recovery?

The hot springs at Santa Teresa

Food followed not too long afterwards. We had been walking for nine hours, a total of 22km over some difficult terrain, and we were a hungry, thirsty group. Briefing for the next day completed, we wandered over to the recommended ‘disco’ which turned out to be a non-starter, so after a few shared beers we all headed to bed. Tired.