How does one begin to write about the experience of the Inca Trail, a journey that had been on my bucket list for more than 10 years?
When a good friend, K, asked me to organize a trip for her and several friends to do the Inca Trail in April 2014, she insisted I book a spot for myself. I hesitated. It was November 2013 and I had made the decision to intentionally step away from my day job for a few months to travel and to work on this side of my life. The choice was undoubtedly a good one – it led to a month in Greece, my first group photography exhibit and my regular blog posts – but as with all contract and freelance work, there was no guarantee that I’d find a client for the new year. Could I afford the trip? Savings for the day-to-day was covered, but a trip to Peru? What if no new gigs came up? What if…?
F*ck it, I thought. The Inca Trail had been a dream for far too long. I was not going to miss this opportunity to walk the trail.
The tour was booked with G Adventures, one of the partners I work with through my travel consulting gig. In fact, K and I had met on a G Adventures trip through Tibet 6 years earlier and as anyone who has been a part of these small group tours can attest to, one of the biggest rewards is the incredible friendships that result with people you’d otherwise never have met.
Just wanted to start off with a quick TIP about flights.
I organized the air travel for six of our group of seven (the G Adventures group was the max size of 16). All seven of us, though, flew LAN Airlines for the international portions to and from Peru as well as the domestic portions. While the flights themselves were fine, we all had a terrible time trying to complete anything other than check-in via the website. For me, even check-in was confusing with mixed messages between the LAN airline site and its codeshare partner site. Additionally, the kiosks that were available at the Cusco airport were useless for anyone who wasn’t a member of their frequent flyer program. Unfortunately, there are no signs to indicate this and you don’t realize it until you’re about 5 steps into the process… in Spanish.
So if you’re flying LAN, my recommendations are to: 1) try and have your travel agent book your preferred seats while buying the fare; 2) failing that, call the reservations team to change your seats; 3) or sign-up for LANPASS.
Also, a specific tip for the Cusco airport. If you like to be (more or less) on schedule or if the idea of potentially missing your flight causes you to feel faint or sends your pulse racing uncontrollably, I HIGHLY recommend you ignore the advice you might receive from your hotel’s front desk that you need only arrive 60 minutes before your flight from Cusco to Lima.
It’s not that this necessarily isn’t enough time; it’s just that when you’re still standing in the check-in line 30 minutes before departure, at many other airports this is a clear signal that you should just give up and start asking about details for the next flight. Despite the fact that all the employees to whom we asked the question ‘Are we going to make our flight?’ all answered in the affirmative, most of us found this incredulous. Cusco’s airport is small though so once you’re checked in, security and the walk to the gate is a very quick process, particularly for early morning flights. The employees there are far more laid back than us North Americans are used to but that doesn’t mean they don’t know the routines and timings of the airport
Where to Begin…?
How about llamas and alpacas? I’m not very good at telling the difference… the ears are apparently a telltale sign, but I’m terrible with these kinds of details.
Fittingly, the llamas and alpacas bookended my time in Peru.
My first pic is of an alpaca (I think) that we were feeding. Some of the alpacas were fully in there with us, pushing to the front of the fence and eager to take the stems we were holding out even when their mouths were full; others… not so much. I have a suspicion we weren’t the first to foster these delicious green munchies so those that hung back were probably contentedly satiated.
Feeding alpacas in the Ccaccaccollo community… look at those eyes!
Surprise llama sighting as we exited the Machu Picchu site
Day 1: A Little Tip About Cusco
The tour that we selected started with Day 1 being the day of arrivals to Cusco. We’d read, though, that spending two days in Cusco is a better option as it allows you to acclimatize better to the altitude. Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t allow for it so we only had the one day before the tour began to settle in.
In regards to the altitude, I don’t think any of us were too much worse for the wear by having only the one day in Cusco. The major downside was that we didn’t have the chance to really explore and to get to know the town and based on our first day’s impressions, we weren’t super excited about it.
Thankfully, K had asked that I book us to stay for an extra night in Cusco after the tour ended. Our new hotel was to the northwest of the main square, Plaza de Armas, a section of the town that seemed a little bit nicer than where we’d been previously plus, as a huge bonus, it put us squarely on the Easter Friday parade route!
I’m so thankful we spent the extra night: Cusco is a wonderful town for wandering with plenty of original and old architecture for buffs like me. The narrow roads and lane ways lead to all sorts of interesting buildings, cute shops and openings to little squares.
Oh, and if you like to eat, you’ve got to try this restaurant: http://www.cicciolinacuzco.com. Amazing food, friendly and super helpful owner/chef and really good prices (compared to North American dining). The squid ink pasta (which, if you sit at the bar, you can see being made) is delicious.
TIP: Cicciolina is a small restaurant, so reservations are a MUST. We didn’t know this but got lucky and were given seats at the bar – for me, this was the best seat in the house: we had ring-side seats to the kitchen and bar! I couldn’t stop staring… until the food came. Then, I got busy.
Day 2: Supported Communities & Co-Ops
In 2003, G Adventures started a not-for-profit organization called Planterra to raise funds and support the communities where they operate. For more info on Planterra, please visit: http://www.planeterra.org.
To kick off our second day, we stopped off at a Planterra-supported women’s weaving co-op in the Ccaccaccollo community. We observed goods being weaved using traditional methods, but also saw how the supply and use of looms allowed these women to greatly speed up their work. Using natural stones, herbs and other elements, the women of the community showed us how they cleaned and dyed the fleece.
Dying elements for the fleece
The mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley Community Restaurant
That’s it for today’s post, but I’ll be submitting Part II on Thursday. Topic: Days 3 to 6, the Inca Trail.