Recently Intrepid Express was in search of second best travel tales and this winning story from Collin Littlewood confirms why taking the trail less travelled can be the highlight of any classic journey…
“My travel experience comes from what some might consider to be the ‘second best’ journey to Machu Picchu. Rather than join the 500 tourists a day on the classic Inca Trail, I chose to be a part of an adventure, which among the other amazing experiences of the Lima to La Paz trip, included trekking an Andean Inca Community Trail in the vicinity of Machu Picchu.
This is a beautiful part of the globe and I am so honoured to have had the privilege. Simply awesome and mind-blowing.
The 5-day trek clambers through a pristine remote alpine environment, requiring a serious commitment to complete as the trek travels over numerous 3500 to 5200 metre passes. Now, that is over twice the height of Mt Ruapehu in my home country of New Zealand!
The air is low on oxygen at this height but it is amazing how bodies acclimatise, albeit with a few headaches and moans in the initial stages. But 3 litres of water daily, chewing on coca leaves and plenty of rests helped me through it.
Our main gear (10kg of personal stuff) was carried by llama, mule or horse and they also carried the camping and cooking gear. The horsemen, cooks and guides were truly amazing. All local tribesmen and their animals, so the payments go directly to the local communities. Pretty much left to their own devices by the government, these are very poor communities living in what we would call primitive stone and mud brick houses; peasant farmers. But these people are eager to help out and the kids are so happy, despite having next to nothing. Dragoman (Intrepid’s local partner company) also provides financial support to the 3 schools we encounter along the trek. They do now have an education and a positive future, though very humble by our standards.
The contracted local guides had an amazing manner and confidence. I felt in very safe hands – thank you Fernando.
The trails are steep in many places, both up and down, with 7-9 hour trekking days being the norm. The vistas and pristine mountain environment are breathtaking. Along the way meeting many shepherd boys and girls tending their flocks of llama, alpaca and sheep and school kiddies walking home. Apparently sometimes they walk alone for many hours in such remote places, whereas in New Zealand we drive our children to the school gate!
The days warm up to 20 degrees Celsius, but the nights are cold and drop down to -5, which in a tent can be a bit daunting, especially when your water bottle freezes. Whilst I thought I brought too many warm clothes I used every piece! My Macpac down jacket was awesome and I even slept in it once!
The crew on the trip set up camp, including tent kitchen, and cooked us basic nutritious 3-course lunches and dinners using local foods. A real treat at the end of a hard day’s slog. We had one lunch at a school with the kids – just lovely.
Arriving at Machu Picchu was almost anticlimactic to what was experienced on the ‘second best’ trail. Such beauty; wow. I know I am a better person for the experience!”
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* photo by Brian Jones – Intrepid Photography Competition