An Adventure of a Lifetime: Survived from Inca Trail

If there is any mountain I want to hike, it’s definitely Mount Rinjani. Most people witnessed that Mount Rinjani is the most beautiful mountain in Indonesia. Located in Lombok – West Nusa Tenggara, this mountain has everything you have ever dreamed for. This wish is in my bucket list. Never crossed in my mind to hike any summit.

In early of 2017, I changed my mind. A surprising offer came from my friend. She asked me to join Inca Trail in Peru with her. I was like “What?! are you crazy? no way I can do that trail!”. Well, I have to admit that she had a very good marketing skill. She convinced me for weeks that I can finish that trail. Everybody can do it. All we have to do is to have positive mind. Believing in ourselves that we can do it. We can conquer the Inca trail. Aren’t you proud of yourself if you can do it?. She did brainwash me very well. One month later, I said yes. I will join Inca Trail, a four-day hike in what people said as one of the most challenging trails in the world.

Inca Trail located in Andes mountain range where hikers will pass cloud forest, alpine tundra, tunnels, Inca ruins with the ultimate goal at Sun Gate, the best place to see first rays of sunrise from the majestic Machu Picchu. The trail length around 45 km of up and down trek with starting point at ~2680 m above sea level and highest point at ~4200 m above sea level. You will camp at 3 different sites along the trail. After the trail, I have one thought about Inca’s people, they surely love challenges. Half of the trails rated far from easy, you will experience very steep stairs (almost 90 degree I guess) to hike down or never-ending trek to climb up (my guide called it gringos killer or everybody killer). This picture below is a perfect illustration about the trail.

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Before the trail:

The most popular way to see Machu Picchu is by using train from Ollantaytambo then continue with bus from Aguas Calientes. I did that in 2015 (you may read in this post). However, if you want to experience a perfect combination of enjoying beautiful scenery and learning Inca’s history, you have to take Inca Trail. Actually, this trail is possible for people in all ages as long as you are in fit condition. However, hiking in four days with the highest point at 4200 meters above sea level, surely gives doubt in every hikers. For sure, it’s not easy to hike 45 km in high altitude with possibility having an altitude mountain sickness (AMS). But trust me, if I can do this, I believe you can do as well. Here’s some tips in preparing the trail:

  • Do research to choose tour operator: You are not allowed to do Inca trail by yourself. You have to use guided tour. Since 2001, Peruvian government decided to limit numbers of hikers allowed per day in the trail. Only 500 people (hikers, porters, guides) are allowed to hike along the trail. Hence, an advance booking is mandatory to secure your permit. I used SAS travel at this time. Not so expensive and has good reviews. Tips: ensure your guide will not send you back to the starting point, unless there is an emergency situation (scroll down for more details). And if you have any health issue, you need to ensure that your guide understand the condition.
  • When to go: The high season is June to August, so if you plan to go at those months, book the tour at least 6 months before. The low season is on November to March but you will experience more rains. The trail is closed in February for maintenance. However, you should always expect unexpected condition as weather may change in a second.
  • What to prepare: Your mind then your physical condition. Sir Edmund Hillary once said “it’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. It’s on your mind. If you do believe that you can achieve the final point, you will reach it. Nevertheless, you are strongly recommended to do regular exercise at least 6 months before the trip. I’m not a runner nor cross fitter. My knees got injured after hiking in Nepal in 2016. But it does not stop me. To get fit, I did walk at least 5 km per day, swimming to prepare my lungs, rowing, cycling, and yoga which good to train your balancing. Practice makes perfect. If possible, take short hiking as an exercise for high altitude and your heart rate. I went to Ranu Kumbolo – Mount Semeru few months before the trail. Another tips before this trail, it’s recommended to check your Vitamin D or calcium level. It’s related to your bone strength. FYI, 9 out of 10 people in this world don’t know that they have Vitamin D deficiency. The level can be increased by taking vitamin in daily basis. Currently, I consume 5000 unit per day. You will feel the different, just try it.

Another thing to be proud of, I did Inca trail with insulin in my backpack. Yes, I have diabetes type 1, a chronic disease that can double the risk of this journey. Before decided to join this trip, I did consult with my internist and he approved. He emphasized to prepare everything I need during the trail to ensure I will not get hypoglycemia.  As doing the trail will require lots of energy, I will need more sugar. Don’t worry for hyperglycemia, just pay attention to hypoglycemia, he said. There is a misunderstanding about diabetes where most people think diabetic can’t eat sweets. That’s wrong, we are recommended to always bring candy/chocolate bars because we have a high risk to get hypoglycemia, especially when we do lots of activities. By the end of 2016, I was diagnosed with positive autoimmune. A condition where your immune system attacks your body. The doctors said it probably related with Diabetes type 1 that I have. Because of that, I’m not supposed to be in over exhausted condition. So everything is getting complex, I need to escalate my fitness level but I can’t get too tired. And I was getting more frustrated when I have to do a surgery to lift up a tumor in late October, 2.5 months before the trail. I can’t do any exercise for 3 weeks. When the surgeon said I was totally recovered, I started all over again. Step by step. If there a will, there is a way. I will do my best and God will take care the rest. If God wants me to finish Inca Trail, I will finish it.  I just keep saying those words. Try to motivate myself. During the trail, as my energy was drained, I always consume sugar every 15 mins and always check blood sugar before taking insulin to ensure I take the right unit. To prevent hypoglycemia during night, I always consume chocolate bars before sleeping. As a diabetic, my immunity is so low that I have to take more vaccinations than others. Before the trip, I took flu shot (this is very important to us), yellow fever, meningitis, typhoid, and hepatitis A/B (as recommend by CDC).

  • What to bring: During Inca trail, you have option to carry your own personal stuff or hire a porter. Usually porter fee is around 80 – 100 USD for four days hike. Your tour operator will carry tent and food. Please ensure whether they will bring your sleeping mat and sleeping bag or not. For that fee, your porter can only bring 8 kg of your stuff. So if you don’t want to bring sleeping mat and/or sleeping bag, just ensure your personal stuff is not more than 5 kg or you should pay an additional fee. I myself hired a porter beside carrying my own backpack. I don’t want to take more risks. Remember, it’s 45 km with high altitude. The porter carried sleeping mat, sleeping bag, changing clothes, toiletries, sandal, extra snacks (mostly chocolate and candy), and medicines. While I put several items in my backpack such as rain coat, waterproof jacket, hat, insulin, snacks, camera, phone, head lamp, passport and money. Always put phone, passport, and money in waterproof case. The rain will always surprise you. Before this trip, I always think to buy a gore-tex outfit. Well, based on my experience, no matter how gore-tex your outfit, it will not save you from heavy rain, especially if it’s fall for hours. So, save your money.
  • How to manage altitude sickness: When the first time I visited Peru in 2015, I was suffered with altitude sickness. It was hard for me to do normal activity. I always feel tired, even for walking from my bed to bathroom. That’s why I do swimming to prepare my lungs and do lots of cardio exercise. It is mandatory to stay at Cusco at least 2 days before Inca trail for acclimatization. When you are in Cusco, just do walk around the city, don’t do high intense activity. Before the trail, don’t eat meat, eat little, and get enough rest then you will be OK. If you still feel an altitude sickness symptoms, consume coca leaf, you can chew it or mix with tea.
  • The last thing, how to get here: Peru is free visa for Indonesian passport holder, so no need to worry about it. I used Qatar airways when I visited Peru in 2015. The route was Kuala Lumpur – Doha – Sao Paolo – Lima (35 hours flight time). For this time, I use cheaper and shorter version: Kuala Lumpur – Guangzhou – New York – Lima (30 hours flight time). I decided to use my US visa to take 2 days in New York to adjust my biological time.

Let the Inca Trail begins:

A night before, everyone in the group were gathered in SAS travel office to have final briefing before the trail. There will be 15 people from all over the world who tried to conquer this trail. Five people from Indonesia, a young woman from Sweden, a man from Peru, and 8 people coming from USA. The guide explained itinerary of the trails, what to bring, what to prepare. For those who hire a porter, they gave a duffel bag to put all belonging. If you don’t have proper sleeping bag, there is an option to rent. That night was the moment I figured out that the sleeping bag is included into 8 kg of personal belonging (that’s why I suggest you to ensure this to your selected operator). Later the day, some of us decided to hire another porter to bring our sleeping bags once we found out that the sleeping bag was so big. Well, it will be very cold and you definitely don’t want to get hypothermia.

Day 1 – 30 December 2017 (Distance: 12 km, elevation gain ~350m)

We left Cusco by bus at 5.30 AM to destination Piscachuco or Km 82 as a starting point of Inca Trail. The bus made a stop after one hour for breakfast. Two hours later, we arrived at Km 82. This is it. Moment of truth. After passed the duffel bag to the porter, we went to check point where they will check your passport and permit. Once cleared, we passed the bridge over Urubamba river to start Inca Trail. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The guide said the first day is training day. Day 2 will be the toughest one. We started the trail at 10 AM and walked for 3 hours to the lunch site point. That was an amazing 3 hours journey. The beautiful Mount Veronica, native cactus and bushes, as well as Inca town of Llactapata or Terrace Town, adorned this journey. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In every dinner and lunch, SAS travel always serve a combination of Peruvian and western food. And it’s a full course. You will get appetizer, main course, and desert. As I have so many food allergies, I was classified as vegetarian. And to be honest, as I’m a picky eater, I did not really enjoy the food. If you happen to have condition like me, it’s better for you to bring your own food and notify the tour operator about this. After lunch, we continue our journey to the camp site. The first one hour was really a trek that can increasing your heart rate. It’s almost 45 degree hike up before you see a beautiful valley and Inca ruins. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then we continued to hike for 3 hours before reaching the camp site. After lunch, the group was divided. Those who fast lead in the front and the slow pace left behind. Where was I? I was in the slow pace group, together with my friend Christine. There was a moment when I thought we were lost, I think it was inside the forest. At the beginning, I tried to maintain the distance with other people in front of me. Christine was behind me. I always make sure she knows where I am. Few minutes later, I lost them. I could not see them anymore. I tried to walk faster but Christine called me to not leave her. No guide behind her. No sweeper. My best friends said to me: True hiker will never leave his/her friend and never go alone when you hike. Before the trail, I made a promise that we always be together and I will keep my promise. While waiting for her, I prayed, God please help us. A moment later, a Peruvian lady showed up with her horse. With my little Spanish I asked her which path should I take. Thank God, we found the way. My friend and Christine arrived at camp site around 7 PM. So if this is just “training day”, how will I survive on Day 2? We decided to talk to the guide whether we can have dedicated guide for Day 2 – 4.

Earlier of my post, I suggested to do research to choose the tour operator. I did read lots of stories about this trail. I was so happy when reading the succesful story and felt sorry for those who did not. Most failure stories related to physical condition where they feel unhealthy to continue the journey. One important thing that you have to know is no emergency evacuation point along the trail in Day 2 and 3. If the guide thinks you are not strong enough to continue the trail, he/she will suggest you to come back. Because if something happen to you, the rescue team can only pick you up at Sun Gate. This discussion usually happens at the end of Day 1. Because as they always said, Day 1 is training day, to see your fitness level. If you decide to come back, they will send you back to Km 82 on day 2 with one porter/guide and then you can continue to Machu Picchu by train. Just be honest. Listen to your heart. And think logically. I was so fortunate to have SAS travel as my operator. The guides said they never send people back to Km 82. Just take your time, Machu Picchu will not go anywhere. You just have to think positive that you can make it to the end. Right after arriving at camp site, the guides approached me. They suggested Christine to leave earlier tomorrow so she will not leave behind. Day 2 is the toughest one. An assistance guide named Davis will be with her. They will leave at 5 AM. Christine was suggested to hire another porter to carry her personal backpack. They also told me that I will be with the rest of the group. I decided to go with Christine. I just can’t leave her alone. No way. I have made my promise.

Day 2 – 31 December 2017 (Distance: 12 km, elevation gain ~1200 m)

We left the camp site at 5 AM after having early snack time. I ate banana and chocolate bar to give energy. Davis said that a porter will carry our breakfast and we will meet him somewhere during the trail. After hiked for 3 hours, we still haven’t met him yet. I’m so starving. I need carbs. Davis said our pace was too fast this morning (let’s see how our pace in the afternoon ;P ). We met the porter at 9.30 AM (yeah too late for breakfast). We had our brunch in the middle of trail. Next to the valley after Ayapata. The bread really gave me energy to hike Inca steps. Thousands of steps through forest. Thousands. Never ending hike up to Llulluchayoc, the lunch site. It was beautiful sunny day at that time but I did not enjoy it all. I did remember that I almost gave up. I keep saying, what the hell I’m doing here..Why do I sign up for this trip. We met the rest of the group around 10 AM. Agnes, a young woman from Sweden was leading the group. She was like Speedy Gonzales. So fast! I tried to stop every 10 steps for taking breath and to eat chocolate every 15 minutes.

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I arrived at lunch site around 12 PM. My energy was so drained. I just finished 600 m elevation gain. We started to hike at 1 PM. Our destination is the legendary Dead woman’s pass. Situated at ~4,200 m above sea level, this peak is the ultimate goal in day 2. From the lunch site, the elevation gain will be around 600 m. Everybody said this is the hardest part from Inca Trail. You will hike in thin air condition. There are tips I read from a blog about how to overcome this situation. “Be a turtle”. Hike slowly so your lungs will not work fast and adapted smoothly. My friend Aluwisia, who just came back from hiking to Everest base camp, told me a story about how two people on her group need to be evacuated due to AMS. Those people are the fastest ones. While one person who always left behind was reached the base camp in a healthy condition. Just enjoy the view and breath as normal as you could.

The view along the trail was amazing until rain started to fall around 3 PM. As my pace quite faster than Christine, there were moments where I hike the trail alone. But I always make sure I still can see Christine and Davis. The last one hour before reaching the peak, I was at my lowest point. I was crying. Feel extremely exhausted and moreover, being alone in the middle of Andes mountain range really put me in a sensitive mood. I kept saying to my self: C’mon Amelia, you are stronger than you think, you can do it, you will be there. Around 4.30 PM, I was there, at Dead woman’s pass. At the highest point ever in my life ~ 4,200 m above sea level. I hiked 1.2 km today to reach this level. So proud of myself. 39760630444_b433a330f7_o

I saw Christine far behind me. I screamed to cheer her up. I did not care whether she can hear me or not. I waited there for one hour. It was very cold and rain started to fall again. I did not have any option but waiting for Christine. I did everything to keep my body warm. I don’t want to die there because of hypothermia. I did dancing, walking around the peak, stretching. One hour later, Christine reached the peak. We’re celebrating by hugging and crying. We never thought we will reach this point. Most of people in the group were underestimated us. They said that we should go back to Km 82 and take the train. And today, I answered all doubt by standing proudly at Dead woman’s pass. Nothing is impossible.

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Only 15 mins after Christine arrived, we climbed down the peak because the day was getting dark and the rain started to fall again. The real torture just began. Ever since I hiked to Nepal in 2016, my knees got injured. And Inca trail was so typical with Nepal where most trails have stone steps. So, my knees were so suffered when climbing down. And it much more difficult when the sun was set. It was completely dark. I have to walk slower because my sight only depend on head lamp. After 1.5 hours, we saw porter walked towards us. They picked us up. With more people (and more lights of course), I feel much safer. We arrived at camp site around 9 PM. The hardest day in Inca Trail, checked. I completed 1200 m hike up in 15 hours. What a remarkable way to celebrate new year’s eve!

Day 3 – 1 January 2018 (Distance: 16 km, elevation gain 500 m, descent 700 m)

Happy New Year! Who would have thought that I will spend the first day in 2018 in Andes mountain range to do Inca Trail? As yesterday, we started to hike around 5 AM. On the first day, the guide said Day 3 will mostly climb down. Well, he lied. We have to hike for 2 hours with elevation gain 350 m to reach ruins Runkurakay and another 1.5 hours  (elevation gain 150 m) to reach the peak of Runkurakay.

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After that, most of the trails were climb down. You will pass the tunnel, ruins, and still…thousands of steps. But the view was amazing! Million dollar view! Breath-taking view!

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After lunch, the path quite flat. Hint: There is no such flat path during Inca Trail. Flat means either gently hike up or hike down. Never really flat. Have you ever cried during the rain? I did once, during Inca trail day 3. Just few steps after leaving lunch site, the rain started to fall and never stop until we reached the camp site at 9 PM. So remember what I said, your gore-tex will not work in such situation. Trust me. Heavy rain and thousands of stone steps to climb down were perfect combination to bring a very emotional moment. From lunch point to Intipata, we have to climb down with elevation different 950 m. And another 2000 stone steps to reach our camp site at Winayhuayna. Day 3 of 16 km completed with tears. Never been this exhausted.

 Day 4 – 2 January 2018 (Distance: 8 km, elevation gain 150 m, descent 300 m)

This is it! Final day of Inca Trail. We should only hike for 8 km today to Inti Punku (Sun Gate) then one hour hike down to Machu Picchu. We left the camp at 5 AM, the path mostly thru the forest. Few minutes before Sun Gate, there are very steep stairs to climb up. It called “Gringos killer”. It’s almost 90 degree stairs. I was alone at that time. Rest of the group already far away in front of us. Christine and Davis walked behind me. I stopped in front of those stairs. Try to figure it out how to climb. What if I don’t have good balancing? What if I get slip? and thousand of what if question. I said to myself “OK Amelia, you can’t give up, you already this far, you can do it, Bismillah”. I climb the stairs one by one, I put my trekking pole at the upper stairs from my step. One by one. And try not to look back. 15 minutes later, I made to the top. I did it.

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I was so excited when I saw the Inti Punku sign. The sign that confirmed you already finished the Inca Trail. I was crying. Tears of happiness. I made it. I did it. I finished it. I survived from Inca Trail.

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Around 30 mins later, Christine arrived. We were crying and hugging. Still can’t believe that we can reach this point. Davis were so proud of us.

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From Inti Punku, we have to hike down to Machu Picchu for one hour. At 10 AM, I was standing in front of the majestic Machu Picchu.

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Survived from Inca Trail is definitely an adventure of a lifetime. So grateful to have SAS travel by our side, who believe on us and never have an intention to send us back to Km 82. I personally believe that a successful is not made by overnight but through a process. Determination and hard work are the keys. I also believe that in every step I make, there is my mother’s pray with me. I will not standing in front of this wonder without her bless. Last tips but not least, keep faith in that you are not alone. Keep praying for everything. Do your best and God will take care the rest.

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*Terima kasih ya Allah atas segala nikmat dan karunia yang Engkau berikan. Terima kasih karena telah mengizinkan aku melihat dunia. Terima kasih untuk setiap keberkahan dan kebahagiaan*

*For my mom: Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for always being there for me. Even we are not side by side, you will always be in my heart. I love you and I always do*

*Oscar’s moment: To Christine, the best partner ever, thank you for never leave me. For Astia who convinced me to join this crazy trip. Aluwisia who dragged me to walk faster during exercise and shared mountaineering tips. Wanto for your endless support. And the girls squad (you know who you are), I did it guys! Thank you!*

See my flickr for more pictures, simply click the album Survived From Inca Trail

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