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7.18.2005

 

El Camino Inka


The climb.


The sublime.

Hiking the Inka Trail is one of those experiences that's difficult to describe. On the one hand, sure, it's a hike on a high-altitude trail. It pretty much like four days of Stairmaster, eight if you take the long way. The trail rarely goes horizontally. As the Inkas seemed to view things, the fastest way between two points was a straight line. If that meant going straight up one mountainside and down another, so be it. And from what I've read by some Andean scholars, climbing and descending hundreds, if not thousands, of feet at a time is simply part of the Andean work ethic. It's not perceived as labor, so you'd never think of avoiding it. Incidentally, the Quechua word for stairs is the onomatopoeic "patapata."

But it's not the prospect of climbing non-stop for 10 hours a day that compels thousands of tourists to do the trail each year. It's something that Douglas Bernon captures perfectly in these lines from his article Reveries on A Walk to Machu Picchu:

"Depending on our altitude, we’ve been slipping up and down through a series of microclimates: cloud forest, grassy plains, high sierra, rain forest. Think orchids, jungles, and glaciers, all in the same picture. Once, much of Peru was laced with narrow Inca highways, wide enough only for a walker and his burdens. Many think the trail was a pilgrimage planned as a narrative experience, a complete work of art in which truths are revealed progressively in nature’s changing dramas, culminating with the mountaintop setting and elegantly crafted stone temples of Machu Picchu. Seems right to me."

Photos by Don Ball.

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