Whenever Troy and I talk to people about our adventure, the story we tell the most is about how amazing the porters were. As descendants of the ancient Incan culture, these Andean Indians, who spoke mostly Quechua and some Spanish, were our life support along the Incan Trail. They all had the standard blue uniforms, some wore old sneakers, but mostly wore sandals. Their feet looked hardened from the daily trekking, their skin was browned from genetics and the sun, but their teeth were pearly white from the chewing of the coca leaves (they contain LOTS of calcium and vitamins).
I just did a quick Google search to find that for the past twenty years the average unemployment rate in Peru has been 8%, which is actually pretty good considering the location of the country. With forty-five percent of the population are Andean Indians of many tribes, I think that the reason unemployment is lower is because of the tourism. As you can see in this picture, it takes A LOT of porters to get tourists safely from the start of the Incan Trail to the end at Machu Picchu.
They have to be fit, too! I learned that coca leaves help with altitude sickness, but it also wards of hunger and increases energy and stamina. These porters were no joke. They could bound up the rocky terrain of the trail like they weren’t carrying 50 pounds on their backs. Heck, Troy and I couldn’t bound of the rocky terrain of the trail without carrying ANY weight on our back. We were never lower than 9,000 feet above sea level!
The first day when we left the bus area and started our trek, we walked for about 2 hours before the Porters caught up with us. As they passed us we were told to applaud and hoot and holler as they were going to have our lunch ready by the time we got to our break location.
And they certainly did! Two hours after we saw them and arrived at a lovely glen, they were there applauding us and handing us hot towels to wipe our hands and faces with. They had set up their kitchen area, two tents for the two hiking teams to dine in, and a wash area for us to clean up ourselves after we finished an amazing sautéed fish with mixed vegetables meal.
We set out for our afternoon hike that would continue for another 4-5 hours, depending on how fast we were. As before, another hour or so passed and here the Porters came! We all got to the sides of the trail and clapped and cheered and they smiled with their pearly whites with their mega-packs on their back and kept on trucking!
Troy’s and my goal were to just not be the last people at camp each night. And even with that achieved, we still managed to not arrive there until after dark. And, of course, two of the Porters had been sent out to collect us and make sure we got there. One stayed with us and the other kept heading back down the trail to find the two others girls who were behind us. When we made it to the camp, we didn’t get applause because everyone had started eating already, but what we did get was access to a little tent city with tents for each of the couples to sleep in, tents for the Porters to sleep in, tents for dining, and the tent for the kitchen.
We ate, I attempted to use the bathroom in their designated buildings with just stalls and holes in the ground, and we passed out in our tents. I’ll share my midnight pee fiasco story some other time because this story is about the Porters.
So they stayed up cleaning everything and getting it ready for the next morning. When the morning arrived, they hustled around to everyone’s tents with hot water for washing and cups of steaming coca tea. And when we left our sleeping tents, breakfast was waiting for us.
And the same things happened the second day where they cleaned everything up after we left, passed us along the way, fed us an amazing lunch, passed us again, saved our asses from falling off the side of the world, and brought our dinner to us because we were too exhausted to move once we got there (see my first story about my second day on the trail for that experience). And they did it again on the third day. AND, every day we were told to continue to empty our backpacks and fill the duffle bags they were carrying for us. While our food supply was depleting, we just kept adding the weight back on them so we could get a lighter load. These men were MACHINES.
After dinner on the third day, the different teams combined the tip money we were told to have on hand for the Porters and the Guides. I was chosen to be the spokesperson for our group to give the Porters our collective tip. I practiced what I was to say and when it was my turn, I slowly stated in Spanish, “Thank you for helping us. We are grateful for all you did for us.” And they all smiled and applauded and bowed their heads to us in gratitude.
They hiked faster than us. They outdoor cooked better than us. They probably slept better than us. And they will continue to do these things day in and day out for all of the tourists that decide to test their fate in the very cold, very high up trek that is the Incan Trail.