A team of adventure seekers took on the challenge to travel 3,200 km from the start to the end of the Inca Qhapaq Ñan trail. This is part of their story.
The journey from start to finish of the trail lasts five months, starting in Tomebamba (Ecuador) and ending in Cusco. Below is a written account of the experience through the mountains of Ancash.
Visualize yourself walking on the roads of the Inca
Walking is a daily activity we take for granted. When we are used to paved city roads, we forget the transformative potential of going from one place to another, moving the legs, perceiving the wind and feeling free.
Imagine the journey to the White Mountain Range of the Andes. The sky changes from gray to a luminous blue and the dark sidewalks of a town transition to cobblestone weaving a path among rugged mountains. The higher you venture, the fewer cars you see, and the more llamas you will find.
This is what it’s like to start walking along the Qhapaq Ñan. Known as the Andean trail system, it’s an extensive network of roads through the Andes that was consolidated by the Incas more than 500 years ago. It was the most important road in the Americas, linking six countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Most are familiar with just one part of the Qhapaq Ñan: the Inca Trail. Impressively, over hundreds of years, a powerful mystique continues to illuminate the extension of the trail. When spending time on the trail, you feel more connected with nature and to the traditional communities that exist alongside the trail.
Our journey along the Qhapaq Ñan
Our journey starts in the Cajay community in Ancash to meet the other members of the expedition. Our day 1 was day 73 for them, and the positive attitude of the adventurers energized us for the first steps towards the 75 km we had ahead of us.
The river flowed like music while we walked down the road to Pomachaca, a small town where the Inca trail begins. As we would see along the route, stretches of the Qhapaq Ñan have disappeared, either due to the construction of modern roads or natural causes.
Hiking through fatigue and being rewarded with awe-inspiring visions
The hard test of trekking along the Qhapaq Ñan implies fighting heat, altitude, and fatigue. If we passed this first test, we would be prepared for the next four days. And each step was worth it. While we climbed, we could see beautiful valleys in the distance. We also found ancient Inca settlements in the middle of the mountain. It was remarkable to see how the steps seemed to be part of the landscape.
Visiting a traditional village
We arrived in Castillo, a town with a water fountain decorated with a chasqui (a messenger of the Tahuantinsuyo), a symbol of belonging to the Inca trail. Building back our energy with the fresh water from the main fountain felt like a gift of the Apus (mountain spirits).
Residents of this traditional village seemed to be in awe watching a large group llamas walking alongside a group of gringos. Though this beautiful animal is a symbol of tradition in the Andes, they are also great pack animals and companions for gringos who can’t carry all of their gear.
Enjoying the milky way every night
After a light lunch, we continued to ascend to Soledad de Tambo, where heroic porters already trekked ahead and set up our camp. After visiting Pinco’s ceremonial ushnu (sacred space) and enjoying a hearty meal, there is nothing better than lying on the pasture to relax under the Milky Way. The breathtaking starry sky of the Andes accompanied us every night along the trail of the Qhapaq Ñan.
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Credit: Ultimate Journeys Peru
Cover photo: Kyle Magnuson/Flickr:
This article has been updated from its original publication on Dec 31, 2018.
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