From Mayo to Peru and the Inca Trail with 25kg on your back

Jarlath McHale with some of the other porters on the trip.

Jarlath McHale with some of the other porters on the trip.

Plenty of people have had mad thoughts or ideas while away on holidays, but there are not too many of them who follow them through to the end. But that is exactly what one Castlebar man did after walking the Inca Trail as a tourist in 2016, Jarlath McHale was so taken by the workload carried out by the porters who lugged everything he and his fellow tourists needed, from food to tents to toilet facilities from stop to stop, along with everything for themselves for the four day trek, that he came up with the idea of becoming the first non-Peruvian to do the trail as a porter and film his journey - from their eyes.

After coming back from his trip, Jarlath still could not shake the itch and he got in touch with the tour company Exodus that he had used for his trip and it took off from there.

Jarlath McHale told the Mayo Advertiser: "I wouldn’t mind, I wasn’t that mad to go to there in the first place, but when I got there and saw the level of organisation that went into it, it was amazing. The first night that we camped on the trail, they baked a client a cake on the camp site for their birthday the next day - like how do you do that?

"When we got home I was still thinking about the work they had to do and I just said, I’ll contact the travel agent who we had used, and I just said it to them I’d like to do it as a porter and document it. They came back and said, that sounds like a cool idea - and they would send someone with me. Things started flowing over and back and then next thing it was happening."

So earlier this summer, Jarlath found himself in London meeting the crew from Exodus and their cameraman Olly Pemberton who was going to go on the trek with him to film it. They got on a plane to Cuso and he was getting ready to hit the trail, this time weighted down by a bag weighing at least 25kg and having to keep pace with the porters who have years of experience of the trail and the altitude.

As for what he was carrying, it was never less than 25kg in weight and could be anything that was needed, he explained: “You could be carrying eveything, your own gear - which is not that much, clients' gear, cooking utensils, food, a cooker, pots and pans, tents for yourself, tents for the clients, cooking tents, eating tents, sleeping mats, bags. The way it works is for two people to do the trail, you need six porters, for three people it’s eight, and so on. So there was 20 of us and 12 of them so we had food and equipment for 32 of us being carried by the porters."

As for the trek itself he told us: "The trail is 46km or 26 miles, the first day is what they call Peruvian flats and you go from 2,000m to 3,000m, but it’s a gradual incline of eight miles, you cover it. On day two you literally go vertical, it's like going up the cone of Croagh Patrick, and that goes from 3,000 to 4,215 and then you’ve to drop back down into a valley, and the following day, you go up to about 3,800. But once you get to a certain level it's all steps, and it's not even flat, and what you’d be used to and you are at altitude and the oxygen is really thin and you’ve at the least 25kg on your back.

“Your day would start at 4.30am at the latest and you wouldn’t be getting to bed again until 10pm at night because you’d have a load of other jobs to do - not just walking. You’d to set up tents, take them down, cook, clean, gather water and then get everything from A to B. Carrying the bags was just one part of it, everybody who is a porter does it, what had to be done had to be done and you have to move at a quicker pace than the tourists."

As for the difference to doing it as a paying tourist as opposed to a porter, Jarlath said: “It was totally different from the previous year, as a tourist I didn’t struggle at all on the trail, I didn’t suffer from altitude or have heavy breathing or lack of oxygen. But it was so, so, different the second time around - trying to breathe getting over the passes and even trying to get down the steps was a killer, when we finally got to Machu Picchu it was relief I don’t have to carry this bag again."

If you want to see how Jarlath got on in his adventure there will be two showings of the film made about it next week. The first is taking place in Dublin in the Gresham Hotel on Wednesday November 8, at 6.30pm and the following evening there will be a screening with a presentation and a question and answers session with Jarlath and Olly at 8pm in the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar.

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