The Inca Trail or Trial? (Day One)

Trip Start Jul 31, 2006
Trip End Aug 24, 2006

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Monday, August 14, 2006

9 years of waiting.  4,198 metres above sea level.  32 km hiked.  4 gruelling days.  All ending with 1 memorable moment... Machu Picchu!

Before coming down to Peru, I knew I needed to hike the infamous Inca Trail. Its perhaps one of the most reknowned hikes in all the world. After all, few trails rarely finish with such an awe-inspiring view.

Waking early in my Cusco hotel room, the "Rocky Theme Song" played in my head as I tightened my hiking boots. I grabbed my 7kg bag (which would be transported around the route via porter) and my day pack, and proceeded to meet our guide, Javier, in the lobby.

Kilometre 82 is the starting point of the Inca trail and it is about 1.5 hours outside of Cusco. Before reaching said kilometre, our mini-bus stopped in Ollantaytambo to pick up a few things. For an extra energy boost on the trail, I grabbed three bags of coca leaves (two for the porters and one for myself). I also purchased a walking stick from the "Walking Stick Ladies". These ladies were by far the most persistent vendors Ive seen in all of Peru. They were never happy in selling you just one.

This is also where we picked up our porters. They jumped in the back of a pick-up truck and we all headed out to Km 82.

The first day of hiking wasn`t too streneous at all.  The terrain was "Peruvian Flat" until we reached our camp site for the night. As described by Javier, "Peruvian Flat" interchanges between uphill and downhill, without doing one more than the other. Its nothing like "Canadian Flat" where the land is actually flat.

On Day One, we passed the archaeological sites of Salapunku and Llactapata. Salapunku was situated in the distance, across the Urubamba river and beside the railroad tracks. Apparently, when occupied by the Incas it was used as a travel lodge.

Llactapata was strategically situated on a hill far beneath us. Although it acted as a farming community, it still came with look-out towers and warriors to watch over the citizens. This was our first introduction to ancient Inca terraces.

Our first introduction to the cooked meals wed be having for the next 4 days came at lunch. Upon arriving at a clearing by a little creek, we stumbled upon a dining tent and a cooking tent already set up by the porters. A cup of much needed apricot juice was promptly brought to us when we arrived. And after about 10 minutes of catching our breath, we were ushered into the dining tent.

With a beautiful place setting and oh-so-tiny seats, we were given a quite gourmet meal. I believe there were about three courses during lunch (we never did have less than that during the Inca Trail... either three or four). I can`t remember the main course but we had avocado to start and then a bowl of asparagus soup.

After passing little houses, donkeys, and the odd cowboy taking his horse to get supplies from Ollantaytambo, we (7 hikers, 1 guide, 13 porters, and 1 cook) arrived at Wayllabamba for the night. Of course the porters were there far before us and had already set-up our tents.

It`s amazing what these individuals do. Supposedly the porters are not allowed to take more than 45 pounds on their backs, but that`s still a lot... especially when you consider how steep the terrain gets. They`re the last to leave a site and the first to the next spot. What takes the gringos 5 hours, may take them 2 hours... if that. Furthermore, when they dart by you on the path, if you look at their feet, most of them are wearing no more than cheap sandals made out of old tires. They are truly unsung heroes.

Tomorrow will be the hardest day of the trail.
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