Inca Trail Day 1: Why did I not hire a porter?!

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
Trip End May 04, 2007

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Monday, November 6, 2006

I couldn't sleep last night...I was so anxious about the trek and about oversleeping that I kept waking up every hour. So I was ready to go by 5:30 am and my two guides, Jubinal and Efrena came by to pick me up shortly thereafter. I hopped onto the bus and was surprised to see that nearly all of my group was already on board. I figured my early pickup time meant that I would be the first. I was not so surprised, however, to see that my group of 15 consisted of 6 couples (so far, I have encountered mainly couples on tours--it is quite frustrating!) and only two other solo travelers, a middle-aged man from Ohio named Bill and a 27 year-old Australian guy named Justin, who is incredibly fun. Justin ended up being my tent mate, as Bill had requested a private tent. The other people in my group are all fairly young (mid twenties to late thirties) and are from England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, New Mexico, and Canada.

I chatted with Bill and Justin for a bit and admired the incredible scenery during our one and a half hour bus ride to Ollyantaytambo. On the way, we picked up our 19 porters. Most of them are from Pisac, which coming from Cusco is in the opposite direction relative to Ollyantaytambo, so they met us in Urubamba. Justin (yes another one), a very sweet young guy who I later found out is one of the few porters who speaks Spanish (most speak Quechua), sat next to me and we chatted for our remaining half hour in the bus. I am always psyched to get to practice my Spanish! Our porters all seem very nice--they are mostly young, but they range in age from 20 to 58! I seriously am impressed by how fast and efficient they are. We were all huffing and puffing carrying our packs while they RAN past us up the trail in SANDALS carrying three times as much stuff. It was truly incredible.

As soon as we stepped off the bus, we were immediately attacked by people selling water, snacks, walking sticks, water bottle holders, you name it. I caved and bought a woven water bottle holder and two bamboo walking sticks with pink woven tops. I have been told that they are very handy for all those treacherous downhill parts of the trek. Gary was also waiting for me in the main plaza. He went to Ollyantaytambo yesterday from Pisac and knew I would be arriving around 7 am, so he came out to say hi. We would have had breakfast together, but my group was already planning on eating together at Inka Travel restaurant. It was nice to see Gary again though, and I am sure I will run into him at Machu Picchu or back in Cusco. Victor Victoria is definitely my first stop on Friday morning after I get back!

After breakfast, we had about 45 minutes on the bus until we reached kilometer 82 (2600 meters), the starting point of the Inca Trail trek. I was able to pass off my mattress to the porters, but had to carry everything else myself of course. I hardly brought anything at all, but my pack is still a bit heavy. I guess anything feels heavy when you're doing a hard trek at high altitudes.

We reached passport control around 10 am, and everything went very smoothly. After we all took the classic picture in front of the Inca Trail sign, our main guide, Jubinal, talked a little bit about the 12 km that we were about to do. Jubinal is really cool--he is 28, from Urubamba, and I spent much of the day talking to him in Spanish (at least when I wasn't breathless and could actually speak). He helped me with my Spanish, and I helped him with his English, although he spoke extremely well for having only studied for six months. Our walk today was "easy," in relative terms that is! We only ascended 400 meters (tomorrow I think we are climbing 1100 meters). There were definitely some hard uphill parts--I was trucking along in front with Jubinal for the first long flat part but then fell behind a bit during the hills. Here's a picture of one of the porters about to pass me.

Hiking with a pack definitely was a bit challenging for me, as I have only backpacked once in my life. Yale has a freshman orientation program called FOOT, which involves spending three days backpacking on the Appalacian Trail with a small group of your fellow classmates. I used my mom's old, external frame pack from the 60s that was way too big for my torso...And this time I am using her boots from the 60s that are way too big for my feet! Ha. Whatever, I survived then and I am sure I will be fine now. My hips are killing me and I have the beginnings of some blisters (I have completely mummified my feet in moleskin and am hoping that will do the trick), but otherwise am doing great. I actually don't feel like I exerted that much energy today...just in little spurts. We had plenty of breaks along the way. Apparently the uphills today are nothing compared to what we are going to face tomorrow on the way to Dead Woman's Pass though...can't wait!

As for the trail itself, it was beautiful--tons of mountains, with a little mist at times, many interesting plants (I wasn't expecting to see cacti!), and some small villages. Weather-wise, it was sunny and quite warm in the morning, and it only rained at 1:30 pm for 1 1/2 hours, timed perfectly with lunch (which we spent inside our meal tent). Thereafter the skies cleared somewhat and we had some awesome views from the trail and from our campsite at Wallaybamba (3100 meters). We saw a few ruins, the main site being Patallacta, where our guide explained a bit about Inca history in front of the most incredible backdrop. Our group moved at a pretty good pace, and although it would be nice to have a smaller group, it is fun in a way to have more people. It certainly means, if nothing else, that there is a greater chance that someone will be worse off than me! I was happy to discover that over half of my group did not hire a porter like me. Granted, most of them (particularly the couples from Switzerland and New Mexico) are practically mountain goats and are very experienced backpackers, but still, it was slightly comforting.

Lunch was quite impressive--asparagus soup with garlic bread, fried trout, avocado with tons of fresh veggies, another veggie dish, rice, potatoes, and tea (mate de coca for the altitude). Dinner was pretty good too--soup with pasta, chicken, potatoes au gratin, rice, and veggies. Quite delicious! All they do is feed us! Three massive meals and a snack (and sometimes tea time in the afternoon) per day. Supplement that with the massive quantities of chocolate and other junk food that I brought as extra sustenance and I am certainly not suffering for food. They really hike up the prices along the trail--but that's no problem because, according to this picture, I can always use my credit card if I am running low on cash. Riiiiight.

We arrived at the campsite around 4:30 pm, and the porters (since they had run ahead of us) had already set up our tents and were preparing dinner (which was at 7 pm). I was a bit sweaty and it had started to cool off a bit, so I was incredibly happy to change into my long underwear, dry socks and sneakers (which I brought in case my boots caused major problems). I definitely am going to be stinky and gross after four days! Here's a cute photo of Justin and me in our tent--aww! BFF's already. :)

After unpacking, a bunch of us explored the campsite area, where a couple other groups were staying. We discovered some "ruins" (or an old house, who knows). It was beautiful, especially with the horse wandering around ). We also watched our porters engage in a fierce game of soccer, because CLEARLY they had not gotten enough exercise running ahead of us on the trail today. We hung out, talked, chatted to some local children, and I met a few people from the other trekking groups, including a guy named Billy (who we dubbed "Malboro man" because of his hat and jeans) who went to Columbia and has been traveling around the world for several years doing something involving baseball. I also ran into Mick and Ali, the young Irish couple from my plane to Lima. Turns out they went to school and are good friends with the Irish couple in my group. Small world!

After dinner, Jubinal announced that it was possible to hire an unofficial porter for 60 soles (about 20 bucks) if we so desired...It was a lot more expensive than hiring one through the company ($20 for one day versus $25 for four days), but I caved and decided to go for it. I have heard so many things about how difficult the second day is, and I really want to be able to appreciate the hike rather than simply suffer through it. I feel like a bit of a wimp, as Bill was the only other person who hired an extra porter, but whatever. I have a feeling I will be much happier in the end! Apparently my porter will be going straight to the campsite and will dump my stuff far before I arrive, so I am hoping it is safe. I will only have my backpack's fanny pack all day, which I suppose is nice but at the same time I wish I could bring slightly more stuff. Oh well. Can't get everything you want...
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