Inka Trail - The First Day

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Nov 04, 2008

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Wet and humid tent in the jungle!

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Yes..we made it!

We are now part of the small elite of "Inka Trail Veterans" purple heart, silver blisters, gold limbs. It was tough at moments, we lost some good friends on the way, the altitude enemy was everywhere, with raindrop snipers at all times, but oh no! we did not moan, step by step we made it...

Actually it was much easier than we expected, or shall we say, we prepared well for it so more than a challenge it was an enjoyment from minute one. 

Before we go into details of our interesting (as always!) stories, here is a short interactive map that Veronika put together with her IT skills. The only thing she slightly got wrong is the drawing of Marcos which is now much, much slimmer after 4 days jungle mountain trekking...


I bet you enjoyed that realistic presentation! And now to some comments on the trip.

As with all these trips (we already commented on this in previous tours), if there is a hotel  pickup, you are expected to get up about 2 hours before the time that the bus actually turns up. And there was no exception here. We were told to be ready at 6.15 am, so were up at 5.30 am to get some breakfast and finish our rucksack. The bus didnīt turn up until nearly 7am!

From Cusco its 2 hours bus ride to Ollantaytambo (which also has some magnificent ruins by the way). At the town they "force" a stop. Under the excuse of using the toilets all the tourists are thrown into a mob of walking stick sellers! There are about  30 ladies selling wooden walking sticks and all sorts of "necessary" stuff for the Inka Trail.

Apart from that the town  is a lovely little place surrounded by high mountains sprinkled with Inka ruins. A good recommendation is to do all the smaller ruins before Machu Picchu as after the Trail and the Picchu visit all the others just look like really small Lego unfinished constructions made by a very large Peruvian baby.

One more hour along a terrible mud road leads to Kilometre 88 from Cusco where the Inka Trail specifically starts. Now, a clarification on the Inka Trail. The Trail that takes 4 days is not actually all on "original  Inka" path. The first day is used to fit the Trail in 4 days for visitors. The original one goes on the other side of the river and meets with the new visitor one on day 2.

At Chillca everyone gets off (and after fighting a few  more walking stick sellers) we get our first explanation on how the day is going to be and a presentation to the rest of the group. Our guide was called "William"...a typical Peruvian name? Also with him were 2 other guides called Warthong (!) and Olivido (probably the closest to a Spanish name). Suprisingly their English was quite good, with some grammatical errors but with all the vocabulary there. 

These guides do the Inka Trail a total of 55 times per year, and mostly with foreigners so they  get to master the English language quite well.

Together with the 3 guides were a total of 6 porters (including the cook Ramon). All in all,  they were all very friendly and always with a smile on their faces, either because they love seeing tourists crack under tiredness of the mountain or because they are a jolly great bunch (a mix of both probably).

We met the rest of the group that would do the challenge with us. Its always tricky when you book these tours as there are all sorts of people joining and you need good  luck to have a good group for 4 days. It could be anything from  noisy university students (like, like ) to old age pensioners doing a last merit (also plenty on the Trail).

Our group was luckily quite lively and interesting to go along with:
-  3 Dutch people from the West of Netherlands (Bert, Debrah and Mariska) in their twenties.
-  2 South Africans (Jacobus and Linda) currently living in Reading and on their honeymoon
-  1 Argentinian from Buenos Aires (Yuriel) who has energy for all the parties in the world
-  1 Australian girl on a  3 month backpacking tour (Susana)
-  1 German trying to forget Torres del  Paine (Vero)
-  1 Spanish - English bloke trying to beat the rest of the group to camp every time (Marcos)

The Trail normally starts after the introductions, but one of the travel agencies was trying to get a last moment tourist to join the group, and we had to change our plans and start with a lunch.  It was frustrating because everyone had the adrenalin to start walking for a few hours and not for a big lunch ... but so is life!

 The new tourist never turned up, and with our stomachs  full, we all started our walk from Km 88. This is where the first check point is. There is quite a heavy control now to make sure the maximum number of walkers is kept at 200 in order to avoid the destruction of the path, and to have sufficient space at campings, etc. Everyone gets their passport checked and names signed in, etc.

The first day is a small trek of 12 kilometres which is a warm up for normal trekkers with only a few hundred metres altitude difference. You start at 2.600 m height and end at 3.100 m. However, for   non-trekkers the first day already seems to be tough from the comments we heard.

The good thing is that the Inka Trail is full of different types of vegetation, huge orchids, rivers and small towns to buy water, biscuits and other stuff (only on day one). Also part of the entertainment is that you pass lots of different ruins along the Trail. The guide always stops to explain for 15-20 minutes which breaks up the walks and starts creating the picture of why the Trail is such an incredible experience.

One short clarification: the current Inka Trail was not unique in Inka times. They had hundreds of them to connect their cities, but the one to Machu Picchu is the longest and best preserved  one. 

From the pictures from this day you will see a couple of Willkarakay which means "Eagle nesting with big eggs under the river". We didnīt visit the ruins as you see them from a cliff on the other side of the river. One of the interesting debates about this ruin (as with most Inka ruins) is whether the walls on the exterior represent a snake or are just following the pattern of the river.
Inkas apparently didnīt have writing so there is little to interpret their remains, so in most occassions when we got to a ruin it was all "apparently" or "we believe", etc.
Our trek of the day (about 5 hours) ended at Wayllabamba which is a small mountain village. Good news was that the camping was on excellent grass. So the tents supplied to the group were on great soft ground which made sleeping excellent until the cock starting singing at 4.30 am.
In the photos you can also see the "dining room" and "kitchen". The porters built this in each camp site to cook and serve the 3 meals. It was small but at least it kept us out of the rain and was cosy for card playing in the evenings!
In this first camp a young kid (must have been 8 maximum) brought a bucket with water, cokes, beers, etc to sell. Some in the group didnīt realise what was coming on the second day and indulged in beer...
We knew better! Just look at the interactive presentation and see how Veronika has made Marcos sweat when the drawing climbs the hill!
Talking about sweat. During the Trail everyone can carry their own stuff for 4 days (clothes, water, etc) or pay a porter 70 soles per day (15 euros) to carry it. Most people just pay the porter for the second day and the 4,215 metres height.
Marcos being Marcos refused to use a porter and carried along a full 12.2 kilogram rucksack, with Veronika carrying 6 kilos. We decided that if we were going to do the Trail, we would do it ourselves and not make it any easier.
Just for a comparison, the guides carry 5/6 kilos for themselves, while the porters legally can only carry 25 kilos each, but some of them carried up to 40 kilos in order to make more money. Try lifting 40 kilos on a plastic bag (not a rucksack) on your bag and you will understand how incredible it is. Some of the pictures during the 4 day trek show them trailing by (running actually).
Toilets you might ask: there was one in the camping. More like a hole in the ground.
End of day: it gets dark around 6 pm now so by 8pm everyone was trying to sleep in their tents to get up at 6 on the next day for the toughest day.

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