Inca Trail Day 1 - Walk like an Inca

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Friday, November 2, 2007

"Now you are pumas.  What is your name?"
"No, now you are puma."  Our guide turns to another member of the group.  "What is your name?"

Thus began our trek at km 82, the beginning of the famed Inca Trail.  We had had a relatively calm morning.  Our bus was supposed to arrive between 6 and 6:45 a.m.  It actually came at 7, and then we went and picked up more people.  After a short supply stint in Ollantaytambo we drove the last half hour to km 82 and got started with everything.  Travis and I bought walking sticks for 3 soles each.  Walking sticks are good. 

Our guides introduced themselves.  The official guide of our group was Victor, although in the coming days he would be commonly referred to as Inca Puma.  He had a hearty sense of humor and drama.  It was good.  The other guide was Manuel, a quiet, kind, and efficient sort of man.  We all stood under the sign at the beginning of the trail for a team photo and then made our way down the trail...all the way to the checkpoint.  Here we had to pull out our tickets and passports and get everything stamped.  Then we crossed the Urubamaba river on a seriously swinging suspension bridge and were officially on the trail. 

Before we started Victor said to us, "Coca is good for the altitude, but if you feel the fly, stop.  Remember, you are puma, not condor."  And so our team started climbing.  It really wasn't so bad, I said to myself, and the view was quite something.  We were surrounded on all sides by mountains.  Our goal was Llactapata, the first Inca ruin on the trail.  Victor told us that on the way there would be a little hill.  We rounded a bend and I saw the rest of our group as tiny dots on a steep, switch-backed incline.  "No," I said, but up I went.  Very slowly.  After the incline I was huffing and puffing, but the path was nice gravel and was mostly flat with smallish ups and downs.  We arrived at Llactapata.  Last. 

Victor told us to put down our packs and we sat down at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ruins for our first storytime.  Llactapata was a small farming community, and we were shown how it had been divided into the farming portion (terraces) and the urban portion (buildings above the terraces).  There was at the far end of the village an oval building made in the fashion of stone-on-stone rather than with mortar.  This was the temple, and it was built thusly because it was a holy place and deserved the special work that such building entailed.  Then we learned about the animals. 

We knew before, and I have mentioned in a previous entry, that Cuzco was built in the shape of a puma.  While atop Saqsaywaman we could see the head and the tail, but the rest of the puma was rather indistiguishable due to the growth of the city.  Victor showed us a picture of the old city and there we could see the puma.  Thus, we learned that cities were built in the shapes of the three sacred animals, not always, but sometimes.  Then we were told to look back down at Llactapata.  The temple was the head of the snake, and the terraces next to the river curved back and forth to form the body of the sacred serpent.  Cool!

Onward and upward we walked.  This time the goal was lunch.  Where on earth this was I could not say.  We stepped off the trail into a sort-of cluster of houses and sat on folding stools as our porters prepared our food.  Other trekkers had tents up, but I guess the porters decided the day was nice enough that they needn't put up one for us.  And truly, the weather was glorious.  The only trouble was that after all the sweating and heat created by the trekking, sitting still made us cold.  We all put on jackets. 

This was the first real opportunity for chatting.  There were four people speaking German pretty much amongst themselves.  I sat huddled on my stool and stared at them for a while.  Then there were the two English talking with two guys with some kind of Northern-European accent.  They talked soccer and seemed to know pretty much everything there was to know about it.  I was a little unsure of our meshing.  Then lunch was served and we all sat down and tucked in and had a lovely chat.  Maybe we would be a team after all.  It's really quite amazing how hungry walking makes you.  There were ten clean plates for the porters. 

Then we walked some more.  The goal was the campsite.  It was a lot of uphill with some flat respites.  Victor walked behind us offering me encouragement.  By the time we got to the campsite I was huffing and puffing and dripping sweat while everyone else was sitting under a grass-roofed structure having a nice coze. 

After the torture that was Pisac, Travis promised me that I wouldn't die and that I wouldn't be the last person in the group.  I reminded him of this in the evening after I had spent 50% of the time tailing our teammates.  His response?  "I changed my mind when I saw our group."  Lovely.  After a day of desperately trying to keep up I had to resign myself to tagging along after our young, fit group of trekkers. 

We shared some Sublime chocolate and then the tents were ready.  I think there might have been a mad rush.  I personally couldn't wait to get out of my soggy shirt.  Besides, it was getting to be dusk and the cold air was pressing around us.  So we got our tents set up and then amused ourselves until dinner.  There was an absolutely adorable kitten at the house where we were camping, so I had to go cuddle it.  We also had a spectacular view of Mt. Veronica peeking out from behing the two green mountains nearer to us.  Veronica was snowcapped and beautiful and over 5000 m tall.  Travis said it made him realize why people liked mountaineering.  I said I would rather look at it because it's prettier when you can see the whole thing.  It also looked a bit cold, what with the snow and all. 

Dinner was fried trout and rice and cucumber and tomato salad.  And the requisite potato.  In a country with so many, I think it's a requirement to eat them at at least one meal a day, if not two.  I had no idea how we would really be a team if we didn't know each others' names, so I piped up and made everyone say names and country of origin.  Victor started.  He was from Cuzco, but he said his grandfather lived in Machu Picchu.  Then he laughed.  There was lots of laughing, all in all.  Then Simun of the Faroe Islands, and Sophie and Chris of England.  When I said I was from the US I was, of course, asked which state.  I claimed both Maryland and South Dakota.  Then Travis.  Then there was our Italian friend, and I even had her repeat her name twice and still could not remember it.  It was really pretty, though, and unique, at least to my ears.  Bianca was from Germany, and finally was Ingibjorn, also from the Faroe Islands.  The other two German speakers were sick with a fever and didn't come to dinner.  Turns out one was Christoph from Austria and the other was Martin from Bavaria.  I always think it's easier to strike up conversation when you've been introduced. 

During dinner the big cat, which apparently looked exactly like Chris's cat at home, made itself particularly friendly with Chris.  What it really wanted was his dinner.  I gave it my trout.  Not so much a fan of the trout.  Then it definitely wouldn't go away.  "Food!" said the kitten, and it came to say hello as well.  Chris picked it up and Sophie told him not to get fleas.  Hmm.  Hadn't thought of that.  Turned out alright, though.  No fleas, just bugbites. 

We drank our after dinner tea and crawled into our tents to anticipate the challenge that was Day 2.  Everyone slept like rocks. 

Night night,
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