Our Inca adventure started on a cold Cusco morning in September. The hostel had made us breakfast but it was nearer to 4am than 5 and we packed it as a snack for later. The Peru Treks guide escorted us in a dreary state through the damp streets to the bus that would take us to the start of the trail. We nodded greetings with similarly bleary eyed gringos and promptly fell asleep.
We were jostled awake a couple of hours later as the bus entered Ollantaytambo. The town preserves as much of is Inca heritage as possible, including an abrupt transition from tarmac to cobblestones. As Lauren and I had already done a sacred valley tour we hadn’t felt the need to stay awake for the scenery.
The main square was filled with groups of under caffeinated gringos being gently ushered into their tour operators chosen breakfast establishment. After 3 black coffees we were ready to finally face the day. Firstly we rented some hiking poles to help us out if our knees decided they’d had enough and as a last minute decision we bought some “poncho plastics” or rain ponchos. These are really useful as they cover your bag as well as yourself.
With everyone looking a bit more human we got back on the bus to go to the start of the trail at kilometer 82. On the way our guide introduced himself again (we must have slept through the first one) as Manny and he would be our father for the next few days. We got an an in depth explanation about what to expect as well as some history about the company.
We all got out of the bus at km.82 as the sun broke through the clouds! This was the first opportunity to see the porters or Chaskis as they’re called on the trail. Usually small (even by Peruvian standards) middle aged gentlemen they easily picked up bags up to twice their size and headed off to the trail security check. Recently the Peruvian government has put strict weight controls on what the Chaskis can carry and they all get checked before being allowed on the trail.
Despite Peru Treks issuing all its porters with stout clothes, good waterproofs and boots, most of the porters don’t use them. The home made leather sandals are the preferred footware, whilst a poncho plastic is lighter and more versatile. The bright yellow Peru Treks overcoats are however still worn, making our porters the most visible on the trail.
Whilst these small men don’t look like typical marathon runners, the Inca trail is 26 miles long, the same as a marathon. The highest point is at 4200m, with around 4000m of total vertical change. This isn’t even to mention the treacherous footing and extreme weather conditions. The current record holder can do the whole trail in 3 hours 23 minutes. Not bad for a man in sandals.
The first thing we did was the most important to Lauren and I, our Machu Picchu passport stamps. With this firmly in place we crossed the bridge that marked the start of the trail.
Day 1 of the Inca trail is definitely the easiest. It’s of few kilometres of relativity flat trail with only 400m gained across the entire day. The highlights are the excellent ruins you pass along the way.
We had lunch, which was excellent, on some Inca farming terraces. These terraces are so prolific, especially lower in the valley, that the local communities live on and among them even today.
Lauren and I were as usual not in a hurry and enjoyed the sights as the gradient rose towards the end of the trail.
The local villages you pass through at of course offering snacks to help you on your way. We quickly noticed however that the prices were rising far quicker than the path, so we stocked up on some water and Pringles.
When we got to the campsite that afternoon, the porters had already set up the tents and had hot chocolate in hand for us. An enterprising businessman was selling beers at around 3x the normal price, which we haggled over half heartedly before giving in. A few of us went to the nearby Inca watchtower which stood sentinel over the valley and drank our beverages as the sun set.
That evening as we crawled into the tent, we noticed that whilst the height was excellent the length was clearly designed for someone of a far shorter stature…
Tune in soon for Day 2…