Our First Day on the Inca Trail

Ollantaytambo Travel Blog

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Here is our group at the starting point of the Inca Trail.
I awoke this morning at 4:45 to discover that my two travel buddies weren´t very happy with me! Jason and Karen were not extremely fond of the fact that they had to rise before the sun, bundle up in what little cold weather clothing we packed, and prepare for a four-day hike, covering nearly 27 miles, up the fabled Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I kept insisting that by the end of the four days, they would truly thank me, and they would have an unforgettable experience, but I don´t think they were ready to buy that yet!
      At 5:20, there was a quiet knock on our hostel door, and the three of us rushed out the door with smaller backpacks on our back, containing everything we would need to survive the next four days in the Andes.
We pose with our guide, Juan, on the Inca Trail.
We hopped on to a Peru Treks bus that went around to the surrounding hostels to pick up the other adventurous trekkers who would be joining us on this incredible hike. We have eight other people in our group: two other Americans, a couple from Toronto, a woman from China, and three Australians, also in their twenties. We were introduced to our enthusiastic and sarcastic guide, Juan, who was born in Cusco and uses the phrase "my friends" at least three or four times a minute. We were also joined by a quiet and humble assistant guide, named Wilfredo, whose nickname is "the salsa king."
      We first drove an hour and a half to Ollantaytambo, where we shuffled out of the bus, covered in long pants, jackets, gloves, and hats, to enjoy a quick breakfast and get to know our fellow travelers.
This is the Urumba river, which we hiked along for the first portion of our trek.
Numerous vendors flocked outside our restaurant on foot, bombarding us with opportunities to purchase plastic ponchos, coca leaves (to offer the porters), and walking sticks. We each purchased a carved walking stick, which our guide suggested we do, for 6 soles each. We later discovered what great investments these were!
      We boarded the bus again and headed towards the mountains on narrow, dirt roads, which were clearly not designed with buses in mind. The closer we came to our destination, the more anticipation and excitement filled the bus. Once we reached Kilometer 82, which has an elevation of 8,528 feet, our journey on the bus ended, and our journey on foot began. The bags our porters were to carry were weighed and swiftly swung over their strong backs.
Jason and I pause for a photo in the beginning stages of the hike.
We had a total of 19 porters for our group of 11 hikers. These hardworking porters carried heavy bags with tents, sleeping bags, mats, food, cooking utensils, personal supplies, and other equipment necessary for our survival and comfort. The small-framed Peruvian men carry an average of 25 kilos, they wear sandals on their feet, and they run up the mountain at an incredible speed that would put an Olympic athlete to shame. Juan told us that the porters hold races up to Machu Picchu every few years, and the most recent winner completed the entire hike, without a pack on his back, in under four hours! I don't see how that can even be possible, but I can attest to the fact that these guys are speedy!
      We began the hike towards the legendary "lost city of the Incas" following a narrow, dirt path that ran parallel to the Urumba River.
Here I am with one of the many donkeys we encounter! They are so adorable!
I can't even begin to find words or phrases that would do justice to describe the beauty that surrounded us as we hiked. The snow-capped mountains towered above us on all sides, the greenery around us was breathtaking, and the river glistened below us as the sun shone upon it. We began today's twelve kilometer hike with the sun's rays beating down on our shoulders and faces, and we took our first snack break about an hour and forty five minutes into the trek. We huddled on wooden benches covered with thatched roofs that seemed to appear out of nowhere. A few local, barefooted women sold candy bars and drinks, even though no vehicle could reach us at this point.
      As we hiked along the trail, in awe of all the beauty around us, Juan would stop occasionally to explain certain plant varieties, local customs, or Incan history.
Karen and I are seated as we listen to Juan lecture about the Inca. We needed the break after a steep hike!
He showed us a small, white parasite that grows on local cacti. When he squeezed the parasite, a deep red liquid oozed out into the palm of his hand. Apparently, the locals collect these parasites and sell them for dyes to make textiles and cosmetics that can later be purchased in stores around the world. We also learned about two other varieties of cacti, native to the Andes, that contain ingredients used to make tequila and shampoo.
      After another two hours of hiking, in which we encountered some steep climbs, we arrived at our lunch location. The porters had already arrived and set up a tent on the bank of a beautiful rushing river. Inside the tent was a table covered in cloth and twelve collapsible stools on which to sit.
Jason washes his hands before entering the meal tent and eating lunch.
Outside the tent were several rectangular bins filled with warm water, and bars of soap were placed nearby. Before each meal, we were instructed to carefully wash our hands in the bins and dry them with the hand towels that were provided. Whenever one bin was used, the water was quickly dumped by a porter and replaced with fresh water for the next hiker. We appreciated our porters' and guides' serious concern for cleanliness. For our first lunch in the Andes, we were served an avocado with cheese, garlic bread sticks, noodle soup, stir fried vegetables, rice, trout, potatoes, and a cucumber salad. I couldn't believe the miracles our cook, Apu, could work out in what seemed like a lost world.
      Following lunch, we continued our hike, but this time we were allowed to continue at our own pace once we were informed of where to find our next rest stop and meeting point.
We enjoyed our first lunch on the trail. We were very impressed with the quality of the food!
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the hike were all of the animals we encountered as we walked through this hidden world. We would meet local mountain women walking their donkeys, with goods piled on their backs, down the trail. We would also come across donkeys and cows that seemed to wander freely, meander across the trail, or even fall asleep in the middle of our path. Pigs, piglets, chickens, deer, and sheep could be found along the trails, in open fields, and on steep hills. On two occasions, a couple of horses came blazing down the trail as we quickly scampered out of the way to avoid be trampled.
      After another hour of walking, we stopped for a rest at the last community located on the Inca Trail. We found it amazing and unbelievable that people were even able to live so far out from civilization.
Karen stops at one of the rest stops that seem to just appear in the middle of nowhere.
We learned that the children in these communities would have to wake very early in the morning in order to walk four miles to school, and the nearest high school is simply unreachable on foot. There were two cute dogs at the stop who were frolicking in the grass, and one seemed to take a fancy to Jason. At this stop we were also able to sample a local beer made from corn that only takes one day to ferment. Juan demonstrated giving the first sip to mother nature, known as Pacchamama, by pouring a bit of the liquid onto the earth. Just a short distance from this resting point was our first camping location, called Wayllabamba (elevation 10,137 ft), which means "grassy plain." When we arrived, our tents had already been pitched by our hardworking porters in a picturesque location with a fabulous view and surrounded by donkeys, cows, and chickens.
Our first campground had beautiful views. This photo doesn't do it justice.

      We dilligently set up our sleeping bags and mats and arranged our tents before the sun set and the task would not be so easy. We took the time to cleanse our faces and bodies with wipes and brush our teeth, without water, since we would not be able to access a shower until we returned to Cusco a few days later. We also walked past the grazing donkeys to reach the bathroom area, which was absolutely disgusting, so I won't discuss it any further. Once we were clean and our bags and tent were well organized, we took the time to appreciate the awe-inspiring sunset in the Andes Mountains. Once the sun had finally escaped behind the towering mountains, the night was black and we needed to resort to our flashlight to see anything. Unfortunately, just as the sun disappeared, rain began to pour.
What a great location!
The three of us huddled inside one tent, where we impatiently awaited the call for dinner. When we were summoned by Wilfredo and Juan, we dashed from the tent to the meal tent with ponchos on. We were hoping this would be the one and only time we would come to rely on the ponchos. Just as the lunch quality was far beyond our expectations, so was the dinner. We enjoyed noodle soup, lemon chicken, potato cakes, and an apple with caramel sauce for dessert. We ended the night rather early, since you can't do much in the pitch black, in hopes of being well rested for tomorrow's arduous portion of the trek, which is supposed to be all up hill and the most difficult day of hiking.
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Here is our group at the starting …
Here is our group at the starting…
We pose with our guide, Juan, on t…
We pose with our guide, Juan, on …
This is the Urumba river, which we…
This is the Urumba river, which w…
Jason and I pause for a photo in t…
Jason and I pause for a photo in …
Here I am with one of the many don…
Here I am with one of the many do…
Karen and I are seated as we liste…
Karen and I are seated as we list…
Jason washes his hands before ente…
Jason washes his hands before ent…
We enjoyed our first lunch on the …
We enjoyed our first lunch on the…
Karen stops at one of the rest sto…
Karen stops at one of the rest st…
Our first campground had beautiful…
Our first campground had beautifu…
What a great location!
What a great location!
Ollantaytambo
photo by: lrecht