Inca Trail Day 1: The Warmup

The beginning of the Inca Trail.  Here we go...
Welcome to the Inca Trail!  This should be easy, right?

5:15am – wake up call. What the hell vacation is this?!  I digress…yes yes it was all worth it.  At 6am, our Pachamama shuttle was outside waiting for us, along with Francisco, our tour guide.  After multiple stops to pick up the other 4 hikers, several porters, and a key stop at the outer Pachamama office for ALL of our goods (tent, food, propane, sleeping bags), we were finally on our way.  We first made a stop at Ollantaytambo, a village on the way to the start of the Inca Trail within the fabled Sacred Valley, for some coca tea and breakfast.  I’ll be honest, I felt awful – I felt a cold coming on and had zero appetite.  In retrospect, some of this may have been due to an oncoming cold or the forewarned altitude sickness, or oh, maybe the hour of being locked out in the freezing cold two nights ago.  But this was the Inca Trail, something I had been looking forward to for the last 5 months, and nothing was stopping me!

Next, we were off to Km 82, the official start to our hike.  Today, we were to go 7 miles through relatively flat terrain with the occasional hills.  We later found that the entire first day was actually not the original Inca Trail, as it was just another trail that was created to easily connect from civilization to the real Inca Trail located much deeper into the mountains.  We started off following the Urubamba River, which was flowing much more lightly due to it being the dry season.  A quick word about the weather – since Peru is below the equator, it was technically winter.  However, with Peru being so close to the equator, it was still hot during the day, but the winter/high altitude resulted in some very chilly nights.  So we basically experienced all 4 seasons in a day on our trek, thus having to pack our day packs accordingly.

The view on our drive to Km 82, the starting point of our 26-mile hike
The view on our drive en route to the Inca Trail
The beautiful Sacred Valley
Driving through the beautiful Sacred Valley

Now, onto the trek…I believe (didn’t have a watch and it was senseless to turn on my cell phone) we started around 10am, first going through the checkpoint at Piskacucho (2600m/8500ft above sea level) and getting our Inca Trail stamps in our passport, then crossing a very wobbly hanging bridge over the Urubamba River.  The beginning of the hike was a gentle slope through dusty, dry brush, occasionally being passed by porters or mules as we were still going through habitable villages.  We did see one incline across a bridge we had to cross and panicked slightly – little did we know, that was NOTHING compared to the next few days!  But, it was a great warmup through a total 1300 foot altitude change, and through three sets of ruins in the morning.

Our entrance to the Inca Trail
Beginning of the Inca Trail.  Only 26 miles to go.
And, we're off!
Walking poles?  Check.  Shades, check.  Camelbak?  Check.  Ready…?
And we're off!  Mostly slight uphill inclines on dusty roads.
And we’re off! Mostly slight uphill inclines on dusty paths on Day 1.  Doug was stubborn and declined on having a porter and walking poles.
Hiking alongside the gurgling Urubamba River
Beautiful views this morning, hiking alongside the Urubamba and several Inca ruins
Morning trek alongside snow-capped mountains
Morning trek alongside snow-capped mountains

Photo Aug 19, 10 59 19 PM

Piglets hanging out in one of the villages we passed through
Piglets hanging out in one of the villages we passed through
The only day we saw donkeys since they weren't allowed once we got to the real Inca Trail
Freight donkeys
Second set of ruins
Second set of ruins near Calla Bamba, a tiny village.  Most of the ruins we saw on the Inca Trail were built during the Imperial period (1420-40).  Bodies were found mummified in fetal position to signify rebirth.

Photo Aug 19, 11 57 37 PM

We stopped for lunch shortly after passing Llactapata, a significant set of ruins dedicated to the sun god (as many of these ruins were) where we learned that Inca royalty lived higher up to be closer to the sun god, while the “commoners” lived much farther below in different towns to cultivate food and other goods for their royalty.  Though I still didn’t feel well and lacked any appetite, that didn’t take away from how great lunch looked, especially for something that was hand carried and whipped up in a tent in the wilderness.  Every meal came with soup to start with, so we had some corn soup before they served us grilled trout and rice.  I was so exhausted from general lack of sleep that I passed out right there after lunch, while we waited for the porters to pack up and get a head start.

Llaqtapata, a site that was home to some Inca royalty and also potentially used for ceremonial purposes to celebrate the sun god
A hill dedicated for making sacrifices to the Inca gods
A hill dedicated for Ushnu, making sacrifices to the Inca gods
Photo Aug 20, 4 02 33 AM
Feeling closer to the gods with every step!

I never felt the same after that – basically felt like I sleepwalked through the remaining 2 hours post-lunch to get to our campsite at Wayllabamba (“grassy plain,” 3000m/9850ft).  As the last inhabited community on the Inca Trail, Wayllabamba’s setup was cool because each house could “rent out” their backyard as a campground for each different trekking group, which was subsidized by the government, and gave us a sense of our own private camping space for our group.  It was also my favorite because it was the only campsite to have a normal (albeit still gross) toilet in their outhouse as the others were purely squat holes.  We arrived at 4:45pm, a bit before sunset, which gave us enough time for an Inca shower (aka using aloe wipes to wipe down and no-rinse camping shampoo that I brought).  We quickly learned it was easiest to do all this and change into our PJ’s upon arrival, before the temperature dropped and we lost daylight.  Dinner consisted of more soup – this time a semolina soup topped with “sexy sauce” (insert Francisco’s heh heh heh here) which was a salsa made of tomatoes, red onions, lemon, and salt.  We also had some chicken, pasta, and bananas sauteed in a buttery vanilla sauce, and by 8pm, it had already gotten dark and it was lights out.  With my sleep deprivation today, I had no problem falling asleep under the stars for my best night’s sleep yet!

Our first night's camp at Wayllabamba
Our first night’s camp at Wayllabamba.  Kind of in between someone’s backyard and a farm of donkeys and BOY was the sky filled with stars!
Infamous site of the dreaded "tent conversations."  Merited anytime one of the boys said something that got them in trouble.  Ahem Doug Dennis Dan...
Infamous site of the dreaded “tent conversations.” Merited anytime one of the boys said something that got them in trouble. Ahem Doug Dennis Dan…
Soup of the day with "sexy sauce"
Soup of the day with “sexy sauce”

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