Hiking to Machu Picchu, day 1
The bus came to pick us up at 4:45 in the morning. We were the second to last stop on their route. We loaded up onto the bus and after picking up the last group of hikers, we set off on the two hour drive toward the trail head. The bus was pretty quiet as most of us were falling in and out of sleep. It was pretty dark for about the first 45 minutes, but little by little I was able to make out the dry landscape peppered with cows, llamas, and alpacas. The houses were very simple. In fact, it was hard to tell if many of them had electricity or running water inside. There was something very relaxing about the simplicity of it. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the families on those farms work very hard.
About an hour into the trip we stopped at a small rest stop where we were able to buy some last minute items. I purchased some wool socks and a cheap long sleeve wool shirt that was not too comfortable. I was not sure how cold it would be on the trail, so I decided that it would be wise to be safe than sorry.
We arrived at the trail head at about 7 in the morning. When we got off, I felt like I was a kid again waiting to go into the zoo. I had no idea how much of a process it would be to begin. There were about 12 of us in total in the hiking group. To help us out we had about 16 porters who would be carrying not only our things but the main camp supplies such as tents, kitchen, food, portable bathrooms, and much more. We also had a chef and his assistant to make us three meals a day. There are two guides and finally a person who keeps the portable bathrooms clean; It turns out that he tends to be the most popular and the one you want to keep happy on the trip.
While we waited to begin, the porters prepared breakfast for us. They setup small green tubs on the ground with soap and water. We washed our hands and sat at a small make shift table. We were treated to sliced fruit, bread, eggs, and coca tea.
It was there were we were able to get to know the people we were going to spend the next four days with. There were three people from Canada, Two from the east coast (a father and son), two people from Germany, and a mother and son from the west coast if I remember correctly. We exchanged some pleasantries but no one really talked much.
The Inka trail
After breakfast, we began our hike. We followed some train tracks for about a quarter of a mile till we got to the main entrance of the trail. It was absolutely beautiful. The tracks lead through a mountainous ravine with a small river running adjacent to it. We stopped at an entrance called Camino Inka-Inka trail. We took that opportunity to take a few group and individual photos.
It took a long time to get on to the Inca trail because it is heavily regulated. Before starting our journey, we met up at a staging point where we were reunited with our small green duffel bags that we had filled the previous day. We were also given a sleeping bag, sheets, and pillow to put inside. We stood in line at a small checkpoint that led to a bridge that crossed the small river that ran adjacent to the tracks. While we waited to have our papers processed to get on the trail, the porters waited in a second line. Each porter had to have his bag weighed before starting. Because of new Peruvian laws protecting the rights of the indigenous people, each porter is only allowed to carry roughly 50 pounds.
The trail itself started of really easily. First we had to show our passports in order to get past the first check point, then we had to walk up a large hill where we were given a brief overview of what we were going to expect on the trail. Our guide Jose, poured some kind of liquid on our hands and told us to inhale it, so we did. I am not sure what it was but it was like breathing in menthol. It was supposed to open our lungs so that we could breath easier.
From that point we walked about 3 hours until we hit our first of many lunch sites. The way that it works on the trail is that the porters carry our things while we hike to a base camp and set everything up before we arrive. This day we started about five minutes ahead of the porters, but they ended up passing us on the trail. These people are amazing. They carry about 50 pounds on their back and walk at break neck speed. We were told by our guide that these people work really hard for little pay and little prestige, but they take pride in the hard work and in not complaining (we could learn a few lesson from them in the U.S.) About two hours into the trail we stopped at our first ruin site called Llactapata. It was breathtaking and beautiful. We were able to stop for about 20 minutes were we were explored a set of ruins near by or just stand by the cliff side and enjoy the view. To my surprise, it was not that cold. While we were exploring, Jose took a few minutes to give us the history of the site and tell us about several theories about it and what it might have been used for.
At lunch our group of 12 sat down together. We were all strangers, so it was a little awkward. We were each given a small bowl of soup and some garlic bread. We sat in silence for a little while eating. Eventually every one was finished and we started some small talk. I remember thinking to my self that was a nice light lunch, but we were in for a surprise. The chef brought in fried fish, rice, potatoes, and a salad; it was a feast. We were all shocked at the amount of food that was prepared for us. We finished up lunch and gathered around our gear. The porters had boiled enough water for us to fill our camelpaks as well as our water bottles. They also set up a portable toilet for us since you need to pay to use a local one.
Our hike continued for another three hours or so. It was slightly up hill but not too challenging as Alisa and I have done our fair share of hiking before. However, it was really difficult due to the altitude. The views on the trail, however, made up for difficulty breathing. It really reminds me of Lord of The Rings.
We arrived at base camp just before dark which was around 5pm. When we arrived the porters had already set up our tents and separated our green bags so that we could get settled in. The base camp look great. They were also in the process of making dinner for us. After we got settled in our guide Jose brought all the porters together. We had a brief introduction where he explained how difficult their jobs are and that they take a lot of pride in what they do. He also mentioned that the majority of the porters are from the local villages and often times the local expedition companies would exploit them by not giving the proper gear such as shoes, rain coats or proper bags to carry the weight. He mentioned that at Alpaca Expeditions, they pay them a good salary and give all their employees hiking boots and gear that is suitable for all the environments they have to deal with on the trail. We went around in a circle and introduced ourselves and then we were treated to popcorn and gram crackers.
Dinner that evening was just as grand as lunch. It was tandoori chicken, rice, steamed veggies, and their version of a chili rellano. I don’t remember what the name off the vegetable, but I know that it was not a chili. It was, however, really tasty. That evening everyone was talking and having a great time.
After dinner we were told to head to bed right away because we had to wake up at 4 in the morning. Jose said that instead of an alarm that someone would come by our tent with some coca tea. We went to bet at 7:30 that evening.