In one sense, the hike to the Machu Picchu began long ago, but last night it all came to a head. We had a limited allowance of weight for the porters to carry, at 5 kg, or 11 lbs. The rest would have to be carried by us. Despite all of my preparations, I was worried that my bag would not fit in the allowance. I fretted and paced. I picked up R’s bag, which felt heavier. This was reassuring – I wouldn’t have the heaviest bag around. Finally, our guide, A, came by with a scale, and I was at 4 kg. with 2 lbs to spare. I threw a couple additional items in and was ready to go!
In the morning we bid farewell to our suitcases that would be in storage for the next few days and boarded a bus to Kilometer 82
When we arrived, we were greeted by a crowd of porters, people from local villages who will carry some things for us. As soon as they saw our bus they began applauding. It was weird, to be honest. The fact that the people who will be hauling our crap for the next several days were cheering our arrival was strange. Except, of course, that they are getting paid for this. Still …
Entrance to the Inca Trail is highly regulated. Only 500 hikers are allowed in per day, and that includes our guides and porters. For some perspective, our group of 11 hikers has 2 guides and 32 porters / cooks. The porters speed ahead like demons and set up the camp for us so everything is perfect on our arrival.
To enter the park, we first must have our tickets checked against a master list, and then our passports are checked against the same list.
We start at ~ 8600 feet above sea level. The first part of the day is mostly flat and easy going. For the first part of the day we are following the path of the Urubamba River and our path has an occasional up and down, but nothing too strenuous.
We pass an occasional local vendor on the first day. Our guides tell us this part of the trail is more open. Apparently these will be going away tomorrow.
The guides stop us periodically to allow slower hikers to catch up and let us get some rest. They use these moments to point out areas of interest nearby.
These are the remains of Qhanabamba. Hiram Bigham stopped here on his way to rediscovering Machu Picchu. We stopped across the river for a snack.
In the latter part of the morning there was one steep incline that grabbed all of our attention. You may be able to see it in that photo, near the top. As we moved upward, the group was moving slowly — so slowly as to be plodding along. Frankly, some of our members needed that, but I really didn’t. Instead I was energized and antsy. Finally I asked the guide if I could go ahead and meet them at the top. He gave the OK and I sped away, slowing only briefly when I caught the next group ahead, but finally passing them as well.
At the top I waited, gazing toward the sacred valley for a few minutes, but made sure to give everybody a high five on arrival. The sense of camaraderie and accomplishment was awesome!
Not far away, we were able to view this ruin, and we all gasped at seeing it for the first time. An entire Inca settlement, much of which was intact. This was Llactapata, and it sits at the intersection of three valleys. In one direction is the rain forest, from whence came coca leaves, avocados, and other fruits. In another direction was the sacred valley, with quinoa, potatoes, and corn, and in the third direction was Machu Picchu.
The Incas used the cold nighttime winds that blow through here to freeze dry food. And again I am astounded at these people and their ability to maximize their environment.
This is a picture of our lunchtime table. Yes we are glamping.
After lunch we returned to the trail, which was now was going more consistently upward. Around us the forest was growing denser and more humid, but we managed to mostly stick together, although the way forward was definitely getting more challenging.
And over and over again the views were indescribable. Photos don’t begin to do it justice.
Trekking through the understory.
Following the river (no longer the Urubamba).
Or just the surrounding mountains.
We finally reached the town of Huayllabamba, at ~ 9800 feet above sea level, the only town on the trek. We turned off the road and found our campsite, beautifully arranged, as expected.
And the porters were cheering us on, beating a drum, and playing a flute. They did that at lunch too. We are all just embarrassed by this. I hope they don’t keep doing it.
After a lovely meal prepared by the chefs we returned to our tents where the porters had left chocolates for us. As the sun set across the distant valley, we prepared for sleep, with a challenging day ahead tomorrow.