After spending the night before the hike in Ollantaytambo, our group of 10 trekkers was picked up by our two guides, David and Kike, in the van that would take us to our destination. We drove down a path that anyone would agree should only handle pedestrian traffic, crissed and crossed the Peru Rail train tracks and nearly missed vehicles driving in the opposite direction more than once, before we finally arrived at Kilometer 82: The Beginning.
As we waited for our team of 14 porters and 2 chefs to arrive, everyone chattered nervously about what was to come and began to get caught up in the excitement of the morning. The energy rose two-fold when our supermen arrived and began to hurriedly prepare their bags, which are filled with OUR bags (so we don’t have to carry much), food, tents, cooking utensils, table ware, and other items that would help to make our experience an awesome one. Inca Trail regulations allow each porter to carry a maximum of 25 Kilos (55 Lbs!) but G Adventures will only allow their guys to carry 22 Kilos each (48.5 Lbs). This doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but when you see what these guys do, you are thankful for the little break they get!
While we waited, our guide David explained what we were to expect on Day 1- a few hours of relatively easy and low altitude hiking, a break for lunch, and a few more hours of hiking in order to reach our night one campsite at Wayllabamba, located at about 10,000 ft. above sea level. When everything was together, we went through the first control point at Piskacuchu, got our first passport stamp, and got underway.
This early part of the trail follows the Urubamba River on a path that is frequented by locals to move between villages and by cows and other animals to go for their strolls. Here the path is mostly dirt, so you know you are getting it easy compared to more than a thousand steps you will climb on day 2, but its hot and it’s NOT actually easy. Some early and decent inclines get your heart racing and make it difficult for you to catch your breath without coming to a complete stop, and let you know exactly what you signed up for. You walk past a few sets of ruins and pause for explanations, providing some much-needed time to get yourself together.
After breaking a good sweat, we finally made it to our lunch site, where we got our first taste of the “luxury” piece of the Inca Trail. As soon as we began to stumble into camp, we were greeted by porters offering drinks and a tarp to sit on. Once everyone made it to the checkpoint, lunch was served, and it was delicious! Trout, rice and vegetables was on the menu (and for non-fish eaters like myself, a vegetable omelet) so everyone got their much-needed protein. We drank water dutifully boiled by our chefs so that it would be safe for our foreign stomachs, and rested for a bit.
After a 40 minute siesta, we hit the trail again, leaving behind the porters. They would quickly pack up the lunch tent and everything else set up at the site, run past us on the trail, and set up our night’s base camp, all before we arrive. After 2 more hours of hiking we 10 plus guides roll in to Wayllabamba for the night. I quickly ‘showered’ (using baby wipes), changed into the first layer of my cold weather gear, set up my sleeping bag and blow up mattress, settled into the tent and then got acquainted with our campsite.
This site was beautifully positioned in a yard of sorts with a government built toilet a short, but character filled, walk away. Our group had this site to ourselves, but were sharing the bathroom with one other G group located on its other side. “Perfect!”, I thought. “This means it will be quiet here, we will get a good night’s sleep and will be well rested and ready for the famed Day 2.” Not quite.
After chill time, was a 5pm tea time of popcorn, hot chocolate, crackers with butter and jelly/jam. Shortly thereafter the sun disappeared behind the mountains and we were left with clear views of the Milky Way. While we waited for dinner, the group laid on the ground side by side on our backs, staring up at the huge bright night sky, spotting satellites and shooting stars. We argued about what a shooting star actually was and then argued over the possible or impossible sighting of a UFO. Finally we settled into another delicious meal, followed by dessert, more tea, and hit our tents. It couldn’t have been later than 8pm, but it was dark dark and we were all exhausted enough to turn in.
My tent mate and I chatted until we fell asleep- almost. As silence fell upon us, a noise right outside the tent freaked me out. “What is that?”, I asked out loud. It sounded like something was trying to get in. I tried to ignore it, but soon heard several thuds just above my head and thought I caught a whiff of something nasty. Moving in and out of sleep, I continued to hear the strange sound throughout the night, as well as dogs fighting and what I thought was galloping around the outside of the tent. Too chicken to unzip the tent and check it out, I just prayed I didn’t get eaten and tried to sleep through the rest of the night.
After dreading the trip and postponing it for over an hour, I finally HAD to go to the bathroom around 4:30am. That is when I finally left my tent and discovered I HAD indeed smelled crap- giant donkey crap- and heard it hitting the ground just next to our heads outside the tent! Naturally, the whole thing freaked me out so I ran to and from the toilet as fast as I could, jumped back into my tent before the animals returned, and tried to get a few more moments rest before the beast that day 2 promised to be, officially began.