on August 24, 2006
We were woken at an unfeasibly early hour at our hotel in Cusco. Onto our coach and out through the shanties of Cusco, and into the Andes. We snoozed or got to know our hiking companions. Julio, our twinkly-eyed guide provided conversation for anyone who wanted it. Even at this early stage his immense knowledge and passion for the lost world of the Inca was clear. The hour-long drive was broken once for a photo-opportunity, then we continued on to Ollantaytambo to meet the rest of our group. We had a 30-minute break to get breakfast and any last minute supplies—in my case a sturdy walking staff (2 soles) and some knitted gloves (5 soles). I refused to purchase an ear-flapped Peruvian hat, a decision I later regretted when the sun went down. We also had a quick glance at the 16 massive stepped terraces that block off one end of town, and a supposed ‘face’ on the cliff. Then we set off again in the coach along a narrow riverside track for Piscacucho, and KM82.Most tours start at the train station at KM88. The benefit of KM82 is that you can travel there at your own time, and are not reliant on the train timetable. Also, you get the trail pretty much to yourself. Once at Piscacucho our duffel-bags were weighed and distributed amongst the porters. Time for a quick pose by the Inca Trail sign, and then we were processed one at a time at the waystation where they checked our tickets and stamped our passports. We crossed the Rio Urubamba via a narrow bridge and we were off!The first morning was unbelievably pleasant, a stroll along the flat above the river. Julio and his other guides pointed out cacti and agave plants. My overwhelming memory is of trees loaded with pink peapods. From our vantage point we could see the tourist train puffing along across the river. Our first climb was up a steep path climbing a valley-wall. From the top we could look down upon the Inca ruins of Llactapata as Julio pointed out its features.Lunch was a shock. We turned a bend and a marquee had been set up. The staff had reached here first and had cooked us a meal. The meals were uniformly good throughout the trek—soup, salad, chicken and a never-ending supply of coca tea. The next 2 and ½ hours to our campsite at Huayllabamba were over what Julio termed ‘Peruvian flat’—undulating climbs and descents that had me gasping. The campsite itself was in a valley above the trail, with basic toilets. Again, the porters had reached there first and had set up our tents. There was also a barn serving as store selling batteries and beer. At dinner that night the cooks produced a cake from nowhere to celebrate one of the girls’ birthdays—incredible! Throughout the hike they continued to amaze us with the feasts they concocted, seemingly from nowhere.
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