What a treat it was to be able to sleep in until 4:45 the morning we set out to hike the 44km of the Inca Trail (also known as the classic trail) leading up to Machu Picchu! We purposefully packed super light because we wanted to put our friendship to the test with four days in the same clothes without showering (or because carrying unnecessary stuff is, well, unnecessary)
So the three of us showed up to the trail head sporting 15-20L day packs, under the assumption that our porters would have the rest of the gear. We didn’t think that renting sleeping bags carried the implication we’d be responsible for them.
At this point, it’s starting to look we’re idiots (which might be partially true) but hey, it’s been a while since we’ve been allowed to freely leave the country so we might be a tad rusty. I do have to give us some credit for usually finding a way to overcome these silly mishaps, either by smarts or brute force. And at the end of the day, you should be thanking us for the entertainment and keeping you from making the same mistakes 🙂 (which also included forgetting the bug repellent and sunscreen in my bag stored in Cusco).
Anyway, we were pointed to a small stand with ropes that we could use to attach our sleeping bags… however we could. At this point I must thank my dad for his overzealous, and often questionable use of baler twine growing up for my ability to rig up my bag.
After clearing the first checkpoint, we were off! Well, almost, since Chris lost his sleeping bag after about 45 steps. He rectified that, and then we were off! I wouldn’t quite call us bats outta hell, but we did get to our lunch stop 40 minutes ahead of schedule and laid in the grass while we waited for them to prep our first of many three course meals. You’ll see that crushing our guide, Santiago’s, time estimates will be a recurring theme over the four days 😎
Now for someone who has wanted to do this trek for over 3 years, I honestly didn’t know a ton about what we were going to see besides mountains; I prefer not to have many preconceived notions and leave some things to be discovered. Otherwise, what would be the adventure in travel?! This time, it was the number of Inca ruins sprinkled along the trail and history we would get to learn about in the three days leading up to the big show.
My single favorite piece of info we were enlightened to was that the expeditionist, Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Picchu and the Inca trail was the inspiration for Indiana Jones’ character. I can’t tell you how many times I watched those movies growing up, so it made the journey that much more fun being able to walk the same path someone like that and let my imagination run a little less wild than those screenwriters did 😉
The goings for day one were pretty darn easy, with only a couple stints of steep uphill and some short snack breaks to balance out. This put us into camp early afternoon, passing their continuation standards with flying colors. Folks who struggle with day one are strongly advised to turn back as the next day is no joke with +4k elevation over 8km, right into 2k of steep stair descent. As such, we rested and stretched out our legs as we waited for our first tea time (aka pre-dinner snacks) with Santiago. Not surprisingly we wolfed down everything they put in front of us, both because we needed it and because it was delicious.
Still my favorite part about the nighttime was being able to see stars glittering in volumes that would make Ke$ha jealous. The lack of light pollution also allowed us to see the Milky Way! After some gazing, we turned in early to be ready for the next day’s 5am start…
Normally I’d be a bit groggy that early, but one of the porters came bearing coca tea to perk us up. After he delivered two cups, he moved to the other tent and attempted to coax awake the nonexistent inhabitant, “Amigo! Amigo? …Amigo???” I then realized they had no clue we all got cozy in a single tent together… because #nobestieleftbehind. Trying to explain through my own giggles, in broken Spanish to a native Quechua speaker that there was nobody in that tent woke me up more than the tea ever could!
I’m glad we started the day off on a fun note because the next four hours were quite strenuous for 4000 reasons previously mentioned. A good chunk of that elevation gain is via steps, which makes it more difficult than just trail with the same incline because you don’t get to choose your step length. Same goes for the decline, except worse because you don’t have a way to catch yourself if your tired legs from the uphill don’t work exactly right.
Still, we got to climb through a few sections of jungle and were rewarded with sick views at the top! We also learned that though a lot of the cities & agricultural ruins had been broken down by the elements over time and partially reconstructed by archeologists, 80% of the actual trail remains original after several hundred years.
Not surprisingly, we got into camp hours ahead of the ETA, which made me question my fitness levels a little less than I was during the actual ascent. We hadn’t banked on showering at all on the trek, but the midday heat drove us to brave a quick, icy (the water could not have been much above freezing) immersion for some relief before devouring everything they cooked us and promptly passing out face down in the shade.
And this is a great stopping point for the first half of our journey.. more to come in a couple days!