Day 196 of 400: Machu Picchu Trek (1st day) – Peru
Our 3:30AM alarm went off and we painfully rolled out of bed and into the shower…after all, this would be the last shower we would get for the next 4 days! Once we were ready, we grabbed our packed lunches and got into the hotel’s complimentary car to get to the meeting spot in town. We walked onto the charter bus and saw our 18 porters welcoming us by clapping from the back of the bus. They were all dressed in bright red Llama Path shirts. We found a seat, smiled at our fellow trekkers and rested our heads against the window to get a little shut-eye.
As the bus drove for 2 hours through the dark, along windy roads, everyone was silent until we arrived in a small town. We were all told to get off the bus and sit down for breakfast at a small restaurant. They served us pancakes, fruit, yogurt, cereal and coffee. We enjoyed getting to know each other over our first sleepy breakfast together. After breakfast we bought some dried coca leaves with a bit of thick black salty paste which they said would assist in the breakdown of the coca leaves up in the mountains. They also sold toilet paper thankfully since Giff and I forgot to pack it…a minor detail! Once back on the bus, it was another hour before we were at the starting point.
Once we arrived, we got all our things off the bus and bought a $1 bandana from one of the local Peruvian women to block the sun from our neck. We put on sunblock and bug spray and took a group photo by the Inca Trail sign. This was the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime trip together and we were very anxious to get started. As we walked through the Inca Trail gate, we were all asked to give our passports where we were verified as registered to walk the trail that day since they only allow 500 people per day to enter. They gave us an Inca Trail stamp and we were officially on our trek.
Just walking a few steps through the mountains and the scenery already seemed so beautiful. We were walking at a pretty slow pace, stopping often as our guides pointed out various plants and trees along the path. One that particularly stood out was a cactus plant which had several little white balls clinging to it…almost like a mold or fungus. The guide picked off one of the little white balls and popped it open into his hand. It was a deep cranberry red color. He explained it was actually a parasite feeding off these cactus plants. The Peruvian people learned to use these parasites as a dye for their crafts…it is still used that way today.
We continued to walk through the valley with towering mountains above us. It was already getting hot and we were all taking layers off as we continued our hike. We came across two Incan ruins and stopped to listen to the details of what they thought the buildings were used for etc. They specifically pointed out the structures which use to be used for crops. They looked like shelves carved into the mountains…we recognized the style right away from our Sacred Valley tour yesterday. It was classic Incan style…grass of course was now growing over them but centuries ago they were used to farm their food.
After walking for about 4 hours we stopped for lunch. Our porters who carried huge packs on their backs filled with our tents, food, cooking equipment, sleeping bags etc. etc…had hiked way ahead of us and already had the food tent assembled and bowls of hot water with a bar of soap next to them. We arrived to the camp site, the boys rang out the sweat from their shirts and hung them on the clothes line. We washed up and sat down to eat. The food was impressively good for camping…We started with a fresh salad served in a half avocado followed by a homemade soup and then a couple of options for the main course…meats and rice and potatoes. Forget about hot dogs and hamburgers…this was great food considering we were camping!
After lunch and a bit of resting, we were on the trails again hiking through stunning mountain views. We continued for another 3 hours or so going up and down the path and seeing a few other people trekking as well. We saw some of the locals who live along the Inca path walking with their donkeys and some trying to sell bottled water and Gatorade to the trekkers.
When we finally arrived to our camp site…our porters had all our sleeping tents assembled with warm bowls of water and soap sitting outside each one. They not only trekked ahead of us and had the whole campsite set up with gorgeous views for us to stare at, but they had already started cooking dinner! We all picked our tents, washed up and dressed in additional layers including winter hats because the air was much colder from being higher in altitude and almost sunset.
The guides had us come in for what they called “happy hour” which included coca tea and popcorn. We sat around and chatted amongst each other while the porters were hard at work preparing dinner. They gave us about an hour between happy hour and dinner time to relax. Today wasn’t very hard as far as the trekking was concerned…the altitude wasn’t too high either…but everyone had gotten up very early to be on the bus by 4:30AM and then we had hiked for about 7 hours. We were more sleepy than exhausted at that point.
For dinner, we were again impressed…they served us a starter, a soup and several entrée options and the chef wearing his chef hat came into our tent to present our dessert as he lit the bananas on fire with the rum in his saute pan.. We of course ended again with a cup of tea. It was really important to drink plenty of liquids throughout the day not only because of the hiking but specifically because of the altitude we would be tackling over the next several days. I didn’t have as much as I should have and on top of getting only a few hours of sleep…I started to feel a little “off”.
After dinner, we all went into our beds, which were thin air mattresses with a sleeping bag. The guides said it was bedtime and that they would be waking us up at about 6AM for breakfast and then we would hit the trails for what would be the most difficult day of our 4 day trek.