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Inca Trail Day 1
Written by Tina Sibley in August 2019

Saturday 24th August

After years of it being on the bucket list and 8 months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived! 

I could barely believe it was happening and felt a massive range of emotions - nervousness, excitement, gratitude and the realisation that I was actually all set to actually do it!  

We were up early and took the bus from Ollantaytambo to the start point of the Inca Trail – KM82.

We were re-acquainted with Nati, one our our amazing guides who gave us the briefing a couple of nights ago in Cusco and introduced to Javier, another guide who was going to look after us during our trek.

We did some final prepping of our backpacks and water etc and then it was time to be processed – I was surprised at some of the restrictions. Some restrictions were obvious, such as not making fires, no smoking and no climbing on the walls. But others seemed odd – no stillettos – would anyone really consider hiking the trail in stillettos? And no selfie sticks??!! Bugger! I had to put mine away! 

We then made our way to the start checkpoint and had our photos taken at the famous Inca Trail sign and were all incredibly excited and a little nervous.

I had seen photos and videos of ‘The Bridge’ that you cross to start the trail and I could barely believe that I was about to walk across it. When I did walk across, it felt quite surreal and as though I were in a dream. 

We went up a small hill and then the trail was fairly flat with some small undulations while we followed along above the river. It was great to see the train in the valley below and we also saw some ruins on the hills opposite. The mountains were magnificent and there was a stunning glacier that towered above us called ‘Veronica’ – that was the name given to the mountain by the Spanish, but the original Quechuan name was Wakay Willca which means Sacred Tears. The stunning glacier started off ahead of us but it wasn’t long before she was behind us as we travelled. 

After a while, we started going up – really up! Then we came to a point where there was a very long, steep upward section and this was where we lost one of our group. One of our ladies was struggling to keep up because the altitude was affecting her. When she saw the uphill and then realised that the whole day tomorrow would be like that, she decided to turn back, which was a shame but probably the right decision. Javier took her back to the start and to make arrangements to get her hooked up with those of the group who chose not to hike but take the train. They were already on their way back to Cusco for a couple of days chilling and excursions.

After a couple of hours we got to the Tarayoq camp, where we had lunch. This was really impressive! First of all, as we arrived, all the porters clapped us in (something that was repeated every time we arrived at camp) then we were given juice and sat down in the sun to rest. Lunch was in a big tent with a long table and stools and we were served a two course meal with soup to start and then I can’t remember each individual meal but it was often rice with mixed vegetables and chicken. It was really tasty. We also had the famous coca tea which was really nice with a bit of mint and sugar. 

After lunch, we continued walking and very soon, we started to be overtaken by the porters who had collapsed our lunch camp and were now on their way to set up for our evening camp. They were incredible! They scurried past us with massive 25 kilo packs on their backs and put us to shame!

After a couple of hours, we came to the Llactapata archeological site, an important rest stop and roadside shrine on the journey to Machu Picchu. We learned how the Incas built the shape of the site to follow the river and the three main reasons for the famous terraces found in most of the Inca sites. One reason was for farming, another reason was ornamental and the third reason was for stability – the terraces provided a stable base to protect the town against earthquakes.

20 minutes or so after leaving Llactapata, we came to Wayllabamba, our camp for the night. Again we were clapped in by our porters, although we thought we should be clapping for them. 

Again, as soon as we arrived, we were given juice and then shown to our tents which had all been put up for us. Then a bowl of hot water arrived for each of us so we could have a wash and change before dinner. It all seemed very civilised. It was so good to wash the dust and sweat off our faces and wash our hands and feet. 

Although this was the ‘easy’ day – only a total of 12km with an elevation gain of just 350 metres, we were still hot and tired. And we had been plagued by bugs all day – swarms of them which got up your nose, in your mouth and even in your eyes! It felt good to wash and change for the night. 

Then we had a ceremony where the porters and chefs introduced themselves to us. There were 20 porters and 2 chefs – looking after a group of 15 hikers and 2 guides. It was so nice to hear a little about the porters, ranging in age from 19 to about 56. They were mostly short and thin but very, very strong. 

Incredibly, Javier (one of our guides) re-appeared just before dinner – after taking our drop-out back and putting her in a car to Cusco, he had got back to the start point and then trekked to the evening camp in 2 hours 45 minutes – whereas we had taken all day! It was good to have our rear guard back and he would prove to be invaluable over the next couple of days! 

Then we had an incredible 3 course meal in our dining tent (which also doubled up as the dormitory for all the porters). It was a great atmosphere and we were all happy to have made it to the end of day one. The celebration even included a spectacular dessert of flambed bananas in chocolate sauce! We were also very aware that it would be much harder tomorrow – we faced the famous ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ – and another 12 Km with an actual elevation climb of 1215 metres (more if you account for the undulations!)  

We were also told that our wake up call would be 05.30 so after dinner, we headed straight for our tents and bed. 

My night was a disaster! I got absolutely no sleep at all. I’d been told that the sleeping mats were very thin and pretty much just foam yoga mats, so I invested in a blow up airbed. But we were actually given air mattresses. But since I’d bought and then carried mine, I figured I would use it on top of the provided airbed and have double comfort – but it didn’t work out like that and I just kept sliding around. I couldn’t get comfortable, was over-excited, nervous about the following day and kept needing to go to the loo (not an easy feat in the dark, even with a head torch). Then I got leg cramps! Standing up to relieve the cramp was impossible, so I ended up doing a strange kind of downward dog in my tent trying to get the cramp out of my calves and the front of my lower leg!  

However, as I lay there, reflecting on everything, I still couldn’t believe that I was actually finally on the Inca Trail and had got to the end of Day 1. I thanked the stars, the sun, the moon, the Universe, God and Pachamama (mother earth) for the incredible experience I was having.

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