You're In the Andes My Friend - Day I

Trip Start Aug 05, 2005
Trip End Aug 20, 2005

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

*SPOILER ALERT: don't read this section if you want to fully experience the surprises and highlights of the 4-day Inca Trail unencumbered by too much information and/or expectation.

Many dream of standing on the amazing historical and archeological site of Machu Picchu, but, as in all things meaningful, the real experience is the journey to get there. From the very onset of our trip, our guide Eric informed us that the actual hike to Machu Pichhu was the real adventure, and we should view Machu Picchu as only 10 percent of our entire trip. If one is lucky and adventurous enough to hike to Machu Pichhu, you will learn a "truer" Inca and Peruvian history and understand life in the Andes in a very visceral and self-aware process. Machu Picchu will be relegated to speck in your knowledge of the great history and achievements of the Inca people and their descendents.

View our Day 1 images, here LINK


When your guide says early starting times, s/he mean it. Really don't be late, as it's not only rude to everyone in your group, but there are safety factors regarding hiking in the Inca Trail after dark, hence the early start.

DO: arrange luggage/gear storage and some light food (tea, coffee, bread) with your hotel the night before departure.

DON'T: stay up and have big piss-up the night before, as the first day is quite long and you ascend from 2,750m (9,000ft) to nearly 4,200m (13,776ft), depending on where camp is set.

0400: We were awake and geared up, waiting in the lobby of our hotel for our pickup as directed. It was really quite a thrilling moment, knowing that we were about to embark on a journey which we had dreamed about for years. In addition, there was something of the old-world adventure (despite the gortex and water bladders) in knowing that we were about to tread a real Inca Trail.

It was fairly cold, despite our hats and jackets, so the realization began to set in that our next few nights would be quite chilly and uncomfortable, adding to our adventurous apprehension. Unless one is as experienced as Conrad Anker
or Sir Edmund Hillary, there's always that moment that one wonders if they will actually make it through the trip. But, then you realize that even if this was your first great outdoors adventure experience, faint-hearted is the last thing you are (why the heck would you be standing in the dark and cold in the middle of a third-world country in the first place?).

Of course, it helps to have a good traveling companion. It makes for good economics: expenses are halved, there's someone to help with your luggage and gear, you'll always have someone whom you won't bore to smitherins with your travel stories and photos; and, it's simply just nice to share the experience. But, there is a dark side to groups and traveling friends, so please indulge this particular rant:

CULTURAL ALERT: It's important to remember that one is truly lucky to be viewing, visiting, experiencing something unique. These moments are not the time to pull out the cellphone and call everyone on quick-dial in Kalamazoo (we can use this town as we know NO ONE there) and regal them with what you are seeing, thinking, feeling at the TOP OF YOUR LUNGS. Neither is it your right to bore (while simultaneously annoying) everyone within a 50 metre radius about your Aunt Hecuba's enlarged thyroid because you seem to have never learned to use your "indoor" voice.

Not only is it downright obnoxious with the audacity of misplaced entitlement to everyone around you, but your entire country and each and EVERY ONE of its citizens will be vilified for your behavior. In addition, everyone will know your name is Lucinda Loudmouth or Stanley Stentorian, and, even if it is not, you will be so dubbed. So if one cannot learn to express oneself through quieter methods (journal/blog writing, digital photography, hugging tightly the person whom you summited the mount with, smiling - to name a few), and you are traveling with or unfortunately run into a Lucinda or Stanley, we recommend that you get away fast and deny that you know him/her/them. Otherwise, you might find yourself on the edge of a narrow trail in a developing South American country waiting in ambush to do a dastardly deed using the 2,000 metres of sheer drop as convenient circumstantial evidence in your defense

As we were eventually crammed into a small Kombi (mini) van with our fellow hikers (a nice Brit couple and a Québécois gal), our guide Eric and some porters, with our gear strapped on top, it was important to be silent, even napping as it was only 0430. By the time dawn had broken, we had traveled down into the Sacred Valley nearing our departure point outside of Ollantaytambo.

0630: We had a quick, but filling, breakfast, and Eric let us know that this really was our last-stop before the back of beyond (whoop-whoop, B-F nowhere) in regard to anything for the next few days, so get it (drinks, candy, toilet paper, etc.) then and there.

Then it was back in the van for a quick trip down along the Rio Urubamba, with a wave at the morning's Peru Rail tourist train (and a bit of surreal feeling knowing that the train's passengers were arriving at Machu Picchu that day, three days before we would get there).

0730: We disembarked at the trail head entrance at Kilometer 68 (some trekking guides start at Km 82) and had a brief look at the porters sorting out who carries what up to 80 or so kilos (!).


CULTURE ALERT: in juxtaposition, the porters with their brightly woven wool jackets, manila rope and bare feet and sandals were completely anachronistic compared to our little group with our vibram-soled boots and layers of synthetic, air-breathing, light-weight, non-tear, water-proof, highly-tooled, synthetic membranes. But over the next few days, as we struggled up the trail with our daypacks laden only with small water bladders, cameras and a hat or so, we were truly humbled by being passed one after the other, again and again, by young to middle-age men easily carrying their 80 kilo burden (of our stuff) roped onto their backs. It was also quite inspiring to see how the Andean people truly loved their harsh, but beautiful mountains and how they had adapted their lives and physical selves in respect to and in honor of their unique environment.

IMAGEs Porters with stuff

Before following Eric down towards the trail head. On the way, we had a bit of a discussion as to whether or not Paddington Bear was real, before we hit the check-in point. Eric reminded all of us to have our passports stamped with the Inca Trail insignia, and then we literally crossed a bridge and were on our way.




approx 1000: After two hours or so of hiking at medium incline (steep for the Andeans seeming not to exist) amongst (seemingly almost) high-desert like foliage (albeit we had no real info on the flora and fauna of out trip to our dismay), we reached a high cliff plateau overlooking the Rio Urubamba and Inca ruins of Llactapta. As we had been steadily climbing along the Cusichaka River Canyon (with its magnificent views of the Cordillera Oriental, particularly, Nevada Veronica 5,750m/18,), the question silently arose as to why the Inca's did not simply build a river trail?

Traveling slightly off the Trail to a vantage point overlooking the ruins, Eric gladly gave us an overview of the typical Inca trail we were on and why it was built in such an extreme manner. More information on Inca Culture is available on the links under Inca Culture (ENTRY #1), but, basically, the Inca's believed that the mountains were their gods.

In order to commune with and experience a mountain's divine powers, it was extremely important for all roads to reach mountain summits whenever possible. Therefore, unlike our modern need for fast and efficient transport being the shortest and fastest route between two points, the Inca's built their roads in order to journey with and experience their gods.

Eric also informed us that excavations at Llactapta showed an unusual amount of agricultural remnants (seeds, tools, plants). With its terracing and location near the river which flowed below Machu Picchu, some scientists believe that this site was used as an agricultural storage and produce for the residents of Machu Picchu.

WAYLLABAMBA (3,000m/9,840ft)
approx 1230: In retrospect, although beautiful with great views of Nevado Veronica, this first day of hiking was really the least attractive of the whole trip. As there are some small villages off the trail in this portion, it was (relatively) congested with locals and their beasts of burden and hikers. In addition, animal droppings all over the Trail made it slightly unpleasant to walk (our lunch [1300] in the small village of Chamana was in an animal paddock was a test in navigating around cow paddies or their equivalent). There was one or two places to buy bottled water along the way, including a little bar in Wayllabamba.

CULTURE ALERT: throughout the Sacred Valley and even in Wayllabamba, you will see small businesses and private homes with red flags or balloons hanging on a stick outside the building. The flags indicate locations which brews and sells chicha. Chicha is a popular local drink which is fermented maize beer that is served warm.


In addition, we saw a good example and a good reason as to know where your food comes from in Peru. On top of the shower and toilet shed was a slab a meat being cured, completely exposed to the elements and the insects who were looking for a tasty meal.

DO: pick up after yourself and/or others. Although rubbish disposal is a problem throughout Peru, it is particularly offensive to see a candy wrapper or plastic water bottle on the Inca Trail. Furthermore, as most Andeans living near the Trail cannot afford such amenities, this trash is really left by hikers. The guide outfitters are all about packing out what you pack in, so carry your own small plastic bag so it's easy to add whatever you come across to the rubbish collection at camp. FYI: United Mice has a founding principle of ecotourism.

TO HIGH CAMP: LLULLUCHA (3,700m/12,139ft)
Some trekking guides choose to camp in Wayllabamba, but United Mice believes that it's a bit extreme to expect their groups to ascend (virtually straight up) 1,200m (3,937ft) to the first pass on Day 2 from Wayllabamba's lower elevation. They had our group hike up another 700m (2,296ft) to our first camp at Llullucha.

Although only 700m (2,296ft) more, this has very steep incline with sporadic and broken Inca steps to traverse. The further we ascended, the Trail actually became greener with pleasant rushing water streams making their way down to the Rio Urubamba. Later we found out that the foliage was formed from
polyepsis woodlawns


TIME As it's a long day to start with, this last ascent simply makes it a steeper and more difficult climb (especially as one really begins to feel the altitude and the cold).

One pleasant diversion was the appearance of a golden retriever from nowhere, who seemed to encouraging stragglers up the Trail. Obviously quite adapted to his environment, he would rush down the trail towards us, then playfully gamble along before leaping ahead to patiently wait for those of us sadly encumbered with only two legs. Eric informed us later that the dog actually belonged to a young family, who had returned to their family property high in the Andes to keep it viable for farming.

1730: At the High Camp, it became apparent as to what all the porters (9 for five people) and all our money was being used for. Tents were set up with our gear inside and late afternoon tea was served, amidst the bustle and smells of dinner being prepared. It was extremely convenient to not have to pitch a tent and simply be able to immediately change out of our damp and cold gear into something dry and warm.

There are toilets and running water at this camp, but depending on where your tent is pitched it can be a long and cold walk to the loo (don't forget your toilet paper and torch/headlamp). By early evening it had become quite cold!

DO: for the gals, bring a wide mouth plastic cup/bowl with a lid to urinate in on those really cold nights or faraway toilets. Unfortunately, we're not as lucky as the blokes who can easily pull down their drawers and relieve themselves at the nearest convenient spot. The plastic cup/bowl will allow you the relief of not staying awake all night with a full bladder!
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