The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
Saint Augustine
Trekking the Inca Trail
Day One

After getting our passports stamped to show that we’d passed through the control point, my group of ten trekkers and two guides, Maritza and Louis, crossed to the south bank of the Urubamba River via a pedestrian bridge to begin our walk along the route of the kings. The elevation at the trail bulkhead was 2,750 meters above sea level or about 9,000 feet.

The sun peaked from behind the cumulus clouds and the soft breeze was cool on my face as I looked up at the snow caps of Veronica Peak in the Urubamba Mountain range. Having spent more than a week at high altitudes in Arequipa (2380 meters/ 7740 feet) and trekked more than a mile to the depth of Colca Veronica Peak PeruCanyon, I felt confident, strong and so excited that I could barely contain my enthusiasm.

The trail was flat and broad as it ran along the sloping banks of the Urubamba River on our right and steep mountain terrain on our left. Our guide informed us that the original Inca Trail, on the opposite side of the river, is no longer used at this point because some sections have disappeared or run along the existing railroad track making it too dangerous for trekkers.

Maritza had told us that porters had priority on the trail. So whenever someone at the rear of the line shouted “porter”, we moved to the mountain side of th
e trail as the real workhorses of the Inca Trail sprinted pass carrying their load of more than 25 kilos (about 55 pounds). Until new regulations were passed a few years ago, it was not unusual for porters to carry 45 to 50 kilos (more than 100 pounds).

According to Maritza, there is a competition among porters and guides every few years to determine the fastest time from km82 to Machu Picchu (nearly 27 miles). To date the fastest time is three hours forty five minutes. With no national or international sponsorship, the only reward for the winner is pride in having finished first.

As the trail narrowed we walked single file in our climb to the first rest stop. Maritza was the lead guide and Louis brought up the rear behind the last trekker. At the rest stop I zipped off the bottom legs of my pants, removed my shirt and reached for my first energy bar. After a brief rest the ascent became steeper until we reached Q‘entimarka (also known as Patallaqta), the first of several archeological sites along the trail.
Q‘entimarka also known as Patallaqta
Patallaqta, a major town set atop a series of terraces and approximately four kilometers west of Machu Picchu, was first discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, the American Archeologist who rediscovered the lost Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Since Bingham spent little time documenting Patallaqta, there were no known published accounts of the site for the next 70 years. In 1982 Ann Kendall, a British archeologist, went to the site and spent more than ten years clearing it.

The site, situated on a mountainside at 2,650 meter or nearly 8,700 feet, has three sectors including an urban sector which housed workers and soldiers, an agricultural sector and a religious sector. Archeologists think the site may have been used as a rest stop and an agricultural station to supply Machu Picchu with maize, one of the staple crops of the Incas.

At the end of our brief rest and archeological lesson, Maritza asked if there were any questions. Getting none, she told us that we had to walk another 1½ hours to reach the lunch campsite. With that thought in mind and her urging of “vamos!” (let’s go), we rose from our various sitting positions on the ground, stowed away our cameras, wiggled into our backpacks and headed up the trail. A quick stop at the sign showing the control points, bathrooms, campsites, archeological sites, and altitude along the trail only served as a reminder that the easiest part was behind us.

One and a half hours later we arrived at grassy glen along the Cusichaca River where the porters had set up a temporary campsite for our lunch stop. Since more than six hours had passed since breakfast, anything more than an energy bar would have been welcomed. So I was delighted to see the meal of golden fried trout, yellow rice, broccoli and carrots with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and a tomato and cucumber salad. To aid digestion, lunch was followed by a cup of mint tea.

Needless to say, I was ready for an afternoon nap after lunch but that wasn’t to be. We still had lots of ground to cover before we reached our first overnight campsite.

The trail was uphill all afternoon. When necessary, I was more than happy to step to the side of the trail to allow the porters to pass. Stepping aside gave me an excuse to lean on a rock and rest if only for a few seconds.

We passed a small indigenous village called Huayllabama where many groups camp out the first night. Unfortunately, our campsite was further along the trail. As instructed by our guide, I took frequent short stops to rest and take in the scenery then continued to push forward. The previous evening, one of my fellow trekkers had said that we should think of the four day trek as 100 ten minute walks. Little did I know at the time that those words would sustain me at the most difficult times during the trek especially when I could only take ten steps between rest stops.

As the afternoon wore on and the trail rose to more than 3000 meters, about 9,800 feet, I breathed harder and began to perspire. That’s when I reached for the coca leaves tucked into the zipped compartment of my backpack. Earlier we'd gotten instructions on how to use the coca leaves. Take about ten leaves, fold them over, tuck them between your cheek and gum and allow them to get wet. Chew them for about 30 minutes while swallowing your saliva.

We finally reached our overnight campsite shortly after 6:00 PM. In a clearing between the base of two mountains, the porter had already set up the campsite with two person sleeping
tents, each with a set of double air mattresses, a cooking tent and a dining tent. After my tentmate and I selected our accommodation for the night, I slipped off my backpack then crawled into the tent for a short rest before dinner. In just a few minutes the porters brought blue plastic bowls of warm water and bars of soap and paper towels so we could freshen up for dinner. Maritsa suggested that we remove our wet shirts to prevent chill and put them between the two air mattresses. She assured us that they would be dry by the following morning.

Again, the cook had prepared a meal worthy of a four star restaurant. As the sun sank behind the mountain facing our campsite, we dined on our second delicious high mountain meal of the day.

At the end of the meal, Maritsa gave us the schedule for the next day and cautioned us to put our shoes inside our tents. She said that in the middle of the night, donkeys som
etime wonder through the campsite and have been known to munch on any shoes left outside. We all chuckled at the thought, but put our shoes inside anyway.

Maritsa also warned us to store our camera batteries away from the edges of the tents. She said that the cold and dampness would sap the battery’s energy. Just to be on the safe side, I removed my camera battery, put it into a plastic baggie along with my spare batteries and tucked the baggie inside my sleeping bag. Dressed in silk long johns, socks and a fleece hat, I crawled into the sleeping bag. With the longest, most difficult day ahead of us, it wasn’t long before headlamps and torches were extinguished and we were fast asleep.

Continue to Day Two

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