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I wish I could begin with the 06:00 pickup at our hotel in Ollantaytambo. With how we waited with anticipation and first met our wonderful guide Jaime. And with meeting the other trekkers on the early morning bus. I wish.
Instead, our Inca Trail trek began at 01:00 that morning with me vomiting in the toilet. Then with H vomiting in the toilet. After that we continued to swap off our trips to the bathroom until 05:00 when it was time to shower, pack up, and leave for a 4 day trek. The Blue Magic restaurant, it turned out, had the wrong kind of magic for us. After years of harmless street food, a highly rated restaurant laid us low with a foodborne illness on a day that absolutely could not be postponed. And I only mention it because, although we did the whole trek, the first couple of day’s misery interfered with photography, note taking, and generally enjoying the trail.
So despite our night’s activities, we were waiting in the small lobby of the Hostal Iskay, and Jaime did pick us up at 06:00, and we did meet our fellow trekkers on the bus. It’s just that our capacity for enthusiasm had been somewhat muted.
The bus takes you to the end of the road — Kilometer 82. To go any further down the Urubamba you’ll need to catch the train that leads to Machu Picchu. We will return on rails, but for now we start walking after the road ends. It took about 30 minutes for cover the 10 miles from Ollanta. For us, the end of the road was a house by the river. Our porters had set up a table in a grassy open area and that’s where we had breakfast and made our formal introductions. We were seven in our group: Daniel, Lindsey, & Shami from Canada; Lauren & Matthew from Australia; and the two of us.
A quick “listos” and we were off, walking on a dirt trail beside the railroad tracks. H & I carried our own packs with sleeping bags, mats, and clothing. The others had hired porters for the bulk of their belongings, just having a light daypack for the trail. We posed for a group photo under the Camino Inka sign placed there for group photo posing, then cued up at the entrance checkpoint. Once we crossed the narrow green suspension bridge that spanned the churning river we took out first steps on the Inca Trail.
This first part paralleled the river and remained relatively flat, making its way through a forest of prickly pear cactus with Spanish moss (or its Andean equivalent) clinging to the taller trees. On the far side of the river we saw occasional ruins skirted by the train tracks. The weather was the best we’d had since we’d been in the Sacred Valley — some clouds but mainly sunny & blue.
In order to turn up the Kusichaka river valley we had to cross a good height of alluvial fill before dipping into the valley. This gave us our first small taste of ascent. At the top Jaime sat us down and had one of his cultural history / team building talks.
The hill overlooked Patallacta, a small agricultural ruin with terraces for crops & buildings for the farmers. The lower terraces have a lovely concave-convex form to them, as the Rio Kusichaka wraps around them.
After the brief descent we continued up the valley to Wayllabamba for lunch. The trail was busy with locals — motorbikes, horses, & donkeys doing their daily thing. A few merchants lined the path — some with food & knickknacks for tourists, others with the red-bag-on-a-stick that indicated the chicha is ready. The steep & lush valley reminded me of Nepal and indeed if there had been more population it would have been hard to tell the two lands apart.
After a brief & needed nap, the trout ceviche for lunch starter set the tone for the meals to follow — unexpectedly excellent. It was followed by a pasta soup, cucumber salad, another salad of some variety, chicken, and rice.
Back in Cusco Enigma, the trek operator, gave us a briefing on the trek. Due to unexpectedly heavy rains, the camp for the 3rd night had been washed out. Because of this the campsites for the whole trek had been shifted further out. And now the first day would go 3 miles and 2,700′ further than originally scheduled.
So Wayllabamba would not be our destination today. After the 7 miles in 4 hours with ~2,000′ of up and down, we ended up 1,000′ above that first section of river. We’d been dreading the post-lunch slog since they told us about it, and the day’s health issues did not help. But the only thing to do was to do it, so we did it.
We took a right up the steep Rio Llullucha valley. The trail lifted us through a cloud forest of twisted trees with red bark.
Did I say trail? It was stairs. Steps upon steps, stairs upon stairs, with an occasional respite of a steep stone path. There were no inefficient switchbacks to be found. Just three hours of stairs.
As we climbed above treeline to get to our campsite Llulluchapampa (elevation 12,303′), we went right up into the clouds. The day had turned overcast and right as we finally arrived in camp a cloud had come up our valley and hidden both whence we came and where tomorrow would take us. After applauding each of us as we came into camp, the porters greeted us with bowls of warm water & soap to wash up from the day.
Before nightfall and dinner, we all gathered together — porters & trekkers — to introduce ourselves with Jaime providing translation. Our porter were farmers and shepherds from a small Quechua community. Per Jaime, Enigma employs ~400 porters as employees, not contractors. The guys all seemed well-equipped with solid footwear and functional clothing. It felt like a good group. And although tomorrow was going to be tough, we were happy to have the hardest day of the trek behind us.
- Places: Km 82 – Wayllabamba – Llulluchapampa Camp
- Distance: 10 miles
- Time walking: 7:00
- Elevation gain: 3,700′
- Stairs climbed: 100,000 (estimate)