Saturday the 17th of May 2003 – Day 88 (Day 1 of the Inca Trail)
I got up at 6.50am to wait for my “Inca Trail” Bus. I was looking forward to the 4 day / 3 night 43km (27-mile) route which passes three formidable mountain passes, including the punishing “Dead Woman’s Pass,” to a maximum altitude of 4,200m (13,700 ft.). I had a small day pack and was renting the sleeping bag from the company for 1 US per day. They provided the tent and sleeping mat. I had a solid backpack, and comfortable, sturdy, broken-in hiking (magnum) boots. I also brought: flashlight, sunblock, poncho, tiger balm, baseball hat, micropur, sunglasses, spare batteries, camera, spare socks, spare T-shirt, jacket plus toilet stuff like lip balm, soap, quick drying towel, anti-septic ointment).
For the classic 4-day Inca Trail, the most common and economical service–pooled standard-class treks–range between $150 and $250 per person, including entrance fees ($50) and return by tourist (“Backpacker”) train ($25). I paid 135 US with South American Travel. Independent trekkers join a mixed group of travelers; groups tend to be between 12 and 16 people (maximum 20) with guaranteed daily departures. The cost includes a bus (or train) to Km 88 to begin the trek, an English-speaking guide, tents, mattresses, three daily meals, and porters that carry all common equipment. Tips for porters or guides are extra. Personal porters, to carry your backpacks and other personal items, can be hired for about $50 for the 4 days.
Inca road system
Among the many roads and trails constructed in South America, the Inca road systems in Peru are most extensive yet constructed on the South American continent. Traversing the Andes mountains and reaching heights of over 5 km (16,500 feet) above sea level, the trails connected the regions of the Inca empire from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern city of Santiago, Chile in the south. The Inca road system covered approximately 22,530 km (14,000 mi) and provided access to over three million km² of territory.
These trails were used by the Inca people as a means of relaying messages and transporting goods. The messages were carried via quipu, books, and oral methods. Messages could be carried by runners at a speed of 242 km (150 miles) per day. These would work in relay fashion much like the Pony Express of the 1860’s, in North America.
There were approximately 2,000 inns, or tambos, placed at even intervals along the 30,000 kilometers (18,640 miles) of Inca trails. The inns provided food, shelter and military supplies to the 300,000 bureaucrats who traveled the roads in this organized and civilized empire. There were corrals for llamas and stored provisions such as corn, lima beans, dried potatoes, and llama jerky. Along the roads, local villagers would plant fruit trees that were watered by irragation ditches. This enabled chasqui runners and other travelers to be refreshed while on their journeys. Rope bridges provided access across valleys with intricate steps carved up and down to the bridges.
Many of the trails converge on the center of the empire, the Inca capital city of Cusco. It was therefore easy for the Spanish conquistadors to locate the city. However, the Incas did not make use of the wheel as many western civilizations had. It was also not until the arrival of the Spanish in Peru that horses were used for transportation. Traversing the trails on horseback proved to be difficult and treacherous for the Spanish in their attempts to conquer the Inca Empire. Unaccustomed to the high altitude, weakened by the cold, and frequently ambushed by their enemies, many conquistadors lost their lives on the Inca trails.
I dropped my bag into my hotel reception and asked them to mind it until I returned on Tuesday. My bill was just 60 Soles for 5 nights accommodation. It is a quiet gaff. The bus was to arrive between 7.00 and 7.30am. I decided to pop next door for breakfast (chicken broth). I arrived back at the hotel at 7.30am. No bus, 7.50, 8.00, 8.10am .. no bus. I asked the guy from reception to ring the agency … no answer. Panic… The bus arrived around 8.20am. They said we would be walking by 11.00am. No chance. I met Faith (English) and Alex and Francis (a couple in their 40´s from Austrailia), the night before in the briefing for the trip. Nice journey to Ollantaytambo 97km (60 miles) NW of Cusco; 21km (13 miles) W of Urubamba
“A tongue twister of a town, this gentle, lovely little place at the northwestern end of the Sacred Valley is affectionately called Ollanta (oh-yahn-tah) by locals. Plenty of outsiders who can’t pronounce it fall in love with the town, too. The scenery around Ollantaytambo is some of the loveliest in the region. The snowcapped mountains that embrace the town frame a much narrower valley here than at Urubamba or Pisac, and both sides of the gorge are lined with Inca andenes, or agricultural terraces. Most extraordinary are the precipitous terraced ruins of a massive temple-fortress built by the Inca Pachac?tec. Below the ruins, Ollantaytambo’s old town is a splendid grid of streets lined with adobe brick walls, blooming bougainvillea, and perfect canals, still carrying rushing water down from the mountains.”
It was the start point for our walk. The craic was good and I enjoyed the nice scenery. We arrived there around 12.00 after alot of stops (peple buying ponchos, water etc), and had a nice lunch before the walk started at 14.00 hours. I bought a walking (bamboo) stick for 2 soles. Our group was finalized with two brothers from Tyrone. Damien who had been travelling for 8 months and his brother who had joined him from Ireland for the Inca Trail. He was due to fly home soon after we returned to Cuzco. Two other Brits and a USA citizen had pulled out due to sickness. Great, a nice small group of six. Many groups had up to 20 in there group. Make sure to check. To be picky you can ask the nationalities and ages of those in your group. Do you really want to trek with 20 Israelis or old folks.
Our destiantion Machu Picchu: 120km (74 miles) NW of Cusco
“The Incas hid Machu Picchu so high in the clouds that it escaped destruction by the empire-raiding Spaniards, who never found it. It is no longer lost, of course–and you can zip there by high-speed train and helicopter as well as trek there along a 2- or 4-day trail–but Machu Picchu retains its perhaps unequaled aura of mystery and magic. No longer overgrown with brush, as it was when it was discovered in 1911 by the Yale archaeologist and historian Hiram Bingham with the aid of a local farmer who knew of its existence, from below it is still totally hidden from view. The majestic setting the Incas chose for it remains unchanged: The ruins are nestled in towering Andes mountains and are frequently obscured by mist. When the early morning sun rises over the peaks and methodically illuminates the ruins row by row, Machu Picchu leaves visitors as awestruck as ever.”
Anyway, there seemed to be about another 20 groups of walkers. We were nearly last to finish our “al fresco” lunch which was nice and filling. It was time to get to know the people who wold be walking with for 4 days. I found them all great. We had our National park Tickets (50 US) stamped (they asked for my students card) and off we went on an easy 4 hour trek.
For decades, individuals trekked the Inca Trail on their own, but hundreds of thousands of visitors–as many as 75,000 a year–left behind so much detritus that not only was the experience compromised for most future trekkers, but the very environment was also placed at risk. All trekkers are now required to go accompanied by a guide and group.Only professionally qualified and licensed guides are allowed to lead groups on the Inca Trail. (The maximum size of each group is 16 tourists, and groups larger than 9 trekkers must hire an additional guide to accompany the group.) These changes have cut the number of trekkers on the trail in half (a maximum of 500 is allowed to begin the trail each day) and made reservations virtually essential in high season.
Alot of congestion on the trail as people were in competitive mood. I enjoyed the short walk. Our group stuck together. After crossing the R?o Urubamba (Vilcanota), the first gentle ascent of the trail looms to Inca ruins at Llaqtapata (also called Patallaqta, where Bingham and his team first camped on the way to Machu Picchu). The path then crosses the R?o Cusicacha, tracing the line of the river until it begins to climb, until it reaches the small village (the only one still inhabited along the trail) of Huayllabamba–a 2- to 3-hour climb. A pity, but we arrived at a campsite when it was dark and our guide had brought us to the wrong campsite. We had to trek down hill to another ne which as quite basic (no tolets). We bought a few beers (I also had a flaggon of rum) from a whole in the wall and had dinner. We went to bed when the gas light went out. The food and the company were good. With us were 2 guides called Michel and Mario. Michel had Ok to good English whle Mario had little. Also, there were 4 porters who brought and tansported our tents, food, cooking utilses etc) to each campsite. The two guides had there own tent but the porters shared. They carry a max of 25 kilos per day. I shared a tent with Faith. Total distance: 10-11km (6-7 miles).