Our first day on the Inca Trail
We were up at 3 AM to meet up with the Llama Path bus. I don’t think the Monasterio gets too many trekkers because the half-asleep clerk at the checkout desk gave us the "WTF are you bothering me at this hour?" look. We stored our extra luggage at the hotel for our return in 5 days. We had both hired an extra porter to carry our stuff. We only used half that allocated weight. Near Ollantaytambo we stopped at a small restaurant for breakfast. They had some unappealing scrambled eggs, pancakes and cereal. I had been having some bad stomach pains all morning so I barely ate anything. Hamburglar: 1, Me: 0. We got our passports stamped at the starting checkpoint, and we were on our way. In order to carry my Canon 400D dslr in an easily accessible manner, I used a Kinesis holster bag with a belt hooked to my Camelbak Fourteener. Sherri assured me that looked like an absolute TOOL.
The morning hike was nice and flat. The trail followed along the Urubamba river with the snow-capped Veronica Mountain trailing in the distance. The only distraction from this gorgeous scenery was the abundance of land mines on the trail. The locals use donkeys which apparently eat much and drop ass anywhere. Raul explained that there are two main trails from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. We were taking the royal Incan trail through the mountains which was used by the Inca and his family. The other road used by commoners remains flat through the valley and make it to Machu Picchu in a day. The railroad also follows that same direction.
We saw the first large ruins, Llactapata, from atop a ridge in the distance. At that point we passed a female trekker from another group who was being led on a donkey back in the direction towards Ollantaytambo. She was the first casualty of the trail. By the time we made it to the camp for lunch, our porters had already set up the dining tent and cooked a wonderful meal of trout. We were treated like kings of the wilderness.
The afternoon was much tougher. We started to march up into the mountains. My dslr camera felt like a 50 lb. weight. That McDonald’s burger felt ready to come out—either up or down. My steady pace turned into a slow shuffle. Sherri and I were lagging farther behind as Amy and Steve demonstrated their championship speed-walking form. I was utterly exhausted when I staggered into camp. Raul decided to camp further up the mountain at the second campsite, Llulluchapampa. There was only one other group there—an Argentine family traveling as a private group with Llama Path. At the time, we didn’t realize how lucky it was to camp away from the crowds. Our tents were already set up with bowls of warm water and soap outside our tents for us to wash up. There were several two-person tents for the trekkers. There was a larger tent used as a kitchen and dining room. At night, the porters all slept in it. We changed out of our sweaty clothes into warm fleece as the weather was freezing. We went through our porter introductions. Amazingly one of our porters was 60 years old! He had started only 4 years ago because his family needed the money. Maybe he too got swindled by Madoff. We had another hearty meal and turned in for the night.
Sherri had never camped out before and was miserable. Even with an air mattress and sleeping bag, the ground was uncomfortable. Despite being on a terrace, there was a slope downward. I kept waking up with my feet ready to fall out the tent. The worst part was having to use my lumpy pack as a pillow. My head and neck were so sore.
The headlamps we brought were absolutely crucial as we were engulfed in pure darkness. I had to make a midnight run to the latrine which was about 75 yards down the hill from our tents. These were squatters which had not been cleaned for while. I walked into one stall, closed the door, did my business, and realized I was trapped. The door was jammed stuck. There was no doorknob. It swung inwards so I couldn’t push it open. Plus the toilet wouldn’t flush! Sadly, if you are stuck in a commode high in the Andes, nobody can hear you scream. I faced spending the night in this small cesspool of a prison. I cursed my stupidity. Why did I need to close the stall door when there was absolutely nobody around! Fortunately, I spied a small sliver of space between the floor and the bottom of the door. I was able to wiggle the very tips of my fingers under there and gradually pull the door open. Freedom at last! I returned to my tent minus my dignity.