May 3-6, 1999
Lunch: Potato casserole and veggies
Dinner: Vegetable pasta soup and fried cauliflower
After a restless night, I was up at 4:30am in preparation for setting off. Liz, a traveler from Idaho, and I walked down from the hostel to the tour bus, where the other 20 in our group were gathering. I had packed light because I knew the trail would be steep: a sleeping bag, long johns, shorts, two shirts, toiletries and first-aid supplies made up the most of my rucksack. On our bus, people yawned with sleep and chatted as we made our way to Ollantaytambo (see Kevin's dispatch) for breakfast and then down to Kilometer 82, where we disembarked and crossed the river up into the hills. The trails were all maintained and refined in the last 20 years by the Instituto Nacional de la Cultura (INC), so we saw lots of painted signs: "Siga: Camino Inka by INC" (This way to the Inca Trail). Although the Inca were the most known, not all of the stone steps on the trail were created by the Inca. In fact, many of the pre-Inca cultures had advanced stonework and systems of paths and highways that existed before the Inca took control.
After lunch and a power nap on a flat grassy area, we continued on to Kilometer 88, where most backpackers begin the trail. From our viewpoint, we could see down onto the terracing of "uptown," or "town on the hillside," Llactapata. Cesar explained to us about Dr. Alan Kendall's theory of vertical economy here in Peru. At 1500m, coca leaves grow. At 2000m, corn grows in 210 varieties from all the different microclimates. At 3000m, one finds the 84 types of potato (although we've found different estimates of how many types of potato there really are), and then the camelid family of llamas and alpacas, sources of both meat and wool, are found at 4000m. Because of this, Llactapata functioned as kind of a granary, where pack animals could carry in food from all the different heights. After a break, we pushed forward, reaching Huayllabamba at 2750m by three in the afternoon. We set up camp and I dipped into the stream, a fork of the Llullucha river and Cusichaca river. After some afternoon tea, dinner, and bites of some persistent mosquitoes, I conked out.
Breakfast: Yogurt and muesli
Lunch: Tomato soup and pasta salad, tuna salad
Dinner: Chicken Cacciatori and mashed potatoes with rice
We woke up and started up the steep trail and steps, following villagers who were going about their business. Frolicking in the grass with spectacular views behind us, most of the trekkers in our group had a good time taking pictures and talking in-between heavy breaths and rest stops. After passing the "Three White Stones" campsite, I was tempted to buy a chocolate bar from some of the women who sit nearby selling water, sodas, and snacks, but settled for some granola that I had packed and a couple of sips of water. Cesar had warned us against gulping lots of water: because of the elevation and the cold, your stomach sometimes doesn't agree with too much and you cramp up.
Porters agreed to carry some of the backpacks this day and many people in our group opted to pay 20 sols (Peruvian unit of money) for the privilege of walking up the pass without a heavy pack. Lucky! The porters practically ran up the steps while the rest of us slogged slowly on. Many porters make their living from hiking the trail. Luis, a porter from our group, and Santos, the cook, were both under 25 years old. They told me that the money they make is quite good, even though the job is tiring. Groups usually tip generously, and our porters netted an average of 45 sols per person for the four days. I heard about one older porter who was completing his 372nd time on the Inca Trail. Amazing!
Mood: F-, then A+
Breakfast: Pancakes and oatmeal porridge
Lunch: Pasta salad and potato soup
Dinner: Potato soup, Spaghetti, peaches and Jell-O
Dude: This path from Runkuracay to Machu Picchu marks the start of the true Inca trail. Until this point, INC had taken care of putting down steps and clearing the trail, but from now onwards, there were true Inca features, like a cave and carved staircases. Looking back from Runkuracay, you can see a thin black line of the original trail. "Too many tourists kept falling off," said Cesar, so they built the more manageable INC trail. Last year, at our previous campsite, Huayllabamba, a woman had taken off for a quick walk without her flashlight. She got lost after the sun set and kept circling round and round looking for the campsite. Porters eventually found her body 8 days later, where she had fallen. You must always be careful to hike safely and hike prepared.
We continued down to the valley floor, passing a dried-out swamp bed and then climbing up into a lush cloud forest, with hundreds of varieties of ferns and little flowers holding onto the sheer cliff faces. At the same time, old, twisted trees provided an air of mystery and fairy tales for the walk. I started feeling dizzy and having trouble walking. Was it the altitude? Or did I not make a correct offering to Pachamama, Mother Earth, for safe passage? Whatever it was, by the time Donald, my Australian friend, encouraged me up to Phuyupatamarca "town above the clouds" at 3530m elevation, I felt terrible. Pale and shaky, I put my pack down and stretched out on it. Donald's wife Zelda made me put on her chompa (sweater), and Candice made up a wad of coca leaves and boldo (a small, edible plant of Chilean origin whose leaves are used for medicinal purposes) for me to put in my mouth.
A few of the other groups stopped and had lunch here, but Candice held my hand and walked me down steps and through switchbacks to the youth hostel at Winay Wayna (2640m), where we were going to camp for the night. Here, a fiesta was in progress, as hikers from all the starting points (Km 104, Km 88, Km 82 and beyond) converged to have a hot shower and cheese sandwiches. Many trekkers, thrashed like me, simply settled into chairs and drank endless cups of mate de coca. However, the happy ambience started to work on me and by early evening I was back into an A++ mood. Cesar took us out to visit the beautifully sculpted baths and ruins of Winay Wana, and at 7:00pm we had a farewell dinner and toasted each other's health, especially that of the porters. We had come this far. . .tomorrow would be the day we for which we had waited for so long. . .Machu Picchu, the stunning finale at the end of our long hike on the Inca Trail.
Kevin - The End of an Incan Era
Kavitha - All Dressed Up but Nowhere to Go
Kevin - Perhaps the Greatest Epidemic Ever
Monica - Machu Picchu at Last!
Making a Difference - Save the Rainforest from Your Own Backyard!
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