Day 58: Inca Trail – A Good Start

Wed. 10th October 2012

At the start of the Inca TrailAnd so it begins. The bus collects us from our hotel at 8am where Percy introduces us to Edith, his assistant guide. By 9am we are at the car park at the starting point and at 9:30, we are checked in, have had our passes and passports stamped and are ready to walk. The start point is advertised as being at ‘Kilometer 82’ – apparently this the 82km point of the railway from Cusco (so we aren’t missing out on part of the Trail!)

The easy way to Machu Picchu - but so much less rewarding!As we start walking the sun is shining and everyone is in high spirits, relieved to finally be on our way. Initially, we walk along beside the river and see the occasional train pass along on the other side. Then the path turns up the hill and we begin the climb – today we climb from 2,700m to 3,000m.

Soon we come across the ruins of an Inca site and Percy took the opportunity not just to explain about the site, but to make some wider points about the Inca civilisation. Later, we would get to recognise that he really has bought into the “Changing People’s Lives” motto and that he wants us to get as much out of our trip as possible. As well as bringing information about the Incas, he was widely read and had significant knowledge of other cultures and history and was able to pull all of this together.

Inca site en-routeIn this instance, he talked about the importance of rivers for ancient civilisations and drew parallels between the Yellow River, the Nile and the Urubamba (Sacred) River. He explained that not only did the Sacred River have strategic and farming importance, but that it also links Lake Titicaca (also sacred for the Incas), Cusco and Machu Picchu. As Cusco was the Inca’s capital and the centre of their civilisation – Cusco means middle or navel in Quechua – the river had spiritual significance too.

We continue walking along the side of the mountain seeing the jagged sides of  mountains all around with fast flowing streams coming down the sides. As we pass some huts, Percy explains that there are people who live in the park, but that they have to have originated from the area and that they can only farm traditional crops in traditional ways.

All set out for lunch as we arriveThe bad news is that we have to cover 8.5km (of the day’s total of 10km) before our lunch stop. The good news is that by the time that we arrive at 2pm, our porters have already set up the lunch camp and everything is ready for us. There are bowls of water to wash our hands, mugs of juice and the table laid inside a mess tent. Even more remarkably the three course lunch is served promptly and everyone gets their plate at essentially the same time. Good tasty food as well – one of the themes of the Trail will be that we eat well all of the time.

During the afternoon walk there is a short shower and so we don our £3 plastic ponchos over our shorts and T-shirt (and crucially, our day pack). Not as elegant as our expensive waterproof jacket and trouser but the poncho has better ventilation and is more practical whilst hiking.

Day 1 CampsiteBy the time we get to our overnight campsite (at around 3:30pm), once again, everything is all set up for us. Not only are the tents pitched and our air mattresses inflated, but we are told that afternoon tea will be served at 4. Result! We do, of course consider that we fully deserve to be well fed. As ever, the weak point of the whole camping experience is the toilets (a la francaise – footstands and a hole in the ground). Later in the evening, the smell becomes ‘ripe’, especially when the water stops working, and the ‘natural’ toilets along the route become more appealing. (You probably didn’t want to know this!)

After dinner, Percy brought out his iPad and showed us some videos of ceremonial dances from his village that he had recently taken part in. The dancers had elaborate, hand made costumes and masks. Whilst they danced to traditional Quechua music, the symbolism was a mixture of Roman Catholic and Quechua and Percy used it to explain how the Catholicism imposed by the Spanish had been adapted to incorporate traditional symbols.

Olly and Paddington make a new friendIt turns out that Percy had been invited to speak at a big G Adventures conference in Toronto and the iPad was a gift from the owner of the (privately held) company. We begin to understand that we really have struck lucky with our guide.

All in all, we feel good about our start on the Inca Trail, but we know that this is only the warm-up and the harder days are ahead.


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