After a bumpy bus ride from Ollantaytambo to KM 82, the most common starting point of the Inca Trail, we crossed the Urubamba River (this particular stretch is called the Vilcanota River) footbridge, took this group photo, and started our trek to Machu Picchu. With snow-capped Veronica (18,872 feet) in the distance, we adjusted our pack straps and hydration tubes and fell into a comfortable pace behind the group.
The Porter Phenomenon
We carried water, snacks, and other sundries in our daypacks, while a team of porters carried our clothes, sleeping bags, tents, etc. I felt somewhat strange about this—having other people carry our stuff, when I’m certainly able-bodied and all. But watching our porters sprint off (some wearing only sandals) and not seeing them again until lunch assuaged my feelings about it:
They worked extremely hard for us so we could enjoy the experience at our own pace. So enjoy we did, stopping frequently for photos and other discoveries. Our guide David even dabbed some plant-seed dye on our cheeks as war paint and morale booster. In addition to the flora…
and the fauna…
there were remnants of Incan life, old and new, all along the river:
At Llactapata, we studied the signature Incan terracing that stretched up to the river bank:
An hour or so later, we were greeted at our lunch camp with a cup of fruit juice to relax:
Meals were grand, multi-course affairs in the mess tent, set up by our porters way before we reached camp (even though all of us departed at the same time). We always began with a soup course, and this was a semi-thick broth with fresh leeks:
Our lunch plate was hearty with vegetables, rice, and trout:
After allowing our food to settle, we were off again for our evening camp at Huayllabamba…
where we were treated to a soccer game before dinner. On a dirt field with rock walls serving as side boundaries, our porters took on the locals in a heated match, with the locals squeaking by our wily porters. Where they found the energy to play this hard after carrying 50 pounds on their backs all day, none of us knew!
Again, dinner began with soup, this time an aromatic chicken medley:
Dinner was chicken with potatoes, carrots, and rice:
My Friends, The View Is Amazing!
The next morning, we set out early to tackle the toughest portion of the journey, known as the dreaded “Day 2.” These llamas trotted by us unfazed:
Climbing out of the lower altitudes, we passed through a small rainforest, another Andean ecosystem/micro-climate:
A close friend described Day 2 to me as “an endless Stairmaster”—an apt definition, only that the stone stairs were of very uneven heights. I remained at the back of our group for the entire day, having to pause very often to catch my breath:
Our halfway goal was Warmiwañuska, or Dead Woman’s Pass, and the altitude gain from last night’s camp at Huayllabamba to here was just under 4,000 feet. Even the mountaintops seemed to stab the clouds around here:
With every labored step, I could only imagine what the Incas went through to live here. Thousands, maybe millions, of Incas made this journey to Machu Picchu as a religious pilgrimage—or did they? Mystery continues to shroud this site, though it’s certain that this trail did not escape the notice of the invading Spaniards in the 1500s. The Incas actually destroyed part of the trail so that the Spaniards would not reach Machu Picchu. These stairs to Warmiwañuska tried to break me, as my group cheered me on at the summit:
The view from the top of Warmiwañuska:
Next chapter: finishing the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu!