The Inca Trail (Part 2)
The four days can be described as easy, challenging, unforgettable and unique. This was how the trail was sold by our amazonian born trail guide.
The Pachamama truck picked us up at the crack of dawn and drove us to the small settlement of Ollantayambo over the bone rattling roads of the Sacred Valley. Here street hawkers display coca leaves and food supplements. If you don't already have a trekking pole, the local vendors offer their ornate bamboo and solid wood walking canes for a few soles.
By 9:30am we arrived at Km82, at the banks of the Urubamba River. Above the river banks we unload the truck with the porters casting their calculating eyes over the tourist backpacks. There is a festive atmosphere with the guides, porters and trekkers' all introducing themselves. Many languages can be heard; people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the world have arrived at this gravel flat to begin a journey together. The trail starts by a short jump over the PeruRail tracks and across the Urubamba River after the first check point. Our guide was very approachable and was full of Inca-related knowledge. He tells us that BBC Radio One's DJ, John Peel had died on this trail as he tranversed the bridge over Urubamba in 2004.
The first day provided a means to warm up those leg muscles and blow away those exercise cobwebs. The light drizzle came and went, giving us a fairly overcast day. The trail was a moderate undulating wide gravel track. By 16:00 we had reached our camp at Huayllabamba after stopping for a windy cliff top seminar on the Inca settlement of Patallacta.
We had climbed about 400m from 2600m at Km82. Our camp at Huayllabamba was strangely enough, the same camp that I had stayed at back in November 2000. Camp grounds are allocated for each trekking group based on their size. The practice of first-come-first-serve camp grounds has been abolished to benefit the slower trekking groups. No longer do the faster walkers / porters get a free choice of the limited camp spots. Thankfully, in our group of just six we were provided with the quiet camp with a couple of water taps and a latrine sufficiently positioned to not cause offence. We were lucky to spot a couple of humming birds right outside our tents sipping nectar. The porters had set up a large dining tent where we were served an excellent 3 course dinner! A lightning storm and heavy rain lead us into a restful night.
Coca tea was "served in bed" at 6am the next morning. We were greeted by clear blue skies with a few wisps of clouds. The second day sees us ascend 1.2km to Wami Wanusca Pass (Dead Woman's Pass) at 4200m above sea level. The coca leaves were indispensible! The pass is visible very early in the morning and seems to be forever at the same distance throughout the morning. The ascent from the small clearing with Gatorade vendors to the pass took us just under 2 hours. If your footwear is not up to the job, they will let you know in a painful way. Take some Compeeds! Six years ago when I reached this pass, we were met with snow, hail, rain, fog and sun! Be prepared to wrap up warm at the top if you're going to be sat there for some time waiting for your group.
Warmi Wanusca - November 2000
Warmi Wanusca - November 2006
The descent from Dead Woman's Pass to Camp Paqaymayu saw us drop 700m via a series of giant steps. Strangely no-one wanted to enjoy the much needed cold showers at Paqaymayu that I was praising! Paqaymayu is the largest single camp grounds on the trail, supporting upto 500 trekkers and their porters and guides.
More in Part 3...