Off to an early start and up at 4am for the bus to Ollantaytambo and some breakfast. It was such a perfect morning with the mist rolling out the valley and the mountains crisp against the blue, that I almost didn’t want to get out the bus, but it was time to get some kind of fuel in me, still not knowing how hard the first day would be.
The road to KM 82 is narrow and winding but carries what I would consider in hindsight, to be some of the best views in the valley. The small rustic houses scattered next to deep green fields, and the occasional passing of the hard blue train, on its way to Aguas Calientes. Because it was still early, I didn’t expect to see any other kind of traffic on the dirt road but we encountered a few buses and trucks, that had us reversing multiple times.
KM 82 is the official ‘start’ of this trail and is nothing more than a parking lot, with a passport control center and some bathrooms. The toilets incidentally, are not free, so take a Sol to pay the kid at the entrance. I begrudge paying a fee to do something that nature intended but what can you do out here; I just wanted to get hiking at that point. After quickly getting through the passport control point and taking the bridge across the Vilcanota river, it was finally time to get moving.
The trail for the first day is incredibly easy and I suspect is a great intro to people who are nervous about what to expect. Now I’m used to getting around at altitude, I just wanted to cover ground with gusto as I did with my training back in Seattle. There’s a fair bit to soak in on the trail but especially on this first day, most of it gets familiar quickly and can be absorbed at pace. The guide does a good job of breaking up the walk, to introduce the flora and explain the history of the area. I have to remember I’m in a group here though, and curb my thoughts of getting in the zone, and charging off to the horizon. I did manage to get some sporting challenge going when I challenged our guide, Flavio, to a race up the first incline we hit. I made it about 2/3 the way up before needing to stop for air and finally started to feel some of the effects of higher elevation again. Man, it felt so good to get that run in though and cleared out the cobwebs.
Stopping at the top of the first incline for a rest and the great view that includes Mount Veronica (W’akay Willca), I got to try some Chicha for the first time. It reminds me of not-quite-ready home-brew and is usually fermented longer for more alcoholic content, although the stuff we were trying had minimal alcohol and is often consumed by the kids. I don’t think I could drink too much of it, but it’s always fun to try something new.
After continuing through some small settlements selling energy drinks and snacks, the group arrived at the first decent-sized ruins of Huillca Raccay. This was the kind of experience I was hoping for, with some great old settlements and tremendous mountainous backdrops – certainly the highlight for me of the first day. You start to gain the perception that you’re gaining more incline than you think you’ve covered and everything looks a long way off. This place must have been spectacular when it was an active settlement.
An hour later was the lunch stop, and the first example of what we could look forward to, in the way of food and porter service for the next few days. Already way ahead of us early on, the porters had set up the meal tents, as well as bowls of warm water, soap and towels, to freshen up before food. The food and drink was pretty awesome and while consisting of staple items, there was a ton of it and very well arranged. The porters take an immense pride in their service, from carrying your overnight items, to arranging napkins and cutlery. There is also a tradition of applauding every hiker who enters the camp at the end of each stage.
Another brief rest stop along the way, was next to an open-roomed house with a large pot heating in the corner. Flavio explained that the Guinea Pigs ambling around the room were for this pot but thankfully, none of this happened while we were stopped. The only other surprise of the day came from a creepy looking doll, perched on a bench outside a house. This doll was seriously messed up, with the hair burned off, one eye shut and a mismatch of clothing, including hacked-off denim pants.
Between the stop and the campsite at Ayapata, there are no more ruins but plenty of broadening mountains and you start to get the feeling that you’re actually at some kind of high elevation. This second half of the day adds a little to the incline but nothing too strenuous. I’m taking it easy, as I know it will get harder and I’ll have three more days to complete so for now, I’m holding back. Tomorrow is the highest pass and I’ll see how I’m doing then.
The food in the evening was extremely good, although something upset my stomach a bit. Spent the best part of an hour down at the bathrooms while everyone had crashed in bed and once my system had completely emptied, I made it back to my sleeping bag. Speaking of the toilets, they are a rough deal and worse than any porta-potty I’ve used.
Today has been pretty long with the early rising but I’m finally in bed at 8pm and ready to get some rest.