After months of planning and over a year of dreaming about it, I finally got on a bus from Arequipa to go to Cusco to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. My friend Milana from Los Angeles, who I used to hike and mtn. bike with, and Karen, her longtime friend, were meeting me in Cusco. We were supposed to be there a couple of days early so they could acclimatize but Milana’s flight from Lima was cancelled so she arrived about noon the day before our tour started. I had already met Karen the day before and we had gotten to know each other a bit as we did some sightseeing and hiking together near Cusco. taxi in woking
When Milana arrived, we went to eat at a restaurant just off the plaza and she had ceviche to eat, it is raw fish marinated in lime juice. Either the ceviche or the lack of time to acclimatize to the 11,000 foot altitude in Cusco, or both, got her off to a bad start. She woke up sick the next morning for the start of our four day trek. We had signed up for a group tour, expecting up to 12 people, so we were delighted when the mini bus picked us up in that morning to find only two other people on the tour! An almost private tour for the group price. It didn’t seem like such a small group by the time we added a cook and eight porters to our guide, Carlos, making a total of 15 people. However most of the time we were trekking it was just the six of us, the porters were either packing up camp behind us or rushing on ahead to get ready for us. The service was great but personally the morning tea in our tents when they woke us, the dining tent for all three meals (although it felt really good at dinner time due to the cold) and the fancy menu, etc. was something I would have given up for a cheaper price. They definitely don’t subscribe to the ultra light hiking idea with a cast iron stove and 20 lb. LP gas tank!
One of the things that surprised me on the first day was to see people actually living along the trail, and riding bicycles back and forth. On the second morning there were women and children with burros going up the trail to set up stands to serve breakfast, sell candy, snacks, bottled water and even Gatorade! By the afternoon, that was all behind us as we headed up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,770 feet, the highest point on the trail. The scenery had changed from lush rain forest in the morning to sparse vegetation and rocks by the pass, along with being much cooler. When we stopped early in the afternoon at our campsite for the evening, I couldn’t just sit and wait for dinner, I went on ahead to the next pass, exploring side trails along the way. Solid clouds beyond the summit ruined my hopes for a spectacular sunset but it was an enjoyable time anyway.