Saturday, July 4, 2015

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Hike, Day 1

Honey, I'm home!  We're home after two weeks of wonderful Peru travels. I slept for twelve hours straight last night, and I spent the day today washing grimy backpacks and over-ripe hiking clothes while I restfully worked on putting away gear and playing with my lonely cats.  I'm feeling pretty good despite the twenty-four hours straight we spent either in an airport or on an airplane on the way home.  I must be allergic to airports, because my right eye and sinuses decided to inflame and leak for the entire airport experience, so I walked around the Atlanta airport looking like I was coming home from the jungle with dengue fever or something.  

The photo above is from the very beginning of our four day hike along the Inca trail to Machu Pichu.  This is the high altitude hike we've been practicing and planning for for the past six months or so.  Needless to say, this was the morning of the Big Day, and we were at the official check-in point to show our pass ports by nine in the morning.  I could tell by the way the glacier capped mountains glowed against the perfectly blue sky, that this was going to be a hike to remember.  

The hike we were beginning is the classic four day adventure that begins at the Urabamba river, and ends twenty-six miles later with a postcard perfect entrance of the famous Incan ruins at Machu Pichu mountain.  

Past the check in point is a long green foot bridge over the river, and then the hike has begun!

This is the last photo I have of either of us when we are clean and un-sore for the next four days.

The weather for our hike couldn't have been more perfect.  It's winter in Peru right now, which means they aren't getting as much rain as they would during the wet season.   The sky was clear, the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing.  I was immediately interested in the vegetation.  There weren't many trees on the first part of the trail, but the tall shrubs were draped with long strands of moss.  

Most of the vegetation looked like it could handle dry weather with no problem, like the huge spiked yuka's and scattered cacti.  

As we hiked along the river valley, I could see small farm fields in the flat lands above the rivers, and occasionally see the ruins of ancient Inca stonework being grazed by sheep, llamas, cows, or donkeys.  

Above the farm fields in the valley bottoms, the hills-sides were extremely steep and ended in rocky and jagged ridges against the sky.  

Anyone who hikes this trail has to have a licensed guide and porters.  Because we were a group of ten, we had two guides.  Both were young local men, and the head guide, JJ, told me that the had a degree in tourism, and had been guiding people along the Inca trail for six years.  Can you imagine hiking the same challenging trail several times a month for six years?  One person's job is another's once in a life time experience.  

We gradually climbed above the river valley, and were surrounded by giant sharp edged mountains with low growing scrubby vegetation.  

Despite the sparse appearance of the vegetation, there are flowers blooming everywhere, and different types of humming birds visiting the flowers.  

I was bringing up the rear so I could stop frequently to admire the views and the strange blooms, when I noticed that my group was congregating off the trail and that the guide was saying something, so I hurried to see what I was missing.

Wow!  Check out those Inca ruins down below!

These curved Inca terraces are set in a stunning location.  The twisting river and patchwork farm fields helped me visualize what the landscape could have looked like when the Inca people where still there tending the terraced gardens and living in the abandoned ruins near the top.  

The trail is not just used by hiking tourists, like us.  There are small homesteads in locations along the trail, and we saw many donkeys loaded down with packages being led along the stone lined trail.  

Most of the other people on the trail are porters - fast moving guys wearing giant back packs.  We quickly learned to step to the side of the trail when porters came through, so we didn't get bumped off any steep cliffs.  Those guys move fast!

This was the first time I've ever taken a guided hike like this.  I quickly realized the down side to having someone else managing my hiking time.  The small streams we were seeing were so perfectly blue and so inviting I think we would all have loved to spend some time soaking our already weary feet.  Instead, all I had time to do was observe the flowing water from the trail so I didn't hold up the group and hold up lunch.  

Once I got to the lunch place, I realized why our porters had such big packs!  They set up a cook tent and a lunch tent, compete with a table and chairs!  This is hiking in a whole new style.  

As I hiked into the lunch camp, the porters applauded my success, directed me to drop my pack on a tarp spread out for that reason, handed me a cup of chicha marada, a purple drink made from blue corn, and directed me to the basins of warm water and soap which were set out for me to wash my hands.  We took our ease in the grass while they prepared our meal.  I could get used to hiking like this!

As you can see, Brandon took advantage of the break.  

We're doing it!  We're hiking the Inca trail, at last!!

The red tent gives the photos a devilish glow, but the appetizer for lunch was a small salad and some roasted crunchy corn kernels.  Notice the real silverware and plates.  

Fried trout, rice, stuffed avocados, and fried potatoes for lunch! Can they really expect us to hike after eating all that wonderful food?  

We were warned that the bathrooms along the trail were going to be the worst part, and the warnings were not false.  The official restroom was nearly demoralizing.  Thankfully there were some funny looking chickens hanging around to keep me entertained.  

Notice how the walls of the buildings are made of blocks of mud?  I noticed a guy out in his field cutting chunks of mud from the ground and stacking them in a wheel barrel.  I bet he was building a shed.  

After lunch, more stunning views of the Andes.  

The trees were starting to be covered in bromeliads, and the ground was supporting ferns and strange shaped lichens.  

Excuse me, donkey.  

Donkey's have the right of way.  

One at a time, please.  

Whew!  I made it the first camp, and didn't even have to use my flashlight to get there.  Once again the porters greeted me with applause.  I decided if they keep doing that, I'm going to start poking them with my hiking sticks.  The tents were already put up, dinner was being prepared, and I was once again given my towel and some warm water to wash with before tea and popcorn were served, which preceded a multi-course dinner.  

By the time we made it to our tents, I was so stuffed and so tired, I didn't even care that I could hear the snores, farts, and giggles coming from the surrounding tents.  I decided to come out of the tent later to see the stars and the moonlight on the mountain, but slept through the night instead.  Thank goodness I got some sleep, because the next day was going to be the most challenging of the entire adventure.  

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