I woke up early with the trek on my mind. I feel excited and psyched up for the trail ahead and I really can’t wait to get started. The view from my hotel room has the mountains snug with cloud scarves around them. It is cool outside, but not cold and, unfortunately, it is raining.
My confidence is wavering from one extreme to the other: one minute I feel confident I am fit enough and capable enough to complete the trek with no issues, then next I worry about the unknowns: how tough will it be? Will it continue to rain? Will my laces hold up (remembering I forgot my spare pair)? Will I be ok at even higher altitudes? Well, there’s only one way to find out isn’t there!
I made sure I had a hearty breakfast of fruit salad, scrambled eggs and plenty of bread washed down with some of the strongest (and nicest) coffee I have ever had. After double checking my day pack and my laundrette bag…sorry, trek pack, I awaited the bus that would pick me up and take me to Km 82 where the trek starts, for me, in earnest. Meanwhile the rain continues to fall heavily…
I thought I was being clever in two ways while packing my trek pack. The first clever move was to just throw in my whole toiletry bag, even though I wouldn’t use all of the things in there, I thought I may as well take it all. The second was to put the foot spray I bought back in the UK in the toiletry bag too. The foot spray is a hygiene, cleanser and moisturiser all rolled into one, so I thought it’d be great at the end of each day. Unfortunately, the cap of the spray got busted in transit and the contents leaked all through my toiletry bag and into my trek pack – the only lucky part was that my toiletry bag was at the bottom, so it hardly soaked anything and also the spray doesn’t smell too bad or strong, so no real harm done, except my toiletry bag (a very nice leather one) is ruined. That’s my only gripe about what has been a fantastic first day.
It was raining heavily when our bus reached the starting point of the trek and we all donned our waterproof gear. Although it was chucking it down and pretty grey, we all were excited about getting started and we were prepared for the weather, so it was no big deal. My only concern was that if the weather stayed this way the visibility from the trail might be poor. We had our first group photo at the checkpoint to enter the trail. I’d hardly had a chance to mingle with the group, but the German contingency (8 of them, I think) all seemed to know each other, so there was plenty of chit-chat, I just couldn’t understand it! They stamp your passport at the checkpoint which is pretty cool because they stamp it again when you reach Machu Picchu. Also, the guides took care of all the paperwork (the trail is carefully managed to limit the number of trekkers), so all I had to do was look across the footbridge, with the raging rapids below and watch the figures of the group in front of us disappear around the hill on a fairly steep trail. I got my walking poles ready and made my way across the bridge and onto the trail proper. Be prepared for a bit of a wait – you might be raring to go when you leave your hotel, like I was, but once the bus negotiates its way past buses coming back from Km 82, the porters sorting themselves out, the walk down to the check point and the queue to get through it, you have spent most of your early morning.
On the trail you have to watch out for a few things: porters – you always make way for them, they are carrying people’s stuff and camp equipment and they almost jog, so they will pass you – which is great because these are also the people who set up lunch and night camps for you. Donkeys – they are sometimes used to take trek stuff too, although seemingly only for the first part. And, of course, where donkeys go you will find donkey shit, so watch your step for that too! Other than that, one step in front of the other and try to take in the views.
The raging rapids that I crossed was the Urubamba River and the trek on the first day mostly follows the river. You can also make out where the train goes for the lazy people who can’t be bothered to do the trek – just kidding! – it’s the same train I will be getting back in 4 days! They really do ease you into it on the first day. The trail is undulating, but hardly steep and it works its way along the side of hills and mountains rather than over them. The views are great too. The weather eased off almost as soon as we crossed the foot bridge, so the waterproofs came off at the next opportunity and it became nice and warm. We rested little and often and the guides were keeping us informed of the points of interest along the way – the huge Inca site that we saw across the valley in front of us was particularly great.
Almost before you know it, you reach a pleasant little place for lunch. Pleasant once you ignore the rustic country smells from the farmyard. What surprised me, although with hindsight I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it, was that everybody stops at pretty much the same places for lunch and camping. Thinking about it, it makes sense as only one areas will get trampled by tourists. I think that brought it home to me that I’m not pioneering the way on this and that the journey is more personal to me than others. Lunch was great, though. 3 courses: soup, meat and dessert. Although I don’t think any of us were that hungry – I hardly felt like I had burnt off my breakfast, but I thought I’d make the most of it anyhow, as I didn’t know what time we would eat dinner. The group spoke a bit more and the Germans were clearly already friendly with each other and they were having lots of laughs. Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, their laughter created a good atmosphere. I barely spoke to the American guy, an old-timer from Texas: I tried to initiate a couple of conversations, but we didn’t really connect. The others in the group were a Dutch mother and daughter of which the mother was a little ill, so they were rightly concentrating on that. I spoke to the guides a fair bit, as they spoke excellent English.
The afternoon trek was a continuation of the morning, although a few steeper climbs and descents came and went to give us a flavour of what day 2 will hold in store.
Once at our evening camp (which the porters had already constructed) we found out who was sharing with who. For most it was obvious, as they had at least come into the group as a pair. So I ended up being paired up with the Texan old-timer – a guy who told me he treks from one side of the Grand Canyon to another once a year. So, he’s a proper trekker. He did give me a sound bit of advice when setting up my sleeping bag, as I nearly foolishly slept with my head down hill – great for letting all the blood rush into your head during the night.
He was a nice enough guy, but I really couldn’t connect to him about anything. I don’t know if he was a bit deaf, but when I said things to him he seemed to answer on a totally different wavelength. He was a tall, lanky guy with a mop of grey hair. Unfortunately for me, his face reminded me a little of the grandfather in Texas Chainsaw Massacre who tries to clobber the girl with a hammer…not a great thought when you’re bedding down in a tent in the middle of nowhere with him! Also, when we washed up for dinner he asked me if he could use the soap next to my bowl – I explained to him that the soap was already stuck to the wall when I got there (probably left by trekkers weeks ago), but that didn’t put him off and he still used it. It made me think that he was perhaps a little under prepared for a trekker, unless he was a Ray Mears type…I made a mental note not to eat anything he might offer me.
Dinner was good too. Another 3 courses. Night fell like a stone. I think it took barely half an hour for the sun to sink behind the mountains. That meant that the headlamps and torches had to come out to help us find our way back to our tents. We all hit the hay almost straight after dinner – we’d been told we would be woken with a cup of coca tea at 0500. Although I retired to the tent, where the Texan old-time soon was asleep, I wrote in my journal and read for a while whilst taking a few swigs of rum to help fight the cold (it was a little chilly, honest!) and, more likely, help me sleep. My reasoning was that going to bed at 2030 would mean I would get 8.5 hours if I slept through. I would consider that a bit too long to sleep, so I decided to stay up till 2200 and hopefully get around 6 or 7 hours in all.
Unfortunately, at the very moment I put my head down to sleep my tent-mate farted, stinking out the tent. There’s no real ventilation in there and once all zipped in, you hardly feel like opening it all up again. I breathed through my sleeping bag for a while hoping he would breath it into his own lungs. Normally, you might be tempted to try to send one back for revenge, but not only would it fill the tent with a mix of acrid smells, it might also be the prelude to a more serious moment when you’d have to find your way to the toilet! Plus I already smelled a little of that foot spray. Thankfully, I drifted off to sleep.
I slept quite well considering I was in a tent, in a field, in the Andes. Once you get used to the fact you can’t move around too much I switched from sleeping on one side to the other (left and right, not front and back) which seemed to work. And the sleeping bag (perhaps aided by the rum) kept me snug until dawn.