By 7 am we were on the road to Ollantaytambo, where we made a short stop for coffee and breakfast, and then proceeded to Piscacucho, which is the traditional start of the trail. It is a small town with a train station and enough place for outfits to spread their stuff and pack. In our case we had seven porters and a cook, so we were on a one-to-one ratio between helpers and visitors. The porters are local farmers, who in the tourist season might make the minimum salary of 650 Soles per month (about US$260 per month). It is hard to be a porter. Presumably they are limited to a load of 25 kg (50 lbs per person), but I am pretty sure each of them was carrying close to 50 kg (100 lbs). We tried to alleviate the load by paying for an extra porter, but I suspect that the original seven just took their share of the fee and distributed amongst them, rather than getting an extra man. I chose to carry my full load in solidarity to the porters, with the idea that I would hire an extra local man for the second day, which promises to be the toughest.
Today we only walked 10 km, with a relatively modest gain in altitude from Piscacucho (2,700 m amsl) to Wayllabamba (3,000 m amsl). The initial walk was delightful, as it followed closely the Rio Urabamba, and I couldn’t help but remind Annie that this very river would empty into the mighty Amazon. In a way, then, we were walking on the headwaters of the Amazon!
Along the way we saw in the distance the remains of the Inca sites of Qanabamba and Patallaqta, at which point it became time for lunch. Lunch is a grand affair here in the trail. The porters hurry along the way, and have the mess tents set by the time you get there. The cook gets busy and as soon as you arrive there is a fresh glass of lemonade waiting for you. Then comes a five-course dinner with soup, salad, rice, main meat dish, and dessert. Everything tastes so good!
Annie and I met our old nemesis along the trail: The pit toilet! My first encounter was particularly gruesome, because the “stuff” was all over the floor. What poor aim some people have! Later I found a cleaner version of the torturous contraption, which requires you to get rid of jacket or vest, to minimize smearing them with you know what. Then you have to squat (something that becomes harder with age) making sure you are not likely to pee on your leg, and planning distances well enough so the bombs go down the tunnel. Then you have to clean yourself, trying not to drop your glasses, camera. Or iPod into the depths of Hades. It is definitely a performance that improves with rehearsal after rehearsal.
The second half of the walk was fairly sedate, but we were beginning to gain altitude and I was definitely puffing. I was glad to see in the distance our Aussie friends, cheering us as we came into camp, a couple of hours behind them. Tom and Annie made a beeline for the tents, which were already pitched and ready for immediate occupancy, and took a nap. I hung out with the younger generation, which were in the middle of a hotly contested game of Zong, a game played with dice. Just as they finished and I was getting ready to join them we were called for “Happy Hour” (pop corn and coffee), and shortly thereafter we were served supper. This was a chance to get some hot chocolate inside us, because as soon as the sun set a chill settled on the land.
Annie padded our nest as well she could, because she was afraid of being cold, but the liners worked wonders, as always, and we spent a very good night.