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And finally the Inca trail

This morning we got to the trailhead a little early. I'm glad that we don't have to feel rushed. Lots of women were waiting at the trailhead, carrying baskets of hiking related items such as water, candy, gloves, hats, ponchos and bamboo walking sticks to sell to the trekkers. I bought a hat shaped like a baseball cap but in fabric woven in brilliant Quechua colors.

Our porters gathered the supplies together and we were officially underway. The porters are carrying our duffel bags, food, propane gas tanks (burning the scarce local wood is not allowed), tents, air mattresses, etc. There was a scale where we entered the trail and officials checked to make sure that no porter carried more than 55 pounds.

We walked along the river for a while and then the trail diverged from the water. It was cloudy, with occasional breaks of sun. It was actually very pretty. We stopped several times to look at the scenery or to see small homes. Some people still live in this protected area. They can continue to live here but are not allowed to sell their property.

Our first break was a rest stop where several homeowners had set up small stands. Some offered soda. Another area was more targeted at the porters; the women there had large plastic tubs of chicha, a kind of local beer made from corn. There were several tubs of the milder purple chicha and some of the stronger yellow chicha, made from different colors of corn. A pan of water lay on the ground for washing the glasses used to serve the chicha. A chicken came by and drank out of the dishwater. A baby pig was scampering around trying to eat whatever anyone had dropped on the ground. A small boy of six or so came and chased the pig around. The baby pig panicked and retreated to another part of the yard, where he backed into a rooster who squawked and scared him again.

We set off again and this time we hiked up a large hill until we arrived at a ridge, where we started to see a lot of yellow flowers. This was particularly pretty. As we got higher we could catch glimpses of the snowcapped mountains in the distance. It became a little misty here, but it wasn't actually raining. Along the ridge we came to a spot where you could see extensive Inca ruins, called Llactapata.

We continued on and the mist got a little wetter, until we crossed a bridge and came to our lunch spot. A large tent was set up with a tarp hanging in the middle as a divider. On one side we found a small card table with four camps stools, which is where we will eat, and on the other side of the divider the porters had set up a mobile kitchen. Tent flaps opened on both ends. We were served a large bowl of soup, then a main dish with chicken legs and cooked beans, carrots, cauliflower and tomatoes. There was also a platter with peeled raw cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado. Everything was quite good.

The misty rain stopped while we were eating, and we set off again. We were more than halfway through our day’s hiking at lunchtime, so we had a shorter walk after lunch, which toward the end became continuously uphill. The last bit felt pretty hard, and that's how steep it will be all day tomorrow.

We arrived at our camp, which the porters had already set up for us. The way the day’s routine works, we set out in the morning. After completing camp chores the porters run up the hill past us with their heavy loads, arriving at the lunch spot where they set up the tent and prepare lunch. We arrived to be served lunch, and leave when we are done. After we leave, the porters clean up (washing dishes in the local spring!), and then run up the hill past us once again so that they can get that night’s camp is ready for us by the time we arrive.

Our camp tonight is in a terraced area with the highest level holding the kitchen/dining tent. The next level down holds two tents, one for Bob and I and one for Steve. On the next level down is a smaller tent for Vidal. The porters sleep in the dining tent after we are done eating. We have one cook and eight porters. They set up all our tents, blew up the air mattresses, boiled water, and brought two bowls of hot water and soap to our tent so we could wash up.

We unpacked and settled our belongings in the tent, which took a little doing. The sky was getting clearer and clearer. We sat in our tent for a while, as I wrote in the journal. We were both looking at the view as beautiful snowcapped mountains presented themselves right in front of us. Bob napped a bit, finding the air mattress quite comfortable. While we rested we heard chickens, roosters, and donkeys around us.

At 4:30 PM we were invited up to the dining tent, where our cook had set out a snack of popcorn and fried wontons with cheese in the middle. It was great. We were also offered hot drinks. We nibbled a little and walked around the campsite, then went back to our tent to read until dinner.

We strolled up to the dining tent at around 6:30 PM and ate at around seven. Of course it was pitch dark by then, but we had a battery-operated lantern on the table. Dinner was lomo saltado – which is alpaca with rice, tomatoes, and fried potatoes and onions. We started with vegetable soup and ended with a peach.

After dinner Bob walked me down to the bathrooms since I didn't want to use a bush. We used headlamps to make the long walk downhill, then struggled way back up again. But the bathrooms were nice, no flush but reasonably clean. Finally we returned to the tent and went through the lengthy process of getting ready to sleep, clipping our headlamp to a loop at the top of the tent to cast some light as we prepared for the night.

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