We had met our group the night before at the trek briefing. Everyone had been a little quiet but excited then and the morning bus ride to Urubamba was no different. After a stop for breakfast we continued just beyond Ollantaytambo where I got to glance the famous Inca storehouses high on the hillside above us. This was one place I had really wanted to visit before travelling here.
We arrived at km 82, the point on the highway along the Urubamba valley where the Inca Trail formally begins. The last 'hike' of our trip in South America and we were ready for whatever it wanted to throw at us.
The porters has been hired that morning and supplied with branded tracksuits. These are local men who work on a casual basis for the tour companies. Only the guides, chef and his assistant are employed directly by the company.
Before crossing the raging river we paused for a photo-op on the banks of the river. The railway line takes a route adjacent to the river which only four years ago meant that the entire trail and route to Macchu Picchu was cut off.
Once we were through all the checkpoints there was nothing for it but to start walking.
We were soon passed by the porters from a different firm. The maximum weight a porter is allowed to carry is 24kg and they undergo a physical examination before they begin the trail. These measures were put in place after porters were carrying in excess of 30kg each, and health problems began to make the situation dangerous.
We stopped regularly during the morning while the guides worked to assess everybody's capabilities. Our final stop before lunch was at a lookout above Patallaqta Qentimarka, a large settlement for maybe 100 or so Inca people. The terraces are curved in and out in a shape similar to a sea shell but over the centuries boulders have fallen from the cliffs above and violently torn through the remains of the settlement.
After lunch the weather began to threaten so we rolled out the sartorially beautiful peruvian ponchos. They look best when stretched over your backpack to create that unique hunchback look.
A short walk up the valley and we reached our campsite for the first night with tents already erected and hot water for tea. The Inca Trail really is more of a catered hike than a proper trek, but at this stage we had no complaints!
We had a couple of hours before dinner and so bought some beers from the village store and went for an explore. Packhorses are used by the local villages on this stage of the Inca Trail, beyond the entrance to Dead Woman's Pass there is foot traffic only. When one of our guides was asked what happens if someone is seriously injured out here the answer was, "we carry you." No Air Ambulance out here.
Following our noses a little further we found a fresh cow hide drying on the fence, proof that life has to continue as normal up here in the high mountains. The people up there were tough.