We thought we were ready. But, honestly, I don’t think any of us knew what we were in for. To get to the spot shown above requires a two – three-hour bus trip through the Peruvian countryside. This ride was beautiful, and is actually one of my fondest memories from my trip to Peru, but during this time we also had a lot of time to speak with our guides about what the following days would entail.
They call Day One the “Training Day.”
And for good cause. After completing the entire hike, especially day two (post coming soon), I look back at the “Training Day” as if it were no more than a simple stroll down the road. That is, if the road was made out of nothing but those moving sidewalks that you find in airports to help people make their flights without forcing them to actually start running…
All kidding aside, day one was more tough than I expected. This could have been my own fault. For one thing, two months before setting out on this adventure, I was sitting on the couch in my family room, inevitably in front of the TV, and probably watching the newest episode of American Horror Story, when I made a promise to myself. I told myself that I knew I would be setting-out on an epic hike through the Andes mountains soon enough, and that I would start running in the mornings in order to prepare myself for such an activity. After all, it had been a while since my last multi-day backpacking trip and it had been even longer since I last did any type of working out.
This was a promise I didn’t keep.
Only a few others from my group, as well as myself, seemed to be the only hikers on the Inca Trail that didn’t hire a porter to carry all of our gear. Why not? Simple: that’s cheating. But because of the 30lb pack on my back (I obviously over packed– again it had been a while since my last multi-day backpacking trip, so obviously I forgot a few of the essentials…like: only pack the essentials) I found that I struggled more than usual. Especially when my lungs screamed for air in the higher altitudes as I climbed those ancient stairs.
Training Day consisted of a hike from a place called Piskacucho to Wayllabamba, a distance of 6.82 miles (11km). The average trek time is 5-6 hours and the highest elevation that you reach on day one is 9,842ft (3,000 m) which is actually your final campsite. Day one is hot. You’re in the desert. There are prickly pear cactus everywhere, and the rest of the brush is low to the ground, allowing the sun to roast the back of your neck at all times. I recommend bringing a bandana and lots of sunscreen for protection against this. During this first day expect at nice dirt trail to walk on, many flats, but also many ups and downs. Expect a surprise at how much water you’ll consume, and how quickly you’ll find yourself out of breath if you’re not used to the altitude (and especially if you opted to carry your own pack like me).
Don’t worry about consuming water. It will help any altitude sickness that you may or may not have/get, and you’ll encounter little shops, like the ones depicted above, numerous times along the trail (at least for the next couple days). Here, locals that live along the trail sell water, Gatorade, soda, candy, walking sticks, bandanas, and well, basically whatever you might need. Keep in mind the price is 5-8x more expensive than what you’ve paid in Cusco earlier, but also keep in mind that these people had to walk to town to buy these goods themselves and then lug it back up with them. S/6 or even S/8 is worth it for a liter or two of water along this trail.
For those you beginning to think that Training Day sounds like the least interesting thing you have ever read about, don’t worry! Within the first few hours of setting-out on the Inca Trail you encounter your first Inca ruin. From there, it’s a nice trek to the night-one campsite in a valley surrounded by the spectacular Andes. Enjoy the photograph of the first significant Inca ruin encountered along the trail, as seen below: