“Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor.”
–Kris Kringle, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
Day 1: Km 82 to Wayllambama, approx. distance: 7 miles (11 km), approx. time: 5-6 hours
I was giddy at our hotel breakfast, ready to start hiking the Inca Trail after months of anxiety. My boys cringed at my bad puns and told me to calm down. (My favorite: asking for the preserves to spread on a piece of bread and explaining, “Strawberry’s my jam,” a play on an expression the boys had been dropping, followed by, “I’m on a roll!” It doesn’t get any better than that.)
We checked in at KM 82, our start to a four-day, 26-mile (42 km) hike that would finish in Machu Picchu, the “lost city” of the Incas. Most of the stones of the trail had been laid down in ancient times by Incans setting up roads throughout their empire.
Stepping with my right foot first onto the bridge for a good journey, I was on my way.
Our guide showed us how to chew coca leaves, a mild stimulant that is one of the ingredients in cocaine and is said to help with altitude sickness.
We hiked along the trail with towering brown mountains on each side, sometimes going up fairly steep stretches above tree line, sometimes dropping down into forested areas. We took short breaks about every 30 minutes. During this day’s hike, most of the trail went along rolling hills that a guide later on during my vacation would call “Peruvian flatlands.”
I worked hard to control my breathing and keep up with the group. (In our group of 11, everyone except for me and my family was in his or her twenties, and I felt self-conscious about being the oldest and didn’t want to keep them waiting.) I found counting helpful:
One (breathe out),
Two (breathe in),
Three (breathe out),
Four (breathe in).
Sometimes I repeated this over and over in my mind to the rhythm of my walking. A few times when I had the urge to stop before a break, I held off by counting to 60, then maybe 60 again, and usually there would be a flatter section of the trail by that time to let me catch my breath.
After a couple of hours, we stopped for lunch. The porters had rushed ahead and set up a lunch camp complete with a dining tent with table and chairs. They served a hot meal of asparagus soup, trout, rice, and vegetables, with a black corn pudding for dessert. I was consistently impressed by the food the chefs prepared for us in their tent kitchen, using propane tanks they carried along the trail. (See What I Ate in Peru.)
We hiked another two hours or so and made camp about 3:30. Tea time at 4:30 was a chance to socialize with our group members while there was still daylight.
After tea, our guide introduced our G Adventures porters and chefs to us. They each told their name, age, job on the team, and whether they were married and had children, bantering cheerfully with each other. Most of them worked for most of the year as subsistence farmers or shepherds in highland communities in the Sacred Valley.
All day, porters from the various tour companies had sped by us, sometimes jogging with their 55 lb. (25 kg) packs on their backs. They seemed to move effortlessly along the trail, but of course it was incredibly hard work. Then they would greet us when we finally arrived at camp with cheers, smiles, and cups of juice.
It was dark by the time we finished dinner, and we quickly prepared ourselves for the night and the day ahead. My two teenage sons were both fast, strong hikers, and they enjoyed the first day. My husband Randy was faster than I, but tended to hang back and keep me company with the slower half of the group. I felt satisfied with my first day’s hike, yet Day 1 was called the easy day based on the terrain, and the toughest day–the ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass–was waiting for me in the morning.
I looked up into the stars of Peru’s winter sky and saw the Milky Way shining more brightly than ever before, and I wished for a good night’s sleep so that I could meet the challenges of the day ahead.