After receiving the itinerary for our Machu Picchu trek, I had a lot of anxiety, which is unusual. I just stared in disbelief; 22 km. I became fixated on that distance during our entire time in Cusco. I think that I asked Ol about five times, “how far is 22 km?” I kept hoping that the answer would change.
We have hiked further distances and at higher altitudes, but we were also in better shape. For the past few weeks, we have acted like tourists. We were only walking about six miles a day and we were not accustomed to the weight of our backpacks. To make things worse, I would be hiking with a torn meniscus which I should have had repaired before we left Mississippi.
22 Km wasn’t the total mileage of the Inca trail. It was the mileage that we would do on the second day of our hike. Oh, did I forget to mention that this is not just 22 km on level ground, but it includes two mountain passes. Adding to my concern was the fact for the past few weeks I been on a quest to savor Peru’s best ceviche and had undertaken the daunting task of trying different Pisco Sour recipes every evening. I was in trouble!
Ol, his usual calm self, kept reassuring me that we would be fine. Thousands of people do this hike every year. It couldn’t be that hard. But, to make matters worse, I nervously googled the weather and was disheartened to see rain in the forecast.
We were excited to be hiking in the shoulder season, between the wet and dry seasons, because there would be smaller crowds. We later discovered that during the rainy season there was a real threat of landslides. I didn’t want a repeat of our Colombia trek, where we were almost hypothermic after a torrential rain at high altitude, or our Ecuador hike where we had to scramble across a landslide on the trail.
Finally, the night arrived for our pre-hike meeting at the expedition headquarters in Cusco. We would meet our fellow hikers and our guides and learn more details and logistics at 7:00 PM on the eve of the hike.
However, before the meeting, I decided to sneak in one more two hour massage (ok, in my defense the massage therapists are on every corner and relentless). After an amazing two hour massage the day before ($40 USD), I was in heaven. I just needed to get those final kinks out. So I decided on another quick massage and I would meet Ol at our meeting.
When I walked into the expedition office, our group looked like contestants on the Amazing Race. There would be six couples making the hike. There were the super models, Mike and Melissa; the young couple just dating, Abby and Justin; the newlyweds, Ryan and Monica; the college friends, Nettie and Katy; the attractive singles who had literaly just met each other, Todd and Marie; and finally us, the old couple!
I cringed when they passed around the sign in sheet with our passport number and ages. Nearly everyone else in the group was in their 20’s. As I pointed out the ages to Ol on the clip board, he just squeezed my leg and gave me the look that said “We’ve got this.”
Lastly, we were introduced to our guides, Claudio and Rene. Claudio’s large smile and energy were contagious. With calm reassurance he delivered the bad news, our hiking days would begin very early. We would begin hiking as early as 3 AM and 4 AM. Suddenly, the distance didn’t seem to be the problem, I am not a morning person!
After introductions and small talk, it was a little comforting to find out that I wasn’t the only one just a little worried. We left the meeting excited and nervous with instructions to meet in the morning at the town square at 4:00 am.
By the time we made some last minute purchases, got back to our hotel, packed, and got into bed, we only had a few hours until our 3:00 am alarm clock. As is common in Cusco for those going on the several day trek, the hotel agreed store our electronics and other things that we didn’t need to carry on the hike. The clerk even told us that our items would be waiting in our room when we returned. What a great service!
We awoke the next morning and put on our backpacks. We made our way down the darkened and empty streets to the appointed town square. Other members of the group started showing up around the same time. I couldn’t help but think that we really did look like we were on an episode of The Amazing Race. When I mentioned this, I laughed when Mike and Melissa, the super models, volunteered that they had actually applied to be on the show! I wasn’t surprised!
We boarded the bus for the 2 hour drive through the Sacred Valley. We would drive for two hours, have breakfast, and then finish the short drive to the beginning of the Inca Trail! Ol and I both had to pinch ourselves. The hike to Machu Picchu was a longtime dream for both of us and an item on the bucket list for a lot of people.
As we got closer to the trailhead, the bus stopped to pick up our chef and a few of the porters who carry supplies on the trail. By the time we pulled into the town where we would begin our trek, a light rain started falling. We unloaded and started getting our gear in order. I put on my blue waterproof rain suit. I realized that I looked like a damp Smurf. It was not attractive, but it worked. I decided to cover my pack with my $1 pink rain poncho for extra measure. I was determined to not get cold and wet on this hike. The pictures would not be pretty, but I would be dry and warm.
We gathered together under the sign that marks the beginning of the Inca trail. We took photos to mark the occasion and then got into the queue to show our passports and pay the fee for hiking the trail. Our guide explained that the porters packs were all being weighed. Regulations required that porters were not allowed to carry more than 35 kilos each. Apparently, without regulations, some companies would require porters to carry dangerous amounts along the treacherous mountain trail. This was still an incredible amount of weight for these amazing men. How could they manage four days up and down mountains with those large packs? We were only attempting to carry a fraction of that weight and I still had doubts about making it.
Finally, our group made it through the entry checkpoint and we were hiking The Inca Trail. I didn’t know what the next four days would bring but I was glad to finally be hiking. Let the adventure begin!