After an early wake-up call and two-hour drive from Cusco, we arrived at kilometer 82, the starting point of the Inca Trail. Three days later we would look back on our first group photo and scarcely recognize the clean, naive faces in it. That first day was a long (8.7 mile), gradual ascent to about 11,000 feet. The weather was beautiful, perhaps lulling us into a sense of complacency, and the scenery was reminiscent of the Colorado Rockies — a river valley running through the Andes.
We met our amazing team of 14 porters (“the Green Machine”), our gifted guides Raul and Renaldo, and Super Mario, the incredible chef who ensured we didn’t lose so much as a tenth of a pound along the trek.
We went to bed early to the sound of raindrops on our tents…
The second day of the Inca Trail is universally regarded as the toughest. This section of the trail is 10 miles in length and rises to 13,829 feet — the highest point in the trek. Really, it’s challenging enough without rain. Followed by heavier rain. Followed by snow on the approach to the summit. Followed by still more rain.
Despite the adversity, we topped Dead Woman’s Pass, where we were rewarded with a queso sandwich, a hot cup of coca leaf tea, and (most importantly!) a shot of rum.
The rain would eventually give way as we brought our soaked selves into camp.