It was already light outside when I jumped out of bed at 5AM to take a shower and close up my backpacks. I filled a plastic bag with the energy bar wrappers and empty water bottles from the previous day, and left the room to look for a big garbage can to dispose of them. While I was looking around in the kitchen area, this young boy entered and asked me something (probably what I was looking for) in Spanish. I said 'garbage', he looked at me with empty eyes and did the universal gesture of 'I don't understand'. I had a little epiphany and remembered the little post-it notes we use at work when we dispose of larger things that do not fit in our trash bins. I said 'Basura!' with great confidence, and his eyes lit up with understanding and grabbed the bag out of my hands. I was doing ok so far with my non-existant Spanish language skills.
I hauled my two backpacks down the stairs and waited in front of the old doors for the tour guide to pick me up. 20 minutes later someone showed up, and to my heart-sinking realization, he was not there for me. He was waiting for the other Canadian family I met the previous day. His name was Herlin, and when I asked if it had a meaning, he explained that his father saw the name in a newspaper, and probably misspelled the magician Merlin's name while trying to be original. He asked me where I was from, and he too cheered for 'Turkiya!'. Herlin gave me one very useful piece of information that morning: he said not to worry that the guide was late because his people operated on 'Inca Time', which is the same kind of cool unhurried pace most South Americans and Mediterraneans move.
Jose came with the very Peruvian smiling face and I boarded the bus with 4 other people already in it. We drove around Plaza De Armas twice to pick up the rest of the team from their hostels, and hit the road out of Cusco. I was drinking the view out of the bus windows, trying to catch everything that was new to me. And I saw my first llama that was not a photograph: he had his hind legs spread and was taking a dump! Amazing rear view. ;)
We stopped at a small roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere to have breakfast and use the facilities.
Everyone in the group was still mingling with their own, and I stood at a corner observing who is who while munching on yet another Clif bar I brought. I was afraid to eat the delicious looking bananas everybody else purchased from the little store for I was warned against extreme diarrhea. After an hour and 15 minutes (equivalent of 30 minutes in Inca Time), we boarded the bus and did not stop until we reached the trailhead where we turned in our big backpacks to the porters.
Following the train tracks, we came to the checkpoint where our passports, and trail permits were inspected. We got our passports stamped, making our entry to the Inca Trail territory official.
We hiked for about an hour before we stopped for a short break where I heard someone yell 'I know you! Turkiya!!!'. When I looked up, I came eye to eye with Herlin! For the following three days, there was at least one time everyday, I would hear him yell 'Turkiya!' and wave at me with a huge smile, having everybody around wonder!
First thing for lunch, we were served a warm purple liquid in aluminum cups. As we would do for the following meals, we all looked at each other trying to find the bravest person of the day to try it first and give the ok to drink/eat the native delicacy to the rest of the team. I was the first of those bravehearts that day! While we were enjoying our purple corn tea, the porters set up the lunch tent and got our first lunch ready. They also lined up a bunch of little plastic tubs filled with water next to the tent for us to wash our hands before we sat down to eat.
On the menu was:
- Egg Soup
- Beef (they did ask if anyone was vegetarian and because I do not eat red meat, I got an omelet instead, and received special treatment every time there was red meat for a meal)
- Mashed Potatoes
- Cucumber and Tomato Salad
I was pretty impressed with the variety and was floored that the table was set complete with silverware and folded paper napkins! I found it to be very elegant for camping, indeed! This lunch was the first bonding experience for our team members and a lot of laughter was shared when the lunch tent made an attempt to disassemble itself upon us.
Afternoon hike was short and fairly flat. We got our first glimpse of Inca ruins and gasped at the sights of beautiful Andes mountains. I was doing pretty well with the hike and keeping up with the group, although the elevation made itself known with rapid heart beats. When we reached our first campsite for the night, the air was filled with the joyous smell of popcorn for the happy hour. I threw my gear into the tent that I would be sharing with one of the girls from SF, and made my way for the restrooms with no lights! I was glad I made the last minute purchase of a headlight! :)
Dinner had much variety as did lunch and we all ate everything served. By the time I caccooned into my down-sleeping bag, I had walked 11.79 miles taking 26993 steps, and climbed an equivalent of 247 floors! Happy with the day's accomplishments, and knowing the next day would be the hardest of all, I fell into a restless sleep to the sound of light rain tapping on the tent.
Read more in Part 4