Potentially the best experience of my life part 1.

September 13, 2013 - Cuzco, Peru

Day 1

In the briefing we'd had prior to the inca trail, the guide had said "we leave here at 6am. We'll pick you up from your hostel". Call me crazy, but I interpret that as a 6:05 am pickup time. But, as both Louise and the porter gently told me, they didn't ever say they'd pick me up at 6. No. No you're quite right. They didn't say that. But they certainly didn't say they'd pick me up at quarter past bloody five. Jokers.
For the first time since we'd arrived in South America, it was raining. A slow, steady, consistent rain and it was still dark and really, really cold. We squelched onto the bus, wondered where to put our drenched raincoats and sat down with our rucksacks on our knees. It was another hour before we even left Cuzco after doing a million other pick ups. Why did I get up for this?
Then we began the one and a half hour drive to Ollantaytambo (which I've been calling ollyantambo until I googled it just now. How embarrassing). This was our half way point, breakfast and last supply, last chance saloon stop. We had half an hour to find and eat a hearty breakfast, buy snacks, obtain a walking stick each and an orange poncho for
Louise (Orange? I know right). It was like supermarket sweep. We bought dusty snickers from an ancient Peruvian, God knows how long they'd been sat in that cabinet, a walking stick from an impatient and toothless woman for the inflated price of 80p each, downed a banana bread and half an expensive cappuccino, had a super quick wee (we didn't even get to fully appreciate and enjoy our last soap and water hand wash for four days) and felt guilty about showing up to our seats 3 minutes late. Our seats which we then remained in, without the bus moving an inch, for a further hour and a half. I was fuming. That expensive half a cappuccino could have been consumed after all. I could have lathered my hands a full minute more. This company really are a group of jokers I mused. We were worried.
This sense of worry deepened as rumours of a missing chef floated through the bus and we drove through deep snow and a blizzard. Fantastic. Sleeping in snow for four days. Lou and I both admitted later that we were secretly depressed, anxious and wishing with all our hearts that we had done the one day walk and next day train to Machupicchu option. Mum and dad you'll never understand how we envied you in that moment.
We finally set off and arrived at "Kilometre 82", the beginning of the inca trail, a further hour and a half into day one. Yes! We're here! Let's get stuck in! We're going to Machupicchu! We're realising the dream of a lifetime. We are DOING this. Except, "none of our porters have turned up", a solemn Smithy, our main guide, told us. "We will do our best to find replacements. But it may take another two hours or so. No you can't stay on the bus. Yes you have to stand in the pissing rain and wait".
The "porters", as we call them, are essential. They carry the tents and the portable kitchen, they set up camp, they bake a bloody cake on the last night to raise your spirits for god's sake. And, they carry all of your personal stuff too, so you can skip along the inca trail free as a bird; if you pay them 100 US dollars obv. So, them not turning up on the first day was a small disaster.
We loaded our bags onto a tarpaulin whilst another porter laid a tarpaulin over the top to keep them dry. The only trouble was the top tarpaulin wasn't quite big enough to cover everyone's bags. We began our team bonding by cheekily and passive aggressively tugging the corners to keep our own stuff dry when we thought no one was looking.
This silly game was ended by the discovery of some shelter down below. We huddled under the huts and played the card game "cheat". I thoroughly enjoyed watching Louise putting down her cards, whenever she was in a sticky situation, with a big scared grin, saying "mwwwwlllbbchh", instead of "Queen" or "jack" or "ace". This roughly translates to "oh no I'm lying about my card! I hope I'm not found out!" Priceless.
After whiling away the hours, Smithy reappeared,  insisting we assemble ready to trek the inca trail! Yes! We walk down the hill to the checkpoint. We can see the sign, we can see the entrance, when suddenly he says, "Stop! You know what? I think we'll have lunch first!" All we can do is laugh, and exclaim "seriously??" After being picked up at 5:15am, we aren't to start the inca trail until 3:30pm,  a full 10 hours and 15 minutes later.
Over lunch, Smithy explains the new plan. We will camp at the very first site we get to, to avoid walking too long in the dark. We are to then make up this time over the second and third day. We all groan. The second day is infamous as being "the bitch". A six hour uphill struggle followed by a 2 hour intense, steep decline. And this was to be made longer and more challenging. I was living in dread. We were also having temporary porters for the day, including a few horses to carry our things because "our porters will arrive in the middle of the night ready for the morning". Yeah right. Whatever you say sunshine. Grrrrrrrrr.
At 3.30pm on day one, one of the greatest achievements of our entire inca trail experience happens. We actually begin.
Luckily for us, the rain has eased since we've been losing at cards, and the walk is flat and gentle. We have to get out our head torches an hour before camp, but there's a great sense of adventure in it, and we're all feeling much more optimistic. The only problem with head torches is the frequency with which large moths are attracted to the light coming from your face, and have a party on your nose whilst you scream and thrash around. That part wasn't so fun.
The good part about day one was that we got to know the people in our group. Here's a run down of the personalities:
First up: Nick. Nick is an opinionated Aussie who has lived in London for 7 years. He was our bezzie on the trip and despite being typically aussie and brash, was good fun and had good chat.
Next up, Marcus. Or "Germany's next top model" as I prefer to call him. He took a million "selfies" and posed all over Machupicchu and the sun gate and just generally held up the job. I will never, ever forgive him for emptying our entire jam supply for the day onto one bagel. I feel I've summed him up.
Ashley: a Chinese lady who's lived in New York for 14 years. Not to be mistaken for a dippy adorable ditz, she can be fierce when it's warranted. "Let's all just leave. Don't entertain him. He'll only take another 100 photos of himself if we do". She used to work for JP Morgan. At first, this baffled me. By the end of the trip I could totally see it.
Randy: 51 year old man from "Minnesota, USA". If you closed your eyes you could be talking to Tom Hanks. Casually, almost innocently racist and skydived on his 50th birthday. Super polite and helpful. Once you overlook the casual racism, he's a totally likeable
guy who says things like "Oh no I'm so so sorry I didn't offer to put your orange peel in the trash. I didn't realise you'd finished!" Dude.
Andrew: Randy's 19 year old son. Obviously super intelligent as he was studying Spanish in Ecuador for a semester with college and was as fluent as they get I'd say. However, it became more and more apparent that he was under some mis-conception that Wales was a land far, far away from the UK. Possibly inhabited by mainly elves and myself (Louise had said she was from London so escaped the "Wales" nickname and constant enthusiastic questioning). So what is university like in Wales? How many years do you go for? You went to uni in England?? Really?? And don't Wales have their own language? Crazy!!"
Little Nick: Andrew's mate. Also a typical American. He actually brought an American flag with him on the trail. If he wasn't wearing it as a bandana, he was flying it from the top of Dead Woman's pass, the sun gate or machupicchu itself, howling and bare chested and with an arm around the similarly bare chested Andrew. Class. I just wished they'd burst into "Born in the USA" so I could have cracked out my best Springsteen dance.
Daqi (pronounced Ducky) and Ken. Two Chinese guys who were raised in Canada. Affectionately dubbed by Randy as "The Canasians". See what I mean? They were both potentially gay but not together. I had heard ken calling his friend "Ducky" and thought it was some over affectionate pet name. When I saw his name written down on a form it all fell into place and I felt foolish. My bad guys.
The only other members of the group were an Irish couple and a couple from the Czech republic. They can both be summed up thus: In love, cute, but anonymous.
The first night was super eventful. But this post is getting too long, and I'm tired and I've drunk two bottles
of Quilmes beers with my new Canadian friend. Bed time for me. I'll try and be less rambly for the rest of the inca trail I promise.


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3 Comments

Rachel:
September 13, 2013
I thought the Whitsunday Islands were the best experience of your life? And then NZ South Island? Oh, and Fiji? x
Rhi:
September 13, 2013
That´s why I used the word "potentially". It´s a get out clause duh.
Sophia:
September 17, 2013
Favourite post. Laughed out loud at most of it. I wanna do the inca trail however I struggle with duke of ed.......#nohope #yesihashtaggedonyourblog #douche
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