We rose at a reasonable 7am to get breakfasted, packed and pile on the bus to take us to the starting point of the trail. We passed some spectacular scenery on the way, including a vista of some enormous snowy peaks. Afterwards we descended back into the valley and alighted to begin the trek.
The first day’s hike was fairly short and easy going, we didn’t ascend too much, and we’d all become accustomed to the altitude. There weren’t any hugely steep faces to scale and the weather was far from inclement. We passed a couple of small communities (I hasten to use the word village as these were only a few houses in total) and a few other groups who were also hiking the trail.
The cloud cover cast a bright grey-ish light on everything, and so the greens of the valley were paled and washed out, however the ruins still stood out and were nonetheless impressive. Our guide told us that the above village was found in this state, and there is no written record of its name or what happened there. The shapes of the buildings offer some indication – the smaller, flat roofed buildings are homes while the larger, peaked roofed building would have been used as a communal space. There were no terraces around, perhaps they’d not survived or these people were not arable farmers.
Depsite the overcast weather and the evidence of recent rain, we were lucky and were spared a downpour as we pressed on. The valley had even more treasures in store for us. Originally hidden by trees, another village, this time certainly a former farming community, appeared as we climbed up over a crest. At the top of the crest was another village, mostly housing, while the remains at the bottom were, according to our guide, farming buildings and stores for food. The terraces help keep water and nutrients within the soil and also prevent landslides – thus making a great place to grow crops.
We arrived at our camp to find our tents had been erected and dinner was being cooked by our guides. Our campsite was a field owned by a family who lived nearby. one of their houses had no doors so we could see inside their kitchen, where an elder was eating. Under the table were some twenty or thirty guinea pigs, all being watched by three dogs, ensuring they did not run away. Peru is of course famous for having guinea pigs included in their national cuisine: “Cuy al horno” (oven roasted guinea pig). We didn’t eat any for dinner, our dish was chicken, rice and potatoes. The family in whose field we were staying came by later with a bucket of beer bottles, which we eagerly purchased. The weather, despite the sunset and the altitude was still very warm so we decided to walk down to the river and relax in the cool and pure waters.
We even used the mountain water to cool down our beers! We thought we had earned the beer after a day’s hiking, little did we know that harder times were yet to come.
Our first night was comfortable; the tents had more than enough room to sit up in, and even get changed in! There were no showers, there weren’t to be any for the duration of the hike, so we had to make do with a modest bowl of water, heated by the porters and delivered to our tents. Despite the home comforts, such as a pillow, I drifted off quickly to a deep sleep.