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2003-01-04 - 7:59 a.m.

Machu Picchu, Day One

There are about a million different tour agencies in Cuzco offering to take you on the Inca Trail. Melchior and I visited about eight of them, ranging from the super fancy $240 package to the bare bones $140 package. We decided to go somewhere in the middle, figuring that no matter what you paid, you still had to hike the damn thing (we'd also heard that the porters were better treated with more expensive packages). We chose our company because the woman who ran it was friendly, and she told me she was a vegetarian, and I like to support woman-owned companies, and it was only $185. Also, she threw in a sleeping bag for free. We felt good about our decision, but when we came back a few hours later to pay for the trip, the vibe was entirely different. The owner mistook us for another Caucasian couple who had come back to pay for the trip - after a few awkward moments, which I tried to laugh off, we had paid and registered for the trip, and she practically threw us out of the office. We both felt a little weird after that, but she had our money, and we had finally booked our trip, so we decided not to worry about it.

On Christmas morning, we were both up bright and early at 4 am. It had rained all night, and was still raining, and I was beginning to have some doubts. By 5 am, we were packed and waiting by the front door, just as we'd been told to do. No one came. By 5:30, Melchior braved the rain down to the pay phone, where he reached the owner on her cell phone. 7:30, she said. I told you 7:30. (She didn't, but that's beside the point. The point was that I got up at 4 am on Christmas morning. But anyway.) We went back to bed, but secretly I was hoping that no one would pick us up. No luck. The bus showed up promptly at 7:30, and we were on our way.

Well, almost. First, we picked up the other people in our group. Then we made a bathroom stop. Then we actually made it to the starting point of the Inca Trail, but at that point, it was almost lunchtime, and our guide decided it would be easier to set up camp and eat lunch before hitting the trail.

Then we were on our way. The beginning of the Inca Trail:

And we walked. And walked some more. And chatted with our tripmates: an English couple recovering from food poisoning (they turned back the next morning, actually), two Swedish kids doing volunteer work in Peru and Bolivia, and an Australian girl.

Oh, and we saw some ruins. Here's Melchior in front of some ruins:

We were done with the day's hike around 5, and arrived at our campsite to find our tents already pitched and tea and snacks waiting for us (all real work accomplished by our eight porters). A few hours later, dinner was ready - a huge dinner, with my own vegetarian entree. We were in bed by 9 pm. It was like Hiking 101.

(Days 2, 3, and 4 to follow, possibly in a few days, when I finally make it to Bolivia and have a little more time.)

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