With a supreme effort, we are up at 5.30 am and ready to leave at the appointed hour of 6.15 am. Only Jay braves the shower, an alarming-looking device with two electric wires going into the shower-head, connected at the other end to a switch straight out of a Frankenstein movie. We are surprised to see her back with us a few minutes later, apparently unscathed.
The guide arrives for us about an hour late. Thinking about the extra hour of sleep that we all might have had, we climb into the minibus and are soon cruising along surprisingly good roads out of Cusco. We have a fairly leisurely stop for breakfast after a couple of hours, while Americo our guide goes off to hire a porter to carry the tents and food. Our own personal rucksacks contain just our clothes, sleeping bags, water, and biscuits.
The last stretch of the journey is along a very dusty track next to the railway. As we approach a ford, we see marooned in the middle of the flow a small minibus that passed us on the road earlier. The fierce rivalry between the tour companies in Cusco vying for our custom is quite forgotten now as a tow-rope is quickly improvised from the roof luggage fastenings, and to cheers from the on-looking passengers, we tow them to dry land.
Our trek begins at kilometre 77 and rises gently at first, then less gently, before finally rising not particularly gently at all. Although the start of the trek is somewhat lower than Cusco, it is clearly not going to be an average day-trip in the Lake District. We reach our first Inca ruins at the point where the trail from the more popular kilometre 88 starting-point joins ours. Narrow and wide terraces contour around the lower flanks of a steep round hill that rises into the cloud. Above the terraces are the walls and windows of former dwellings. The cloud clinging to the upper sides of the mountain adds to the sense of mystery of a vanished civilisation.
The climbing is slow and steady, and slow. We have some light rain—not enough to warrant donning of waterproofs—light relief that helps to reduce the all-pervading dust from the trail. The scenery is very rugged and green, and cloud gently caresses the mountain tops. Our campsite for the evening is just beyond a bridge over the Rio Cusichaca, a small but vigorous river. At 13° south of the equator, dusk is not so much a period of the evening as a paper-thin dividing-line between day and night. There is a brief, but beautiful, orange halo in the sky above the hills where the valley turns towards whence we have come, and then the stars appear. We eat dinner in a hut at the side of the campsite by the light of two candles, and then retire to our sleeping bags.