Doing really no more research than a New York Times article, Walker sent out several emails to different Inca Trail guide companies (you must go with a guide and book several months in advance) and Q'uente was the most successful with responding and fitting into our time frame.
We got lucky - I highly recommend them: rent sleeping bags, rent hiking poles, aaaamazing food, confident they treat their porters well, etc.
We also got amazingly lucky with our group. Like, I really don't think the experience would have been half as meaningful without such a great group of people. I took a lot away from all of them - every meal promised a table of good, interesting conversation.
We were all also at the same level of physical ability which made hiking together an enjoyable, challenging, collective activity.
Cast of Characters:
Our head guide. So in love with his job and still educating himself constantly. Interesting Peruvian insight. Loved 5pm tea time, complete with a popcorn snack. Also looked like the Peruvian version of Ricky Gervais.
Assistant guide. An adorable, fresh out of Cuzco College tourism major.
Rebecca & Wythe:
Boston couple, liberal, witty sense of humor.
A couple of years ahead of me, Rebecca is getting her Master's in Urban Planning. One night while we were waiting for showers (you get to take them the third night!) she let me know it took her several years of waiting tables after graduating from Princeton to figure out her life. It sucked, but you do it and grow from it. It's stuff like that that's a huge relief to hear - and just really kind of a person to take the time to tell you.
Al & Iona (the Scottish girls):
On their gap year between high school and university, pretty much poster girls for that time period in life. Fun accents and sayings we couldn't get over. Al did the entire trail wearing Nike Swoosh trainers (correction, they were Air Force Ones...). Fun and easy-going, lovers of candy and totally determined just to get through the trail.
Abe, Tom, Ben & James (the Boston guys):
Most of them no longer live in Boston, but they all grew up together there and were reuniting to hike the trail. Great guys, the glue of our group really. Especially Tom, a constant source of humorous relief, who carried all of his stuff in that same hunter green Jansport backpack you had in 5th grade. Abe is a young college professor in California and gave Walker good advice on how to navigate the treacherous academic world.
Lisa & Bastian (the Germans):
The cute, adventurous Germans who spoke perfect English. Again, interesting world perspectives. And Bastian was on a Lord of the Rings kick, so we all pretty much envisioned the trail as the journey with Raul playing the part of Gandalf.
Gil & Becky:
Gil's a Marine (in fact, he should be the Marine's recruitment poster boy - think Tom Cruise in Top Gun) and when he volunteered to be sent to Afghanistan, his new wife Becky made him promise that when he got back they'd tick off items on her bucket list (aka the Inca Trail and Amazon Rain Forest). They were two of the most good humored, adventurous, all-American, genuine people. And it made me believe two individuals really can be absolutely made for each other.
...thinking back on the degree of difficulty, DAY ONE is absolutely nothing. A cake walk. I'm sure I wasn't thinking that at the time, but I really can't even remember anything about it.