I walked to Machu Picchu
At this moment, I sit in an internet cafe in Arequipa, Peru. The noise of the streets, instant message beeping, and the singing of an unidentifiable insect, act as hypnotizing background music. A Peruvian couple near me holds their baby, dressed in a communian gown, up to their computer screen- undoubtably showing her off to her grandparents across the country.
Sun streams in through the open door, and for the first time in days- I am actually warm.
I am feeling a strange sort of exhaustion. As with all of the last 20 days, the past couple days have been a bit of a blur. My brains strains when trying to put the pieces together correctly-but not because I´ve been drinking unusual amounts of alcohol or smoking spliffs like many of my fellow long term travellers. I suspect my lack of brain power comes from a lack of sleep, a lack of oxygen to the brain, and a lack of familiarity.
For this reason, I´ll need another day to fully process the beautiful city I now find myself in.
As for the last couple weeks…
Back to May 16-
Ignoring the fact that I had been sick for the prior week, I booked a last minute Salkantay trek for the following day. Either I was high on the lack of oxygen to my brain, or the SuperGerman I had been traveling with got to me with his ¨go get ém¨ attitude and pep-talk conversational style.
I spent around $260 on the 5 day trek, Machu Picchu tickets, return train & bus tickets, and rented gear. All and all a good deal. I would be joining 13 other trekkers, and when all was said and done we would be walk/trek 50-60 miles.
My guide- a goofy Peruvian who strikes a resemblance to Yogi the bear-called Edwin, swings by my dismal hostel around 430 AM, and we walk to other nearby hostels to pick up fellow trekkers- This includes- a couple from Miami and their coworker friend, a couple from Oregan, an incredibly entertaining and well-travelled Norwiegan, 6 Brazillians, 2 Dutch Brothers, myself, and our 2 guides. It´s a good group.
After a 2 hour ride, we reach our starting point. After a sub-par breakfast at a local place, we begin our 6 hour walk for the day. This will be one of the toughest days for me. My body struggles with the altitude and a general feeling of weakness from not eating enough the prior 4 days. Talking with other Trekkers in my group helps the time pass smoothly.
We have plenty of time to get to know one another, and I find out early on that I got lucky with my group. We become a sort of family over the next 5 days.
As we reach base camp at the end of day 1, it takes every last bit of my energy to climb into my tent. We gather as a group for tea, then our mandatory bowl of pre-meal soup. For dinner, we dine on the traditional Peruvian dish of Lomo Saltado. I´m unable to eat anything other than rice. My stomach feels no better than it has in days. I go to sleep that night dreading the start of day 2- the day everyone claims is the hardest of the entire trek. The day we reach the top of Salkantay.
Luckily I wake from about the best nights sleep one can attain from a tent. I feel energetic and ready to go. Day 2 will be difficult but rewarding on an almost spiritual level. Day 2 will end up being my favorite trekking day.
The first 4-5 hours are spent at a steady incline. Despite the difficulty of breathing, and the steady climb, I feel good when we finally reach the top of the mountain. There is a general sense of euphoria at the top- everyone understanding that the toughest part of their journey is over. Each person in our group places a rock onto a pile, silently asking for a wish for their journey. Our guide Edwin poors chicha (corn beer) over the rock pile, as an offering to Pachamama.
Day 2 ends at an amazing base camp on the edge of a cliff, panoramic mountains views surround us, impossibly bright stars above. We have a jovial dinner and a beer to celebrate the end of our toughest day.
Day three begins a little later than the previous. We head along dusty gravel roads, among the stunning mountain views, a rocky river passing far below. As we near lunch time we enter a jungle trail. Our guide stops to show us medicinal plants, passion fruit and wild strawberries. The weather is hotter than its been in days. Lunch is in a mountain village. We dine on quinoa, a salad of beets and carrots, pasta, and avocado. Our best lunch yet.
Now we take a roller coaster of a mini bus ride to the nearby mountain village of Santa Theresa. Our base camp is at the end of the village, next to a dilapidated building- ie home to our bathrooms. We quickly unload our things before heading to hot springs for an evening soak. This is near heaven for all of us. Days of walking; of being cold and dirty, sweaty and hot, dissolve in the soothing thermal water. We soak, and chat as long as we can before heading to dinner at camp. A rousing dance party around a bonfire ends the day.
The first half of day four consists of many hours of walking along a long, hot, dusty mountain road, ending at a strange industrial town called Hydroelectrica. We have lunch in a shelter among banana trees.
The second part of the day has us walking to Aguas Calientes- the jumping off point to Machu Picchu. My body is beyond exhausted at this point. I’m feeling weak and dirty from lack of hearty food and no showers; but I’m in a great mood and enchanted by the scenery. At this point we are walking along a train tracks near the back and bottom part of Machu Picchu.
The scenery at this point begins to feel mystical; lush tropical plants, tall ancient trees, smooth boulders popping out of the powerful river, and more sharp green mountains surround us. It’s at this point that you can truly feel the presence of the ancient Inka city.
We reach Aguas Calientes and head to our hostels. I bunk with two friendly Dutch brothers. We take our first hot shower in 5 days, and head to a dinner at a nearby restaurant. Everyone is excitedly chattering, anticipating our early morning departure to the climax of our journey. We try Cuy, a Peruvian delicacy, that is essentially a whole roasted guinea pig. I struggled to even try a little- my beloved childhood pets in mind.
The Grand Finale
The moment we’ve all been anticipating…
We awaken at 4 the next morning, and begin the 60-90 min walk. 4 days of walking, paired with the sickness I continued to feel, weighed heavily on me as I climbed the final 2,000 steps leading to the ancient city. I reach my final step, arriving at the first view. The mobs of early morning tourists oohing and ahhing aren’t enough to ruin the living postcard in front of me. Clouds and mist blanket the ruins, changing with every passing second. Each direction I look another stunning view. It isn’t just the skillfully constructed city that takes our breath away; but the mystical mountainous perch on which it sits.
I actually find myself getting a little choked up. Maybe because of physical and mental exhaustion, but also because this is a moment I feel I have earned- one that I worked so hard to arrive at. A moment that cannot be described or captured through a camera.
And this is one place that lived up to its reputation.
We spend nearly 10 hours wandering through her ancient passageways, siting and gazing, watching llamas graze among the ruins, and climbing to higher points. undoubtably, this will be one of the highlights of all my travels.