Peru Update #5 — The Trek to Macchu Piccu

Editor’s note:  For Day One of the trek, see the previous blog entry.

Michael writes:

Amazing Meals on TrekWaking up on the second day of the trek was an ordeal. I remember first opening my eyes in the darkness, making out movement. I was overwhelmed by the sound of rustling. The man outside my tent repeated his question, though it was hard to hear him over the swirling wind. ¨Te gusta te.¨ Propping myself up in the small space, I replied ¨si,¨ and received the scalding metal cup of coca tea.  Letting the warmth of the liquid seep into me, I looked out of the small opening in my tent. I saw snow covered mountains encircling the valley. My wakeup call meant it was morning, but my watch and the stars told me it was still night.

Approaching the PassMy sleep had not exactly been restful. We had set up camp on a grassy hill under the snowy auspices of Salkantay. The wind had picked up so much that it threatened to knock down our tents. Dinner had been a process of holding the tent up while shoveling down as much food as our bodies could handle, and at no point during the night did the winds relent.

After getting some breakfast in me, I surveyed the extent of my surroundings. There were a few small shacks that housed entire multigenerational families. The fact that their roofs did not blow off in the undying wind seemed a minor miracle. The occasional cattle were nothing but skin and bones, and their skin must have been as hard as the rocks that kept everyone company.

Bird of ParadiseThe downhill grade was a welcome change from the hard climb of the first day. It was simple, just putting one foot in front of the other. I was able to turn my attention to my surroundings, which quickly transformed from a cold, hard, inhospitable place to a tropical valley with trees, vines, flowers, and butterflies surrounding us on all sides.

After a long lunch at a little village along the way, we spent the rest of the day hiking on a winding dirt road. I spent the time talking with our guides. I learned about Milton´s family and Fabricio´s love of soccer. It felt wonderful to connect with someone with experiences so different from my own.

After Sweaty GruntThat night I was very ready for sleep. It had not been as challenging as a day, but it was long nonetheless. La Playa, the little village we stayed in, was interesting enough, especially with us sleeping in the square in the middle of the town. Nonetheless, I was out cold the moment my head hit the pillow.

Nate writes:

At La Playa, we ate another excellent breakfast and began the third day of the trek. After a short stretch of road we came across a trail, our first sight of it being long daunting stairs. I took someone elses’ backpack as well as my own up these ancient Incan steps. I had previously treated the trek as though I were not part of a group and on the third day of the trek I managed to turn that around. The trail steadily got steeper and steeper.  I took a third pack and planted myself firmly in the back. This day I felt I particularly excelled, at both the physical elements and at maintaining a conscientious grasp on the responsibility of being in a group.

Fabricio y MiltonIt was super sunny and humid as we trudged up and over the pass. The trail headed into a jungle that I found absolutely incredible. Every square inch of ground and tree was covered with life. Flowers bloomed everywhere and we saw several new species of birds. Through the brush, we had amazing views of the surrounding peaks, and we could see the progress that we had made through the mountains.

 Descent Through JungleAt one point, Milton pointed across the valley where we caught our first view of the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu. The mountains were amazing. The colors were so vibrant and breathtaking. We came to the remains of our first massive Incan structure, which we learned was a temple, as it had a double framed entrance. After a short class, we began the descent where a massive man-made cascade let us know that we were approaching the city of “Hidroelectrico.” Unfortunately, we were deceived about the proximity of lunch as we seemed to keep trekking for hours. When at last we arrived, I noticed that my arms had developed scale-like blisters from the heat.

From there, we reclaimed our large packs and trudged a solid three hours along the train tracks before finally arriving in the strange town of Aguas Calientes. We stumbled up some stairs to our rooms and collapsed with our packs still on. After much moaning and sock removal, we had a delicious dinner, which I got to pig out on. We watched some terrible soda-sponsored TV, said our final and sorrowful goodbyes to our incredible and talented chef, got our sack breakfasts and passed out early in preparation for our 3:15 wake up. We had almost made it…

Where We WereTerry writes:

The fourth and final day of our grueling yet beautiful trek brought us to our goal, our momentous accomplishment: Machu Picchu, one of the true marvels of the world.  The three preceeding days tested our minds, spirits, and especially our bodies.  So after going over two mountain passes, some of us decided to take the option of the bus the rest of the way.  But several of our most burly students and staff did the trek up the mountain.  

Alpaca at DawnWe awoke at hour of 3:45 and set off to catch a bus.  It took about 20 minutes to get up the mountain, most of which was spent rolling our heads around with each switch back in a deep slumber.  Exhaustion had crept upon us.  We awoke with a start as the bus stopped at the top, and we slowly dragged our bodies to the front gate along with many others from around the world.  When we finally got inside, our guide, Milton (one of the coolest characters I have ever met) explained all the history of this giant city upon a mountain.  

View of MP from TrailWe crawled around these structures, slowly awakening with keen interest as he told us about this magical place.  When he finished sharing his knowledge and it was time to go, tears began to well up in my eyes.  This great guy had led us across so many hills and mountains, taking our lives into his hands (one of which had been injured badly enough that he was heading directly to the hospital when he finished), and telling us about all the amazing plants, mountains, animals, and people we had passed along the way.  He is genuinely a person I will never forget, nor would I ever want to.

We said our goodbyes, and he went on his way. It was a moment that seemed to last forever.  After all was was said and done, we got a few hours to explore in groups.  Macchu Picchu is massive.  We walked and walked until we could take in no more, then we headed down the mountain.  

Pachamama TempleBack down again, we had lunch, collected our gear, and took a train back to Ollyantaytambo.  From there we transferred to a bus that took us back to Cusco.  We checked into our lodge, and after dinner, as the time for sleep approached, the whole trek kept racing through my mind. It may be a cliche, but my life truly will never be the same again.

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