Trekking like a trooper - Machu Picchu

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Nov 20, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Leaving La Paz in Bolivia I headed straight for Lake Titicaca, a place I’d heard great things about for years. The one thing I needed straight after my 4 month equivalent to military service was a beach to unwind and to enjoy things at my own pace. On the way I hooked up with Suzanna, a German girl who was also travelling alone. After about 3 minutes I knew that travelling solo was going to be awesome and far less scary than I had imagined. We spent a couple of days at the Isla Del Sol, a beautiful little island right in the middle of the lake. It’s one of those few places where you could be back 500 years. We spent the evening rush hour drinking local beer on the beach as all the 9year old shepherds herded their donkeys, sheep, pigs and cattle passed us as the sun dropped behind Incan ruins. What a world away from the pain of the previous weeks.

The next day we headed for my first ever long hike to really test out my new boots. The views afforded from the ridge of the island were incredible. Every step made me more grateful for being alive. Just perfect. Photos just don’t do it service, suffice to say that it was exactly what I needed. That night we headed back to our hostel ($3 a night…) and ended up reciting poetry with our new Dutch and Brazilian friends. Bit random but quite hilarious.

After some encouraging words of fortitude and promises of meeting up in the Galapagos Islands in September, Suzanna and I parted as I had dreams to realise in Peru. It’s amazing who you meet on bus journeys. It’s almost as if gits aren’t allowed onboard as everyone I met was just so lovely. Gush, gush! After a crazy long ride complete with boxes of live chickens cheeping (I’m not sure if they had tickets), we finally arrived in Cusco. What a place. I know, I know, some serious Gringo trail going on here but hey, it’s the gringo trail because it is so good.

After some pretty serious haggling, I organized to go on a bit of a stroll up to Machu Picchu, a place I’ve dreamt of going to for years. This stroll involved 5 days of trekking along the Salcantay Pass, 3 nights camping, elevations of 4600m (4/5ths the way up to Everest base camp) and promises of thermal springs. Couldn’t wait! Unfortunately that meant I couldn’t sleep either. It’s a nasty little habit I’ve gotten into, just like a kid at Christmas. Anyway, at 3:30am I got my early wake up call to head off up a mountain.

It was just so brilliant I really can’t do justice through sentences. Here’s some words anyway: Full moon illuminating the snow capped mountains, gasping for oxygen at the top of Salcantay Pass, emergency horses for those with blisters the size of golf balls, full on flood in our tent, soup, soup, soup, freezing showers made from punctured coke bottles and river water, glorious days of sunshine, snickers a day, hot thermal springs at Santa Teresa, awesome card games for winners, impromptu stripping for waterfall showers on the road, mozzies from hell. Lessons learnt? Food always tastes great when you’re starving but rehydrating salts are always going to taste like vomit.

The sense of achievement was astounding when we finally arrived at Aquas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu. It was quite a culture shock to come out of some incredible scenery – snowy mountains, cloud forests, jungle – into real life with bars and hostals with beds and real life hot showers! But this was all good character building stuff, ready for the big ticket item the next day. Beers, banter and a good rest were the order of the day.

And so it came to pass that at 4am we started our long hike up to MP. *Luckily* I joined the faster part of the group who decided to literally sprint up the mountain – picture pre dawn, 75degree angled steps for giants and er, me. I’m not known for having the longest legs and my headlight battery had run out on night 1 of the trek. Needless to say, my competitiveness was not sufficiently strong to maintain this Olympic effort so I let them go ahead without me. At one point, I was enjoying the scenery in the dark when a guy came round the corner and shrieked. He had just seen my silhouette and assumed I was an Incan ghost!! Hilarious! So we made it to the top together with a lot of giggling to find that the gates didn’t open for another 30minutes anyway. Brilliant.

When the sun finally began to rise, it was a bit of a cloudy day but that burnt off pretty quickly. Our guide Papy gave us a rundown on some of the history then we spent several hours taking in the view and feeling pretty smug about our achievement until Papy told us that the Incas had special messengers that would run from Cusco to Quito in Ecuador (over 1600km) in 6 days. Boy did that make my hike feel pathetic!

My good Brazilian tent mate Paulo and I had agreed to climb up MP Mountain which is where the typical photo of MP and Huayna Picchu (t’other hill) is taken from. We had decided this in a moment of rash early morning logic – we’ve come this far, it’s only a bit further, we’d kick ourselves if we didn’t. Then we saw the bloody thing in the daylight… No breakfast, hot sun, 5 days of trekking. Not ideal conditions for climbing an additional 90minutes. But we did it and weren’t we ecstatic? Truly the icing on the cake. I’m still shaking from how incredible it was – not from my legs nearly giving way on the way back down. Argg, I’ll feel that pain for years! But what a feeling? Amazing! Enjoy the photos.
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