Trekking to Machu Picchu

Trip Start May 19, 2013
Trip End Dec 08, 2013

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 11-14

Up hours before the sun, Jason and I had prepared two bags each. One would be carried by the mules during the day, between campsites; and the other one would be on our back at all times. We stood outside our place, waiting for our tour guide to collect us. After four days of trekking, several bus rides, and a final hike straight up the face of a sacred mountain, we would be looking out at Machu Picchu.

On the first day of our adventures, we were packed into a bus and taken several hours outside of Cusco, to Mollepata (9,500 ft above sea level). We ate breakfast there, and met the others that would be trekking with us. Jamie and Lauren, both Canadians from the Toronto area in their mid 20s, were who we immediately gravitated towards, and continued to spend the bulk of our time with. There were also about four Brazilians, four Belgians, two people from France, two German girls, and a Chilean boy.

At 9am, we began walking to Sayllapata (10,500 ft). On this leg of the trip, I spoke quite a bit with Carol, from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Just like all other Brazilian girls I've had the pleasure of meeting, she was very cheerful, always smiling and seeing the amusing side of things. Carol is a web designer. She told me a lot about life in Sao Paolo, and the different cultures that exist in Brazil. It was fun to communicate with her in Spanish, especially because when she would slip a Portuguese word in here and there, it was very easy to guess what it meant.

We had a break for lunch, and then left for the Soraypampa villages (12,600 ft). By this time, Jason and I had taken a serious liking to the Canadian girls. Both girls went to school in London, Canada at Western University. Their undergraduate degrees were in science, but both of them decided on law school rather than med school for two reasons: to avoid taking the MCAT, and to make their lives miserable. They took the bar exam right before leaving for Peru, and both decided not to check the results until returning home. The girls were delightful to be around, both full of positive energy and funny stories.

That night we camped at the base of Salcantay. After stuffing ourselves with tea, popcorn, and a basic Peruvian dinner of potatoes and meat, we crashed. Woken up the next morning at 4:30am by a hand protruding through our tent, bearing a hot cup of tea, we got dressed, ate breakfast, and prepared for the most difficult section of the journey: hiking up the face of the mountain, 2,500 feet above us.

Hours later we reached the highest point at 15,000 feet, right next to the snow-covered Salcantay peaks, which extend up to 20,500 feet. After a few hours of descending, we made it to our lunch spot in Huayracmachay, an area that is directly between the dry climate near the Salcantay peaks, and the warm, lush jungle ahead. As this was a meeting point of two drastically different climates, there was a lot of rain (and even some hail) moving through our lunch area. The moss-covered rocks in the area reminded Jason and I of Icelandic countryside.

After lunch, when the rain stopped briefly, we descended into the jungle. I enjoyed talking with Sandrine, a physical education teacher from Belgium who is on a seven-month trip that includes both Asia and South America, and Laura, who is also on the trip with Sandrine. Laura lives with Sandrine in Belgium and teaches French (she was very helpful in refreshing my French).

With their infectious smiles and hilarious travel stories, it's obvious that both women are very happy to be alive. I enjoyed talking to them about their travels in Spanish, as both of them found it much easier to speak Spanish than English. Three hours later, we were at our camp in Challway, in the middle of a dense tropical forest, at 9,500 feet. We had a great conversation over dinner, and then crashed, as per usual.

We began the next morning at 5am, again woken up with tea. We walked for five hours through the jungle, spotting waterfalls, eating from fruit-bearing trees, and observing a variety of exotic birds and flora. We ate lunch near Collpabamba, again intercepting the afternoon rain that is common in the high jungle. From there we took a bus to Hydroelectrica, and then walked a few hours to Aguas Calientes. We had a huge trout dinner and toasted our Pisco sours with the Canadians, congratulating one another on the trek we have completed so far.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30 am to hike to Machu Picchu. A couple of hours later, drenched in sweat, and 1,400 feet above Aguas Calientes, we were finally there, entering the gates of Machu Picchu right around sunrise. A guide took our group around the ruins and spoke to us about Inca culture, and how Machu Picchu was built.

Built in the mid-15th century, Machu Picchu is the most famous symbol of Inca civilization. It was abandoned about 100 years later, at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although the locals knew of its existence, Machu Picchu remained a hidden gem to the outside world until about 1911, when an American historian visited it and made it an internationally known tourist site.

Today, Machu Picchu is being rebuilt, because environmental factors like rain, tourism and earthquakes (I've experienced several small ones here in Peru--there are 180 per year, on average) have been worn away at its structure.

Machu Picchu was constructed largely without the use of mortar. Instead, people would cut blocks of stone to fit so tightly together that not even a single blade of grass could fit through the crack. The stone structures in Machu Picchu were also designed to protect against damage from earthquakes, with architectural characteristics like rounded, L-shaped corners and inward-tilting doors and windows.

Remarkably, some remnants of Inca culture can be seen today in Peru, especially in the smaller villages. Today, Inca culture is reflected in Peru mostly in the language, as slightly more Peruvians speak Quechua--the language of the Inca--than Spanish. What also carries from the Inca empire to modern day Peru is the importance of both the coca leaf and of giving thanks to Mother Earth.

Interestingly, the Inca did not develop a system of writing. Communication and recording was done in the form of quipus (knot-tying), ceramic-making, and spoken language. And although Quechua is widely considered the language of the Inca, its history dates to before the expansion of the Inca empire. Instead of speaking Quechua, many Inca actually spoke Aymara, which is the primary indigenous language of current-day Bolivia.

In all, we probably walked a total of 80 miles, and saw over a dozen different climates. (Peru, by the way, is home to 28 of the world's 32 climates, according to It was well worth it. The memories we made and bonds we formed will last a lifetime.

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Shannon on

Wow!! What a beautiful journey!!

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