Day 7 – MACHU PICCHU

We made it! We hiked for seven days and made it to Machu Picchu, with two thousand of our closest friends!

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This was such a surreal and bizarre day – I actually need to go back to the day before.

If you read the post about Day 6, you will hopefully remember the trail I pointed out on one of the photos where the two-day treks meet up all at the same campsite. All of the treks, two-day, four-day, five-day, seven-day – they all end up at this one campsite which is right at the main gates for Machu Picchu. There are a second set of gates on the other side of Machu Picchu. These gates are for the train and bus people.

Two things happened the morning of Day 7.
First, it’s a day off for the porters. They need to catch the cheapest and earliest train back to Cusco. In Cusco they drop off all of the stuff they have been carrying and then have their day off – total crap. That is not a day off. In order for them to be able to catch their 6:00 a.m. train all of the tourists have to be cleared out of the camp site, so they can pack up, walk down the side of the mountain, and peace out. Definitely NOT a day off.
Second, the gate for Machu Picchu opens at 5:30 a.m. In order to get a good photo of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate you have to be there first, otherwise your photos will just be of other tourists. Our guide warned us that people try to run this trial to get the best photos. “It’s like Walmart on black Friday – people go crazy,” he said. “Just let them pass and stay safe. The stairs up to the Sun Gate are very steep and very narrow. Let them pass.” He said pointedly to Matt.
The solution to both of these issues. Everyone gets up at 3:00 a.m. in morning packs their shit, and attempts to be first in line at the main gate. While the tourists are waiting in line the porters pack up and vacate. I went back up to the camp site at 4:30am to pee, the entire campsite was abandoned – ghost town.

Since there were only two of us on our tour, and our guide was young and maybe a little too ambitious he got us up at 2:45am. We packed quietly, so as not to wake anyone else in the campsite and rushed to the gates. We were first in line – obviously. Did I mention it had rained all night? Being first in line also meant having a covered area to sit for two and a half hours while it poured rain.

At 5:30 the gates opened our guide signed us in, asked if we were ready and then he started running. WE WERE THE CRAZY ONES!! We ran / speed walked the entire way – yelling THUNDER DOME and cackling manically as we went! A one-hour hike up wet treacherous stairs and stone paths took us 40 minutes, but we were first! No matter that Machu Picchu was engulfed in clouds and fog since it was still raining – we were first!
Close on our heels the entire way was two couples from Utah. We had met them on the trail a few days earlier, and they did not seem surprised to see us at the gate when they got there at 3:10 in the morning. They also had a Jill, and she also was swathed in purple all of the time. We bonded.

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Saul signing us in.

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The first photo of Machu Picchu! Fully engulfed in clouds.

 

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We are exhausted in these photos. It’s 6:10 a.m. and we had just ran for 40 min. flat out, up hill. I can’t even keep my one eye all the way open. 

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Second take – still can’t get my eye all the way open. Machu Picchu still covered in clouds. 

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This is the other Purple Jill – we had the same Buff in purple. 

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Myself – eyes still closed, Matt, and Saul – wearing jeans like it’s no big deal.

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Clouds slowly clearing away. 

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Jill! No idea when she stole our phone, but I respect her for it. 

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Down at the site waiting in line to get our photo taken at Machu Picchu.

After resting and having a snack at the top near the sun gate we leisurely wandered down to the actual site. There was no need to rush as the other set of gates also opened at 5:30 a.m. and hoards of train and bus tourists had already flooded the site.

Saul gave us a tour of Machu Picchu the history and all of the important parts.

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More llamas and babies!

Then, because we are fools and we paid $75 US dollars each. We climbed THIS.
After anxiously not sleeping, waking up at 2:45 a.m., sitting in the rain for 2.5 hours, sprinting for 40 min. up hill, tourist-ing for two hours, we got in line to climb Waynapicchu.

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Waynapicchu – it’s the big one!

Waynapicchu is the most terrifying thing I have ever done. It was so steep, the stairs were the most narrow and harrowing we had experienced thus far. There are no photos of us going up because we were hanging on for dear life. If you are interested search YouTube for people falling off Waynapicchu – it’s a thing. There are cables attached to the mountain, but they end at the most inconvenient times. The photos at the top were taken only because Saul insisted.

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Machu Picchu waaaaay down there.

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Not dead yet. Too bed we still have to get down.

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As close to death as I’ve ever been. 

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Going down. 

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Matt at the top. Park rangers supervising the whole up top procedure. Or counting the bodies falling, not sure which. 

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Spent! We lived and we are 100% done. 

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Got the tee shirt.

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We took a bus down the hill, had lunch in the small tourist town at the base of the mountain, and waited for the train to take us back to Cusco. I fell asleep on the train, Matt drank a lot of beer, and while we loved every single second of our trek, we were so happy to shower and to sleep in a real bed. It was without a doubt the trip of a lifetime!

 

Day 4! Wait, It Was Supposed to be an Easy Day!

During breakfast the morning of Day 4 our guide, Saul said to us “I have good news, and bad news,”. Foolishly, I didn’t believe that there could be bad news in Peru, especially not while on vacation!

I was wrong.

On Day 4 we would be transitioning from the Salkantay Trail to the Inca Trail. Horses are not allowed on the Inca Trail, because their shoes break up the rocks used to pave the trail. We would be saying goodbye to our horseman, Juan, and hello to four new porters that would take the place of the horses. I promise you, I have never felt more ridiculous than I did on the Inca Trail with not just a guide and two chefs, but also four men carrying all of our stuff. As the Inca Trail became steeper and steeper I felt less and less ridiculous, and more and more grateful that I didn’t have to carry a fully loaded backpack – or cook any food.

The bad news, our four porters had gotten jammed up with the small army of porters that would be caring the gear for a 12 person trek just starting out on the Inca Trail. Our porters were supposed to meet us at 10 a.m., but due to the mix up they were going to be two hours late. The worse news, this meant our lunch would also be two hours late, as they were bringing fresh groceries with them.
The good news, our guide had a surprise for us. As a way to kill time we were going to go to an Inca site not on our itinerary. For those of you paying close attention, you guessed it.  This meant that we would be hiking for two additional hours – without lunch. My poor lonely tummy!

The hike was of course, beautiful and it was well worth the extra time hiking. The site too was very cool. The other nice part was that because it was a down-and-back trip, we dropped our packs with a local store merchant allowing us to cover more miles in less time.

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The village / town of Wayllabamba. There are no roads to this place. Horses and feet are the only transportation to and from this area.

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Watch out for small bear like animals and bathrooms!

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His bowl was bigger than his entire body!

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After our detour, we collected our packs and then hiked up the mountain to the first of many check points for the national park that contains Manchu Picchu. The number of people allowed to enter the gates each day is very heavily restricted. We purchased our permits a year ago, and I’m so glad we did!

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First check point – waiting for paperwork to be completed…

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So excited!!!!

The terrain from this point on changed dramatically. It was mind blowing! Our guide called it a micro-climate, but one moment we were hiking a river valley, and after only a few hundred feet of elevation – JUNGLE! And steps. SO. MANY. STEPS! The Inca were as extra as any one group of people could possibly be. Why build a dirt trail when a trail paved in stones and carved steps would do just fine?!?

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When our dear chef’s reached us, they were so upset at not having fed us on time. They scrambled and within minutes had a four course lunch ready. These guys were beyond amazing!

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After our quick lunch we hiked only two more hours to our camp site.  It was during this leg that we started to run into other groups and porters. Up until joining the Inca Trail we had had the trail all to our selves and in the process had gotten quite spoiled.

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LLAMAS!!!!

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A group of porters from another company – playing soccer in the field after hiking 6 or more hours with roughly 55 lbs. on their backs.

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The cutest camp invaders ever!

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This camp site also had a bathroom! It was referred to as a proper toilet, to be clear I was quite fond of the original Squatty Potty. Unfortunately, the bathroom pictured below was one of the cleanest toilets I visited in Peru. In fact I have an entirely new bathroom rating system after Peru. I used to think that the dirtiest place I had ever pee’d was a Starbucks in Paris. Again, I was wrong.

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Mom, you aren’t going to like Peru.

Day 3 – Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

A half day when hiking is just as exciting as it is when going to school, or working. Since we had hiked so far on day two, we woke up already at our lunch spot for day three. That meant that all we needed to do was get to the camp site for the night, a mere four hours away. The best part is that we would be camping at the base of the pre-Inca ruin – Paukarkancha, so we would have the entire afternoon to explore it.

The hike was relatively easy since we were already on the valley floor and just continued along the floor in a slow gradual downward fashion next to the river. This part of the path was the most populated by local farms, and farmers, as they traveled between two small villages. Lots of livestock on the trail too.

A half day for us, also meant a half day for our chefs, guide, and porters. Our head chef was most delighted, as he was going to take the opportunity to go fishing in the quick moving stream. The grin on his face as he hurried past us, fishing pole in hand, made all of the miles the day before totally worth it!

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Wild Andean Mint – our chef was picking this along the way and making us Muna tea each night after dinner. 

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Look at all of our extra energy today!

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Hola Senior Mooo Moo!

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Our camp for the night below. 

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We had time to do a little laundry, and I took a shower here. I didn’t take a photo of the shower because it’s not anything I want to remember. It was the equivalent of three men on the verge of hypothermia peeing on my head.

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This wee little puppy was our friend for the night. 

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After a half day our chef’s were also very well rested and served banana’s flambe for dessert that night! 

Stay tuned for Day 4! Hint – it was supposed to be an easy day too.

Day 2! Salkantay Pass 17,060 ft.

September 12 – Happy Birthday Matt!

After a successful first day we were excited, but anxious to tackle the second day. Since we had already been to Humantay Lake, and had some bad feelings towards it, through no fault of its own. We decided to skip the lake and take on the Salkantay Pass, essentially cramming day two and three into one day. The pass rests at 17,060 feet. It would be the highest either of us had ever hiked, and we were only on day two. Our guide was confident that we could do it, and assured us that he had lots of oxygen. He also tested our oxygen levels and heart rate multiple times during the day.

To be perfectly frank, I was terrified. After the first Humanitay Lake experience, in which I ended up on the floor of our hotel room with a pounding headache, fighting tears, and too nauseous to stand. I had no idea how I was going to survive 17k feet, but at the end of the day the only option was to try.

The Pass was challenging to say the least. Thankfully it wasn’t scary steep, or technical hiking. It was just up. It was about half way up that I realized that I had to change everything about the way I was breathing. I shifted my body into it sloth mode. Taking one step for each breath. I also focused more on slowing my exhalations rather than my intake. At points I was huffing air trying to get enough, but the more I controlled the exhale the better I felt. The most frustrating part for both of us was that our legs were fine. The legs wanted to go, but the lungs said absolutely not!

Lots of photos on the pass, mostly because we were alive. And that was a big deal!

We didn’t take any photos on the way down because it was quite steep, and we had to move quickly. A storm was trying to roll in and we didn’t want to get caught in the rain.

Our chefs and horse man passed us, right as we crossed the pass, and were down the other side in no time. As we made our way down we could see them set up on the valley floor. We were about 30 minuets from the camp site when our head chef Selveleo radioed that they wanted to break camp and move further down the valley. It was very cold and windy due to the storm, and there was a large heard of cows already trying to trample the tents. They said they would move another 45 minuets down the trail, but we were so tired that it took us and extra hour and a half to get to camp making our total miles for the day 15.5. So tired, but also very proud of ourselves.

Our camp dog for the night. The dog lived at the house in the background with Juan’s brother. Juan was our horse man and the dog was so happy to see him. The dog followed Juan all night, and was so gentile when we gave him scraps. He was a good boy.

We slept like baby alpacas that night.

Day 1 of the Salkantay and Inca Trail Trek

On Tuesday the 11th, we were picked up from the hotel yet again at 4:30am in a van. This van however was smaller and piloted by a responsible and respectable young gentleman. We were given fleece blankets and were instructed to go back to sleep. Our guide was in the front passenger seat and there were two men asleep in the very back. I had no idea how much I would come to adore these two sleeping beings.

The journey took us back the way we had gone only two days before, but with much better results. After a three hour drive and a few stops at local markets for fresh produce we arrived as a small roadside store deep in the Peruvian country side.

Waiting for us was a man with three horses. In record time the van was unloaded, the horses hitched up, and magically breakfast was served.

Our guide, Saul posing with our first breakfast of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, GF potato biscuits with butter and jam, tea, coffee, and juice. I was so full I almost couldn’t hike, but hike we did!

The two men sleeping in the back of the van turned out to be Silveleo and Miguel our chef and assistant chef for the trip. These two pumped out meal after amazing meal on the trail. Magicians!

We took some start of trip photos, and then we were off!From left to right – Saul, Miguel, me, Matt, Silveleo, and Juan our horse man.

SO EXCITED!!!!

After breakfast we started hiking leaving the horses and the other three behind to clean up after us, which felt really odd. The odd feeling of not helping or not being able to clean up after ourselves never went away.

At first I was concerned that we were just going to ditch these folks with all of our stuff and a bunch of dirty dishes, but they passed us in no time, as if we were standing still. Laughing and joking the entire way. They were soon out of site, and we were on our own again.

The planned lunch spot was high up in the hills, and on a cold day could be very windy. As we were making good time, and it was threatening to rain, Saul suggested that we stop there for a snack and press on to the lodge for lunch. We agreed. He radioed Silveleo with the new plan and we continued on. Since we were the only people on our trek Saul felt comfortable making other suggestions and changes to our itinerary. We were supposed to just walk a dirt road the rest of the way, but Saul took us along the Inca canal instead. It was much more scenic and less dusty. There were some high points with sheer drop offs, that got the adrenaline pumping, but it was very good practice for what was yet to come.

Our first night was surprisingly spent in these quaint lodges. They were simple, just a room with a bed, but the view of Humantay Mountain was amazing. We laid on the bed after luch just watching the mountain change with the light of the sun. After dinner we laid there watching the stars from the sky lights. It was a very good first day!

Humantay Mountain from the bed. These photos don’t do it justice at all.

Stay tuned for day two!

Matt and Jill