I'm turning 30 this year as are many of my friends. About 8 months ago I got a call from one of my best friends. It started like this: "Ok you can say no if you want to.... and I totally understand....buuuuut.... I want to go on a girls trip to Machu Picchu for my 30th birthday. I want you to come too!" Wow. Not you're everyday hi-how's-it-going phone call. My instinct screamed YES!!!!!!! YES!!!!!!! I WANT TO GO!!!! Then my brain took over and for months (literally) I went back and forth about this big trip. 1. Girls alone in another country (backpacking BTW) 2. Leaving my babe and hubby home- Lord what if something happened to me..... 3. Can I handle the physical demand of this trip- backpacking at 12,000-14,000ft isn't my everyday workout. For months I filled my head with "what ifs". Finally it was down to the wire we had to make reservations. Colin said, "I can't believe you're even thinking of not going! We'll be fine, you'll be fine. Just do it!" I love my husband. He pushes me to take risks that I want to take, but need that boost to really do it.
So, fast forward March 27. I'd been home 3 days on Spring Break (my "Golden Time" with Lill- that time that literally pushes me through some of the tough days) and I was headed to the airport to leave for pretty much the rest of my break. (8 days) As my plane took off, I felt like the most selfish mom in the world. I was excited and really looking forward to my adventure, but waves of guilt kept washing over my excitement. This was the longest I'd ever been away from my girl and the first time away from her on a solo trip. She was in good hands, great hands, surrounded by family who all chipped into care for her while Colin was at work during the week. This was my comfort.
Touch down in Houston! I met up with one of the girls in Houston (D) the other (J) ended up taking the direct flight to Lima. D and I made it on board our Lima flight. This was really happening now! Touch down in Lima and The Three Amigas were on the loose!!!! Look out Peru!
We hopped onto a flight to Cusco and arrived at our new home base for the next 2 days. Cusco was an amazing experience. The food was wonderful. Our hotel was THE BEST. If you're going to Cusco you need to check them out. We explored the city on foot and since we were there during Holy Week (for Easter) there was lots to see including a street fair selling the most delicious looking pastries. We checked in with our tour company for our backpacking trek along the Inca Trail and picked up various souvenirs in the markets.
The main part of our trip was the 4 day 3 night backpacking trek that would end in Machu Picchu. These 4 days turned into the most challenging and rewarding experience I've ever had on a vacation. I've decided that no amount of training (unless you're training at an altitude about 12,000ft) could really prepare you for this. I think if the same rigor of trek had occurred at sea level it would have been fairly easy. Anyways, we hiked through some of the most beautiful land I've every seen. I put this up there with Ireland and Yosemite. There were 2 other travelers in our party. Much to the relief of us all, we were all around the same age- ok they were more than 5 years younger than us. But, at the moment of the trip only 1 of us girls had turned 30. So technically, the majority of us, were in our 20s still!! (Sorry J!)
I learned a lot about pushing myself this trip and trusting my instincts. The food was very good- alpaca and guinea pig are very tasty!
Day 1: By far the most difficult day. At one point, J and I were literally drawing on our child birth breathing classes! Once you loose your breath at 12,000 feet it doesn't come back. So we found that the best thing to do was prevent loosing it. (It was a good idea in theory- it worked ok). We also decided that going slow was ok. We didn't need to be the fastest hikers on the trail. Plus, going slow gave us more time to enjoy the countryside that we most likely won't have the chance to ever see again. There were times when we would say, "Ok see that rock? Make it there and we get a 1 minute break." The biggest let down was when we arrived at a campsite we thought was ours. Not true. We had about 90 min more to hike. This didn't seem like much more! This proved to be hands down the most difficult part of the entire trek. 90 min took us over 2 hours. It was non-stop steps (uneven steep steps!) up this GORGEOUS gully. There was an amazing river running right next to the trail with rapids and waterfalls. The landscape became jungle-like and I just was sure I'd see a puma lounging on the moss covered tree limbs. Even though, it was the most difficult part of the trail it was one of my favorites. The rest of our group was ahead at the campsite while we huffed and puffed our way up. D was a good 30 mins ahead of us and her pack weight was double ours. She is a ROCK STAR! We found a rhythm and a "system" that worked and we stuck with it. We also discovered that Ibuprofen helped dramatically! (I'm guessing bc it thins your blood and this helped with oxygen flow?) I'm really proud of how hard we all worked on the first day.
Day 2: This was the day we ascended to the highest pass of our trek, 13,800 ft. After the previous days' final hours of hiking, the this day seemed much more manageable. In hind sight, we were very glad that the campsite we had initially thought was our wasn't. Those poor people had to begin their day with those stairs and then complete this huge ascent! The view was very awesome from the top of the pass and the descent was equally beautiful. We had lunch in a place we dubbed "tent city". This was where most of the other tours were camping for the night. It was loud and stinky and we were glad we had only stopped there for lunch. Aside from the trail, which hugged the cliffs and dove behind rocks that formed tunnels, we got to explore several remains (in the States we'd call them ruins). It was so cool to be able to roam around these and see how advanced the engineering and design of these buildings were! Many of the fountains still have water flowing through them from the springs they were tapped from! Surprisingly, all these ruins were very non-touristy.
Day 3: This was an exciting day because we were heading to our last campsite before arriving in Machu Picchu. We saw more ruins along the trail and some beautiful butterflies. We only had to hike for 1/2 the day and we arrived at the campsite around 12:30pm. This gave us some much needed down time! This campsite actually has ruins (Wiñay Wayna) right next to it so we explored those shortly after lunch. Arriving so early was a blessing because we were one of the first groups to get to camp, which meant we had the entire ruins to ourselves for about an hour before we saw any other hikers!!!! This was one of my favorite places we explored. We had a delicious dinner that night and went to bed early because we had to be up at 3:30am to head to Machu Picchu!
Day 4: 3:30am and it was time to rise and shine! Today was the only day we had rain on the trail! Of course! We had a quick breakfast and then had to walk down to the bottom of the campground to the gate that separated the campground from the trail into Machu Picchu. Now, this gate didn't open up until 5:30am and it was literally a 4 minute walk to the gate. However, our tour company guide likes us to be one of the first groups in line. This was a good thing! The first hundred feet or so back from the gate was covered and had benches! it was just what we needed on this rainy (pouring rain) morning. Once the gates opened we hiked for about 90 minutes and we arrived at the Sun Gate (Intipuncu). We had to climb up 50 near-vertical steps (I"m not exaggerating!) and we were then rewarded with a glimpse of Machu Picchu. We were lucky because minutes after we arrived the clouds rolled in even more and totally blocked the view. We had made it!!!!! It was a great moment. I felt so proud of what we had accomplished. 26 miles of rough, high-altitude hiking, with (mostly) smiles on our faces. Our tour guide had been so nice and he knew so much about this land. We learned a lot.
It was odd, by the time we arrived in Machu Picchu we had already seen many ruins that were much more isolated, it made Machu Picchu seem crowded, which it was. I still loved seeing it and I'm in awe of the strength it took to build those buildings. It truly is amazing! I enjoyed the "magic" of visiting the more isolated remains though.
We had plenty of time to visit Aguas Calientas, the town below Machu Picchu. We opted out of visiting the hot springs there and opted in for some cold drinks and lunch! That evening we rode the train to Ollantaytambo and then had to take a taxi back to Cusco (90 min drive). This was all arranged for us by the tour company. We eventually arrived back in Cusco where we stayed at the same hotel as we had when we first arrived. What a wonderful thing that first warm shower was!!! We were ripe to say the least I'm sure!! The next morning we were off to the airport to fly back to Lima and then onto the US.
I was SO glad my husband pushed me to take this trip. He was right. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I'm changed because of it. As with anytime we travel, the world feels a bit smaller. I'm proud of my family for supporting Colin while I was away. I know that taking care of a almost 2 year old for 8 days is challenging. Having our family around to help made it much more manageable and it put me at ease. I wanted Colin to experience this too. No matter how detailed I get about describing it or how many pictures I show him he won't fully understand. It is one of those places that pictures don't even begin to capture how incredible it all is. But, it is what it is and I'm grateful for the chance to take this gals' trip. J, you made it a reality. We've always gone on adventures and I'm glad we we able to share this one.
Things I was glad I had on this trip:
- My back pack- I loved the one I picked out. It was perfect and it was carry on size for all the flights except the Cusco-Lima flight. It fit my sleeping back and all my clothes and other gear with ease.
- These AWESOME tote bags from IKEA. I used this as my personal bag on the plane and then as a "purse" while walking around the city. Before we left I added 4 snaps to the top of the bag bc I really wanted to be able to close it. It worked out perfectly and you can't beat the price!
- My phone and a handy app called Viber. Combine this with WiFi and I was able to talk to Colin and Lill without using my roaming minutes.
- My youth. Seriously. Well mainly my knees' youth. If you have any kind of knee issues normally and you want to see Machu Picchu it may be more wise to just take the train to see it and skip the hiking. This hike is rough on even young (ish) knees.
Originally posted in June 2013.
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