I boarded my flight from the Galapagos at 12 pm, arrived in Quito at 5 pm, boarded another flight to Lima at 8 pm, arrived in Lima at 11 pm, and then slept in the airport for a 5:30 am flight to Cusco. Surprisingly, I learned I wasn’t the only one doing this. There was another group of travelers whom had slept in the airport the same night for the same flight out to Cusco. I arrived in Cusco around 7 am and went to the hostel to meet back up with Farima. After a power nap and breakfast, we headed to San Pedro Market with two other American girls from our hostel. It was mostly a food market, but they also sold traditional trinkets. We had lunch at one of the stands in the market and Farima and I split a famous Peruvian dish called Lomo Soltado, which is basically stir-fried beef with veggies and shared a fresh juice from one of the juice stands. I was pretty exhausted from my full day of travel, so we headed back to the hostel to rest. We had a quite night and ended up grabbing dinner and a drink at a spot in Cusco’s main Plaza, Plaza de Armas.
Another friend of ours from study abroad, Brittany, was arriving the next morning for our Inca Trail expedition so we switched hostels to a hotel called Ninos. It was really cute with an adorable outside patio and we later learned that a portion of the revenues generated from it also helped orphaned children. After Brittany arrived, the three of us went and grabbed lunch at another outside market place then headed to the main square to walk around. We grabbed a cup of coffee at a place with a patio overlooking Plaza de Armas. After a bit of relaxation, we set out to buy any last minute things for the Inca Trail and Farima and I got bigger day packs and hiking poles. We headed to our Inca Trail (Tour Company, Alpaca Expeditions, office) debriefing around 6 pm to pay our remaining balances, get all the necessary information for what to bring and what to expect and to get hyped up for the next four days ahead.
The next morning (Day 1 of the trek) we had a 4 am wake-up call followed by a 3 hour drive to Piscacucho, the start of the trail and the beginning of our adventure. The first day consisted of a 14 km stretch along the river and by far the hottest day of our trip. Our crew consisted of a total of 6 people: there was me, Brittany, and Farima, and a family of three that included two 14 year old twins and their mom. There was also our guide Amoroso who had been doing this for quite some time and knew his way around well. Not surprisingly enough, the three of us were the slow ones in the group as the super twin 14 year olds were always ahead and seemed to be training for a competition, with their fit mom on their tail. Even so, I enjoyed going at our own pace, taking our time, snapping photos here and there, sharing stories over the past 7 years since abroad, and enjoying the overall breathtaking scenery surrounding us. Side note: Brittany and Farima told me I was not allowed to touch the ruins on the first day because I would ruin them (pun intended), but we soon learned later that you could walk all over them and maybe even use them as a restroom!
Though we were sleeping in tents and using sleeping bags at night, I wouldn’t exactly call what we did camping; it felt more like glamping. All we did during our trekking hours was carry a small day pack filled with our essentials and the porters (the rest of our crew who carried the tents, sleeping bags, food, and our bigger bags) took care of pretty much everything else. They would leave our camp site every day after us and still make it in time to the next break point/camp spot before us in order to set up food, tents and other necessities. Every day, we would wake up to homemade breakfast, would be provided with water and snacks, get a homemade lunch made for us midday, followed by another homemade meal at night where we set up camp. We even had a daily happy hour (tea time would be more appropriate) every day after we were done with our hike and a couple hours before dinner. During happy hours, we would relax, enjoy some tea or coffee, and devour homemade popcorn and another surprise snack the cooks would cook up for us.
It rained throughout the night on the first night of the trail, but luckily the showers stopped just in time for the start of our hike the following and 2ndday. It was another early wake-up call for what would be the toughest day on the trail that entailed a 16 km hike. The trek included an ascent of 1100m to reach the highest point on the trail, Dead Woman’s Pass, which reached an elevation of about 4200 meters. Luckily for us, it was slightly overcast and not as hot as the previous day during our 2 ½ hours hike up to the peak. Once up top, we took in the spectacular 360 degree views and had a mini break with snacks and celebrated reaching our destination with a video and a song. After our ascent, there was only one way to go and that was down. We had a 3 hour descent hike down the other side of the peak. On our way down, we started up a conversation with another couple who also happened to be from California. During our conversation, I found out they knew my previous boss, Eric, as well as a few of my other coworkers. What a small world to be running into people who you have connections to back home, on a random day and in a distant part of the world. My previous boss had mentioned he knew some friends hiking Machu Picchu around the same time as myself, but I didn’t think I would actually run into them, much less on the trail! Back at the campsite and in the middle of my sleep during the night, I had a random urge to use the bathroom. Though I usually try and avoid mid-night bathroom use on foreign grounds and in a tent, I am really glad I had the chance to step outside. The stars were absolutely incredible and breathtaking in the midnight sky that night and I hadn’t seen them so bright before. I wish I could have enjoyed them for longer but it was cold outside and I headed back to my tent after taking in the night sky for only a short while.
The third day was slightly easier, with only a 10 km hike to our final campsite but with very different scenery and views this time around. We made our way down through a dense cloud-forest all the while singing Disney tunes! Throughout the 3 days, the three of us were just constantly laughing, making jokes, sharing stories, and enjoying each other’s company in the wilderness. We arrived fairly early to our campsite that day since we didn’t have as much ground to cover. Before happy hour, we decided to serenade our fellow campers with a nice little Disney tune “A Whole New World” (if you have heard either of our singing voices, you would most likely agree that the audience probably enjoyed the 4 minutes of listening to us sing a lot less than we enjoyed belting it out).
After our musical performance, we walked about 5 minutes to visit a famous Inca ruin so fittingly named Winay Wayna (“Forever Young”). The ruins, although a lot smaller, were almost as impressive as Machu Picchu with amazing architecture. After taking a few snaps and wandering the ruins, we headed back to the camp site for Happy Hour and tea time. Since it was our last one of the trek, the team had surprised us with a homemade cake as the surprise snack! Throughout our entire trek, our crew (porters, cooks, chef and guide) had continued to amaze us with the dishes they prepared as they had all been delicious and exceeded each of our expectations. Besides their cooking and catering, we also had a chance to learn a little about each of them in the beginning and throughout our trip and we were sure going to miss them all. The one thing I wish I could change about our interactions, was having them join us during meals as they mainly ate on their own and separate from the rest of the crew.
On the 4th and final day, we started our trek with the earliest wake-up call yet, which happened to be 3 am. Our guide Amoroso, assured us this was the best route in order to be one of the first on the last stretch of the hike and to avoid the overwhelming crowd at Machu Picchu once we would arrive. We waited in line for a couple hours till the entrance to the last trail opened at around 5:30 and made our way to our first stop on the trail, Intipunku (“The Sun Gate”). The Sun Gate offers spectacular overviews of Machu Pichu from up top, although unfortunately for us, it was early and the sky too overcast to catch a good glimpse of the ruins. It was beautiful on its own nonetheless. We stayed hopeful and crossed our fingers for clear skies as we continued our route to the main attraction.
After another hour or so of hiking, we had finally arrived at our destination.. what we had been hiking for during the past 4 days, 3 nights.. what we had endured high altitudes, aching muscles and ever changing weather for during the time. And boy was it all worth it. Machu Picchu with all its history, significance, power, and beauty stood before us. As to avoid underestimating the greatness that is Machu Picchu and as there are limited words to describe how beautiful it seemed to all of us at that moment, I will let the pictures speak for themselves (though much to their credibility, sometimes pictures are unable to do 100% justice of the actual views as well).
After venturing Machu Picchu and learning about its history over the course of a couple hours, the three of us headed to the last stop on our trek. Huayna Picchu (an advertised 1.25 hour hike uphill), was a mountain near the Machu Picchu ruins that offered spectacular (and up high) views of the ruins and as it was a separate entrance/trek than the Inca Trail, the three of us were left on our own to explore it. We made our way up to the top in a little under 45 min (props to us!) and once there, stopped to take in the views it offered of Machu Picchu, as well as the Andean mountains. We decided to end our 3 day trek with a dance party singing along to one of our theme songs during the 4 days without a care in the world who was listening or watching as we had so many reasons to celebrate: our journey, our accomplishments, and our care and friendship for one another. The 4 days had come and gone so fast and yet we had experienced so much and seen a great deal that it would forever be engraved in our memories as an amazing experience we were so fortunate and happy to have experienced in our lifetime. We hope to reunite and complete the same trail in about 20 or so years and hopefully share some of the same and make a lot more new memories along the way. Maybe another whole new world.
Edited By: Farima M.