“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Our four day journey to Machu Picchu began at 8:00 am when we were picked up, by our guide Edgar from Wayki Trek, from our Cusco hostel. Along with the three other brave souls in our group, we traveled far and deep into the Andes, the road narrowing and becoming increasingly bumpy with each passing mile. Finally we were dropped off at a tiny village, where several porters were rambling in Spanish and Quechua and busy packing all of our camping equipment: sleeping tents, food tents, kitchen and cooking equipment, food, sleeping bags, etc. Little did we know, at the time, how much these little Peruvian men would make our trek the amazing experience that it was.
After snapping a group photo under the Inka Trail sign, we were off on our painless 12km hike for the first day. Edgar joked that this first hike was only a small taste of what was to come in the following days. By lunch time we had arrived at the first archaeological site, Patallacta, which was once the home of many Inca inhabitants. Edgar taught us all about the significance of how the site was built and the animal representations in specific structures. We then stopped for a hot three-course lunch, deliciously prepared by one of our porters who is a chef. After refueling we were ready to take on the second half of our 12km. When we arrived at camp for the evening our tents were all set up and dinner was ready. We were amazed that after lunch, we left the porters behind where they washed the dishes, disassembled the food and cooking tents, and then ran along the trail, beat us to camp for the evening and had time to set up camp as well as prepare dinner, all before we even arrived there. It was mind blowing to think how hard these men work every day and how much they were doing to ensure we had an incredible experience. This first section of the hike is mostly flat and at the end of day we were left feeling accomplished and ready to take on the challenge ahead.
“Coca tea, coca tea!” said the porter at the door of our tent each morning. Before the sun had even come up, we were woken by that same phrase and a cup of coca tea, which helps with the altitude sickness. The porters also left a small basin of warm water, and two wash cloths, outside our tent and we were expected to freshen up, get dressed and arrive at the food tent. Breakfast was, of course, another three course meal: fresh fruit, hot porridge, pancakes, hot chocolate and more coca tea. At first light we were finished breakfast, day packs on and hitting the trail.
Edgar warned us that the second day of the trek was the most challenging, and boy was he right. That being said, the day started off alright; up, down, up, down, along the “Peruvian flats”, a joke among the locals because there is no flat land to be found in all of Peru. Then came the five hour ascension up, up, up and up again; stair, after stair, after stair all the way along Dead Woman’s Pass to the very top, where we finally reached an altitude of 4,215 meters. After taking a long drink of water and catching our breath, we stopped and plopped down for a rest, feeling extremely accomplished. As we sat on that rock, arm-in-arm, and stared down into the vastness of the valley we said nothing to each other. We simply watched all the other hikers looking like tiny ants marching in a row, and I couldn’t help but feel minute, atop a mountain, in the middle of the Andes, somewhere in Peru, so very far from home. It’s moments like these for which we travel, the moments so full of fascination and fulfillment that they leave us at a loss for words and finding out home within each other.
After a well-deserved rest we were back on our feet, hot on the trail, descending Dead Woman’s Pass. When we arrived at camp that night, after 16km of hiking that day alone, our muscles were aching and tired, but our spirits were empowered and free. After another three-course dinner, we were quickly asleep before our heads hit the pillows that night.
We started day three, just like the last, with a cup of coca tea and a hot three-course breakfast. The third day of the trek was, by far, our favorite day. Although we had been walking through the clouds during the first two days, on the third day the cloud forest is where we spent most of our time. The moist air was warm and moss covering the trees and trail created a mystical atmosphere. I found myself falling behind time and time again, because I couldn’t help but stop to capture the amazing world around me. When I caught up to my group, they were always waiting patiently and encouraging me to stop for a rest.
The other reason the third day was our favorite was because of the number of other archaeological Inca sites we visited and learned so much about: Runku Raqay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Winaywayna. Each one more astonishing that the last, Winaywayna was the highlight of the day. This particular site is built into a steep mountain side, overlooking the Urubamba River and was very close to our camp for the night. Knowing we were nearly done our hike for the day, we took our time at Winaywayna, and sat down on the steep steps letting our feet dangle below.
Despite our exhaustion, we had trouble falling asleep that night, knowing we would finally be reaching Machu Picchu the next day. The excitement kept us awake, talking in our tent in the black of the night, as tomorrow would be a day we would remember for the rest of our lives.
On the last day of the trek we were up and on the trail before the sun had come up;it felt like we were five years old on Christmas morning. At the start of the last day, all hikers must check in at a park station and get their passports stamped. The station does not open until 6:00 am, but the line up starts to grow an hour prior. In order to be the first in line, which would allow us to be first on the trail and also first at Machu Piccu, we were at the park station by 4:30 am. Some would call us nuts, but we were too excited to sleep anyways.
We had hiked 40 km in the three days prior and at last there was only 5km left. It was hard to keep ourselves from running all the way there. The first view of Machu Picchu is at Inti Punku, commonly known as The Sun Gate. Unfortunately it was too foggy for us to see Machu Picchu when we arrived at Inti Punku, which only added to our anticipation.
When we finally arrived at the ancient City of the Incas I was tempted to get on my hands and knees and kiss the ground. We were all physically exhausted and I could hardly walk because my calves and ankles had swollen and ached so severely, but in that moment, none of that mattered. All we could think about was that we had finally made it, we were finally there and it felt like we had stepped right into a post card.
During our three-hour tour around the city, lead by Edgar, we learned so very much; what each building once was, how the Incas built each structure, their beliefs and values represented in their architecture and the way in which it was all uncovered, a mere 104 years ago by American historian, Hiram Bingham. Once the tour was over we had an hour to explore on our own, before we got the train to the small town of Aguas Calientes where our journey came to an end. We had one last meal with our tour group. Food and beer, even Jeff’s Peruvian guinea pig, had never tasted so good. As we sat there, reminiscing about the past four days, there was such a strong sense of camaraderie. We had walked in the footsteps of the Incas, along their trail, and had taken a journey through the past together. We had shared an experience that bonded the five of us, even if only for a brief moment of our lives; and although it was only four short days, we learned, struggled and triumphed together, all being able to check another experience off the bucket list!