4/6 Approximately one year ago, my husband came home from worked and asked me if I wanted to go to Peru and climb Machu Picchu. My jaw dropped. My reaction was one that you would get from any busy mom if you would have asked her if she would like chocolate, new shoes, a massage, and a housekeeper for the rest of her life. All at the same moment. I picked my chin off the floor and said, "Well, of course!"
We did a lot of research on Peru, the mountain, tour companies, etc. and decided on G Adventures. I called and spoke for at least an hour with a representative, whom they call 'CEO's. Booked the trip and began training for what we knew would be a difficult 4-day hike along the Incan Trail.
A month before the trip, we got the flu. I got a mild version and recovered quickly. My husband ended up in the hospital.
4/11 Today I officially cancelled Mark on the trip. So difficult to do. No turning back now. Go alone or not at all. I have started putting things in a suitcase - deciding what goes in my backpack and what gets checked. I will only be alone on the first plane ride. Joining the group at the hotel. Will miss Mark for 10 days.
4/17 Arrived in Lima. Got through customs quickly and found my driver, Walter, without too much difficulty. City is bigger than I expected. Very noisy and lots of traffic. Typical for this part of the world. Hotel La Castellana is quite charming. On the 4th floor. No elevator and no AC but nice and clean. I lost my glasses on the plane.
4/18 Got a map from the desk clerk and went exploring. We are in the Miraflores district. I walked to Kennedy Park, which was filled with hundreds of cats. I learned to cross the street with locals. Your life depends on it! Cars don't obey traffic lights or stop signs - when there are lights and stop signs. Traveling solo is a bit lonely, but I like the solitude, seeing a new city, experiencing a different culture, observing the people who live and work here all at my own pace. There is a low haze over the ocean and a cool breeze.
I met a young lady from Canada. (Bumped into her several times over the course of my stay. She's in one of the photos on video #2). I had to change rooms from a double to a two person with a roommate since Mark didn't come. I didn't mind even though I had already paid for the private room. Her name is Nicole.
Group meeting was very informative. I did not need to bring my backpack. The tour group will give us a duffle bag, limited to 6 kilo. Will carry my camera bag as my day bag.
4/19 On the plane to Cusco. Our group is comprised of Canadians, Irish, English, and Australians. It's nice to be traveling with other world travelers and be able to talk of my journeys without sounding like I'm bragging. Everyone is talking about the altitude, fretting, worrying. I'm not worried. Should I be? Our guide, David, met us at baggage claim. I immediately feel the difference in the air. It feels 'clean'. My heart started beating faster so I did deep breathing exercises to acclimate. In through the nose, out through the mouth. 30-minute bus ride to hotel. It's very quaint, Spanish architecture. Called Prisma Hotel del Cusco. I'm rooming with Nicole again. We put our luggage in our rooms then took a group walk. Sunny for ten minutes then a sudden downpour on our way to lunch. I need rain pants! The one thing I didn't think of. I had Alpaca for lunch. Yum! Then found rain pants. The store we were recommended to go to had one pair of rain pants in stock. Thank you, Jesus, they were just my size! At 4:30 we had a meeting at the G Adventures office where they gave us an itinerary for the hike with very detailed information about the trail and what to expect. The duffel bag they gave us could only weigh 6 kilo or less including sleeping bag and air mattress. I packed and repacked many times.
4/20 We left the hotel at 7:30 am and went to the Sacred Valley to the Planetarra Project. Click the link to learn more about it. The women's weaving co-op is in the Sacred Valley and not at all "touristy".
The land here is so beautiful it brings me to tears. I stood and stared at the mountain, singing to myself, "Lord oh Lord How Majestic is Your Name." Mark would have loved this. Next was lunch at Parwa, another G Adventures project. Delicious!!! We then drove 1.5 hours to Ollantaytambo and our next hotel - Inka Paradise. The weather has been perfect all day. Slight chill with a breeze and mostly sunny. There is a lot of red clay soil in the mountains. We pass farm after farm after farm following the Urubamba river. The school children all wear uniforms with wide-brim hats. David tells us that Ollantaytambo is a living museum. It is the center between Cusco and Machu Picchu, a 'hotel' for the upper class Incans. We walked to an historical, archeological site. David gives us a history lesson and even though he is thorough and very knowledgable, the photographer in me wants to leave the group to explore and take pictures. However, it is best that I don't wear myself out. Trail in the morning!
INCA TRAIL DAY 1
We left the hotel around 8 am and drove 35-40 minutes to "82 km", the starting point. We met our new guides, Joel and Elias plus 18 men who serve as our porters and cooks. Only nine of us are hiking. One of the women from Australia got sick and backed out. The trail ran alongside the river and at times the railroad track. It was rock, gravel, with sometimes slow grade and sometimes steep incline going up and down. We stopped every 15 to 30 minutes for a break and twice for archeological sites. We are told, whenever you hear "Porters!" to move to the mountain side of the trail to let the porters pass. Every day they will leave after us and arrive before us. Thus, they are running!!
Lunch - We arrived to our lunch site already set up. One large tent with a table and chairs. There is a bathroom "Bano" that costs one Soles, the currency of Peru. I don't like to pay to pee, etc. but we are all so well taken care of in every other aspect I can't complain. The alternative is nature. After a three-course meal, we are on the trail again. Every time we start up and especially after a meal I'm out of breath and heart pounding the first five minutes or so. The coca leaves and tea really don't seem to make a difference so I stop. Two hours later, we arrive to our overnight campsite - again already completely set up. We get to choose our own spot on the three-tiered site. I chose the tent closest to the bathroom. Beautiful view of the mountain and moonrise. The guides introduced each worker - porters and cooks who ranged from 18 to 63. We then did the same and took a group photo.
Dinner - First, a snack of tea, crackers and popcorn followed by a game of cards. Another excellent three-course meal. It has been an amazing day. The beauty of this land gets more spectacular as the hours pass. No rain even though at sunset we saw rain clouds and heard thunder. G Adventures takes such good care of their staff and the people in the community. They give back and help them to succeed in life. I'm very impressed thus far. I'm in bed and they are still working. I hear sounds of people in other camps, dogs, frogs, and occasionally the bray of a donkey.
INCA TRAIL DAY 2
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? One step at a time. How in the rain? One SLOW step at a time. Before bed I prayed if it were going to rain, then all night would be fine. I forgot about needing to go to the bathroom. I woke needing to go but didn't want to come back and get the tent went. Held out until 4:15 am. Took me half an hour to pack my stuff and put on my clothes and contacts. Exited the tent at 5 am, went to the bathroom then hung out in the misting rain while the breakfast tent was readied. Contacts fell out several times. Weird. We hiked straight up for four hours then down 1.5. The rain stopped right after I bought a new poncho at the second rest area. I ripped my old one in several places. (Note to self - invest in a good quality poncho!! Bring duct tape!) The sun came out just before Dead Woman's Pass, our highest point for the day. Downhill after that to our camp.
Late lunch, where it started to rain again (light). It's 3 pm. We are here for the night. The day was hard, not horrible, but difficult with all the rock steps and the mud. Lunch was great as usual.
Toilets are squatties - you know, a hole in the ground. Not the end of the world but difficult when your thighs are burning and shaking. Rain started again after I got back to the tent for a siesta.
At tea time we played cards. The guides are hysterical trying to teach us new games. Clouds rolled in. Lots of mist. Made for good photos.
On the trail today, it was remarkably quiet. Sounds of the rushing river and a few birds that flew overhead. Parakeets traveling in pairs. When people did talk, it was at a whisper. Now, snug in my sleeping bag, there is a chorus of frogs mixing in with the sounds of the rushing river. Tomorrow is the longest hike day. Praying for favorable weather.
INCA TRAIL DAY 3
It sprinkled a little bit overnight but we awoke to cold and clear skies at 5 am. It was a cold night! After a carb-loading breakfast we left at 6:30 am. Plan is to arrive at the next campsite by 5 pm. The trail was beautiful. We walked a while then stopped at several archeological sites along the way. It was a long hike, but not nonstop. We kept to our own pace and often there was no one in front or behind me. Lunch was at a peak and we could see our campsite from the high mountain. Well, sort of. We could see the archeological site step terrace and the camp was 25 or so minutes beyond. SIDE NOTE: Every time we entered camp for lunch or for the night all the porters clapped us in. It was very encouraging!! We returned the favor by clapping and saying Go G! as they passed us on the trail.
The weather was perfect all day. A tiny brief sprinkle after lunch when the clouds rolled in - we are at cloud level. So cool. The trail was the same as before with two little tunnels. Slightly muddier than previous days. Saw several waterfalls.
At dinner we organized to get a Facebook page. We have been named team "Sexy Purple Warriors" (in Spanish). Elias added the Sexy because we are seven girls and only two men. At dinner we gave the porters a generous tip and said our formal goodbye to them. Tomorrow the wakeup call is 3 am.
It was a long amazing day!! So glad I'm keeping a journal. I'd never remember everything that happened.
INCA TRAIL DAY 4
It rained hard overnight. Thought we might be washed away. But, the tent stayed high and dry! Thanks porters!! Rain slowed to a slight drizzle by the time Christine's alarm went off. I was actually in a deep sleep for once. We had to be out of the tents by 3:30 am because the porters had to have camp completely packed up early in order to catch a 5 am train. I didn't eat breakfast until later. 3 is way too early. We hiked about 5 minutes to the checkpoint where there were already nearly 50 people there. The gate opens at 5 am and we have to check in as a group, via our guides, one group at a time, with a limited number allowed in. (All the groups had to pre-pay.) There was one small shelter and one bench so we stood until 5. My left contact kept falling out. Again. Did it the first morning as well. I was really irritated but finally got it back on after multiple tries. Elias led us through the checkpoint and we walked, in line, down the much narrower trail for two hours. I burst into tears, full of emotion. Partly because my journey was coming to fruition and partly because I missed my husband, sad that he was missing this amazing journey. Half way we stopped to remove layers - rain gear, warm jackets, etc. Several minutes later, I saw a guide running back to the checkpoint. Uh oh. Not good. Sure enough we came upon a narrow curve with people standing around. There was a large puddle blocking the path with a 3-4 inch diameter stick denoting the edge of the trail. Someone in a big hurry decided to ignore the 'stay to mountainside' rule and tried to pass someone on the wrong side and fell down the mountain. Slid actually, there was a lot of wet vegetation. Not sure how far down he went but I later learned he was ok. This person was with the rowdy group who were always running and goofing off, singing Justin Bieber songs at camp.
At the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu was in full sight and the sun was just beginning to shine on it. Elias gave us a guided tour of part of the site then allowed us to explore on our own. I wandered around on my own for another hour or so. So many steps!! I really, really...i mean really despise selfie sticks!!!!
After I got my thousand or so photographs (see videos below) I took a bus ride down to the small village for lunch and then a train ride back to Ollantaytambo, then back to Prism Hotel in Cusco. After a nice hot shower we had a farewell dinner at La Feria.
This trip was just about perfect. The only thing missing was my husband. It was the journey of a lifetime and I pray that We will be able to come back. Even though the hike was difficult - I expected it to be - and the weather was not what I was used to, I was well-prepared for both. G Adventures was amazing. We were pampered, as much as possible, and the chefs even made a cake for the two newlywed couples at the top of a mountain! I still look at my photographs, a week later, and cannot believe I was actually there - on Machu Picchu mountain! I'm so appreciative of my life, the things and people God has blessed me with. I hear people complain about the most ridiculous things and think, they need to go to South America, Central America, any other country than this one and see how people live. In general, we Americans see 'those poor people' and think they are pitiful and unhappy and unfortunate. I don't see that at all. The people I've met are content, happy, joyful. They work hard to make the best of their life with very little complaint. The main thing they are concerned about is providing for their families. Food, shelter, water, family, love, God. What else do you need?