“There were tears, there was injury and a bizarre moment of being treated like a homeless person”.
Visiting Machu Picchu in the flesh held the number one spot on my bucket list for as long as I remember. So you can imagine the expectations I placed on this whole experience. (No pressure!).
But truth be told, it was nothing like I had imagined at all.
When I finally saw this wonder with my own eyes I was rendered completely dumbfounded. My seemingly high placed expectations quickly dissolved into a puddle on the floor. I had no words, because there are no words that exist that can truly capture the magnitude of Machu Picchu’s sheer magnificence!
BUT LET’S GET TO THE JUICE!
Because my 5 day journey to get to this moment of awe tells a completely different story. One of hardship, tears, adrenaline and stomach churning swells of self doubt…
DAY 1. THE HILLS ARE ALIVE!
[10 hour trek from Mollepata to Soraypampa]
I had a sound of music moment! The rolling green hills and bright blue sky put a rhythmic skip in my step. I was living in my own musical movie.
1 hour in, I was drenched in sweat but motoring ahead with blind enthusiasm. But a tickle of sickness bubbled in my throat and swallowing become a labored task. Uh oh!
“NO! I can’t get sick, Ive been waiting for this moment my whole bloody life!”
5 hours in and the altitude slowed me down to a snail’s crawl. Each step required more and more effort. Thankfully I was buoyed by a stunning view of a snow capped mountain in the distance. Our guide told us we would trek to the base of that mountain. I soldiered on but by this stage I was nursing a pretty severe cough!
After ten hours we arrived at our accommodation; A town of tiny tents piled into a tin roofed shed. The sun disappeared and the sub-zero temperatures emerged. My lungs were now screaming at me!
A fellow backpacker was struck down with altitude sickness and I listened as this poor German guy sobbed himself to sleep. It was a restless night ahead of me. The 6 layers of clothing couldn’t shield the chill from my bones and my cough (now sounding like a hacking bark) would keep me awake for the 9 hours we were supposed to be asleep.
DAY 2. I WANT TO GO HOME!
[Salkantay Pass to Chaulley]
Yep. I channeled Dorothy from the wizard of Oz “I want to go home Toto!”. But home was on the other side of the world and we were miles from civilization. Home was not an option.
In frozen zombie mode, I stepped outside and mustered the will to keep on truckin’. But my fuel tank was empty, my health depleting and my legs had turned to lead.
The tour guide suggested I take the next leg of the trek on horse back. But before I could even respond, a river of frustrated tears escaped my eyes.
I don’t want to ride a horse!
Now I don’t know if it was the altitude talking or what, but riding a horse equaled defeat in my irrational mind. I didn’t travel half way across the world to get to Machu Picchu by horse. I came here to walk the journey just as the Incas did damn it! (Adult tantrum mode in full flight here).
But reality sunk in. I couldn’t fight my body’s pleas. It begged me to rest. So I clambered on to “pacho” the horse, with my deflated spirits dragging in the dirt behind me.
Half smile for the camera. But you know how I’m really feeling 😉
By 10am we reached Salkantay Pass. I stood with my jaw to the floor. The scenery was unreal. I felt like I had stepped into a painting. So many rich textures and blended colours!
Our tour group made little rock pile sculptures as an offering to Pachamama (she’s a kick ass goddess who sustains life on this earth). It was nice to pause and have a moment to connect with mother nature. And at the high altitude of 15,200 feet above sea level, I’ve never felt more grounded.
A surge of adrenaline pumped through my veins. (Thank you Pachamama!). So I bid farewell to trusty “Pacho” and marched forth with both feet planted on the ground.
And marched we did!
My tour group legged it down the mountain. Within 3 hours we went from freezing temperatures to jungle humidity and off came the layers! It was heavenly thawing out my bones in some tropical heat.
Our tour guide praised us as the fastest group he had ever led through the mountains and affectionately nicknamed us “THE PUMAS”!
But this little Puma was a little hasty down the mountain not realizing that I was jamming my toes deeper and deeper into my hiking boots with every step… Any guesses where this is going?
By the time I reached our next camp site… you guessed it… bye bye nails!
My toe nails were bruised to the root and would change over the coming weeks from brown to black, to eventually dislodging themselves from the nail bed entirely! yay. (I shall spare you the photos but what your imagination is picturing is probably spot on).
After making peace with my doomed toe nails, I was delighted to learn that this camp site offered showers, and better still, a 10 minute HOT shower for $10! (Best $10 I ever spent! I could honestly write a whole blog post about my crazy appreciation for running water!).
DAY 3. THE ANTS GO MARCHING..
[Sahuayaco to Santa Theresa]
We were but tiny ants in the great expanse of the Peruvian landscape. I honestly feel like my photos don’t do it justice. When you journey through nature carrying the bare minimum on your back you realise just how little you miss the things you thought you needed. Life is simpler this way, purer and void of all that trash we’re sold in the media that fear mongers our ego-driven insecurities. I am free!
As you probably noted, I did a lot of thinking on day 3. I’ve never been able to sit and meditate (although I romanticise the idea of it) but this was my first successful experience of a walking meditation. Huzzah!
By late afternoon we reached the next camp site. And after three days of butchering our weary legs, it was time to blow off some serious steam.
We danced around the camp fire, drank like a band of merry men and howled (or in my case coughed) at the moon like the wildlings we were!
DAY 4. I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN!
[Santa Theresa to Aguas Calientes]
Day 4 was zip-lining day. Totally optional but I signed up anyway because this was my year of YES!
So I have this fear of heights. I suffer from vertigo. But when you find yourself on the other side of the world, battling epic terrain, smelling like dirt and bonding with 3 day old friends, you find yourself high on a super drug called “LIFE”.
And guess what!? it turns out I friggin’ LOVE zip lining. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to flying. If reincarnation is an option, then I’m coming back as a beautiful bird! (Not a flightless bird. That would be most unfortunate).
Overcoming fear is not the easiest thing to face but the reward on the other side of that little leap of faith can often be life changing.
Sometimes all it takes is to simply show up!
Machu Picchu is now so close I can taste it. But after the exhilarating high of the zip lining experience came a crushing low. As we embarked on the final stretch of this journey, my head went woolly and my body weak. I tripped and twisted my ankle. Blast! My hoarse cough was now out of control and I began cursing myself for drinking and staying up late the night before. Silent tears dampened my cheeks.
But the beauty of this trek is that there is no such thing as “going back”, you can only move forwards, one step in front of the next with a most rewarding prize at the finish line to bait you along; Machu Picchu.
And just like the little engine that could… I adopted the mantra “I think I can, I think I can”.
Slowly but surely after 5 hours of walking along train tracks we made it to Aguas Calientes. We made it to civilization. The gathering place for the thousands of tourists who visit Machu Picchu daily. A place where hotels and restaurants buzzed, where toilets flushed and my head could finally rest on a pillow in a warm and toasty bed. And with that, I was out like a light, left to dream about the reward that tomorrow would bring.
DAY 5. MACHU PICCHU HERE I COME!
My alarm goes off at 4:30am. I am death warmed up.
I drag my sorry self out of bed at this ridiculous hour just to make sure I am first in line at the bus stop, to be on the first bus up the mountain, to be the first one through the gates.
But as I said before, I am death warmed up. I can barely see. I can barely walk. Any doctor would tell me to stay in bed. But nothing was going to stop me from seeing the one thing I have been waiting to see my whole life!
The Pumas, of course, were the first through the gates. Our tour guide led us to an opening. It was dark, it was raining and Machu Picchu was shrouded in fog. We couldn’t see ANYTHING.
Our guide started sharing, what I believe were wonderful anecdotes about this sacred land, but my ears were muffled and I struggled to hear. I stifled my coughs so as not to kill the experience for my fellow travellers but my body begged me to just lie down.
Here’s the moment I felt like a homeless person.
I snuck away from the group and found a patch of rock to lie on. Within minutes an official told me I couldn’t lie there. So I moved on and found a bench near the entrance. I managed a 15 minute nap before another official woke me up and moved me on. I felt like a huge inconvenience for everyone so I walked back to the bus shelter and slept on a bench tightly hugging my possessions and hoping to be left alone in peace. An hour later I woke up surrounded by stray dogs. I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation I found myself in. I easily passed as homeless.
But the sleep did me wonders! The fog had lifted, the rain dried up and the flirty sun peeked in and out of the clouds! So off I trotted in search of my man who already had a 2 hour head start exploring magical Machu Picchu.
As I said right at the beginning of this epic tale, there are truly no words that capture Machu Picchu’s magnificence. It is grander than grand. Impossible to take in. It is awe-inspiring and totally mind blowing.
How did the Incas do it? How did they build a city that has stood the test of hundreds of life times high up in the clouds? How?
So little is known about this hidden wonder. So many questions, for centuries, unanswered. It really is an engineering feat of humankind.
As I continue to struggle to find the words to describe this holy haven, I shall leave you with my photo diary of the time I spent up there attempting to take it all in and making friends with Llamas.
If Machu Picchu isn’t on your bucket list I implore you to add it now! And before you freak out and think you have to endure my 5 day adventure, there are much simpler ways of getting there.
I can not express enough the magic of travel and its soul enriching powers. The opportunity to expose yourself to different cultures, foods, experiences and people will only enhance your character and life story. It will make you a more tolerant and compassionate human being with a unifying sense of OUR WORLD. So do yourself a favour and get out there a book an adventure now. I promise you, you won’t regret it.
And once again, over to you! What are you bucket list items? I’d love to hear what you have right at the top? I’m looking to add to mine so I welcome your thoughts in the comment section below!
Lots of love