Three Day Trek & Camping Trip to Machu Picchu

Five AM in the morning came FAST, when a van came to pick me up to take our group to our starting point to begin a 4-day hiking and camping trek through the nearby mountains. Ahead of me I had in store 3 full days of hiking through a mountain pass, sleeping in tents in villages along the way, and finishing day 4 exploring Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world! Many other people who visit the Machu Picchu area sign up to do a hike along the Inca Trail— to actually follow the footsteps of the Inca tribe from years and years ago—- but in order to preserve the trail and land, the government now limits the number of people who can trek through the area daily, and you have to sign up over four months in advance. I unfortunately missed the cutoff since I planned this trip only a few months prior, but was happy to find this other “Lares 3 day trek”, which followed the “Lares trail” instead. And in the end, I actually think the Lares Trail experience was MUCH more rewarding and cultural that the Inca Trail experience I heard from others.

I had gone to bed at almost 2am that morning, so I was running pretty LOW in the energy department. I tiredly climbed into the van with four other people, who I later found out were my new trekking companions for the next few days. Included in this group was a nice boyfriend-girlfriend couple from the country of Malta, and a father-son duo from Quebec, Canada. Since we had a bit of a drive, I tried to zonk out in the van to catch up on sleep and got a wink here and there over the few hour drive.

We stopped part way in a small little town to use the restrooms. I found it fascinating that it was only 6:30am and the town was CROWDED, bustling with people starting their day and selling their goods. I guess they start EARLY there! I reluctantly paid to use the most disgusting bathroom that had no soap or toilet paper. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer and kleenex!

Soaking in the hot springs

Our small group of 5 met our tour guide, “Washington” (yes, that REALLY was his name!), who took us to a hot springs “resort” nearby to relax before our big hike. It definitely wasn’t the cleanest place, and the sulfur smell in the hot springs was pretty strong. I decided to soak in the hot water for a little just to try it out, but was somewhat reluctant as I wasn’t sure how clean the water really was. After an hour or so, we all showered and got dressed and ready to begin our hike. We were fortunate enough to have porters on our journey who gathered our main luggage, tents, some cooking equipment, and food, and saddled up a bunch of donkeys who would be kindly lugging all of our belongings along on the hike.

Donkeys carried our luggage!

Ever since I had arrived in Cuzco, I had constant nausea most likely due to elevation sickness, and the dull feeling continued as we started our hike. I was somewhat concerned that the stomach uneasiness would increase on the trip, as we would be hiking up to 14,800ft at the highest point . . . so I REALLY focused on other things and kept my mind rapidly busy to keep my mind off the stomach pain as we trekked four hours through the mountains that day.

The views were really amazing, with rolling mountains, streams, rocks, and sheep and alpaca roaming the lands everywhere. Alpaca are similar looking to llamas, and are one of the most recognized animals of Peru, as its furry coat is extremely warm, and many locals sew clothing out of it and sell in the nearby towns. There were actually many wild dogs in the mountains as well, and we also often passed farmers tending to their lands, children making the long trek to/from school, and women knitting alpaca hats and scarfs as they watched over their animals grazing.

Alpaca

I have always loved hiking in the past, so I was extremely excited to be on my first official “tour” in another country, with many new and amazing sights to see and places to discover. Washington was really informational and funny, and I enjoyed chatting with the other people in the group and getting to know more about themselves and their culture.

During all three days, our porters and donkeys would hike way ahead of us, quickly and “magically” set up camp, a cooking area, and a tent for us to eat inside in NO TIME flat, and by the time we caught up to them they would already have water boiling and food made for us! At night, they set up the sleeping tents for us as well, and greeted us in the morning with a 6am wakeup call and hot coca tea.

Coca tea in the morning

NO…. I didn’t say “cocoa tea”, I said COCA tea. Yes— COCA, like cocaine. Coke. Where coca cola got its name from back in the day. In Spanish, they call it, “Mate de coca.” I know what you’re thinking: “BreAnn, you took crazy drugs in Peru!?” Haha… NO! Coca is obviously best known throughout the world for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine… however, the alkaloid content of coca leaves is low: between .25% and .77%, and chewing the leaves or drinking coca tea does not produce the effects people experience with cocaine. It IS, however, supposed to help the negative symptoms of elevation sickness, and our guide and the porters encouraged me at every meal and in the morning to drink the tea to help me feel better. I’ve never been a coffee or tea drinker in the US, but I definitely became a tea drinker on this trip to help me stay warm and ease my stomach!

One of the most rewarding parts of this particular “Lares trail” trek was the fact that in the middle of the mountains we actually camp in the small villages we came across; specifically in the yard next to one family’s house. This meant that we actually got to meet the inhabitants of the house, experience how the people live, and play with the children who lived there as well. It was interesting to see how simplistic and basic they live, and hear stories about how some children have to hike through the mountains over one hour each way by themselves just to get to school!

Our “toilet” was actually a hole dug in the ground with a pop-up “outhouse tent” on top of it. Yea…. LOVELY, I know. Using a hole in the ground to do “your business.” Not my favorite part of the trip. Fortunately, the second night we stayed in a more “modern” village, and we had an actual toilet there, but had to dump a bucket of water into the bowl in order to force the toilet to “flush.”

We started each day when the sun came up around 6am, ate breakfast, filled up our water bottles (with water that the porters boiled and then chilled for us), hiked for hours on end, stopped for lunch, hike more hours on end, and then finished in a village at night to set up camp, eat dinner, and then tucker out for the night around 9 to 10pm. It was amazing how primitive the villagers were, and how everything truly revolved around when the sun rose and set. I quickly got used to the 6am wakeup and 9pm sleep time, despite my normal late-night-to-bed habit.

Inside my tent!

At night, I actually got to sleep in my own tent (the couple from Malta got their own tent, along with the father-son duo from Canada), and I wore tons of layers of clothing, a winter hat, a scarf, and gloves, and tied myself into the sleeping bag tight in order to stay warm through the night. I also used an eye mask to shield out the morning light, and earplugs to help drown out any other noises. And I’m SO GLAD I did all of that, because I got “decent” sleep each night and was the only one of the group that wasn’t woken up a billion times from the wild dogs barking and howling through the night.

Me with cute little Marisa & David

On the second night, we camped in the yard of a nice family who had two small children. I spent some time trying to speak to them in Spanish and also teach them a few English words. There was a chicken roaming around the yard, and I taught them to say “Chicken” . . . but they also giggled and thought the word was funny because it sounded like “Chicle”— like chicle chewing gum, which is popular in Latin America.

Most children we came across in the villages as we hiked were usually poorly dressed in extremely dirty clothing, and had extremely chapped skin on their faces… it was somewhat sad. But they usually were happy and excited to see us, so it made you smile to know you brightened their day!

Made it to 14,800 ft!

The second day was the longest and hardest day of hiking, spending over 8 hours hiking through the mountains, and at some points very steep, ending up at 14,800ft! I burned probably 2,000 calories alone from the hiking part, and it was harder to breathe as we got higher, and it was FREEZING, too! It was all worth it in the end, though, and we spent the third day descending for hours and hours…. although I realized that was also very painful on your knees.

On the third night, we actually got to stay IN A HOTEL in the little city of “Augas Calientes” at the base of the mountain up to Machu Pichhu. After wearing the same clothes for three full days of hiking, using outdoor “toilets”, and not being able to shower, I can’t explain HOW AMAZING it was to strip off my STINKY socks and clothing and clean up in a HOT HOT shower!! Nothing is as wonderful as a hot shower after days of hiking and camping in hot and cold conditions!

Woke up on day four (September 10th) SUPER early in the morning to see Machu Picchu! I realized I was INCREDIBLY sore from the descent the previous day, so I was glad in the end that I hadn’t signed up for the extra steep hike up —– Huayna Picchu, because I was way too exhausted and sore to do a steep one hour hike up and down the peak. We arrived at Machu Picchu, and it was one of the most amazing places I have ever seen in person. There’s just something INSANELY different about seeing something so incredible up close and personal versus looking at photos online or printed. It’s this feeling that fills you up with wonderment and, “Wow, am I REALLY here IN PERSON?!” We explored for several hours, and there still was plenty more to see, as there are many parts to the whole Inca village.

I branched off with the Maltese couple and we headed on the bus back down the mountain to the town below. I decided I would splurge a little bit and get a cheap massage at a local shop. They gave me a foot soak and foot and body massage, and I SOOOO needed it! It was quite wonderful!

Spent a little more time in the town for the day, got some food and shared some beers with my hiking buddies, then took THE LONGEST TRAIN RIDE back to the city of Ollantaytambo, just to catch THE LONGEST VAN RIDE back to Cuzco. Oh yea, and might I mention—OUR VAN DRIVER HIT A DOG!!!—and he barely flinched. I know many dogs are wild in Peru, but to hit a dog straight-on and not flinch, say anything, or care? Ick. Oh well, I guess to them it’s like hitting a raccoon or something… but it was still sad seeing the whole thing happen before my eyes.

Overall, the 3-day hike to Machu Picchu was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life and would recommend it to anybody and everybody! It was a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience with memories I’ll cherish forever.

See pictures of the 3-day Lares hike here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151051689100343.779896.596295342&type=1&l=5452e8cacf

See pictures from Machu Picchu here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152427786815343.956892.596295342&type=1&l=2f60e0bc91

Trying to breathe . . . in Cuzco

Since I spent my first half-day in Cuzco (Sept 4th) nursing a nasty Pisco Sour “aftermath”, I decided to try to make the most of my next two full days in Cuzco. My stomach still felt really unsettled for the next couple days, and I thought maybe it was still the effects from the hangover . . . later I would come to find out I was DEFINITELY suffering from altitude sickness. I also found it interesting that I felt as if I hadn’t worked out in months and was HUFFING AND PUFFING like crazy . . . at one point I was lugging my stupid suitcase through town on the horribly uneven cobblestone roads (by the way, I NEVER recommend taking a rolling suitcase to any foreign city, even though I do it myself!) because I had decided to move to a different hostel, and I had to stop numerous times to catch my breath ,  , , and I was totally sweating all over myself like crazy!  Insane altitude!  By the way, the reason I changed my hostel after that first night is because the first one I stayed at was SO COLD (again), had a horribly weak WIFI signal, and had a “community parrot” as a pet that SQUAWKED and SQUAWKED all day and night and drove me—and I’m sure everybody else—crazy!

Cuzco was an adorable little town, bustling with lots of colorful people and many of the native Peruvian people—mostly women—dressed in traditional red and pink clothing, many selling fruit and vegetables, flowers, and other goods on the streets. You would often find each women walking with a brightly colored bag (which was actually a huge woven blanket/rug that was tied together at the four ends) slung around her neck and shoulders with the main “storage” part of the bag on her back. Usually this area would be filled with her goods to carry for sale, or most often you would see a baby or small child on her back.  Some women in their traditional clothing would walk the streets carrying cute little baby lambs, trying to get tourists to take photos with them in exchange for money. Others were simply wandering the streets with a llama!—strange sight to see.  Being in Cuzco, I now was in the town of stray dogs

Stray/wild dogs napping in Cuzco

. . . mangy and “unkept” dogs littered the city, and you would hear them barking at each other all night long. I really enjoyed exploring the city and practicing my Spanish with the store owners.

At one point, I was sitting in the main square just taking a rest on a park bench, and a young, small Peruvian guy, Alex, came up and started talking to me. I was a bit standoffish and hesitant at first with him, but we started chatting quite a bit in Spanish (and a little of his broken English) and when I told him I was going up the mountain to look at some of the ruins up there, he said he could accompany me. I somewhat hesitantly agreed, and we were off!  He was actually a pretty nice guy, and I enjoyed the fact I could practice my Spanish with him and actually ask questions about what I was saying, if I was saying it right, etc, because that is the MOST helpful way to improve your foreign language skills.  He stopped along the way and pointed out different things around the town and gave me information about them.

At the top of the mountain/temple with Alex

We started on the hiking path, but after a half hour I was REALLY winded and the sky was getting dark and thunder rumbled in the distance and I was getting a bit frustrated because I was exhausted, it was hard to breathe, and I was still coughing a bit and getting over my cold, and I hadn’t anticipated being out this long for such a vigorous hike. I kept asking, “Quanto mas?” (how much more) and Alex kept telling me, “Relax,” which kept annoying me more and more because I was REALLY concerned about not stressing my body out too much because I wanted to finally kick this cold before my big 4 day hike! We checked out El Templo de la Luna (The Temple of the Moon), and saw a few farmers herding their horses and cattle through the fields. Finally a few hours later, got back down to the main area of Cuzco again . . . where suddenly Alex started in on hinting to me that I should give him a “propina” (tip).  I instantly got uncomfortable that after all this time, now he wanted MONEY from me!?—and I’m thinking it partly had to do

El Templo de la Luna

with the fact that I told him I have a boyfriend (which, by the way is something you always MUST tell any guy you meet when you are traveling alone as a female ANY foreign country), so I’m sure now he was irritated he spent all that time with me and he can’t even try to take me out or whatever because “I have a boyfriend.”  He was like, “Well you can at least buy me lunch or something for my time,” and I guess I DID agree with him somewhat on that one . . . I mean, afterall, he could have been doing a lot more productive things in the past 3 hours then giving me a tour of the city he has lived in his whole life, right?   Anyway, so I kept asking him to suggest a place . . .  I was freezing, exhausted, and really just wanted to go back to my hostel and take a nap and get WARM. He kept procrastinating, and we kept walking, and I was growing SO annoyed, I raised my voice a bit to him, and was like, “Can you PLEASE just find a place, so I can buy you a sandwich??” and once again he was like, “Reeelaxxxxx, relax!” which was NOT the right thing to say to me AGAIN, especially at that moment. I was pissed, and said, “I don’t WANT to relax anymore… I’m cold, I’m exhausted, I’m probably going to be more sick now, and you’ve made me incredibly uncomfortable because you’re asking me for money!”  To that, Alex replies, “FINE, have a nice time in Cuzco!” and he totally walks off!  I sat there somewhat stunned, thinking he would turn around, but he just kept walking walking walking. I sat there a little longer seeing if he would turn around, but then, even though I was feeling kind of bad about the situation, I quickly skirted off in the other direction, hoping to make a quick escape. . . . and I did.

Was finally able to go back to my hostel, get some food, and rest for the night and enjoyed it!

Poorer area of Cuzco

The next day, I spent a great amount of the morning and early afternoon skirting around town trying to take care of some money issues (to be mentioned in a separate post), and wandering around town a bit. I stumbled upon a much more “broken down” part of town, and I couldn’t believe how these houses were totally falling apart!!  I couldn’t believe people actually lived in these houses, as the windows were broken, the roof was unstable, and there just seemed to be garbage everywhere. And there I was the few days before, bitching about having to wear a scarf in my hostel, and these people can’t even afford to have a house with windows . . .  SIGH.

I spent a good part of the day, then, trying to find a way to get to Pisac—one of the towns nearby that is part of the “Sacred Valley” area that has some sacred Inca ruins. Every tour company I stopped into told me it was too late in the afternoon to get a bus to Pisac, as they set up tours a day or two in advance . . . so then I looked into taking a local bus there instead. I got directions to where the bus station was, and set out on a LONG WALK to try to find the bus station . . . but when I got there, I didn’t see any bus station. Hmmmm.  I had walked REALLY far out of town to an area that wasn’t looking the best, and it was starting to get late (3pm or so), and I was frustrated with the whole ordeal and disappointed in myself that I hadn’t just booked a tour the day before or something so I could at least visit part of the Sacred Valley!  I decided to flag down a taxicab and negotiate a price. Found a guy that would take me to Pisac for 30 soles, which is about $12 USD. Nice!  I was happy with that… especially since I found out that it was about a 40 minute drive over the mountain!

Pisac – part of the Sacred Valley

Long story short, I get to Pisac town and discover that the ruins take like 2 HOURS to hike up to the top to!!  And by now it was like 4pm and the sun was setting, there weren’t a lot of people around the ruins anymore, and I actually had to be back to Cuzco for a meeting that night for my upcoming hike. SIGH. This is why I plan things ahead of time normally!!  I decided to go ahead and hike PART of the Pisac ruins, just so I could feel like I DID SOMETHING, and then came back down. I was lucky to catch a local bus this time back to Cuzco that cost me only 2.50 soles (like 80-90 cents!), what a great deal!!  Well . . . except that it took like an hour and a half to get back and I was TOTALLY late for my meeting!  However, meanwhile on the bus, a Peruvian woman with her child sat next to me and we spoke in Spanish awhile with each other, which was nice. She was trying to teach me some Quechua—which is the local language of the indigenous peoples of South America—but I couldn’t really remember any of it.

Later that night, I had to repack my suitcase in preparation for my BIG four-day hike that would start the following day! I wanted to try to get done quick and get some sleep since they would be picking me up AT 5AM!!!  But unfortunately I didn’t finish and get to sleep until almost 1/2 am. SIGH.  Oh well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead, right?

Damn Pisco Sours!! :(

Saturday (Sept 4) rolled around, and I knew it was my last day in Lima. Since I had taken it somewhat “easy” the past couple days, I decided to try to get out and see as much of Lima as I could. So of course, the fastest and easiest way is to take a tourist bus!

Meanwhile, a friend of mine on facebook (who I actually haven’t talked to in probably over 2 years) saw from my posts that I was in Lima, and she let me know that she actually had another friend, Josh, from Boston, that was also traveling by himself through Lima at the same time! Through facebook emails back and forth, Josh and I met up together in Miraflores, jumped on the tourist bus, and away we went!

Lima

Josh and I got along pretty well, and it was interesting to talk to him, as he has been to pretty much MOST of the main countries all over the world—including the Arab countries, all over Africa, and more. There really wasn’t a place I mentioned or asked about that he HADN’T been to!

Anyway, the tourist bus took us to some main sights in Lima, a few cathedrals, etc, and then we got a tour of the underground catacombs of the San Francisco Monastery, which was pretty interesting and somewhat creepy to see thousands of preserved human bones all over!

Bones!!

Overall, the main central area of Lima was a lot cleaner and beautiful than I thought it would be, but there still weren’t many too interesting places to see/visit compared to many other cities and countries I’ve been to.

The weather was getting a bit cold on the bus as the sun went down, and I was pretty tired from the day and my cold, so I was hoping to get in a nap when we returned to the Miraflores area, but I also needed to pack for my flight to Cuzco the next day, and do some research on what hostel/hotel I was going to stay at. Didn’t have a whole lot of time for it all, and then I was already heading back into town to meet Josh for dinner. We stumbled upon a cute little restaurant with a great menu, but there was a half hour wait, so meanwhile we decided to grab a drink at a Jazz place nearby. We both had—of course— a Pisco Sour while we waited. When in Rome . . .  right?

Back to dinner a short while later, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal, swapped travel stories, and had yet another Pisco Sour.  Hmmm, these drinks are pretty good, and very “lime-y!”  Can’t even tell there is much alcohol in them!

Headed back to the Jazz place because we both thought it was a great spot to take in the local culture and music scene, and we had a couple more Pisco Sours and enjoyed the music together. I think we were the only tourists in there, which was fab!  I was TOTALLY in the moment, enjoying the salsa-type music they began to play, and the band was wonderful and energetic with trumpets, bongo drums, and various types of instruments a guy would shake or beat around the room. The dance floor was HOT, with sexy couples and singles dancing together and enjoying the music. This was definitely one of those moments I SMILED BIG, thought, “How AMAZING is it, in this moment, that I’m here in Peru, IN PERSON, listening to this wonderful local music!?”  We danced a little and finished our drinks as they were closing up.

Our Pisco Sours

Caught up in the fun of the night, it had suddenly fast-forwarded many hours to 3am+ and I was realizing I was feeling pretty tipsy. I somehow thought we still needed to go out dancing (leave it up to my “party brain caught up in the moment” to think foolish thoughts like this the night before I have to take a flight), but FORTUNATELY most of the bars were closing, or had an expensive covercharge, or we couldn’t get in. I say FORTUNATELY because I really needed to get some water and get some sleep since I was flying to Cuzco in the morning.

8:00am came FAST, and I realized those damn Pisco Sours were not sitting well in my body. I was trying to pack quickly, but my stomach wasn’t feeling the best, and I knew I needed to finish up and catch a taxi to the airport ASAP for my flight.   I tried to eat a few things and drink a lot of water, but let’s just say . . . . my stomach wasn’t too happy with that.  After a lot of procrastinating and moving veerrrry slowly, I finally got into a taxi to the airport and wasn’t sure I was going to make it without getting sick in the car!!  Fortunately I DID make it to the airport OK . . . .but unfortunately I got there “too late” to check in for my flight. Apparently you have to be there over an hour before the flight, and I was at the 50-minute-mark . . . so after a little bit of running around to different agents, I was LUCKY they got me on the next flight out instead, and I didn’t even have to pay anything extra for changing my ticket! Phew! LUCKY!

Miserable on the flight to Cuzco (thank goodness it was only an hour!!) and REALLY miserable once I arrived to Cuzco and INSTANTLY felt the pressure on my chest as I exited the plane . . . made it hard to breathe, and in turn made me feel even MORE sick! 🙁   To make a long story short, I then took a miserable cab ride into town and finally stumbled into a hostel at 2pm or so and CRASHED. The 2-3 hours of sleep I got then, along with a TON of water and some crackers and other snacks, finally nursed me back to “decent” shape, and I headed down the street that night to a cute place for a late dinner. My stomach SO needed food, and this awesome bar/restaurant totally delivered!

After this whole fiasco, I looked back on the night very confused as to how I could have possibly gotten THAT drunk—and THAT hung over—and then it occurred to me that not only had I taken some cold medicine before I headed out to dinner, but I also had Malaria pills and anti-elevation-sickness pills floating around in my body as well. That, coupled with the OH-SO-STRONG Pisco Sour drinks (which I’m also not used to, since I’m normally a beer or wine drinker) reeeeeeally “did me in.”  Ugh. I felt SO STUPID for the whole thing!

SIGH . . . no more pisco sours for ME!