Tag Archives: Andes

Inca Trail: Part III

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WE MADE IT!

 The final day. The finish line. The finale. It came and passed a lot quicker than I had expected.

Seeing Machu Picchu at sunrise is quite the experience. We woke up at 3:00am, packed up all of our things, layered up because it was freezing out, and hiked a short while to the entrance of our final pass. Dressed and ready to hike, we instead found ourselves waiting in line for about an hour or two. It was what I imagined the early risers who camp out for Black Friday looked like. Just waiting…and waiting…and waiting. At 5:30am they finally opened and we were launched into our last couple of hours on the trail, surrounded by hundreds of anxious hikers. I remember looking back and seeing a line of headlamps dotting the trail like a string of Christmas lights. Everyone had one destination on their mind.. We were climbing to Inti Punku [“Gate of the Sun”].

The trail was beautiful again, just like day three. The stone path was surrounded by moss and greenery and towers of trees. The sun was slowly coming up and we were getting closer. We descended until we got to “the gringo killer”, which was a humorous set of steep-ass steps leading to the top of the sun gate. I think I laughed when I looked up the flight of stairs. They were so steep and vertical that it’s impossible to just walk up. Like, you literally had to use your hands and feet to climb up these steps. Hah! But once you get to the top – there it is. Machu Picchu in all it’s glory!

 Machu Picchu shined like gold in the sunlight. After enjoying the view from the top, we began our 3 mile descend to Machu Picchu. And when we got there, it was surreal. The ruin was right in front of me. It was incredible seeing it in person after only seeing it on Pinterest and travel websites. It was bittersweet for me; sweet to finally arrive after 3 exhausting days, but sad because the journey was coming to an end. Our tour guides left us to explore the ruin for a couple of hours [which was short-lived because I was too sore to walk!] After, we took a bus down to Aguas Calientes – a quaint little town below Machu Picchu that I wish I spent more time in. We had our last meal with our trek which turned out to be one hell of a celebration because two of our fellow hikers announced that they were newly engaged! Time to drink!

[…4 drunken hours later…]

After taking a train ride and a bus to Cusco, we were back in the middle of the city – back to reality. It was like culture shock going from 4 days of solitude with no technology and no civilization to the hustle and bustle of city life with traffic, and noises, and WiFi. Too much too soon. I have never wanted to return to the wilderness so bad. That night, our first night back sleeping in a normal bed, I told Talia, “I would give anything to be back in that tent right now…” I wanted to be back on the Inca Trail, with a new challenge every day, with my 4-day family of hikers. Just take me baaaccckkk!

 I never thought I’d say this, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I think. Or just fill my life with these types of experiences. Yeah, that’s it.

xx

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Inca Trail: Part II

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“The trail is the thing. Not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for.”
– unknown

 I read this quote before I left for Peru and I didn’t really understand it at the time. I remember thinking, “But…Machu Picchu is the end of the trail. That’s kind of the point of this trip. That is the end-goal of this 4-day trek.” But then day 3 happened and a lightbulb switched on inside my head. And now, this quote has a whole new meaning. I totally get it now.

Day 3 was magical. We got to sleep in until 6:00am [which became a luxury after the first two days] and had a much more forgiving agenda ahead. We would hike 6 miles of what I considered to be the most ‘authentic’ part of the Inca trail. As if the Quechua weren’t intriguing enough, they had also built their original cobblestone path among the most beautiful part of the Andes and it was our road for the day. And you knew you were walking where they walked. Yeeesss!!

This was the part of the trek where it became real for me. Everything was different. The trail had gone from a dry, dusty, desert path to a stone wonder in the middle of the rainforest. The sun was softer and the air was cold and crisp. There were butterflies and greenery and the most beautifully intimidating cliffs that fell from the trail’s edge. It was rugged and enchanting and overwhelming all at the same time. Talia and I joked about how we were waiting for a dinosaur to magically appear because we felt like we were on the set of Jurassic Park. Or maybe Indiana Jones would come flying around the corner with a giant stone ball determined to run him over. My mind wanders when I’m alone in the wilderness…

Hands down, day 3 was my favorite. It was my gem. I think I even slowed down my pace at one point to try to make the journey last longer. But alas, every day has to come to and end. I wish I could relive this day though – 3 moments in particular. These were my top three highlights:
1) Meeting our porters. You see those guys in blue? The ones that travel together carrying 50-60lbs on their backs? They were the hardest working people I’ve ever seen! They are true descendants of the Quechua and they travel the path of their ancestors every week. They were with us from beginning to end and took  such good care of us. Actually, spoiled us. We finally got to have a ‘formal introduction’ on the morning of day 3 and even with the language barrier, we became a family. [and they baked us a cake that night! How they did that in the middle of the Andes with no electric, I have no idea. I think our cook was also a magician.] It was an honor to hike every day with the porters. We applauded them every morning when they left before us, and they did the same when we arrived to camp every evening. International love right thurrr.
2) Phuyupatamarcha. It means “town above the clouds”. Together we sat at the top of this ruin and learned more about the Quechua. And the name didn’t need explaining – we were surrounded by clouds which were hovering over the site. You could hardly see anything in the distance. It was quite the dreamy site with its long descending flights of stairs, moss covered stone walls, and series of natural fountains with sparkling glacier run-off. I bet it was dreamy back then too. Always has been.
3) Wiñay Wayna. I think this was a special place for all of us. It means “forever young” and it was the last ruin that we visited before Machu Picchu. This lovely place was just as beautiful and dramatic [if not more so]. A natural amphitheater that was quiet and serene and perfect in all its loneliness. I remember walking in and hearing nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everyone seemed to become speechless as they wandered through Wiñay Wayna. This place calms you. I remember we were sitting in one of the sacred rooms and our tour guide said, “You’ve come this far. And now I believe your heart and soul is ready for Machu Picchu.” I wish I had spent more time there because it was a magical place – you can just feel it.

My favorite day down, one more to go. Stay tuned for Inca Trail Part III, the finale!

xx

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Inca Trail: Part I

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[…In February 2015…]
Talia: Hey, do you want to travel to Machu Picchu in the Fall with me?
Char: Hell yeah!
Talia: Do you want to hike the Inca Trail to get there?
Char: What’s that? How long is it?
Talia: It’s a 4-day trek. 26 miles.
Char: (Shit.)

It’s hard to believe that last week I was in the middle of the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding time of my life. Little did I know that it would end up being one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life! Ever since I returned from Peru, I’ve turned into a nagging ambassador of the Inca Trail. I keep telling people, “You should do it. Everyone should do it. It will change your life. You will come back a different person!”

Before this, I had only accomplished a few “hard” hikes. Colorado is a mountain playground and I had certainly explored a good amount. And, I’d like to think I’m outdoorsy. But I’m not like, outdoorsy. I had never even hiked a 14er before this trip. [which is like a Colorado prerequisite if you’re a native] The first two days we had hiked a grueling 21 miles [3 extra miles due to road construction and our bus had to drop us off in the middle of God knows where] At the end of day 1, everything hurt. Everything! And do you know how hard it is to go to sleep in a tent when every muscle aches and you can’t feel your feet and your back is raw from carrying 5 liters of water and you know that tomorrow will be the EXACT same thing but worse? It’s hard.

When I agreed to this trek, I was not prepared for the struggle. At all. I don’t like the gym and I did not train nearly enough. We knew the first two days would be the most intense. Each day consisted of waking up at 3:00 – 4:00am, hiking 12 -15km, average of 8-9 hours per day, and grasping every ounce of positivity because you had no idea how much harder it was going to get. The Inca Trail was demanding and has forced others to quit within the first two days. But not us. We were smiling from ear to ear at the end of day 2 [if you can believe it]. We had survived Dead Woman’s Pass [nearly 14,000 feet in elevation], climbed another 13,800 ft. pass immediately after, and we celebrated that the most difficult part of the trek was over! You don’t get an overwhelming feeling of victory like that too often. So when you’re standing on top of the world in the middle of the Andes, dancing in the clouds, and your best friend is right beside you, and your tour guide is calling you “chica muscles” – Pinch. Your. Self.

Nothing can explain the emotions I had during those first two days. Being at the top of the second pass and staring out at the first pass in the distance – it’s terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Talia and I were in awe of what we had just done and where we were. And we were only halfway to Machu Picchu! I’ve been kicking myself for not taking more photos of those two days of stair-master hell, but the thought of having to repeatedly dig my camera in and out of my pack was painful. Thinking back, I’m actually glad that my camera stayed put. I was fully present in every painful step, climb, stretch, gasp of breath, sore muscle, blister, and mosquito bite. The struggle was real. And at the end of day 2 when Talia and I were sitting in our tent reflecting on our 48-hour obstacle, barely able to move, we had to at least pat ourselves on the back. [while whining for a full body massage]

Two days down, two days to go. Come back for Inca Trail Part II!

xx

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