Take a Hike

I did! An epic, 4-day, 3-night one that's far and away the most adventurous thing I've ever done.

I've been subconsciously putting off this post since the most apt adjective to describe my Inca Trail trek is "indescribable." Each of the pictures I took fails to do the raw beauty of the Andes - from snow-capped glacial peaks to bromeliads the size of my pinky nail - justice. I also feel a bit like my 14 fellow trekkers and I belong to an exclusive, impenetrable brotherhood. Four days of not showering and sharing openly about "the bathroom situation" bonds you - we have a WhatsApp group!

Picking up where my last post left off...

We drove ~ an hour and 45 min from Cusco to Ollantaytambo for breakfast, and then another ~ 45 min. to the trail head at Km. 82, where we spent some time getting organized before setting off. 

I couldn't get over the CACTI with a GLACIER in the background! Of the world's 34 climactic zones, Peru has 20. We often walked through more than one in a single day. 

Very near our day 1 lunch stop. One of our ranks came down with altitude sickness and was forced to abandon the hike there. We were excited to reunite with her at Machu Picchu!

Near the end of day 1. Note the incline to the right of my finger that awaited us on day 2. "Piece of cookie" according to our guide, Rosel. 

Glamping all the way. We showed up at camp each evening to our tents set up, with buckets of warm water for washing up outside (bottom left). I slept "like a baby alpaca" (another Rosel-ism). 

Enjoying some close-up beauty during one of many pauses on day 2's ascent to the Trail's highest point. 

Dead Woman's Pass | 4,215 m. 

What goes up must come down. Water...and super hikers. 

An Alpine lake!

I FINALLY remembered to bring my camera to the dining tent to document more of the glamping experience. 

Nightly happy hours consisted of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, crackers, and popcorn. 

Dinners were veritable feasts. There was always a soup course followed by platter after platter of beautifully presented Peruvian delicacies. 

I mentioned "the bathroom situation." It was gross. In order from best to worst, the options were a) nature; b) a chemical toilet inside this bathroom tent; and c) campsite bathrooms (squatty potties) that you could usually smell just walking by. 

Still smiling the morning of day 3, right before entering the first of two small caves along the trail. 

Fancy panoramic camera work by Rosel, who's clearly done this before, at some ruins we stopped at before lunch on day 3. My favorite stretch of trail immediately preceded this pit stop; there were butterflies everywhere. Most were black and deep red with a single, white dot on each wing, but one larger one was white with a blue iridescence when the sun glinted off it just right.

Walking into camp on day 3. I feel like we should have been applauding them after how well they took care of us! 

Celebrating Turkey Day a few days early at lunch on day 3. 

An afternoon nap gave us all the 2nd wind we needed to check out another set of ruins, Wiñay Wayna, about a 10-minute walk from our day 3 campsite. 

Llamas were a bit of a disappointment. I thought there'd be herds of them everywhere. We saw a pair of wild ones near some trailside bathrooms, but the rest are tagged and placed by the government to appease tourists. I, for one, don't know of any tourists who'd want their picture with a llama...

A flower clinging to life between 500+ year-old stairs at Wiñay Wayna. 

The chefs made us a cake for our "Last Supper." 

We woke up at 3 am on day 4 and walked ~10 minutes to a checkpoint that didn't open until 5:30, but we wanted to be first in line so as to be first to arrive at Intipunku (the Sun Gate), the first spot along the Trail from which Machu Picchu is visible, when it's not foggy or cloudy. It was freezing, but our porters brought us hot drinks and breakfast to-go, and the sunrise was worth it. 

My tentmate Emily and I, aka The Lobbyist and the Missionary. 

The "gringo killer steps."


The end was in sight for much of the home stretch...

...made it :)

After having seen so many pictures of Machu Picchu, it's hard to believe it's real when you're standing in front of it. It looked like a green screen!

After 20 minutes or so to explore the guard tower area for views like this, we entered through the main gate and enjoyed a private tour from Rosel, followed by free time to continue exploring. 

Perfectly aligned windows. 

Temple of the Condor. 

One of many sacred rocks. 

L to R: Dan, Emily (my tentmate), Mitchell (pointing to Huayna Picchu), Debbie, me, Yuzu, and Tricia. 

We took the easy way (a bus) down to Aguas Calientes, aka Machu Picchu Pueblo, and regrouped at a designated restaurant, where we enjoyed lunch together - and, let's be honest, clean bathrooms - and collected our duffel bags for the train trip back to Cusco. 

I finally had the guts to try alpaca. I'd have believed you if you told me it was pork or beef. 

I couldn't have asked for better weather from start to finish, and my knowledge of the Incas expanded exponentially. Getting there like the Inca Pachacutec might have allows you to see Machu Picchu for what it is: part of a vast, interconnected network of roads and key sites along the way, each of which demonstrates a knowledge of the cosmos that the burgeoning field of archaeoastronomy is only beginning to understand. It was tough, but I survived and wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way. 

Comment below if there's something you want to know; lengthy as this post is, there's so much more to tell. What's next on my bucket list, you ask? 

Run a half marathon
Hike the Inca Trail
Appear on Jeopardy

Any leads on that one, and I'm all ears. Until next time, blessings!