Well let me begin this blog with the fact that I am still alive right now. About 2 days ago (Thanksgiving Day to be exact) I felt like it was close to the end for me....well maybe it wasn´t that bad, but I did have a fever, traveler´s diaherrea, bug bites all over my body, blisters on my feet, lost a toenail, and could barely walk because my body was so sore.
Why was I under this sort of condition you may ask? Because for 5 days prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to take the Salkantay Trek to visit Machu Picchu. Let me start from the beginning.....
It all started in Lima, Peru....where I spent about 18 hours hanging out in the airport. I flew there from Ecuador and thought that I would save money by staying the night there to get to my connecting flight the next morning. Too bad I forgot that the prices are all jacked up in airports. I probably would have saved more money by shopping at Sacks 5th Avenue for 2 hours. I felt like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal" roaming around the airport...checking out all of the stores and restuarants. I did not sleep what-so-ever.
Finally, I fly into Cuzco, Peru which is the main city hub for treks to Machu Picchu. Cuzco is at an altitude of about 11,300 feet. As soon as I stepped off the airplane I was short of breath. I started to get a little bit of altitude sickness and was even feeling a cold coming on...Probably due to the altitude and lack of sleep the night before. After checking into the hostel, I roamed around the city and talked to several tour agencies. I found one that I liked and decided that I wanted to do the Salkantay Trek....it was 5 days long and the views in the pictures looked amazing. Come to find out, though, the Salkantay is the most challenging of the Machu Picchu alternative treks. It is the longest and it goes to the highest altitude. I was a little worried, considering I have never really hiked in the mountains before.
Since I had altitude sickness, the tour agency suggested that I acclimate my body for a day...so I checked out the town of Cuzco and mentally prepared myself for the 5 days ahead of me. I also went and bought a few items that I needed for the hike such as a pancho, sunblock, bug repellant, water purifer pills, and snacks.
Day1 - 4:30AM
A cab picked me up and I met 2 of my fellow trekkers, the Mexicans: Rolando & Mario. We immediately got along right off the bat and started chatting it up with each other. The cab started to drive and backed right into something...it made a horrible crash noise. However, it didnt seem to phase him as he threw the car into drive and kept on going. Mario looked at both of us and said "Let the adventure begin". We arrived to a random bus that locals were piling into. The driver just motioned us towards the bus so we got on. After about ten more minutes, 6 more trekkers got on the bus and we headed off on a 3 hour ride. It was at that point that I looked around and realized that I was the only girl amongst the group of trekkers. Hmmmm...I thought to myself.....is this even a "girly" type thing to do. Am I completely out of my element? Am I actually a Man-Woman??? Just kidding...haha, but I did think it was odd that I was the only chick. Come to find out though, two other girls were to join the group the following day.
After we arrived to our starting point, we met our guide, Henry, and had a breakfast. Everytime we ate during the hike, we were given cocoa leaves to help with the altitude. By the end of the trip we were all pretty addicted to the leaves....we would put them in our tea, soup, beer, or just chew on them for fun.
So we started trekking on the first day. The view was amazing. The rolling green hills were turning into mountains and it felt really good being out in the open air....I didn´t feel like I had a cold anymore and I could not stop smiling. I wasn´t sure if this was because of the magnificient nature or the cocoa leaves. We continued walking and getting to know each other. Other then the 2 Mexicans, there were 6 American guys. 3 of the guys were friends from San Francisco and the other 3 guys were from San Diego and LA. We all walked briskly and tried not to act like the trails were very challenging. After lunch, the sunny fresh weather grew into a dark storm cloud. Soon the temperature dropped and it began to rain. I was really glad I bought that pancho. I slipped into it and before I could get it all the way on, the hail began to fall. It was at this moment that I felt like a true adventure girl.....here I was...walking through the mountains of Peru in a pancho with hail beating on my head. It was a neat feeling for about 3 minutes and then I was totally over it. The hail and rain SUCKED. My shoes, socks, and lower pants got soaked. Since it was later in the day, they never came close to drying. (This would pose a major problem later in the night).
Finally, we arrived to our camp site...worn out from the first day and sick of the rain and hail. For the time being, the weather had cleared up. We were all freezing though, because the site was at a really high altitude. I do not remember the exact height, but it was dang cold!!! Since we were on park land, we were not allowed to build a fire. So our wet shoes and socks were not going to dry anytime soon. We all gathered for tea and supper and huddled close to one other to stay warm. During dinner, the rain started up again. And while it was raining...we realized that icicles were forming around the hut. This meant that it was below freezing. The rain turned into hail again and we sat there wondering if it would let up for us to get back to our tents. Finally, there was a break in the rain. I had my own tent for the night, but I was shaking so bad that the Mexicans let me come sleep with them. We figured we would have a better chance of survival if we had more bodies in one tent. We all layed down and after a few moments realized that the tent was leaking. The rain was so fierce at this point that it was causing a river to run underneath our tent and the water was not only coming in from the sides, but up from the ground as well. At first we all kinda laughed because this was the perfect scenario for one of those Survival shows on Discovery Channel....but after about 5 minutes...we were not laughing anymore. We were miles away from civilization....no one else around except for our group. No fire, no electricity...nothing! The bottom of our entire tent filled up with water and we layed there shaking through the night. It was miserable....I watched the time pass SLOWLY....it had to have been one of the worst nights of my life. I could hear the other guys in the tent next to us going through a similar situation. We all just layed close to each other and waited for the sun to rise. I figured...as long as we were in the tent next to another human body, we would be able to stay alive.
Finally....the morning came. I got up and tried to find some dry clothes to put on that I did not sacrifice the night before. I put back on my wet socks and shoes and headed to the cooking hut. The other 3 guys were in there already with a blank stare across their faces. They did not look good. We switched stories about how horrible our nights were and they then confessed to me that they were not going to continue on with the trek. The night was so horrible for them, that they just wanted to go back to Cuzco and take a bus to Machu Picchu. Since 2 other girls were coming by taxi up the trail, they were going to take the taxi back. So....after day 1....our group went down 3 guys and gained 2 girls.
Day 2 was the hardest trekking day of the entire trip. Not only were we all running on no sleep from the night before, but it was the day that we would reach our maximum altitude of the Salkantay mountain. The views were extrodinary as we walked passed rivers, lagoons, and glaciers. We even saw a couple of avalanches from a distance. What was really neat about the hike was that we never passed any other hikers. Every once in awhile, we would see locals or herders pass by, but that was it. I pushed my body to its limits on this day....slow and steady...I kept my pace to get to the top of the mountain. It was very difficult, but I was mentally ready for the challenge. When I reached our destination at 15,000 feet I was extremely proud of all of us. We took tons of pictures. The San Francisco bunch had a video camera with them. They have been filming themselves dancing at various sites throughout their travels. It was here, that Andrea made her debut on their camera. The whole gang danced around the altitude sign in their own crazy way. (I will let you know when they post the video on youtube....it is going to be a good one). After reaching that point, the rest of the day was down hill. But we were all so worn out that the down hill wasnt as easy as we had planned...but we made it to our camp site. The site was at a much lower lever and warmer then the night before. It was on a beautiful ranch heading into the jungle. We drank a few beers...told a few stories..and slept much better.
Day 3 we walked through the jungle. The terrain was completely different. The weather was warm and sticky and it wasnt the altitude or hail that we were fighting...it was the MOSQUITOS! Those damn pesky things....I must have had an inch layer thick of repellant on my body at all times. We stopped at a rest station and there was a make-shift soccer field. We played a short little game with each other...it was a lot of fun, but pretty exhausting since we were still high above sea-level. After our hike, we arrived to a town called Santa Teresa. This town is known for its Hot Springs. We all headed to the springs since none of us had a shower since we left 2 days ago. The springs were awesome...it felt good to clean off my body. Everyone wanted a beer so I volunteered myself to go get them. This was a mistake! As soon as I stepped out of the water and walked to the bar I looked down and saw my entire body covered in bugs. The spring water had washed all of my repellant off.....it was too late...they all had already bitten me.
Day 4 was also still through the jungle. We trekked along a strong river all the way to this town called Hydro Electric. This was the train that could take you to the town, Aguas Calientes, which is the gateway into Machu Picchu. On the way to Hydro Electric, we stopped and played in a waterfall for a bit. We walked by wild pepper bushes, coffee bean trees, lime trees, and banana trees. The jungle had so many awesome plants and flowers everywhere. After lunch at Hydro Electric, some people decided to take the train to the next town, and the rest of us did the 6 mile walk along the rail-road tracks. I was determined to walk the entire way to Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes was a major touristy town, but it was also very nice. This was our last night as a group and we were staying in a hostel. It felt so nice to get a real shower and sleep in an actual bed. After our last supper together, we all headed to bed early....tomorrow would be a long day at Machu Picchu...and it started at 4AM.
Day 5 we all woke up and began the trek up to Machu Picchu. It was a 1.5 hour hike uphill to the site. I was sooooo worn out this day. My body was on its last leg of hiking and I was running on low. Not to mention, my stomach was not feeling too good from the "last supper". I spent most of the night sitting on the toilet. This was also the day that my toenail was starting to fall off. So, despite my body slowly telling me to take a break, I made it up to the ruins. As soon as I got there, I forgot about all the pains in my body. Machu Picchu is a site to see! No matter how many photos you have seen in your text books or on the internet....nothing compares to seeing it in real life. Our group was especially lucky because it had been raining for the past week. This was the first clear day they have had in a long time. The sun shined down on all of the ruins and we explored for hours. We even tried to do a dance for the video camera, but we got in trouble by security.
The ruins itself actually do not have a name...no one has ever been able to determine it. It is the mountain next to the ruins that is called Machu Picchu. On the other side of the ruins is a mountain called Wainapichu. Most people hike up this mountain because there are more ruins on the top of it. It is a bit dangerous though...in fact, 7 people have died on this mountain just this year. I was so exhausted that I decided it was not a good idea to hike that mountain. I would hike Machu Picchu instead...simply because they did not tell me a statistic of people dying...surely it would be easier, right? Oh my goodness....this hike was insane!!! Not only was I not mentally prepared for it, but it was an optional hike...and that really bugged me. Why was I putting myself through yet another challenge? Why did I have to be apart of this over-achiever group? Anyways, it was painful...there were times where I was crawling on all 4s up narrow steap stairs....people must have died on this mountain as well. It was worth it though, once we got to the top it felt like we were on top of the world. We could view the ruins below us as well as all the mountain ranges surrounding us. My friend jammed his Iphone music and turned on the video camera. For about 15 minutes we all danced on top of the mountain like mad-men....it was a glorious moment!!!!
That night we ate beer and pizza and struggled to move any part of our bodies. We took the train back to Cuzco and said our goodbyes. We were all exhausted.
The next day was Thanksgiving. I woke up and simply felt like shit. I felt a fever coming on and my body could barely move. My toe was officialy throbbing now and the bites would not stop itching.....I dont know how many times I had gone to the bathroom since the last supper.
I called my family on Skype....I was a little bit homesick. Here I was sick and sore in some random peruvian town, while my family was gorging on turkey. I tried not to dwell on it....it was just one day and I would feel better again....this emotion would soon pass. The Mexicans were still in town so they decided to join me for a nice feast. We ate at a very nice restaurant and exchanged stories back from the first day we met and the cab hit some unidentified object. After dinner, Mario and I tried out one the Inka Massages......it was extremely sketchy. The place was pretty gross and smelled bad. I am not sure why we even went through with it...we both kept looking at each other waiting for the other person to back out of it. Basically, this woman just beat the crap out of my body and then used some hot wooden ball with thorns to scratch my bug bites.....it wasnt the best massage of my life, let´s just say that. I went to bed shortly after the massage because I could tell that my body just needed rest.
The hike was amazing....I honestly can´t believe that I put myself through something like that, but I would do it all over again. I met some amazing people and saw sights that I only dreamed about. My body was not 100%, but I think that it did alright for its first mountain hike ever.
The good thing is, having walked 50 to 60 miles with traveler´s diaherrea, my jeans are now a bit loser. See, you always have to find the glass half full when traveling or else you can drive yourself crazy. For instance, the 20 hour bus ride I took yesterday is not so bad....it could have been 40 hours instead. Or, the guy sitting next to me smells pretty awful, but at least I am not sitting next to a big pile of poo! The moral of this blog is....always look on the brighter side. My body may be falling apart....but I saw Machu Picchu :)