Wow, it’s already been 3 weeks since I’ve been back from my trip and it seems like I just got home yesterday. The memories are so vivid and every moment was beyond amazing, I don’t even know where to start but I’ll try my best. I had started putting a post together about a week ago, and it quickly turned into a massive project, so I’ve decided to break it down into different parts. In my next several posts, I’ll walk you through my trip, day by day.
Day 1 – travel day. Ugh. I hate travel days. I shouldn’t say that. I don’t mean that entirely. Travel days are what get me to where I want to go. But waking up at 3:30 a.m. so I can catch my 4:30 a.m. cab so I can get to the airport for my 6:30 a.m. flight that will take me to another airport where I have a 4 hour layover in preparation for an 8 hour flight where I then have to go through customs and catch *another* flight to take me to my final destination where I’ll arrive at 6:30 a.m. local time the next day (which is only a 3 hour time difference from my home time), is not exactly my idea of fun. But that’s exactly what I did to get to Cusco where Elliot and I met up (he came in from Detroit) and spent the next 2 days.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Cusco at over 11,000 feet…no altitude sickness! I didn’t even take any diamox on that day, although I did take one pill the next day, which was the day before our trek. I was very grateful that my training (and probably my own physiology) paid off. But I also rarely drink alcohol or caffeine (except for those couple of cocktails I had on Day 4 of the trek, but we’ll get to that later…) and I stayed (and usually do stay) very hydrated (water is my favorite beverage!). I felt great, and so did Elliot, so we spent Days 2 and 3 meandering around Cusco, checking out the sites, and eating amazing Peruvian food.
Day 4 we were off on the start of our 5-day trek to Machu Picchu. For all my worrying about altitude sickness, I didn’t even think about the possibility of motion sickness…But after a couple of hours in a van going on a rickety winding dirt road in the mountains to get to our trail head, I was definitely feeling it. I think our guide was worried I had altitude sickness. I didn’t throw up, but there were a couple of occasions where I was close. But as soon as we got out of the van and I got some fresh air, I was 100% back to my normal self and felt great.
After a couple hours of hiking with only a gradual increase in elevation, we stopped for lunch. This was probably the exact moment when I realized that going with a trekking company is hands-down the best way to to do this trek. The chef and his assistant brought out what seemed like never-ending courses of all fresh and homemade food, and it was by far the best food I have ever had in my life. No exaggeration. This was not what I was expecting, talk about “glamping”! The food was so good for every meal, that we scarfed it all down before I could even think of snapping pics. Here’s the one and only picture I took of the food we ate along the trek, and it’s not the best picture.
Then we were off to finish a few more miles of gradual elevation gain before getting to our campsite. There was a hole in the ground covered by a blue tent set up by the trekking staff that served as our toilet that night, a giant tent for our dining room, and a massive mountain overlooking it all. Now this was what I was expecting.
Day 5 of my trip was Day 2 of the trek. And it was the day. We’d be hiking from our campsite at about 12,600 ft to about 15,200 ft at the Salkantay Pass. Any significant elevation gain during a hike is a workout, but when your lungs are having to work even harder due to the lack of oxygen at the higher altitude, it becomes even more so. There were quite a few other trekking groups, perhaps a hundred or so people along the way with us. Collectively, we looked like a group of zombies going ever so slowly to reach our destination, focusing harder than ever just to put one foot in front of the other. Those who didn’t pace themselves fell behind very quickly as they got too winded to keep up. If you’re planning a higher altitude trek, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to pace yourself. This is not a race. It’s the trek of a lifetime. And it’s no fun if your body feels miserable the whole way. Of course, there were also those who got sick regardless simply as a result of altitude sickness. Like the poor girl who passed me on a horse and as the horse went by, she looked down at me with an expression that could only be interpreted as “I’m sorry, but I might vomit on you if you don’t move out of my way.” The horse passed me before I got to see if my interpretation was accurate.
Eventually we reached the top, and the feeling when we arrived was simply indescribable. For me personally, it felt like a spiritual experience (but who knows, perhaps that was just a result of the lack of oxygen). The rows of mountains extended for miles, and looming over was the big one, Salkantay Mountain, which translated means Savage Mountain. And Savage it was. A giant rugged peak with a prominence far above the surrounding peaks. But in the Peruvian sun, it seemed savage in a gentle manner, almost as if it was looking after us along our travels. We soaked it up for a little while longer before heading waaaay down, back to about 10,000 ft to our next campsite.
I couldn’t decide which photos to post, so I just posted a whole bunch – pics along the trail, Elliot and me being goofy, my favorite yoga pose at the Salkantay pass, my extremely happy hiking group, and others from Trekking Day 2.
The campsite tonight was located in a tiny community where a small group of families lived and worked. We had the luxury of some very rustic out-house toilets with plumbing but no toilet seats, and even out-house showers that we could pay 10 soles for a nice hot shower. I wasn’t anticipating being able to take a shower after just 2 days of hiking, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity either.
After we all took our turns showering and getting changed into clean clothes, we settled around a communal picnic table where we were once again served some Peruvian delicacies. At the point where our stomachs were about to burst and we were all in a food coma, we staggered off to our tents to get some sleep before continuing on our trek tomorrow. Our guide assured us that tomorrow’s hike would be mostly flat, so it would be a much easier day. I fell asleep dreaming of walking on flat Peruvian trails while admiring the sights around me…