Cusco can not be more of a beautiful city. It has been my favorite place so far on this entire trip. The main plaza area is so open, big, and clean. There are many local women that sit on street corners with baby llamas, hoping that tourists would stop, give them money and take photos. Along with these local women, there are also younger kids that run around the city who pester tourists and ask them to buy candy or other trinkets. Walking around the city was nice, we had lots of free time to ourselves for two days.
On Tuesday morning, we headed out to get ready to hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. We loaded up into two large vans and drove about three hours north of Cusco to the trailhead. There, we met our porters who would be traveling, and our cooks. Some of us had heavier packs and were able to pass them off to the porters to pack on to one of the ten horses/donkeys we had traveling with us. A few hours after hiking up along the Andes mountain ridge, we stopped to have lunch. By that point we had been hiking so much higher up in altitude, which resulted in us hiking through snow. It was so awesome, but very cold. Having lunch in a small tent with 17 people and super cold winds, wasn’t exactly ideal. Quickly after lunch, and some assumptions of getting frost bite, we divided up into two groups. We were divided up into two group because of weather precautions. We needed to hike up to a point of over 15,000ft and if something bad were to happen with the weather, we could easily communicate through radio use and by being in smaller groups it would be safer. Hiking up to the top was definitely one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done. The difficulty in breathing was so intense, I didn’t think it would’ve affected me so much. It got even harder because of the icy rain that started to fall. I was mainly frustrated I didn’t have any rain pants with me, being that I probably would’ve been more comfortable and warm. Once reaching the top, my group and I took a photo, and then started the easier, more manageable hike downhill. A few hours later, the group met up again, and we we all started heading towards our first campsite for the night. The walk there was so breathtaking, none if it looked real. The entire time I was walking, I was tripping over my own two feet since I kept on turning around because I couldn’t fathom how beautiful it all was. The ridge of the Andes mountains, along with the sunset and the rising of the full moon, was unlike anything anyone had ever imagined. By the time we reached the campsite, it was pitch black out and freezing. All anyone wanted to do at that point was go to bed. We still needed to divide up into tents and have dinner. All the tents were assigned to two people in each, but most tents had three people in them so that we could stay warmer.
Day two of the Salkantay hike was fairly better than the first. This day, we hiked out early to reach the hot springs at Santa Teresa. When we arrived, we were all attacked by mosquitoes and more sand fleas. I was confident enough to not use bug spray, thinking that no bugs would bother me. Before I knew it, I had the most amount of bites…about 40-50 bites on each leg. All of us quickly changed and hopped into the hot springs, which weren’t really that hot, and then had dinner. After dinner, Wilder, our guide, told us some ghost stories which freaked us all out before bed.
Day three was the easiest day and was all flat terrain. The trail went along the Peru Rail, which was the train that many people take to Aguas Calientes, that would also lead you to the bus up to Machu Picchu. The town of Aguas Calientes is at the foot of Machu Picchu and is located along a river. This section of the trail went between the Andes and Amazon. It was a cool experience hiking between the two different types of terrains. This hike lasted around about three hours. Once we reached Aguas Calientes, we checked in to our hostel that we would be staying with for the rest of the night. For dinner we went out to an awesome restaurant, where we all tried a drink called, Chicha Morada. Chicha is a sweet Peruvian drink made from purple corn, pineapple, cinnamon, clove and sugar. Chicha has definitely become my new favorite drink.
On day four, we all woke up early to get ready to catch the bus for Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, it was raining when we had woken up, which left the rest of the day quite cloudy. The drive up took about 30min but, once we got there, we waited in line to enter the ruins. There was a station where we were able to stamp our passports, which I thought was quite cool. Walking around the city was pretty crazy. I didn’t truly appreciate the architecture of it all until I saw it for myself. I was very impressed on the location, the buildings, the underground aqueduct system, and the farming systems. Wilder had given us a tour of the grounds and had given us loads of information. He let us all split up and do whatever we wanted, as long as we met up on time at a local restaurant in Aguas Calientes for late lunch. Vanessa, Paulina and I hiked up about, what it seemed like, a million steps. We wanted to get the best view of the city and of Wayna Picchu. It honestly sucked for a while because there were so many clouds keeping us from taking decent photos. About an hour of just talking, people watching and taking photos for tourists, the clouds parted. There was a mad dash to take photos. Luckily we did so in a spot that was not to crowded and then left.
It was one of the greatest accomplishments I have ever done, hiking to Machu Picchu. I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. Fighting through the cold, the thin air and bites from small sand fleas, really paid off in the end. It was quite an enchanting and sacred place to be in. After years of desperately wanting to go, I had finally hiked to Machu Picchu, but still wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be. Seeing the ruins and the mountains was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, but if my family was there too, to witness one of the seven wonders of the world with me, it would’ve made that moment so much better. A lot of times I always think to myself how lucky I am to have hiked in certain areas, to have made friends with the people I’ve met, or become a member of a family with the people I’ve only lived with for a short period of time. I cannot be more grateful, I just wish my family from home could see the mountains that I’ve seen, met the people that I have, or even built relationships with some of the same people that I’ve met.
That night we arrived back in Cusco. We took the bus back down from Machu Picchu, had a buffet lunch, took the train to Ollantaytambo, and then drove from there back to Cusco. The next day, Saturday, was Halloween. I coincidentally had a friend who was also in Cusco at the same time I was. Luckily I was able to meet up with him, and then spend the rest of my night with him after dinner. The whole group bought small Halloween costumes. They ranged between devils, witches and even dressing as each other. Halloween was a very large celebration for Peruvians. In the plaza, there seemed to have been about 1,000 people of more just walking around, listening to music and have a good time. By the end of the night we were all very tired and had to wake for Bolivia the next morning, and be ready to leave by 5:00am. Some of us were more tired than others, I for one did not sleep at all.