Sunday, August 29, 2010
First off I would like to say that the trek to Machu Picchu is one hell of a work out on the legs. It was absolutely amazing though. Each ruin that we passed was cooler than the last. I think my favorite one was Intipunku that was a place to worship the sun. It has lots of terraces and I had a view of the valley, our campsite, the mountain Machu Picchu and the Rio Urubamba.
All right I will begin with my pick up at 6:30am from the place I am staying at in San Sebastian. We met up with the Canadian family who were to be my group mates. The parents were from Taiwan originally and the two daughter Kelly and Chayling (I called her Chai and have no idea how to correctly spell her name.) who were 22 and 26. I really liked them a lot but found myself spending more time making friends on the trail. My guides were Ruben and Romulo who were friendly but had some difficulty with their English. I spoke in Spanish with both of them because it was easier.
We got to Ollantaytambo (Oh-yan-tee-tom-bow) and I bought a walking stick and some coca leaves to chew on while walking. Then we passed through the punto de control or checkpoint and I got my passport stamped. The passport stamp at Machu Picchu is the coolest one though. Anyway we started our hike of about 10 km I believe and learned about the flora and fauna of the area. I saw lots of baby animals on the trek including chicks, ducks, donkeys, and llamas. Lunch was quite a treat. We got a two-course meal every lunch and dinner which included soup and some meat with rice and potatoes. There was also garlic bread at every meal. I have never eaten so well in the backcountry. Our cook was amazing. There was a tent to eat in with a table, table cloth, plates, utensils and cups. It was so fancy! We got to our campsite that was in the backyard of a family’s house along the river at about 4:30pm and set up shop. It was so weird not having to do any work when I got into camp. The tents were all set up and all I had to do was use my steri pen to get some drinkable water. I met my first friend from another group while doing that. His name is William Plumhoff and he is from New York. He is a Bichram Yoga teacher and is in Peru to do the trek and go to a Ayahuasca ceremony in Iquitos that includes hallucinatory plants and shamans. Pretty cool. He became a great walking companion over the next few days. That night we had fish for dinner because the porters were able to catch some in the river. It was delicioso! After dinner I watched the moon rise over the mountains. It was so pretty. I have been feeling a very strong connection to the moon lately and even more so here in Cusco. Can’t really explain it but it feels good.
The next day we woke up at 5:30am and got on the trail by 6:15am. This day was really long. We climbed to 13,776 feet from about 9,840 feet. It felt like it was never going to end but I got into a groove. I met quite a few people on the way up including Daniel from Trujillo Peru who is a surgeon and is on vacation. Really nice guy. I also met Marcelo and Marcela from Paraguay, Sandro and Flavia from Rio de Janeiro and Brad and Alex from England and Australia. There also seemed to be quite a few Canadians on the trek. Didn’t meet too many Americans which was interesting. I digress. I made it to the top of dead woman’s pass way before my guides and the Ku family did. I was asked to join in on another groups’ picture at the top but politely refused because I felt like I was betraying my group. That was the highest I have ever climbed before and I could feel the lack of oxygen in my chest and my fingers when they tingled a bit. I didn’t stay up there for long. The journey down was almost harder than the one going up because it’s harder on the knees. I also had to pee really badly and could not for the life of me find a place with enough cover. Fortunately, I found a spot and William stood lookout. Thank goodness. The toilets were mostly pit toilets at our campsites and absolutely disgusting. I kind of like pit toilets because they are easy and it’s just like nature peeing in terms of how you squat but wow, they were so gross. The worst night was the last campsite where there was a bar so the toilets smelled even worse.
I got into camp around 2:30pm and had lunch by myself and took a nap. I explored a bit and hung out at the campsite waiting for the Kus. While waiting I met another tour guide name Yamil who lives in Cusco and is more than happy to hook me up with kayaking, hiking, and biking tours that his buddies lead. I’m looking forward to it. I enjoyed chatting with him because he didn’t seem like he was trying to get my info or be flirty like a lot of Peruvians. He’s what they would call tranquilo here which more or less means he’s chill.
Kelly and Chai showed up around 4:45pm and had their lunch and Tina and Tim didn’t show up until 6pm. They ate a little bit of food and passed out. I didn’t blame them. They had been on the trail for almost 12 hours. That’s a lot of time.
While I was taking my nap after getting into camp I overheard a conversation between a tourist and a guide. The guide was explaining how tipping usually worked and when he said 10 US dollars per porter and guide the man (who was Peruvian) got a little upset about it. “I’m Peruvian too. That’s 100 dollars in tip! I can’t do that!” In Spanish of course. Tipping was probably the most stressful thing I dealt with on the trail. I only brought about 100 soles and 10 US dollars with me because I didn’t realize that there was going to be 10 porters including the head cook and two guides. I ended up tipping the porters 10 soles each and the head cook 10 US dollars. He definitely deserved it. The food was sooooo good. I told the guides that I would leave them tip at the agency when I got back and they said don’t worry about it because if I did that the agency would most likely take it before they saw it. I am going to try and get in contact with Romulo. He gave me his info at the end.
The next morning we got up at 5am and were the first people on the trail to Runkuraqay. It was super cool being first and away from the rush of people. We eventually were passed by a lot of people but for the first few hours it was very nice and quiet. I met my Urugauyan friends on the way up. We stopped at a few ruins this day including one of my favorites called Putupatamarca. There was so much going on there and I got a really good explanation of the place from Ronny who was William’s guide. Ruben gave a little explanation too when he got there with the Ku family but it was not as in depth. I am glad I caught Ronny’s explanation.
After Putupatamarca we headed to the campsite. It was all downhill from here and while I was stopped for a quick break I saw Juan Martin running down the stairs like a crazy person. He stopped for a second and as we were talking I asked him if his bag felt comfortable because it looked like it was sitting way too high above his hips. He said it was fine. We decided to switch bags really quickly to compare how much we were carrying. His was probably a few pounds lighter than mine. We switched back and got on our way. I learned that he works for his family’s business selling spas, jacuzzis, and pools back in Montevideo and that he has traveled all over the world with his buddies. Later that evening I met his friend Federico who obliged me with some merengue dancing.
We had the choice to go right to the campsite or left to Intipata which was another ruin. I wanted to see the ruin so I took the left route and I am glad I did. It was so nice and quiet. Most people chose to go to the campsite because they were tired. There was no way I was passing up a ruin. Who knows when or if I will do the trek again. When I got there I found about 10 people. One of them was William, of course. We sat and enjoyed the view of the valley and the Urubamba river. It was fun just imagining lots of people sitting and worshipping the sun from where we were.
The last campsite on the trek has a bar and music, hot showers and massages. Lots of people showered but I wasn’t about to spend 5 soles on a shower that would be free the next day. We had a magnificent dinner of about 5 or 6 different dishes. The cook, like I said, was the most amazing cook I have ever met. I couldn’t finish it all. While in the main building I noticed someone who I met in the Lima airport. It was Liam and his wife Courtney. We thought we were going on different days but apparently we were on the same schedule. It was nice running into them again.
In the past when there were thousands of people on the trek a day there used to be mayhem and lots of drunkenness the last night. Most people went to bed early and only a few got really drunk. I was in my tent and at about 11:45pm a man and woman came to our campsite making a ton of noise. The guy tried getting into a tent and all of a sudden realized he was not in the right place. It was pretty amusing. I can’t imagine getting super drunk on a night when we would have to get up at 3:30am in the morning. It was difficult enough as it was to get up that early. I was not a happy camper at all for the first few hours. The reason we got up so early was so that the porters could catch the one train that would take them back to Oyantalltambo. The checkpoint didn’t open until 5:30am so we had a bit of waiting to do.
It was mostly a gradual uphill climb to Machu Picchu. The end was downhill from the sun gate. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy so we didn’t get a very good view of the ruins from the sun gate but it was all good. When I got there it felt so awesome having all my stuff on me. I was dirty and tired and feeling super badass. After checking my bag we took a tour of Machu Picchu. I listened in to a lot of other tours and got quite a lot from it all. It is absolutely amazing what the Incans were able to do. The place is enormous too. After the tour was over I sat on a terrace for a little while and took in the views. I didn’t have to be down in Aguas Calientes for my train until 2pm so I took it easy.
Aguas Calientes is a nice place. I hung out for a bit before my almost 4 hours train ride back to Cusco. I didn’t have money to spend so I just walked around and played some soccer with the Uruguayans and a few local kids. When my train finally left at 5:03pm I was ready to pass out. I got a little bit of sleep in with drool included. It was nice having a table to lean on.
So one would think I would go home, shower and sleep but I decided it would be more fun to go out with some people from the trek. We went to Mythology which is a club in the plaza. It was fun until the police came and said we had to have our passports. It was really lame and nothing came of it other than the music being turned off. Oh well. I still had a good time.
I will try and put pictures into this post when the uploading works better. For now, if you want to see pictures just click on the link on the sidebar that says Machu Picchu.