Travel Journal

Our Pilgrimage to Machu Piccu

(Thursday 3 June 2010) by Katie and Tina on the Run!
This story begins on a friday morning with me (katie) waking up with the stomach flu. We attempted to wake up extremely early to do a hike and about two blocks away we had to turn around. I then proceeded to vomit all day long. alllll day long.
We were leaving for our Inca Trail trek at 4am the next morning.
I also cried for the better part of the day because I was afraid I wouldn;t be able to go.
We left the house two times that day, once to do laundry (where, unbeknownst to us we were outrageously overcharged to have them do our laundry, 77 soles for 11 kilos which is about 25 dollars for about three loads of laundry) and next to go to our trek briefing meeting where we met our family for the next four days and learned all the details of exactly how far we'd be hiking (45 kilometers!) and i committed to myself that I would power through and not miss out.
After a horrible night of sleep we woke up at three the next morning and headed out. We had, like most other people, decided to hire a porter to carry our things so all we would have to hike with is our daypacks (we know, we know, we're pansies) so once we all piled onto the bus all we had to do was sleep for two hours until we arrived at a little town where not much has changed in 700 years called Ollantaytambo. Here we had breakfast and started all getting to know each other. Fourteen of us in total, twelve americans two brits, plus our two guides as well as 21 porters! and everyone laughing already, though it was still a very early six in the morning!
We jumped back onto the bus for another hour before arriving at the infamous Kilometer 82, the start of the hike.
After getting through the security checkpoint (even the most official things here are all done on paper, hilarious) we started off.
The morning part of the hike was supposed to take us 5 hours to get to our lunch stop but our group was so full of excitement that we did it in just over three. This part of the hike was through a valley, so mostly flat, which me and my still very delicate stomach were grateful for. Tina and I were in the front of the line (of course we were) so we were chatting it up with our main guide Casiano. We pretty quickly made the switch from Casiano to Casino, which then turned into vegas, turned into cha-ching, turned into money and eventually stuck at Cash Money...which everyone called him for the rest of the trip!
Saw our first major Inca ruin and started to learn about their amazing culture.
Got to our beautiful lunch break point where they have soap and bowls of water waiting for you to wash up with and then our whole group crashed in the grass for a nap. They awoke us when lunch was ready and we got our first taste of dining on the Inca Trail.
Though cartainly no City O City, the food was great, and even more fantastically presented. The first lunch was avocado on a bed of lettuce and tomatoes with some sort of drizzle, cream of asparagus soup, rice, trout fillets with yucca, sauteed broccoli and cauliflower, stuffed red bell peppers and as all meals, it ended with hot coca tea.
It was certainly not rough camping, but what they are able to do with so few resources, all of which they carry through the entire trek was really something incredible.
We started off again for our first experience of Inca uphill. A supposed two hours climbing 500 year old rock stairs. Somehow even with having to clean up and pack everything, the red ninjas (as our 21 porters all dressed in red were called) managed to pass us at flying speed only about a half hour up the mountain!
These people are super humans.
We made it to our night camp an hour earlier than expected where all of us Super Hikers ( as we were called by Cash Money) got to hang out a bit before happy hour (which we had every night) though it didn't consist of any adult beverages, we always had cookies and popcorn and hot drinks to wind down from the long day.
We had a delicious dinner and then all passed out in our tents at around 7:30! Ready to wake up at 5:30 the next morning...
Like mentioned, it was surely no rugged camping..we were woken up by our assistant guide Marcelino with his sweet little voice and a cup of hot coca tea. Bowls of hot water left outside the tent for us to wash and brush our teeth with, we had a half hour to get moving before breakfast and then it was off hiking again.
Day two is notoriously the most difficult day on the trail. You summit two peaks, climb a total of 1,300 meters, and descend 900 meters.
I woke up feeling terrible.
With my blessing that she shouldn't be stuck trailling in the back with me, Tina took off and proceeded to run up the mountain.
900 meters and they alot for it to take a group 4 hours, tina made it to the top of Dead Woman's Pass in an hour and fifteen minutes.
Tina is also super human.
Four of the guys in our clan have just graduated med school, so they were the pharmacy of the group and gave me some pepto bismolish thing for my stomach.
It was a terrible plan.
I marked my territory all the way up the first mountain with pink globs on the side of the trail and one on Cash Money's foot.
Made it to the top, surprisingly not last, in about three hours (tina had pleeenty of alone time) where we took the national geographic group photo at the top of Dead Woman's Pass before starting the 500 meters down stairs on the other side.
Oh our aching knees.
Tina may have been the fastest up, but two ACL surgeries definitely don't let you be the fastest down, so we trailed into lunch camp much after everyone else.
By now we were in rainforest so the bugs were plenty and we didn;t stop much longer than to eat and move on.
Had an hour and a half climb up more staircase, with another Inca ruin (sun temple) halfway up, and once at the top got a real understanding of what a cloud forest is (when I asked Tina if she knew what it is, she answered "why, a forest of clouds of course", this is not very far from the right answer) We were litterally above and in the clouds and it was an incredible experience to stand at the top of a mountain and not be able to see anything around you because of all the clouds.
We climbed 400 meters down some more damn stairs before getting to our biggest ruin yet, a fortress (notice how we don't remember the names to any of these?! oh we are terrible students!) about 75 stairs (ladder) up to it, carved straight into the natural rock, it was really something spectacular.
Walked through jungle for another half hour. happy hour. dinner. and then after an 11 hour day of hiking we all fell fast fast asleep.
The third day is a cake walk through the jungle, all in "inca flat" meaning up and down little hills but nothing majorly trying, which was good considering how sore we (I) were from the previous day! Only hiked for about three hours, part of which included going through the Inca Tunnel, a 30 meter long hole they carved out of the rock. incredible. Got to the top of another peak for a break and surprise/no surprise, there was a girl in another group who said to me "i think i know you, you're Katie Wirsing and you do poetry right?" Oh the world is so so small. We made it to our final camp early in the afternoon where we napped and played cards and laughed and felt sad it was our last night all together. This campsite is equiped with hot showers and cold beer, neither of which did we participate in! We were determined to stay dirty kids the whole way through. We did however, sit in the clubhouse with everyone and play a 16 person game of spoons, which for safety sake we changed to tongues. No one really played the game but it was beyone hilarious to laugh at whoever it was that was last to stick their tongue out! Often out sweet little guide Marcelino was the unfortunate victim, as I don't think he understood the game to begine with!
That night holds the tradition of the group compiling their money to leave a tip for the porters. These are people who come from very small twon with not a lot of opportunity and lug incredibly heave packs up the mountain day in and day out so we can have a more plesant experience. they are incredible people and our group rallied together to make sure they were compensated well. We planned to sing them the song Wonderwall by Oasis, thinking some of the words were relevant (it was between that and the song "500 miles"!) but an awkward thirty seconds into our enthusiastic concert it occured to us that they had no idea what we were singing! So we just laughed and gave them the money.
An early bed time again for a 3:30 am start the next morning.
A lot of groups camp at the last sight, so in the morning it's a race to be the first group at the entrance gate to Machu Piccu park. Tina and I and a british kid stumbled down in the complete dark and managed to secure our spot as first group! we sat there for an hour before the ranger came to open the gate and then it was an hour long run through the dark the get to the Sun Gate and our first view of Machu Piccu. Just before the gate is an extremely steep staircase of about 150 stairs lovingly nicknamed "the gringo killers". We climbed them with all our might and made it to the top where we could look down on machu piccu in all it's incredible glory.
I cried, I'm a sucker.
it took another forty minutes down another bazillion stairs to actually get to it, but once there the sight and the feeling and the experience was nothing less than everything we had all thought it would be.
They talked a lot on the trail about a pilgrimage being a physical hardship and a lot of sacrafice, while knowing there would be spiritual enlightment at the end and that definitely feels about right.
Cash Money gave us a two hour tour where we learned what a lot of the rooms and altars were for, but you almost learned more from just wandering on your own and feeling the great presence of what once was. It was truly an extraordinary city. It's impossible to put words to what it felt like, being in a place you've seen a thousand pictures of but could never in a million years imagine what effect it would have on you to be there. We've both had a lot of amazing experiences in our lives, but agree without a though, our trek to Machu Piccu is the most outstanding thing we've ever been a part of. It will take something truly spectacular to beat our experience there.

see our gallery for some of the amazing things we saw on our trek!

  • GO GIRLS by Marilyn
  • Extraordinary!! by Shnuhmom
  • Machu Piccu by gramma & pa
  • The Grass by Katie Dad
  • Awesome by Amber Livingston
  • Rock and Roll! by Crystal

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