I never thought about going to Machu Picchu, it wasn’t something that was on my ‘bucket’ list because my sole focus the past few years has been on my business and more recently my move to California. But when I got a text one day from one of the people I am closest to, Eric Vogel asking if I’d be interested in hiking Machu Picchu in May since I love to hike the trails in California, of course I jumped on it! I was a bit worried about leaving my clients for 2 long weeks but I was so very excited about embarking on this great adventure and since it really is a once in a lifetime adventure, how could I say no?! ? Not to mention going with someone who loves athletic adventures as much as I do and is a lot of fun to be with, I knew I’d be in good hands.
We started our high adventure by flying into Lima, Peru where we stayed in Mira Flores for a day to explore the area a bit before heading to higher altitudes in Cusco, Peru for a couple of days to try and acclimate a bit to the high altitude before we were to start a 4 day hiking trek through the Andes and finishing it off with an exploration of one of the 7 wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. It was truly an amazing experience one that I am very fortunate to have been able to go on, I hadn’t even planned on doing such a thing but it was a dream to hike in the mountains like that someday which, I am blessed it happened sooner rather than later.
Cusco, Peru was a quaint city and is the site of the historic Capital of the Inca Empire plus it is a major tourist destination. The moment we stepped off the plane we felt the high altitude as we were at about 11000-12000 feet, with shortness of breath and, a strange dizzy feeling at times but nothing too bad yet. It was actually quite funny, we would be talking to each other and one or the other would have to stop and take a deep breath to get more air into our lungs then we’d continue talking excitedly.
After a good night’s rest and checking in with Llama Path which was the tour guide company we were going on the 4 day trek with, we decided to check out a historical walled Inca site on the outskirts of Cusco called Saksaywaman. The hike up to this site was a bit challenging as it was steep and hard to catch our breaths, humbling to say the least for a couple of athletic people.
When we got up to it we didn’t realize there was a fee of 70 Soles which, we did not have as most places will accept American dollars even though you end up paying more but regardless, we had not exchanged money yet. As we contemplated what to do a very nice but pushy man was trying to talk us into going on a ‘guided’ tour on horseback to some of the other ‘free’ surrounding historical sites and yes, he was happy to take American dollars, most likely because we got ripped off. J Anyway, we decided that yes, we would do it, why not, high adventure here we come!
As we walked with the nice tour guide to a small outdoor stable or ranch area where there were a lot of horses and a few other Peruvians we wondered what in the world we got ourselves into. The man told us we’d be going on horseback from this point on and with a different young teenager to see the sites. Well, this young man barely knew English so I’m not sure how it was supposed to be a guided tour exactly but we were good sports especially considering that it was at this point I found out that Eric had never even ridden a horse before! Good times, he did great although secretly I could see how uncomfortable he was at times. We actually could have walked for free to see these sites had we known the area or what we were in for but it was fun watching Eric ride is first horse so it was well worth it. At the end of our tour the guide just stopped at some obscure place and said it was over and we could walk down the road to the right or left and get back….maybe. Don’t fret we did find our way after a couple of little hiccups.
After we got back to Cusco and had dinner that night, no we did not have the Guinea Pigs for dinner which, we were informed is not their friend but a ‘delicious ‘ food they love to eat but we couldn’t bring ourselves to try it. By the next morning we both started to feel the effects of the altitude sickness a bit, we probably pushed it too much that day but we had limited time and a lot to see and only a full day really to see it. However, the smarter thing to do if you are ever going to hike Machu Picchu is to arrive at least a week before to acclimate so that if you do get altitude sickness you are at least in a hotel room and not hiking up a huge mountain like us. That was definitely another humbling experience for me because for some reason I didn’t think I’d suffer from it, thought I was too tough. Ha! Live and learn!
We had to be up the next morning about 3:45am in order to pack up, check out of the hotel, leave a bag of our stuff at the hotel and meet up with the tour group by 5am to be on our way by bus to our starting point where we had our first breakfast outside together. I was already suffering from a headache at this point but was too excited to worry about it although, Eric and I decided to at least take altitude sickness pills the night before just in case.
At breakfast where the truck was unloaded and our starting point we got to know the other members of our group as well as the Porters and Willian, our main tour guide. The breakfast was amazing considering it was cooked outdoors for us. Actually every meal that we were served was incredible better than the food we had at the restaurants they really took good care of us. They fed us plenty along the way including hot soups although I was unable at certain points to eat much of it due to the altitude sickness we suffered.
After breakfast we started on our trek and although it was tough to get enough oxygen into our lungs we were super excited and stayed ahead with our tour guide, Willian to learn more about the area. Willian was so very knowledgeable and had an answer for every one of our questions, you could see the passion he felt for his homeland very inspiring. The land was so beautiful and every spot we stopped at to rest or have lunch had an equally amazing and rich story of history and culture to be told. I’ve always wanted to see the Amazon as well and it was a surprising delight to find out that we were in it at the start of our trek. Such an amazing time!
We hiked all day long stopping along the way to catch our breaths and take pictures learn about the area and, almost get trampled by Llamas. Some of the paths were very narrow and we learned that Llamas don’t like to share so we were pushed up against the side with hopes of getting along without any damage to our bodies. J
By midday my altitude sickness got a lot worse and not only did I have the severe headache but was nauseous, a bit dizzy and blurry vision. I learned later that poor Eric was suffering the same but he was so intent on taking care of me that he pushed his own aside to make sure I was going to be okay. We kept up at a pretty steady pace and eventually went way ahead of the group with Willian’s okay of course. I really needed to get to camp before nightfall and into bed as I was suffering pretty badly and every time we stopped, I actually felt worse. The group stopped often so we went ahead hoping to beat the nightfall and the drop in temperatures that we knew were coming.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it by nightfall but we were close so we made the rest of the way with flashlights and finally when we thought we might actually be lost and have to wait for the rest of the group in the 15 degree weather we found the camp and Porters. Whew!! We were so relieved especially because I could see that Eric was starting to get very cold indeed at this point because he liked to hike in short sleeves and shorts all day as he tends to get very hot but the drop in temperature at night was quite severe. Plus I had put on his jacket at some point and he wouldn’t take it back until I was in the tent and cocooned in with my layers and in my sleeping bag. He really did take such good care of me. I ended up going to bed without dinner as I was too nauseous to eat anything and really just wanted to sleep hoping by morning I would feel better.
I didn’t realize how severe Eric’s altitude sickness was until he returned to our tent after dinner and looked very sheepish informing me he had thrown up most of his dinner and felt really horrible. Poor thing, we were in bad shape and freezing but still super excited and happy to be there overall with hopes of feeling better after a night’s rest.
By morning I felt better at first and Eric was still feeling pretty yucky, most likely because he pushed it so much the day before making sure to take care of me first. On the bright side we woke up to see the most beautiful area, surrounded by Llamas and incredibly majestic mountains. We were troopers though and focused on the positives lik the incredible mountainous region we were blessed to be surrounded by. It was breathtaking and definitely made up for feeling so crummy. We had breakfast and got excited to get going to see more of the beauty of the land and to warm up as it was coooold. Burrrrr!
This day was going to be by far the hardest day of hiking as we were going straight up the mountain to the summit up to about 16000 feet. I was feeling better when I first woke up but by the time we were about 1 hour into the hike I started feeling all the symptoms again and Eric as well. By this point a few of the other members of our group were feeling pretty poorly too.
Although Eric and I felt bad we tend to still like to push ourselves and go ahead because we enjoy seeing to what new heights we can challenge our bodies, it’s an incredible feeling and we love it so, we went way ahead of the group again to the summit to await the others. So, we flexed our muscles and said to the altitude sickness…..’TAKE THAT!’
It was very challenging to say the least to hike up to the summit and I had to stop more times than I wanted just to catch my breath. Eric was so considerate to stop with me too even though I’m pretty sure he could’ve gone further along without stopping. There were also a couple of younger girls from England who liked to keep going instead of stopping a lot. We would wait for them a bit too just by keeping them in sight and making sure they were doing okay.
When Eric and I reached the summit where Willian had asked us to wait for the group I took a moment to sit down and close my eyes, it was one of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever felt, it was so quiet and magical. I have only ever felt this diving deep in the ocean. What a great feeling! We made it!
From this point on it was going to be downhill and out of the high altitude so we knew we’d get relief from our altitude sickeness. After the rest of the group made it up there we took pictures and enjoyed the view. As we started making our way down the other side the group had decided to push through and go on to the Hot Springs in Lares rather than camp for the night in a village which would have been closer. We were all super excited to end our hard day of hiking camped near the hot springs and soak our feet so what was a couple more hours of hiking?!
After we got going down the mountain again Eric and I went ahead hoping to make it before nightfall. Once we started to get out of the high altitude our ailments began to subside, no more headaches so it made the trek much more enjoyable except for the blisters we started to accumulate due to the downward hike. Interesting that hiking uphill was easier on our feet than downhill.
There was a second tour guide with us on this downward hike along with a porter for a time. The second tour guide was very young, a bit inexperienced and didn’t know English very well. His name was Junior and he was very sweet and eager to help as best he could. Unfortunately, this was only his 2nd time doing this trek and towards the end we got a bit lost which was funny after we were found but not so much when we were lost in the dark in the scary ‘woods.’
There were a total of 7 of us including Junior together lost as nightfall came upon us. Everyone started to feel better after we got out of the higher altitude and some wanted to reach the hot springs with us before nightfall so we all stepped it up together. We couldn’t see the trails at all and Junior wasn’t sure which direction to take so we kept backtracking which started to freak out some of the girls a bit as we were all tired and wanted to get to camp at this point after hiking all day long. Eric took control at this point to keep the group calm and because poor Junior was just not confident enough to do so plus his English was not good. It was dark and we couldn’t see the paths so we were wandering through trees and brush, at any point you could just drop into the river without any warning. Our flashlights were not working that well and we were limited to how many we had.
Luckily after a time we saw flashlights up on the other side where the road was and had hopes that it might be the other group and our main tour guide, Willian. Junior asked me if he could run up there to see if it was him and I told him we would meet him at the bridge I hoped we’d find soon and sure enough when we found it we also found Willian coming down to ‘rescue’ us! We were so happy! It only took us another 20 minutes to finally get to the campsite and when we got into the hot springs it was like heaven. Ahhhh, when you go through something like that you really do find a deeper appreciate for the simple things you might take for granted like, hot water.
The next day we said goodbye to the wonderful Porters and creative Chef who kept us well fed and had our campsites set up before we would get there. It was so nice not to have to worry about putting a tent up and cooking food when it got dark and very cold. It truly was a great tour group, The Llama Path if you’re ever interested in hiking it look them up and ask for Willian.
On the last day of our amazing adventure we saw the sunrise in Machu Picchu. It was incredible! After such a challenging but awe-inspiring hiking adventure we arrived at our final point to see the most incredibly beautiful site imaginable, one of the ‘ 7 wonders of the world.’ How did these people build such a place?! This question is what was on all of our minds as we watched the sunrise high above it. Wow, there’s nothing quite like it! Hard to put it in writing but hopefully some of the pictures convey a glimpse of what I’m talking about.
It’s truly magnificent I only wish we could’ve had it all to ourselves for a day to explore it without the hundreds or perhaps thousands of other tourists there to see it too. It would have been far more magical and, peacefully quiet. Regardless though, it was awesome. Words are hard to express the beauty and majesty of it all. I highly recommend going to see it yourself if possible someday as well as doing the hike if you are up for that type of challenge. We were able to see parts of Peru that would not have been possible if we’d not done the 4 day trek. Not to mention, seeing what we were capable of by overcoming such challenging obstacles as the physical ailments we suffered is truly a mind over matter feat. You don’t know what you’re made of until you are challenged like that.
I owe the biggest thank you to Eric for planning the trip, taking such great care of me and inviting me to join him on this exciting a once in a lifetime trip. I’m truly grateful and absolutely loved every bit of it even the uncomfortable parts because these types of challenging and tests are what make us stronger and more capable of enduring life’s hardships when they occur.