Journal 11 - November 30, 2002

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu » Go Back

Journal 11
After conquering South America's most recent manifestation of Machu Picchu's revenge, I was ready to get out and enjoy Cusco. The various gastrointestinal challenges put forth while traveling in a developing country can be formidable, especially for someone who in the past has contracted salmonella by just looking at old mayonnaise. However, time prevailed and I was finally able to do some exploring. Friday the 22nd I did something I knew would help my body get back to normal. A 45 km. bike ride down to the Sacred Valley, a tropical green valley bordering the Peruvian jungle, complete with open mercados, agricultural fields, and a raging river, all nestled into a giant valley with snow capped Andean peaks to the east, and the gateway to Machu Picchu to the north.

The ride was incredible, and immediately helped my body feel normal again. Our cycling peloton consisted of a Brazilian couple, an American couple, an English bloke, a Dutch girl, a river rafting guide, and myself. The rafting guide was doubling as our mountain bike guide for the day. The rafting guide wasn't much help with the bikes, but he did know where to go. It didn't help that we ended up with more flat tires during the ride than there were people. I ended up fixing more flats during that ride than I had the entire previous year of riding in Santa Barbara.

Everyone, regardless of skill level had a great time, and to their credit, the American couple didn't complain, which would have been justified since they were promised an easy 36 km. ride, not the fantastic 45 km. journey we actually did. They ended up walking many of the 45 km., which made for a long day. The trails were incredible though, riding through agricultural fields and villages with donkeys, bulls, chickens and children as our obstacles. This was my first experience with moving obstacles, it was very interesting. The guide warned me that the donkeys were very hard, "duro," he said, and he assured me that if I hit one I'd get the worst of it. I didn't doubt this after almost being knocked to the bottom of Colca Canyon by a donkey a week prior. I did my best to avoid all livestock, children and fowl.

Eventually the guide grew so tired of the flat tires that all he could do is cuss in Spanish every time he heard a pop, "Puta!" Maybe he thought he was on his raft. The other riders and I were able to fix the flats in record time. If we finished patching them before the guide was finished cussing, we knew we were in good shape. We made it to km. 45 without the guide going postal on a bike, or a gringo.

Saturday I decided to view some of the local archeological sites with Dean and Chris, a couple of Kiwi boys I met the day before. Off we went in search of Saqsayhuaman, aka sexy woman. Upon arriving to the site, a couple of wranglers corralled us into a horseback riding expedition. We saddled up and rode into the sunset. Something about the Peruvian stirrups, but I had a hard time fitting my size 13 Nikes into them. Riding with a quarter of my foot in the stirrup made for some exhilarating trots through the Andean foothills. And being the rowdy boys they were, the Kiwis couldn't get enough of the galloping through the hills, they kept whipping and yeee-hawwing the horses into full gallop. After each site we'd gallop away jockeying for position while racing to the next set of ruins. My toes cramped as I attempted to grip the stirrups through my Nikes. Plenty of nipping, bumping, snorting and general Alpha male behavior from the horses, much to our delight.

The longer we rode the darker it got, an impending cloud of doom barked out thunder the further we got into the hills. Each of us was sporting only board shorts, t-shirt and trainers (Euro for running shoes), as the storm loomed. Finally the barking stopped and the biting started. Hail and rain started pissing (British for pouring) down on us. The Kiwis and I begged for mercy, and they begged me to ask the guide to get us to shelter -not much Spanish spoken down under. Fortunately shelter was close, and so was the bus stop. After watching the intensity of the storm increase while we hid in the cafe, we opted for el bus to get us to the sexy woman, where it pissed more. Wet and cold we retreated to our hostals before meeting at the pub later that night.

Sunday was a rest day. Finally on Monday I left for the famous lost Inca city Machu Picchu, which itself is one of the main reasons to visit South America.

Bill the California construction worker on a spiritual quest, Brenda and Trem, the Floridian gadget-queen and Camel non-filter-smoking-king respectively, along with Rory, Andrew and Tim, the three Irish lads, and me, the California waiter, started off the four day trip with a long bus ride and a very easy three hour hike on day one. I couldn't wait for the infamous day two; everyone talks about day two on the Inca trail, Dead Woman's pass, 4200 meters high. Mario our guide decided that we'd be the last group to leave, Mario was a great guide. He doesn't like crowds, this from a guide on one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America. This worked out well for us, he either had us leave much earlier, or much later than every other group, which meant we had a lot of alone time on the trail. Awesome, and to his credit, very well thought out.

The porters were astounding. They are responsible for setting up our camps, preparing all meals, and keeping the unprepared yuppie gringos happy. The porters are the last to leave camp, and first to arrive at the next camp. After feeding us they break down camp as we begin walking towards the next destination. They eventually run past us on the trail, with approximately 30-50kilos on their backs, arrive at the next campground, set up the tents, tea, and popcorn, all before we arrive. Then they make us dinner. Very nice.

After day two the rest of the trail was relatively easy, two more days and we arrived at Machu Picchu. Thankfully our group was fast except for the Floridians, who also happened to be botanists in their spare time. Even Mario was laughing at our plant jokes after a few days. Mario let the reins off the rest of us, so Bill, the lads and I rushed to Machu Picchu on day four. We ran to the site, passed all but one group, and arrived before sunrise, which meant great pictures. The lost Inca city was fascinating, and hiking four days to get there made it better. Ancient temples, houses, altars, rocks with perfect dimensions, ancient stone structures built without mortar, all inspired awe, and Mario couldn't have been a better guide. We hiked up, over, and around the ruins for several hours before heading to the local hot springs. From there we took a train back to Cusco for Thanksgiving. Neither words nor pictures do the ruins justice, just go.

With an hour remaining on the train, it made a stop at one of its scheduled destinations; outside the train were taxi drivers offering a ten-minute ride to Cusco for $1.25. Hmmm, Bill and I both decided to pay the money to avoid another hour on the knee crushing Peruvian train. After a nice Thanksgiving pizza we met up with the lads and were happy to be back home in Cusco.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

Hasta Luego,

Justin