First, a few discoveries:
1- Learn Spanish so when you tell a doctor you’re “congested” she wont give you anti-diharreals.
2- Always remember to put sunscreen on your hands, because when you get a slanted line of sun burn on the tops of them, it will a.) not look attractive and b.) itch really bad
3- Showers are totally overrated. Merino wool that resists odor, however, is not. I love my hiking socks and lululemon shirts forever and ever. Also, wet wipes and dry shampoo.
4- At high altitude, the power of water and hydration should never be lost on you. I firmly believe that’s why I never had a bout of altitude sickness. Drink water!! [the cocoa leaves helped too…]
OK, lesson over. Now on to fun stuff. Like not showering for four days and having your legs screaming in pain. The reward though far outweighs any possible negatives.
The most obvious being the views. Holy crap did the Incas know a thing or two about site selection. Never have I seen such beautiful scenery. Some days I felt like I was hiking in Hawaii [it helped that I had just watched the Descendants on the plane], and others I felt like I was back in the UK hiking in the Lake District. Crazy town.
Also, lets talk about stars for a minute shall we? They’re amazing. Especially when you’re up at 11,000 feet. I thought the sky was clear when I could see the milky way in rural Iowa. Jokes on me because nothing compares to the milky way in the Peruvian mountains. Absolutely breathtaking. I stared and stared and stared.
The people too. Isn’t that one of the best things about traveling? Meeting people? I was lucky to have an amazing group [all spoke English too, hallelujah] of 14. There were 4 from Canada, 1 from America [plus the three of us], 1 from Switzerland, 2 from Germany, 2 from Great Britain, and 1 from Wales. The conversations were great. From learning different slangs, to talking about the taxes and politics [I swear it was interesting…] it was great company to be around and a learning experience for everyone. Plus, now we have people to visit in our future travels! 🙂
The trek was four days long with the fourth day starting early [3am!] so you can get to Machu Picchu at sunrise. The first day was moderate, the second grueling, and the third easy technically but still difficult with the lingering exhaustion from the day before. My group [and a Canadian couple] chose the option of going back to Machu Picchu a second day after sleeping in Aquas Calientes for the night. Highly recommended. By the fourth day we were exhausted and I could, honestly, barely keep my eyes open and stand up straight. Having a second day there to explore at our own pace after a night of sleeping in a bed [!!] was a blessing. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to hike Wayna Picchu and get a different view of the Inca site.
I went with the tour group SAS, but I heard great things about Llama Path as well. The food was amazing, and the tour guides are really good at not pushing you too much and giving everyone moral support- you’ll need it! I wasn’t entirely happy with the historical information we were given along the way and all of the extra fees SAS threw at me, but I still loved the experience. If you decide to do the trek [you totally should!] I would recommend doing plenty of research before you go and compare prices/reviews/etc.
I never got altitude sickness [see lesson 4 above], but two people on my trek did in the beginning. It did not look fun. Even with that though they were able to make it through the whole hike and actually felt much better towards the end of the trek so don’t let it scare you. We stayed in Cusco two days before the hike to try and get slightly acclimated which definitely helped.
If altitude sickness is something you’re really worried about [I was], be sure to keep a regular exercise regimen before you leave for the trip, stay 3 days in Cusco before you leave for the trek, and drink plenty of water and cocoa tea. I even chewed cocoa leaves a few times along the trek- they work! I wasn’t fond of the taste so I only used them when I felt I really needed to [especially the second day].
Ok, I’ve talked too much, prepare yourselves for an attack of visual stimulation. Pictures: