Wednesday, August 29th we were awakened at the magic hour of 4:00 AM to travel by van 2 hours for breakfast and the start of the tour. I cannot pronounce most of the places we stayed along the way. We figured out if we ended everything with "abamba" we would be cool. Anyway, the beginning of the trek is at village of Wayllabamba, which starts the journey along the river. This is our happy group of nine with our bellies full and we are ready to hike!
The first day they were trying to judge if we could make it to the second campsite, which was about 10 miles up. At first to me that seemed reasonable, being an Ironman and all. What I didn't take into consideration is the the altitude went from 9,000 ft. to our final trek up that takes a 3-4 hour walk uphill (800m/2624ft) to reach our first campsite, LLulluchapampa(3800m/12467ft) - 2 hours from Abra de Huarmihuañusca/'Dead Woman's Pass'. We were enjoying the most beautiful massive array of mountains and river and ruins. It was fantastic! Here is Hartley and I on the way to the site:
But alas, after we hit around 12,000 ft or so Hartley trudged on ahead with the rest of the group while I was taking may sweet time with a couple of others,stopping and sucking in a breath once every few steps. The steps were high (or so it seemed) and my legs were TIRED! It took me 8 hours to get to that campsite where rest was to await us. The porters carried most of our stuff. It was quite comical trying to get 8 lbs of all I needed into a bag, not including sleeping bags. They ended up carrying an extra bag for me. I mean really-I needed to change my clothes at least once! OK so for the first night camping, it was around 30 degrees or so. Hartley, being the one who typically HATES camping, was especially happy about the situation. Not to mention we had to "organize" our tent in the dark. it was comical really. The chef cooked us up a fine meal in the dinner tent and it was fun recapping our days' hiking experiences. Lights out early on the trail at 12,000 feet and we knew we had quite a trek up to "Dead Woman's Pass" (13,779 ft.) the next morning. Just the name kinda gives you courage, heh? Well, my husband and a couple of others seemed to be in a snoring contest much of the night so with little sleep we trekked on the next morning after another delicious breakfast from the cook (he was our favorite guy really). None of the porters spoke English but we managed to introduce ourselves in the morning and have a grand opening to the next part of the hike....Oh, did I mention it was straight up to the pass? Our guide, Alex, showed us how to roll Coca leaves and stick it in the side of our mouths to help with the altitude. These leaves are the precursor to cocaine so I was sorta hopin' for a buzz but alas I think all I felt was a little more energy but who knows. There was Coca tea everywhere in Cuzco to help with altitude. The hiking at this point was INTENSE. There were alot of hikers on the trail which made it hard for me to believe that they had "limited the trail to 500 people per day" in 2002. That was kind of a bummer-there was a lot of trash on the trail, which I guess is better than it was before they had a cleanup crew everyday. The views continued to be amazing. More mountains, higher up we got , more beautiful. Hard to take it all in. We did manage to get to the pass. Here is a very small picture of that view:
And Hartley and I at the top of Dead Woman's Pass:
And more pics from the top:
OK, so I thought this was the hardest part but NOOOO-we had another place to cross into: 'Runkurakay' and then to the second pass of the same name (4000m/13123ft). More sites on the way. We visited lots of Inca sites along the way; 'Phuyupatamarka', 'Intipata' ('Sun Site') and the most beautiful on the trail 'Wiñay Wayna' ('Forever Young').
Our second night was a bit warmer at Chaquicocha (11,800 ft). We were in the cloud forest an did get some pretty intense rain all night. We got the snorers all at one side of the camp so slept most of the night. The porters once again scooped up most of our stuff and ran past us up the hill to our third campsite, about 6 hours, mostly downhill. Those porters were amazing, literally running past us with 40lb packs while I struggled with my little day pack with water and some rain gear! Now you might think that going downhill was easier but man my quads were working! It was like all the running, biking, squats did nothing to prepare me for this trip. How many dang muscles can you have in one quad?? Now along the way we stopped for lunch at an organized lunch spot. Did I tell you about the "bathrooms"? Let me say there were 2 kinds: the one you had to squat halfway down in to a hole in the ground and the ones you had to squat fully down and aim for the hole. To say they were in disgusting shape would be a compliment. At this point, I made the decision to do "outdoor bathroom" the remainder of the trip. I am a girl who actually rates bathrooms while on the road and usually will go for the McDonald's bathroom above any gas station. So this was pure roughing it indeed. My girlfriends on the trip, the "Coyas" as they called us (Peruvian word for princess) and I had quite a laugh at many a "restroom" on the trail. I am sure this is the best effort they have in keeping the trail clean but geez-I think a hole and shovel would do better.
On to the third campsite. Now I had a sore throat when we got to Peru which gradually got worse and by this day I was really feeling like crap. I think I had a fever, my head felt like it was exploding and the coughing started. When we reached our final campsite, Winay Huayna (8792 ft.), I was down for the count. I had 3 doses of dayquil I had thrown in my pack and some cough medicine I had gotten in Cuzco, which was almost done.While I rested in my tent, the others went to visit yet another fantastic ruin, while my friend David was in the tent next to me throwing up. We were a quite a pair! this campsite had out tents on the edge of a cliff so when we got up to pee in the night, Hartley and I went together right outside our tent, hoping the stuff was going downhill and not into our tent!.
The last night here, the porters had a special ceremony where gave our appreciations via an interpreter. Then, with a hamonica playing a Peruvian song in the background, the porters grabbed each of us ladies to do a dance with them. It was magical really! I could barely stand at this point but enjoyed the experience anyway. The next morning was David's birthday, who was still green with mountain sickness but we all surprised him at 3:30 AM with this cake:
Then, at 4:00 AM we started the descend into Machu Picchu. It was about 2 hours down, down, down these steps to get to the "Sungate" where 500 people wanted to see the ruins at sunrise. Well, my upper respiratory infection had gotten the better of me by now. Our wonderful caring guide, Alex, stayed behind with me as I trudged along and coughed my way to Sungate, in the rain, where there was no sunrise after all but you could see MP ruins clearly and it was breathtaking nonetheless:
The pictures just don't do it justice, the ruins were so massive:
There were even llamas doing the dirty deed, not caring at all there were about 1,000 tourists watching:
For about 4 hours in Machu Picchu, Alex did the tour of only part of the ruins. I was really sick by now, so had to rest alot and really did not get full impact of the experience but it was still quite amazing.
We took a van back to Aguas Caliente, the town where we met our train back to the place we started. I scored some "muy" strong cough syrup here with the help of Alex translating. Also got some antibiotics, I think, to help fight the crud. Hard to say, with the names but whatever it was I was beginning to feel human again. The train ride was a trip, the "Vistadome" where we could continue to see the side spans of mountain ranges that seemed to go on forever. There was a fashion show on board and some guy dressed up in wierd Peruvian attire that was scary actually, doing a dance. So not your typical train ride for sure..Codeine cough syrup made it a nice experience..
Back to the hotel in Cuzco for the night. We were exhausted! We caught a plane to Lima in the morning, where we said goodbye to part of our group. We had about 12 hours in Lima, so Hartley and I got a day room, which was suppose to be "very nice" according to the man who scooped us up at the airport. Well, it ended up being a little above a hole in the wall, but i had a bed and running water. I tried to ignore the smell of bug fumigation and was grateful for that instead of bugs. Here is our little piece of paradise in Lima:
11:00 that evening we caught our plane back to the USA and after 24 hours of traveling from Cuzco, we were home. It took me a few days to feel human again and I still am coughing a bit but did manage to bike, swim and run this week. We are in Chama now resting for a week from our vacation. One of our many adventures behind us-I wouldn't trade the fun we had with our friends and the beauty of the Andes for anything.