The morning that we left the Lima airport started off a little hectic; we started noticing a lot of the different airlines had been getting delayed and/or canceled due to the weather that was up around Cusco (where we were attempting to fly into). We sat patiently in the gate seating area to see the verdict on our plane situation. Sure enough, our plane was delayed as well! The company that we booked the Machu Picchu trek through was supposed to pick us up at the airport and we had no way of contacting them letting them know that our plane was delayed for TWO WHOLE HOURS! We were lucky enough to not have our plane get canceled.
As we were flying into Cusco, we saw some of the most amazing mountains of the Andes with their snowcapped peaks. We landed and got our bags and were hoping that the company would still be there to take us to our hotel and what do you know, they were there holding up a sign that read ARBOURS! That was a stress that was alleviated quickly.
We got to the hotel and we quickly started to develop a headache due the elevation of Cusco, which is at around 11,200 feet. So how do you fix it? Drink coca tea. This is the plant that makes cocaine, but in the Peruvian culture it is used as an herb that helps with a wide array of different ailments such as inflammation, broken bones, altitude sickness, and even healing wounds. So what does Jason do, he drinks the tea right away and not too long after he could already see some significant differences.
After we got settled in, in our room, we headed down to the lobby where our guide gave us a brief walking tour of Cusco and took us to a restaurant for lunch. One bad thing about booking a tour and not doing it yourself is that the guides think that you have a ton of money and take you to some of the most expensive restaurants expecting there to be no problem with the price. He took us to this 5 star restaurant with wine glasses and silverware reaching form one side of the table to other. As soon as we noticed this we were, “is there a place that has more local food and for a lot cheaper?” He then said, “oh yeah, I know of a place!” This pollo restaurant was about 1/7th of the price of the other and it was soooooo good. We enjoyed salad and soup, with chicken, rice, and French fries for only S./6.5 per person.
After lunch, he gave us some of the history of the town and some info on what we should expect on this trip. We saw the city center, some remnants of the Incan capital, some cathedrals, and a few small parks. After this, he let us go on our own and explore more of the city ourselves.
We were so exhausted, a little sick from the elevation, and just wanted to relax in the nice hotel room so we each took long baths and Jason even fell asleep in the bathtub because it felt so nice. That night we both slept for about 13 hours. Once we got up we ate at the all you can eat buffet on the top story of the hotel. Then we quickly grabbed our stuff to meet the guide down stairs and have our tour of the Sacred Valley!
The tour started off with a walking tour in Chinchero where there was a church and an archeological site of Incan farmland, then we went onward to Maras where the Incans were testing out different agricultural methods on the land. From there, we ventured to the salt pools and ended our tour at Ollantaytambo. The temple here was created for the gods. We were able to see how the Incans were able to create such beautiful rock walls with rocks weighing in at over 2 tons. They didn’t use mortar or cement; rather they used a method of male and female. The rocks would have a protrusion on one side while the other rock would have an indentation so that they would fit together perfectly like legos but on a much larger scale.
The tour guide tried to take us to another really expensive restaurant, S./42 per person, but we had to explain to him that this was too expensive for us and we would have to wait until we arrived back in Cusco.
That night we met up with our trekking guide, he discussed all the ins and outs of the trek and what to expect while hiking. He told us that we would have to be up and ready by 4:00am to be picked up to drive the three hours to the trailhead.
After finishing up our meeting with him, we enjoyed a pizza at our 11th story restaurant at the top of the hotel. Down here you have to pay for water at restaurants, so since we had to pay for a drink anyways, Heather got a pina colada and Jason enjoyed a mojito. And holy smokes.. do they make their drinks super strong!
3:30am came a little too quickly! Being up late the night before was not the best idea, but enjoying our top story dinner was worth it. We got in the car and stopped a few times to get water for the guides, pick up the chef, and to let the driver talk with someone. We made it to our breakfast spot where Jason and I enjoyed a boxed breakfast from our hotel and a walk around the city, while our guide, chef, chef assistant, and driver all enjoyed a breakfast at some ladies house. Jason was not up to par with his stomach so we found a botica (drug store) and got him medicine. – We were both so proud of ourselves at this point! We were able to ask around for where we could find a botica, and explain Jason’s bowel problems and ask for medicine all in Spanish!! We have a long way to go with lots to learn still, but we are getting it slowly!
We got on the trail around 8:30 am and began our brutal hike to the Salkantay Mountain. Brutal doesn’t even do justice for how hard this first park of the hike was. Luckily this is the highest point of the entire hike, peaking out at 15,222 feet or 4,630 meters!! We were so sluggish getting to the peak of the hike, having to stop and catch out breath about every ten steps. We both were thinking, great.. what did we get ourselves into??
Now remember… on top of being super hard on the lungs, Jason had some mudbutt.. mudbutt and hiking don’t go well together. Power of prayer and the medicine were kicking in a bit causing him to only have to go once on the first part of the trek. We stopped then to take a small break, stopped for a snack at a gorgeous area, and forced our guide to allow us to take a quick nap at one other spot. While the top of the trail was in our view, it started pouring down rain, which quickly turned to pouring down hail. It was freezing. We both had on long sleeve shirts, our down jackets, rain jackets, beanies, and scarves. The trek all the way to the lunch spot continued with rain and freezing weather.
We ended up not stopping until 2:30 for lunch, and both of us were so dead, hungry, tired, and frustrated with small issues with our guide and being on a tour. –We quickly found out that tour groups are not the way we like to travel!! But, lunch was absolutely amazing!! It was more like a feast. Lunch started with a guacamole appetizer, followed by amazing soup, and then topped off with fish, veggies, potatoes, and rice. It was so much food and all so delicious!
After lunch we rested for about 30 minutes, then walked about 10 minutes to where we would camp for the night. The horsemen and chefs work so hard setting up and tearing down the food tent, and getting all the food out and prepared, we felt so bad they had to work so hard within such a close distance! But it was good that we stopped so soon, because right after our tents were set up the rain came again, and it poured and poured and poured all night.
We hung out in our tent, until we were awoken for “happy hour” where we ate cookies and popcorn with tea. We had just finished the feast two hours ago, and were not hungry at all but we shoved a bit of food down just to please the chef. Immediately after happy hour, our second feast came. You know the kind of full you get after eating a Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, this was the kind of full we were from lunch and happy hour before our dinner for the night was even served!
Dinner was served just like lunch was. We had an appetizer, soup and then a huge main course. We both ate so little we think they didn’t think we enjoyed the food, but everything was absolutely amazing! It was a shame we were still so full from lunch! After dinner, we made said our goodnights and made our way back into our tent for the evening.
We woke up to our chef assistant knocking on our tent saying, “Buenas Dias, Quieren Te?” We can’t think of a better way to be awoken at 5:00am. And after being awaken so peacefully with a warm cup of tea, we were in awe of the view around us. The rain clouds were gone from the night before and the sky was crystal clear so early in the morning. We could see all the snow capped mountains around us! It was beautiful.
We enjoyed our three course breakfast, amazing hot chocolate, and some more coffee and tea before hitting the trail. Today was going to be a much easier hike than the previous day, and a lot more relaxing than the following day to come. After having such a difficult hike our first day, and feeling at times like it wasn’t our trip, but instead the guide’s trip, we decided that we would own the hike of day two. We went at our own pace, stopping wherever we wanted to stop and truly enjoyed all God’s beauty around us, instead of feeling like we were being drug along a trail.
We had a wonderful lunch around 12:00, which was perfect timing after a big breakfast at 6:00 am and a snack on the trail, and got to really relax and enjoy the area for a bit while the chefs prepared the food. After lunch, we got back on the trail and again decided to make it a trip that was ours, not the guides. Even when Alias tried to rush us, which he tried to do often, we told him that we wanted to go slow and enjoy the trek instead of being moved on like donkeys. He wasn’t always too happy about this and often shook his head at us and just walked off trekking much faster than we were, but again we had to make it our trip instead of his, and really wanted to enjoy our time on the trail.
We got to the campsite at the perfect time. Our tents were set up and everyone was just relaxing for about an hour before “happy hour”, so we decided to grab our shower things, get in our swimsuits, and shower down in the river. This was such a great decision. After hiking for so many days cooling off in the river and feeling so refreshed after cleaning ourselves was fantastic.
We enjoyed amazing popcorn again during happy hour with some cookies and a fantastic homemade treat, kind of like the dessert you get at Si Casa back home if it’s your birthday, and then had yet again a wonderful three-course meal. This time we were quite hungry for dinner, so we ate a ton of food!! We invited the chef and chef assistant to join us for dinner, and bought some beer for everyone to share. It was such a great experience hanging out with the whole group, and it made us feel much more comfortable eating with them instead of them just hanging out in the kitchen while we ate.
After dinner and beer, we got out our card games and taught our guide, Alias, IRS. He loved the game, and actually caught on quite quickly. After playing that for some time, Alias taught us a card game that he knew. There wasn’t really a name to the game, but it was quite fun. You deal all the whole deck to all the players, then take turns laying a card in the pile while counting from 1-13. If the card in the pile matches the number you say, then you slap the deck, and the last one to slap loses that round and has to take all the cards. A bit confusing to explain without showing the game, but super fun! (We actually taught people the game in a hostel we stayed at the other night and we all had a blast playing it.)
After playing games for a bit, we all called it a night since we had to get up at 5:30 am the next morning.
We were again woken up with a knock on our tent saying that tea was ready for us. We enjoyed our tea with a light breakfast and then packed up our packs to get back on the trail. We were given sacked lunches for the day and had two ask for water a couple different times. The first time they ignored our request for water, water isn’t something they drink much of on the trek. The second time we asked they only gave us 1.5 liters of water for the both of us to share. So we had to explain that we needed a lot more, seeing how the previous day, the easy day, we went through four liters of water. They eventually understood and brought us boiling water to put in our bottle and camelback. Boiling water is better than none right?
After saying our goodbyes to the chef and chef assistant, we hit the trail. Today was going to be a much harder and longer day than day two. This is the day that Heather cried because she was so over the hiking for the day, we fought with Alias, our guide, multiple times because he was pushing us way too hard and was not giving us any breaks, and the day we completed the Salkantay Trail.
Now when we say he wasn’t giving us any breaks we mean it. We hiked for 11 hours on day three with one 20-minute break for lunch and 5 five-minute breaks throughout the rest of the day. We hiked straight uphill for 4 hours before reaching a flat area that was longer than 10 feet. (This is when Heather stopped and just cried for a second). Not exaggerating at all, this was straight uphill for four hours. At the top Alias didn’t even want to take a break, but we told him we had to, so he allowed us to rest for three minutes. At the end of three minutes he said okay lets go, and we replied by saying another two minutes, he laughed then started walking away turning around to say, “Seriously, we need to get back on the trail. There is no more uphill.” We looked at each other with such annoyance from him, because this was supposed to be our trip, we paid a lot of money for it, and we didn’t want to rush through everything, besides that, we really needed to let our bodies take a break. But, we got up anyways and started hiking again.
Alias took off at such a great speed, probably cause he wasn’t too happy with us talking back, and we continued at our normal speed trying to allow our bodies to recoup a bit after the four hours of straight uphill trekking. What we didn’t know was that we would now have three hours straight of downhill trekking. Our legs were jello. Literally shaking with every step we were taking. The downhill trekking is almost harder than uphill trekking. Since our bodies were so dead from all the trekking, we were tripping over rocks, sticks, our own feet, everything. We basically had no control over our legs because they were so dead and it was such a steep descent. The last part of the downhill trekking section, we literally started running because it was easier on our bodies to run than to try and catch our weight with every step.
We ran and ran and ran till we reached the suspension bridge over the river at the bottom of the mountain. Here we stopped for a quick picture, then basically ran to the river’s edge, where Heather changed into her suit and we got in the river and just sat for about five to ten minutes. This was amazing. The water was so cold and felt so refreshing on our dead bodies. We took out our lunches and began eating when Alias told us we needed to get back on the trail. We had enough of it.. we told him, no we were going to enjoy our meal, and that we didn’t care if we got to the hotel that night at 10:00, we had to let our bodies rest for a bit. He laughed and said, “Okay, yes, it’s okay if we arrive at 10:00 tonight, at least we will arrive.” Ahhh.. finally he was understanding where we were coming from, or so we thought.
A few minutes later he said, “Okay time to get back on the trail, we have lots more hiking to do.” After making faces at each other, we gathered our things, Heather changed back into her trekking clothes and we started hiking. Our quick 20 minute lunch break was over. This hike was like a cool down from the hike straight up a mountain, then straight down the same one. We were finally walking on flat ground. Little did we know, we would be walking for an hour before reaching the train tracks where we would continue walking for three more hours until reaching Aguas Calientes. Yes this train track that we were walking on was an extremely active train track, of which when booking with tour companies, most include the train ride from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes. Our obviously didn’t, so we sucked it up and walked the three hours.
During this time, our bodies were literally shutting down. Our legs were loosey goosey, our necks could no longer hold our heads up, our arms felt like they were going to fall off from using them so much to help stabilize ourselves and assist with the backpack weight, our eyes could barely stay open, and our minds and hearts of enjoying this hike were slowly fading away. At that point, we realized, no, we aren’t going to not enjoy the rest of this trek, we don’t care what Alias has to say, if we have only two more hours we can stop and take a break for a bit, then continue hiking and still get to our destination before dark. So we just stopped. We found a little station to sit at with a covering and benches, and just sat. Alias was quite surprised. We had had enough. We both laid down on the benches and closed our eyes and fell asleep instantly. We were awoken only three minutes later by Alias saying we had to get moving. We kindly told him, no that we needed to rest for just a bit, and he replied saying he did let us rest, and now we needed to get up and go.
Are you kidding us??!! We told him we felt like donkeys being herded along, and he chuckled for a second then just started walking. We slowly strapped our packs back on and began walking again. This walk was full of us praying and trying to look at the bright side of this part of the trip. We found every little thing possible to convince ourselves that we were enjoying it, that we just completed the Salkantay Trail, and we began to feel proud, while at the same time feeling like we could collapse at any moment.
We made it to the hotel got our room and planned on meeting with Alias and our guide for Machu Picchu at 6:00 pm. When we got up to our room after five flights of stairs, we opened the door to two twin beds in the room. Oh Lord, one more thing.. seriously??!! We booked it right back down the stairs and asked if they had any rooms with a bed we could share. They said no, that the tour group booked the room specifically with two separate beds, so we kindly said, okay, returned the key and were preparing ourselves to have a little chat with Alias about getting us a room in a different hotel with a bed we could share. (We know this seems like such a silly thing to throw a fit about, but after everything that had gone wrong with out trek so far, we had had enough.)
The worker came outside to where we were sitting and explained to us that someone had cancelled their room for the night and they had an opening with a bigger bed. We were so pleased! They gave us our new room key, we hiked the four floors this time to our room, and opened the door and just began cracking up. The room was a room with two twin beds that the workers had just shoved together and put bigger sheets on, and it was completely obvious that this is what the had done. It was hilarious! We laughed so hard, sat on the bed and just relaxed for a second. By this time it was already 6:00 and we had to meet downstairs with the guide for our Machu Picchu trip and Alias. We went down stairs and neither of them were there, hello they were clearly on Peruvian time, so we decided that both of us didn’t really need to meet with them, and one of us could get a shower in real quick. So, Heather went upstairs to shower while Jason waited downstairs for the men.
After a quick meeting with the guys, Jason came upstairs and showered, then we both got ready and made our way out on the town. Walking down the stairs was quite the experience. Our legs were so dead that we literally had to hang on to the railing every step that we took so that we wouldn’t tumble down the four flights of stairs. Had we had more time in Aguas Caliente, we would have probably just stayed in the hotel for the night and went to bed, but seeing that we had less than 24 hours in this cute little town we had to suck up the body aches and go out.
We found an amazing Italian restaurant where we enjoyed a fantastic margarita pizza with an entire bottle of wine. They were out of Peruvian wine, so we enjoyed the next best thing, a bottle from Chile. This was such an amazing evening, and much, much needed after our three days of trekking! We relaxed slowly eating the pizza and sipping wine at our outdoor table for a few hours before decided to head back to the hotel to get some rest before getting up at 5:30 the next morning to finally get to step food on the grounds of Machu Picchu.