Alright folks. Get yo’ snacks out and settle in because this is going to be a good one. I’ll be mad at you if you skip over the words in this post, because I took out precious time from vacation in Montauk to write this. Yes, I needed a vacation to write about vacation. Life is so hard sometimes.
A few months ago, myself and two of my best gal pals, Bridget and Rachel, decided we wanted to see a new part of the world. We did our own version of spin the globe and wherever our collective finger landed, is where we would go. A few different continents and countries were considered, but after coming to the conclusion that we wanted to avoid countries with political unrest (although the adrenaline rush of wondering if and when acid would be thrown on you is quite alluring; we opted out of Tanzania), we chose to start working down the list of the new 7 Wonders of the World, and visit Machu Picchu.
Day One: We left San Francisco on a Friday afternoon, and after three connecting flights, we arrived in Cusco on Saturday morning at 7:00 am. Our first day was rough. The altitude in Cusco is almost 11,500 feet, which is a bit closer to the clouds than I would prefer to be. Do you guys know what altitude sickness is? Alternatively named, get zero sleep and wake up feeling like you are wildly hungover, have just been slapped in the face, and the only way to travel from stepping off the plane into the airport is to grip onto the walls for dear life and hope that you don’t trip over yourself due to something that can only be a close relative to vertigo. Dazed and very confused, we walked through the airport, hopped in a cab, and traveled to the hostel we would be sleeping in Saturday night. After dropping off our bags, we chugged some water, and then walked down the street from our hostel and found some breakfast. We spent the rest of the day exploring Cusco, stuffing coca leaves in our mouths (anything to quell the altitude sickness beast), laying in our hostel giggling at each other because we were delirious and we were in Peru (!!?), and eating
authentic Peruvian cuisine pizza.
Day Two: Still alive! Turns out you can’t die from altitude sickness even though it feels like nothing but. Up at the crack of dawn to start our four day Inca trail trek to Machu Picchu (we booked it through this company, if you’re interested). We were dropped off on the top of a mountain, strapped on some Fast & The Furious gear, hopped on mountain bikes and got ready to ride to the town of Santa Maria. Being that we were biking downhill (a welcomed treat after biking the hills of SF), we essentially just hung on and enjoyed the ride, flying downhill, weaving through streams and Jurassic Park scenes. Once we arrived in Santa Maria, we ate, played card games, drank Peruvian beer, made new friends, and hit the hay early.
Day Three: Hiked from the town of Santa Maria to Santa Theresa. Typical day in Peru which consisted of getting our chapsticks robbed by a monkey, getting our faces painted (tribal-style), allowing birds to get their feet tangled in our hair, scaling mountains, crossing rivers
Oregon Trail style via a community made pulley-car system, and hanging out in hot springs made by nature. Like I said, typical day.
Day Four: Flew upside down on a zip-line adventure across the Urubamba river, hiked then hiked more using train tracks pointing us in the direction of Aguas Calientes (the small town we would be staying in the night before MP).
Day Five: Machu Picchu
We woke up at the lively hour of 3:30 am to walk down to the base of MP mountain. At this point I had more blisters than I care to admit, and my entire body was exhausted from the journey the prior days had gifted us, but I was excited to see what all this Machu Picchu hoopla was about. Armed with our head lamps, compression running socks, and
absolute terror determination, we started to climb the 2,000 steps up to the ruins. It was not only one of the most challenging endeavors I have ever taken on, but also one of the most spiritual. About halfway through, the sun slowly started to rise behind the surrounding Andres, and the stairs that had once been harshly lit by our headlamps, started to glow in this dull purple, almost iridescent light.
We finally made it to the top (covered in sweat and dirt) and caught our breath, staring in disbelief as tourists piled out of their buses, looking photo-ready in their pressed pants and perfect hair. We climbed –what else — more stairs to watch as the fog rolled over the ruins, giving us sneak peeks to what was in store. About 20 minutes later, our tour guide informed the three of us that if we wanted to make it to Wayna Picchu (the big mountain that sits behind MP), we would have to start climbing again. We looked at each other, briefly considered skipping it, but then decided that the risk of probably falling off Wayna Picchu due to our newly-earned jelly legs was worth it to get the bird’s eye view of MP. And oooohhhh was it worth it. Heads up if you’re considering doing this climb: do not attempt it if you’re afraid of heights / are susceptible to vertigo. It was steep.
After we made it down from Wayna Picchu (ALIVE, surprisingly), we took a tour of the MP ruins. Although to be honest with you at this point we had already been awake and climbing stairs for about 6 hours, so now I was the proud owner of two jelly legs, and a jelly brain. I do remember being very impressed by the accuracy of their architecture and engineering. Also they seemed to nail the whole setting up camp in a rather picturesque setting thing.
(what’s up Pete and Coner! Miss you boys.)
Day Six: After we rolled back down MP into Aguas Calientes (above), we took the train to the tiny town of Ollantaytambo. The next morning we wandered around Olly and then we were like, “you know what? we haven’t really done any hiking recently, so let’s do some more!” So that we did. Grimly we slid on our hiking gear and hiked up to rewarding views of the whole town. There were some old ruins there too, but don’t ask me what they were.
Later that day, we took a bus to visit a small town, Culca, to visit and stay with one of Bridge’s friends for the evening. It was nice to spend some time in a town that wasn’t crowded with dusty MP tourists, and not being inundated by llama paraphernalia.
^^This is probably one of my favorite pictures from the trip. We were still feeling the after-effects of Machu Picchu delirium, and mid-hike I attempted a group shot with the self-timer. After I set up the shot and as I was sliding down this steep hill to get in the photo, I completely tripped over a (very sharp) rock that flew into Bridge’s shin and nearly knocked her over the edge. There were quick accusations of me trying to throw her off the mountain, but I’ve been rebuilding trust with her since *the incident* and feel like we’re finally back on track. Just take my advice and don’t hike up a mountain the day after you hike up a significantly larger mountain. Your legs will fail you. Self-timers will not. (SORRY BRIDGE. I LOVE YOU, I SWEAR.) Re-do below.
Day Seven (Fourth of July!): That morning we returned from Culca to the city that lives in the sky (Cusco). We checked into our hostel, down a few glasses of coca tea, and saddled-up for a horse ride through the mountains. It was about time we let someone else do the hiking for us. That evening we had a fantastic meal at Greens, and then drank a few Budweisers at our hostel’s bar in the name of ‘Merica.
Day… (who’s even counting anymore?): This was declared TREAT ‘YOSELF day. We checked into a five-star hotel (thanks, Kellen!!), ate some lunch, got massages, ordered some heavenly room service, and spent waaaaay more time in our hotel room than I would care to admit. We were so tired — we needed it.
Last Day: Checked out of the hotel, got breakfast in town, and prepared our souvenirs for folks back home. Poor Bridget had been feeling a bit under the weather on our last day, so she rested while Rachel and I explored Cusco for the last time. This is slightly shameful, but our last meal there was a burger and fries. Sorry I’m not sorry they were SO GOOD. Later in the afternoon we picked up Bridge and headed for the airport to start our long journey home.
If you made it to the bottom of this post, I love you. You are a truly dedicated reader, and thank you for exercising your right to scroll.
Final thoughts and reflections on the trip looking back on it (you thought I was done, did ya?): there were moments when it was much more physically, and emotionally challenging than I was anticipating (what do you mean I can’t check Instagram for TEN days?!), but the experience as a whole made up for it. The hostels we stayed in weren’t 5-star, early alarm times we set weren’t always ideal, wifi withdrawal is a real thing, and sleeping in a different bed (or a plane) every night for 10 days wasn’t comfortable, but the way I see it, if you don’t put yourself in uncomfortable situations you won’t learn how to adjust and grow. When you’re taken out of what you know, you learn what’s really important to you. I realized I don’t need very much to make me happy except my health, good tunes, nature, and my friends (awwwwwwww). Seriously. Love you girls.
And kudos to those Incas for setting up camp in such a beautiful country — they built some pretty sweet diggs.