Up until now my blog posts have consisted of the wave of emotions and the unexpected epiphanies that studying abroad in Chile have induced, but I just got back from Peru and it deserves a story of its own.
Before I even knew where in South America I was going to be studying, I knew I had to see the ancient Incan pueblo and ruinas of Machu Picchu while I was here.
The month leading up to the trip, I’m not going to lie, was stressful. Nothing but our plane tickets were in order, and those who know me know I’m a compulsive planner. I don’t usually opt to ‘figure things out when we get there’ or leave things up to chance, and this has especially been the case traveling throughout South America with my less than perfect Spanish.
Booking plane tickets and making hostel reservations was the easy part. Buying the entrance passes to Machu Picchu, however, took a couple of tries. Luckily my host brothers, Gabriel and Diego, had gone at the beginning of August, and directed me to the official Ministerio de Perú website, where tickets are much cheaper than the ones many tourists purchase through travel agencies. We bought our tickets only five days in advance because we kept having problems with our cards getting declined and the site malfunctioning. I obviously recommend buying tickets much earlier in advance than we did.
Thursday, October 25—
We left our home city of Chillán at 3:15 am on bus and arrived in Santiago at 9 am, early for our 2:15 pm flight to Lima, Peru. The four hour flight was long, especially because none of us had really slept in over a day. We finally landed in Cusco at 8 pm. We found a taxi that doubled as a Machu Picchu transport service at the airport, and after haggling for a little with Pedro, the friendly driver, we decided to book our trip with him.
The thing about Machu Picchu is that it’s about 46 miles from Cusco. So travelers still have to find their way to the Machu Picchu pueblo of Aguas Calientes from Cusco, either by train, bus or van.
Friday, October 26—
We woke up at 6:30 am to catch our van to a little pit stop along the way to Machu Picchu called Hidroeléctrica. From there it’s about seven miles to Aguas Calientes, but it’s only accessible by train or on foot. So we walked along the train tracks.
The views of the Peruvian jungle from the tracks were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I thought I was accustomed to the mountains being from central Idaho, but I was absolutely in awe of the deep green, plush landscape that felt like it was completely engulfing me.
After almost three hours of walking along the tracks in the on-again-off-again rain, we finally reached Aguas Calientes. That night we ate traditional Peruvian lomo saltado and headed to our hostel early to prepare for the next day.
Saturday, October 27—
We started hiking to Machu Picchu at 4:30 am. Because our tickets were in the first circuit, from 6am to noon, we wanted to take as much advantage of our time slot as we could. The hike to the entrance point took an hour and a half, and it was all stairs at a steep incline. You know how in basketball or volleyball or softball when your coach makes you do stairs, your legs burn after like three minutes? At some points I thought I wouldn’t make it to the top.
Once we were actually there, I stood with my jaw dropped at my vantage point and marveled at the Incan ruins. I remember thinking about the people who once lived there, how strong and innovative they must have been. How is it possible that something this grandiose even exists in the world?
After we descended through the ruins and got pretty friendly with some lamas, we made our way up the grand montaña Machu Picchu. This was probably the hardest trek I’ve ever done in my life, especially after the already strenuous hike earlier that morning. We climbed the over 2,000 stairs in an hour and 45 minutes, reaching an altitude of 10,111 feet.
Just a little bit prior we were here in the ruins
and then a few hours later we climbed so high we could barely even see the them.
In total that day we walked 15.5 miles, took 35,631 steps and climbed 265 flights of stairs.
Sunday, October 28—
On Sunday morning we shopped around the little vendors in Aguas Calientes, before heading southeast again for seven miles along those train tracks. At 3 pm our van came to pick us up in Hidroeléctrica, and when we finally got back to Cusco at 10 pm. My legs felt like they might not even last me the rest of the night.
Monday, October 29—
We left our Cusco hostel early to catch our 8:45 am flight to Lima, and didn’t land in Santiago until 6:00 that evening.
Now it’s Tuesday and I’m writing this at a friend’s house in Santiago (who studied abroad in my home state almost four years ago) reflecting on my journey while he’s in class. My ankles are swollen, my muscles burn, and my legs and arms are adorned with mosquito bites, but I have never felt so alive. Peru is the best thing I’ve ever done, even through all the rain and rigor.
Nos vemos pronto,