I feel a bit like Bilbo Baggins here, writing to you to tell you about my adventures.
And in some part, it’s pretty similar – I’m going to be posting a few more adventures here in the coming days (Amazon Jungle, Patagonia, Buenos Aires, New Guinea).
Let’s start where it all began, shall we?
One night, I randomly came across an email with an offer for a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Peru for $300.
That’s right. Round Trip LAX->Peru for $300.
At that price, I’d be losing money if I didn’t go.
You could say we were all pretty stoked.
Prior to making our trek down to Peru, David & I both talked with different people about where to go, what to see, and how to go about the whole Inca trail situation. (In case you haven’t ever had the discussion, there’s a lot of disagreement about whether you should purchase your tour when you get down there – or book it ahead of time.)
I’ll give you the scoop – the only thing you really REALLY need to book prior is a ticket to hike the Inca trail. (And a ticket to Huayna Picchu if you want the view everyone seeks to achieve while down there.) I’d recommend both.
Unfortunately, we didn’t receive that information prior to going, so we decided to take our chances and book when we got to Cusco. When we got there, tickets were sold out for the Inca trail as well as Huayna Picchu. When we heard the news, I looked over at David (my roommate) and he was devastated. He’s an adamant one about doing things to their fullest, and I could tell it didn’t sit well with him. (He’s probably remembering that feeling while reading this blog right now actually)
I won’t lie – I was a little bummed, but at the same time – excited to explore the road less traveled. I’ve heard that the Inca trail is constantly flooded with tourists and THAT is one thing I seek to avoid.
So the adventure begins.
We get into Lima.
Rent a car.
Lima smells. Bad.
We sleep, wake up, head back to the airport.
I accidentally over-shoot the turn-in for the rental car return and almost cause us to miss our flight. In a swift decision to bend the rules and make an un-lawful U-Turn, I get us into a little trouble with the authorities. A policeman comes over and starts to threaten us with a ticket.
*This* is the face of a guy who just used the ol’ $7 handshake to get himself out of a traffic violation in Peru.
We take off for Cusco. One of the most dangerous airports to fly into in the world due to it’s high altitude and heavy winds.
Not to mention heavy traffic.
We get a single room at one of the local hostels.
We decide to spend some time acclimating to the altitude since we’ll need our lungs in tip-top shape in a few days.
Here we are enjoying some of the local architectural ruins:
This old guy (pictured below) noticed David attempting a handstand (above) and got infuriated. He spoke so fast it was difficult to understand him, but I think he was upset that he’s never been able to pull off a handstand before – and wanted David to teach him how. Something else about staying off the ruins, respecting things, I don’t know.
We hired a car to take us out to this spot since we missed the group tour earlier in the day. I love making my own tours – a lot of times if you go at off hours, you’ll get the chance to see everything without interference from a lot of people clogging it up.
We decided to have our driver drop us off in the outskirts of town so we could walk back and get a little extra exercise on our way back to the room. Later on we found out the parts we walked through were actually the most DANGEROUS parts of the city. Good to know!
The next morning we headed out to the local market to try out some local cuisine.
They made fresh juice from the fruits right in front of you. It was delicious, and it was really cheap. Loving Peru already.
We took another day trip out to the Salt Mines and came across some pretty cool scenery along the way. We hired our own car ($40/day vs $4 each for the bus) and it was well worth it. We came across some amazing view points where we asked our guy to just pull over so we could get some shots.
Everyone has a dreamy meadow shot. It was about time I got my own.
We made it back to our room pretty late since it was a long drive out that day – here’s David texting Lindsay (his girlfriend – sorry ladies, he’s taken) before we make the trek out the following morning.
Coca tea. This stuff was addictive. Really.
Meeting the group for the first time. Sizing everyone up, guessing who’s going to be the straggler. Kidding! Kind of.
Mosquitos started biting pretty soon. And they were serious. It’s recommended you take Malaria pills while out in this neck of the woods. We weren’t taking any chances.
Our fearless guide, Niko. He would always make sure we only focused on what was important – which was the next 3-4 hours of our hike. Nothing else.
While we hiked, views like this were pretty common. And you got to see a lot of it, because we stopped to rest pretty often! The altitude was killer and the amount we were ascending each day was pretty intense.
Soup’s…off? Was pretty hungry, so this is the photo you get of our first lunch.
First base camp after 12 miles of hiking. We were worn out and ready to sleep by 7 PM. But hey, when you gotta wake up at 4 to hike the next morning, you don’t even worry about how early you’re crashing out.
Two candles were our only source of heat during our trek. And it was COLD.
Here’s chef preparing our food. He only spoke Quechua, so only our tour guide and the German – Leo could communicate with him. (Leo had randomly been studying this ancient language as part of his archeology focus)
Yes. It was f*cking cold. The weirdest part? There were bulls and cow grazing up at 14,000 feet. Was a pretty interesting sight. The summit.
Happy guy right here. I’m posing like I’m not completely out of breath.
Grenadines – my new favorite hiking fruit. Looks like an egg from an alien, but tastes amazing.
You know what else tastes amazing?
Day 4 was hot as balls. I tried to find shade wherever I could while I was walking to avoid the strong sunlight.
A pretty common site during the 5 day trek: empty water bottles.
Here’s our base camp the night prior to arriving into Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is a town right outside the site of Machu Picchu that was pretty much built for tourists. No cars, just busses and trains. Pretty big turn off for me.
Speaking of tourists, here’s a stunning example of the stereotype. I was pretty bummed to see how packed Machu Picchu was with people, but once you get past that, it’s a pretty remarkable place to experience.
This was sunrise from the Eastern slope. Probably the coolest sunrise I’ve ever seen. The way the sun’s rays split over the mountain tops was unlike anything I had seen before.
Here’s another view, including the surroundings. The way the light just kissed the side of Machu Picchu was gorgeous.
In addition to the more well-known site, there are 2 additional mountains you can climb during your visit.
1. Huayna Picchu – costs about $140 and sells out weeks in advance. More people try to visit this one since it has more architectural remains on the top. Supposedly a better view, but I doubt it.
2. Mt. Machu Picchu – about twice as tall as Huayna Picchu, this beast is an additional 2,000 stone steps to get up. The climb down made my knees sore for a month afterwards. Really.
But it was worth it.
On our last night in town together, a group of us met up for coffee and listened to David attempt to play the flute he bought at the market.
After seeing the stars earlier that morning, I felt compelled to try to get a shot from town before we had to board our train back to Cusco. I found a guy that worked in a small shop in town that told me he knew of an un-finished floor with open air access I could use. The guy looked a little shady, but I figured “what the hell“.
The spot he led me to was pretty dark, there were no walls, and if you took a wrong step – that would have been the end of you. This feeling made me acutely aware of the income gap between myself and the guy who led me up to that spot, and realized that if he wanted my camera – it would have been pretty easy for him to just push me off the roof.
And you know what? That sucks. I got caught up in ‘tourist’ mindset where you always assume the worst because of a difference in financial situations and being in a foreign land. The guy didn’t kill me – I tipped him for showing me the spot (and not killing me) and I walked away trusting humanity *that* much more.
And came back with a half-way decent shot of what you would see if you had looked up that night.
We made our journey back to Lima and spent our final day catching up on all our business we had been separated from. Here’s David laughing at something inappropriate I probably said.