It’s my ten year anniversary of reaching Machu Picchu after an arduous four-day hike of the Inca Trail through rain, sleet, and altitude sickness. Despite my tribulations, the journey and the destination were more than worth it. It’s an experience I will never forget.
My traveling has been on hold since the pandemic—I hope to get back to it again someday soon. In the meantime, here are my journals from the entire Peru trip, culminating in my arrival at Machu Picchu.
A while back I decided to experiment with converting some of my color photos to black and white. Here are the results.
In some cases I think the black-and-white conversions actually breathed new life into the pictures. This is particularly true of the Eiffel Tower and Machu Picchu photos, in which significantly more details can now be seen than had been visible in original color shots.
As today is the 104th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu by archeologist Hiram Bingham, I thought it appropriate to share a photo of the fabled Lost City of the Incas. This was taken on our way down from the Sun Gate in the early morning after completing the Inca Trail.
It’s been a while since I shared a Machu Picchu photo, but I was inspired by my cousin’s current trip to the fabled Lost City of the Incas. In fact, he may be standing on its hallowed grounds as I write this. Hopefully he is enjoying a sunnier day than I did, as my photos from that day are mostly gloomy, though no photo could ever do justice to the sensation of walking through Machu Picchu up high in the clouds anyway. Nevertheless, I always liked this photo of a lone tree standing among the ruins.
This is a zoomed-in photo of Machu Picchu taken shortly after dawn from just below the Sun Gate at the end of the Inca Trail. Unfortunately, most of my photos from that morning are on the dark side due to the overcast and hazy conditions, and also because I made the mistake of leaving a polarizing filter on my lens, which meant even less light coming into the camera. Oh well, lesson learned. It’s more about the memories it evokes than the quality of the photo anyway.
Although I’ve shared this one in the past, I was inspired to re-share it after finding out that my sister had it (along with yesterday’s Arno River photo) framed to hang in her redone living room, which I thought was quite an honor.
And this is also my favorite photo from my time at Machu Picchu (one of the few bright ones on a dusky day), so I figure it’s worth an annual re-post. 🙂
I didn’t specifically plan to see one of the 7 New Wonders on a yearly basis, but I think it’s cool that it worked out that way. However, I’m not sure if I will make it to all of them. The Great Wall and Christ the Redeemer are probably more realistic possibilities than Petra and the Taj Mahal, but I have no immediate plans to travel to any of those areas, so it looks like my consecutive Wonder string will be broken next year.
On a side note, there are also many spectacular places from the list of finalists that should be part of any bucket list:
Among these I’ve visited Neuschwanstein and the Statue of Liberty (it’s weird to think of this as a Wonder since I’ve seen it so many times). There are many others on this list I want to see, with Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and the Acropolis of Athens being the likeliest in the near future.
How many of these places have you visited? Did they exceed your expectations or were there any that failed to live up to the hype?
This is a video montage of my August 2012 trip to Peru, including my visits to the Sacred Valley and my hike of the Inca Trail. This is the same video that appeared in my journal, so you may have already seen it, but I wanted it to have its own page in my videos section. The background music is In the Lap of the Gods by the Alan Parsons Project, which I thought was a fitting piece to accompany the visuals.
At long last, the day had arrived to make the final trek to Machu Picchu. We awoke around 3:30 am to get in line with the other groups for admission into the final stretch of the trail. This turned out to be quite a long wait, but eventually we were on our way.
As usual, the younger members of the group raced off ahead, leaving me behind with Uncle Kipp and our guide Alex. However, unlike previous days, I was feeling good from the start of the hike, so I raced off ahead by myself (carrying my own backpack for a change), eager to make it to the Sun Gate (Intipunku) by sunrise.
I didn’t take any pictures during this stretch of the hike, opting instead to leave my camera in its case so that I could concentrate on reaching the Sun Gate as quickly as possible. The hike turned out to be a bit longer than the roughly hour or so I was expecting, but I’m sure the faster hikers made it to the Sun Gate within that time frame. However, I did a much better job of keeping up on this day, so I was usually among other hikers, either passing them or being passed by them.
I eventually came to a set of narrow stone stairs so vertically inclined that ascending them was almost like climbing a wall. It was such a difficult climb, in fact, that the guides referred to it as the “Gringo Killer” and there was a logjam of hikers waiting to climb it. Some people hollered in triumph when they reached the top, which led me to believe that this was the end of the trail and that the Sun Gate awaited me at the top, so when my turn came to climb, I went all in, rapidly climbing on all fours like a monkey, making it to the top in record time.
I looked around. No Sun Gate. No Machu Picchu. Doh!
I still had about another 20-30 minutes to hike and I had just expended all of my energy and muscle reserves racing up the Gringo Killer. Additionally, I started noticing a pain in my shin that worsened with each step. It felt like a stress fracture or shin splints or something. Although it was probably the result of the cumulative effect of walking/running and climbing/descending on stone steps for three days, there’s no doubt that the Gringo Killer was the final nail in the coffin. Had I taken my time with it instead of flying up like a bat out of hell, I might have saved myself a lot of pain.
Anyway, I hiked the last stretch of the trail and finally arrived at the Sun Gate, where I got my first spectacular view of Machu Picchu.
When you stand here you are seeing Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains as the Incas did when they emerged through the Sun Gate all those centuries ago. This is the view that the bus tourists never see unless they make the hour-long trek up to this spot. As it turned out, I didn’t reach the gate by sunrise but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the sky was overcast all day, which unfortunately resulted in some dulled photos, though I was still able to get some nice ones. However, in my excitement over finally gazing down on Machu Picchu, I neglected to take any of the Sun Gate itself.
Shortly after arriving I encountered the guys from Argentina and we exchanged some high-fives. I then walked down a bit from the Sun Gate and found a quiet rock overlooking the trail, where I sat down to eat breakfast while enjoying the pristine view and basking in the feeling of being at the top of the world in the middle of nowhere.
Although I still had another 45 minutes of hiking before I would actually get to Machu Picchu, this moment really felt like the end, the culmination of my four-day struggle. Everything I had gone through had been worth it just to be sitting here.
About 20 minutes later Uncle Kipp and Alex arrived.
After a few more moments of relaxing it was time to make the final trek down to Machu Picchu.
When we finally arrived, we waited in line to get the classic photo taken.
We then had to actually leave the park, meet up with the rest of the group, and then re-enter. On our way down we began to pass all of the bus tourists entering the park. I couldn’t help viewing them a bit like intruders, like “How dare you enter this sacred citadel that we have expended so much of our blood, sweat, and tears to reach? Be gone!” Or maybe I was just jealous that they looked so clean, well-dressed, and rested in comparison to us. 🙂
After hooking up with the rest of the group (and sadly abandoning my trusty walking stick, which was not allowed back in the park) we re-entered and followed our guide Freddy on a roughly two-hour tour. Rather than detail what I saw on the tour I’ll just let a few of the pictures I took speak for themselves.
My leg pain had gotten progressively worse as we toured Machu Picchu. By the end of the tour I could barely put any weight on it, so when Freddy asked which of us wanted to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu (the taller mountain that looms over Machu Picchu) there was no question that I would be opting out of that excursion. Everyone in the group except for Uncle Kipp and me went on the climb.
We still had about two hours left to explore more of Machu Picchu before we needed to leave, but since I could barely walk, we decided to leave early and head down to the city of Aguas Calientes. We had seen most of the major points of interest during the tour, but there was much more we could have seen (such as the view from the guard house), so having to leave early was a major regret.
We took the 20-minute bus ride down to Aguas Calientes, a town that gives you a taste of both the beautiful (being surrounded by majestic mountains) and the tacky (the touristy shops and restaurants). The pictures below are a couple of panoramas I took with my cell phone, so they’re a bit messed up due to the quality of the cell phone software, but they give you an idea of what the town looks like.
The portion of the Urubamba River that runs through town is filled with giant boulders like these:
We headed to the restaurant where our group would be meeting. Uncle Kipp and I got there first since the rest of the group was still climbing Huayna Picchu. Alex had one of the waitresses show us to a locked room upstairs where we could access our large duffels, which had been carried here by our porters, once again proving what a great decision it had been to hire personal porters. It was a huge relief not to have to lug those massive things through the last part of the Inca Trail, up the Gringo Killer, and all day through Machu Picchu. Overall, I was very pleased with the Dos Manos tour company—they had everything down to a science. Even when I realized that I had left my train ticket back at my hotel in Cusco, they were able to easily secure me a new one, and the various drop-offs and pickups to get us home ran smoothly as well, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Since we had some free time while waiting for the rest of the group, we decided to try the town’s hot springs. Alex joined us and showed us the way. Unfortunately for my injured leg, it was a very painful, 15-minute uphill walk. We eventually got there and jumped into the hottest pool they had. Words cannot describe the glorious feeling of sitting in that hot spring after four days of relentless physical exertion. We relaxed and enjoyed some cocktails that had been delivered to us at poolside.
Later we returned to the restaurant and joined the rest of the group for our farewell lunch. After lunch we said goodbye to Freddy and Alex, who were getting an early train home, and tipped them very generously for everything they had done for us–they truly went above and beyond. Alex, in particular, had been like my guardian angel during my struggles on Days 2 and 3. Here are a couple of photos in tribute to our intrepid guides:
We then said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and exchanged contact info. Here’s a shot of the group from the previous night enjoying our final dinner on the Inca Trail.
So after four days of living among a group, it was down to just Uncle Kipp and me. We had a few hours to kill before our train left that evening so we walked around town, had some ice cream, did some shopping, etc. Finally we got the train back to Ollantaytambo, where we transferred to a bus back to Cusco. The bus dropped us off in a square in the middle of town and for a minute I thought I was going to have to walk uphill to my hotel carrying all of that luggage on my bum leg, but the bus driver hailed a cab, gave him some money, and instructed him to take us to our hotels. I said goodbye to Uncle Kipp after the cab dropped me off and then checked back in to the Hotel Rumi Punku. Finally, at around 11:30 pm, I walked through the door of my room and, just as promised, found the luggage I had left behind with the hotel waiting for me.
After unwinding and unpacking I collapsed into bed and slept until noon the next day—longer than I had slept in the previous few days combined. I decided to treat myself by renting out the hotel spa, complete with jacuzzi and sauna—I’d earned it. Between the hot springs and the spa, my leg, while still sore, was starting to feel better. I dropped off my rented sleeping bag and duffel at the Dos Manos travel office in the afternoon and then met Uncle Kipp and his friend Yuri that evening for a final dinner. Uncle Kipp was staying for a couple more days to stand as godfather to Yuri’s baby, but I was leaving the next afternoon.
The hotel was nice enough to give me a late checkout to coincide with my afternoon flight without charging me extra. I took a cab to the airport and was soon homeward bound. I won’t detail my misadventures getting home except to say that I will never fly American Airlines again if I can help it. I finally got back to Newark airport the following afternoon and back to home sweet home later that evening. And just like that, my adventure was over.
From the Sacred Valley to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, it truly was the adventure of a lifetime. I don’t know if I would ever again put myself through four days of roughing it like that, but I’m glad I did it. I challenged myself both physically and mentally in a way many people never will. It is an accomplishment I will always look back on with fondness and pride.