My Trip to Peru: The Movie

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.

 

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The Inca Trail Day 4: Arrival at Machu Picchu (My Trip to Peru, Part 7)

Flash forward: my final destination.

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.

My view after emerging through the Sun Gate.
The winding road going down the mountain is where the buses bring the non-hiker tourists.

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.

Zoomed in view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate.

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.

Not a bad breakfast view.

About 20 minutes later Uncle Kipp and Alex arrived.

We did it!

After a few more moments of relaxing it was time to make the final trek down to Machu Picchu.

A view along the trail down from the Sun Gate.

When we finally arrived, we waited in line to get the classic photo taken.

The classic postcard photo.

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.

The Temple of the Sun.

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.

Aguas Calientes
The main town square.

The portion of the Urubamba River that runs through town is filled with giant boulders like these:

The Urubamba

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.

The pools are all fed by real hot springs.
The bottoms consist of gravelly sand.

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:

Freddy
Alex (center)
Super Alex taking off for flight.

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.

Our Fellowship (minus the Elves and Hobbits).

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.

 

More Photos from Machu Pichu

More Photos and Videos from My Entire Peru Trip

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My Trip to Peru, Part 2: Here and There

When we left off in Part 1, I had arrived at the Hotel Rumi Punku in the early morning and proceeded to collapse in bed.  I awoke from my slumber in the afternoon and explored the hotel grounds.  The Rumi Punku is designed in an open air format similar to a motel with a courtyard in the middle, but calling it a motel does not do it justice.  I found it to be quite gorgeous, and for roughly $80 a night, I couldn’t have asked for more.

The main courtyard of the hotel.
View from the roof of my hotel.

Although some might balk at the basic amenities of the rooms, and the fact that the heat does not turn on until after 5 pm (I was there in winter, which is the preferred season to hike the Inca Trail for the best chance of avoiding rain, though it didn’t work out that way for me, but that’s a story for another day), my room was perfectly fine to use as a base of operations: I had hot water 24 hours a day (not always the case in Cusco hotels), a flat-screen TV, and a safe, not to mention a free American-style breakfast every morning and 24-hour access to coca tea in the lobby.

If you’re looking for a five-star hotel, you’ve come to the wrong place, but I was very pleased with everything the hotel offered and will definitely return if I ever find myself in Cusco again.  The Rumi Punku primarily caters to Inca Trail hikers anyway, so for those of us preparing to spend four days in the wilderness, staying here was practically the lap of luxury, and I was very grateful that the hotel would be storing my luggage free of charge for the four days I would be away on the trail.

After touring the hotel I headed into the city of Cusco.  I first visited Dos Manos, the travel company that was arranging our Inca Trail hike.  I paid for the balance of that trip as well as for two other excursions they were arranging for me.  For an extremely low fee, I would be taking a half day tour the next morning and a full-day tour the following day (lunch inclusive) to visit Inca ruins and some other sites in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the surrounding area.  I would be taking these tours on my own because Uncle Kipp had already been on the tours.

One of the alleys I traversed on my way to Dos Manos.  Notice the original stone construction on the walls.  Much of Cusco was built on top of original Inca and colonial construction.
Stray dogs like the one pictured were everywhere in Peru, running around solo and in packs.

Dos Manos was an uphill walk from my hotel, which led to my first experience dealing with physical exertion and the high altitude.  It was a little difficult to breath and my heart was racing a bit, but overall it wasn’t too bad.  My doctor had prescribed some Diamox for me but I had decided to try going without due to some of its side effects, which would later prove to be a mistake when I was climbing to over 13,000 feet on the Inca Trail.  At this time, however, the altitude effects were minimal so I thought that I would be okay.

Following my visit to Dos Manos I backtracked to the hotel and then made way toward the beautiful Plaza de Armas in the center of the city, an easy ten-minute walk from the hotel.  I was supposed to meet Uncle Kipp for dinner but he wasn’t feeling well, so I was on my own.  I walked around snapping photos and dodging the incredibly aggressive merchandise peddlers (they will follow you all over the plaza).  By the end of my stay I had learned that the best way to keep the peddlers at bay is to avoid eye contact, never stand still, and turn in the other direction when you see one approaching.

The Plaza de Armas

I wound up at a cozy restaurant overlooking the plaza called the Bagdad Café, where I had an excellent dish of beef, onions, chili peppers, rice, and fresh cilantro. There was also some type of stewed tomato, which I would normally not eat, but everything was so good that I mixed it in (it would not be the first time on this trip that I would consume a previously taboo food).  They also served me the best glass of blended orange and pineapple juice I’ve ever tasted.

View of the plaza from my restaurant seat.

After dinner I walked around the city in search of a churro (alas, I would never find one on this trip).  Instead, I discovered a tasty Peruvian fried dough pastry topped with syrup called a picarone that I found in a hole-in-the-wall joint on my way home.  I also tried a popular soda called Inca Kola, which looked like Mountain Dew but tasted more like vanilla cola.

That night I had intended to get to sleep early since I had an early wakeup for my first excursion outside of the city, but those plans were thwarted when I stumbled onto Braveheart on television, and it was actually in English.  Yes, I’ve seen it dozens of times and have the blu-ray at home, but I was weak.  Thus began my six days of Walking Deadness (I would not get another good night sleep until I returned from the Inca Trail).

The next morning a small bus picked me up in front of my hotel for our half-day tour of Maras and Moray.  There were only a handful of us on the bus, which was nice.  We first stopped in the town of Chinchero to see a demonstration of the process of cleaning and dying alpaca wool for garments.  They provided us with complimentary coca tea while we watched.

Local women demonstrating their craft.

After the demonstration I twisted my ankle badly walking down the steps to where they were selling their goods.  My first thought was that I had just screwed myself out of the Inca Trail, my entire reason for coming to Peru.  Thankfully, there wasn’t any real damage, though I did walk with a limp for a while and remained in some pain for most of the rest of the trip.

Following Chinchero we had a long ride to our next destination, the Maras Salt Mines, which are actually a series of evaporation ponds that apparently have been in operation since Inca times.

The Salt Mines of Maras
Our guide was kind enough to snap a photo of me in front of the salt mines.

Our next destination was Moray and its famous circle terraces.  Moray is thought to have been an Incan agricultural station due to the large increases in temperature the further down into the circles you descend.  The Inca steps used to climb down the massive circles were built into the sides of the terraces as jutting stones in order to maximize the available farming surface.

The main circle terraces at Moray.

By the time the guide stopped talking, we only had fifteen minutes before the bus was to leave, which was not enough time to climb all the way down and back up, but I decided to give it a go and race down, figuring it would be good practice for the Inca Trail.  I made it about two-thirds of the way down before turning around and running all the way back up, seriously huffing and puffing by the time I reached the top.

The smallest of the three main circular depressions at Moray.

On our way back to Cusco we drove through the town of Maras.  Most of the buildings in town are old colonial structures still in use. We didn’t stop, so I snapped this photo from the bus.  It turned out to be one of my favorite shots in spite of being almost an afterthought.

Maras: woman in the street.

We arrived back at Cusco in the mid-afternoon.  The bus dropped us off in the Plaza de Armas and I walked back to my hotel to freshen up before my scheduled meeting with Dos Mano that evening, where they would be briefing us about what to expect on the Inca Trail hike.  I met Uncle Kipp there; it was the first time we’d seen each other in the two days since I arrived.  We listened to the briefing and they gave us our rented sleeping bags.  They also  provided us with the large duffels that our personal porters would be carrying on the trail.  The personal porters cost us an extra $100, but it was the best decision we made–there was no way I would have made it through that trail if I was carrying all of my own belongings.  I’ll elaborate more on that when I get to the hike itself.

Later that night, after a brief stop at my hotel to drop off the sleeping bag and duffel, I returned to the main plaza to meet Uncle Kipp and his friend Yuri, a resident of Cusco whom my uncle had met and befriended during his stay.  We met Yuri’s family and we all went out for a nice dinner to a local joint where I had some tasty chicken and my first glass of Chicha Morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn.

After dinner I headed home and did some preliminary packing for the Inca Trail before heading to bed.  The next morning I would be waking up even earlier for an all-day excursion into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which I will be covering in Part 3.  In the meantime, you can find more photos from Cusco, Maras, and Moray at the link below.

Peru: Cusco, Maras, and Moray

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