Hello all! I just got back from an AMAZING experience hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. In case you haven’t heard of the trail, it’s essentially a four day hike over three mountain passes and hundreds of stairs, finishing at the famous Machu Picchu ruins.
(Taking pictures overlooking Cusco.)
We spent the first few days in Cusco, home to about half a million people. Traffic is crazy, houses are falling apart and, if you stick to the tourist area, you’ll even see people meandering the streets with their pet llamas- posing for pictures before following you down the street insisting “un sole, un sole for picture.” Following said experience you might assume that the traditionally dressed locals are simply exploiting their culture to make an extra sole- the local currency- however, you would be wrong. Many native women still carry their children on their backs in blankets, and hobble around town in long skirts and fancy hats.
(Now that you have my picture, you are required to buy a bracelet.)
The trick with Peru, just like any country rapidly attracting tourists, is to know the difference between the scams and the authentic culture. For example, anyone guaranteeing a “100% baby alpaca” shawl is lying, but the rougher, imperfect weaving’s explained in detail by the shop owner might be the real thing. (I bought it anyways.) You also have to bargain. At first, I was timid, but I quickly figured out how to buy things like alpaca hats for as little as $2.
The trail itself was extremely hard. If the elevation doesn’t get you, the hours and hours of up and down stairs will. However, our guide was fantastic, the chef was amazing and honestly, porters carried most of my stuff. This left me ample time to soak in the multiple ecosystems the trail snaked through. Originally I assumed we’d stick to the desert, with prickly pear cactus’s taller than me and the sage green bushes stretching out for miles. It was similar to New Mexico. By the third day we had descended into a cloud forest. Watching the sunrise from above the clouds was magical. Deeper into the forest water trickled down the moss covered trees, mist filled the air and the scattered Incan ruins sat nestled into a blanket of a moist green landscape.
(Sunrise above a cloud forest.)
On the morning we descended into Machu Picchu, the clouds provided a thick cover of the main attraction. After about 30 minutes at the Sun Gate, we weren’t sure that we get the amazing view overlooking the village. Luckily for us, the clouds cleared as soon as we put on our backpacks to leave. It truly does take your breath away at first sight. A combination of altitude sickness and fatigue may have enhanced the effect, but the hike was truly worth it. After descending into the city you are quickly surrounded by HUNDREDS of tourists who had chosen the more simple bus ride into the ruins. Honestly, if you are physically able, I would highly recommend the trail. I am so proud to have accomplished that hike, and the feeling you get watching the city emerge from the clouds is magical.
(Machu Picchu around 8AM. Gorgeous.)
Back in the US I am finishing up some brochures for my student job. In a few short days I’ll be headed back to the land of enchantment. I’m looking forward to a summer of learning and hiking. After all, I worked so hard for these calves last week, it would be a shame to lose them now.