April 1, 2017
The tour group picked us up on a bus at 4 am, as promised. It was about a two hour ride to the trailhead. And I was terrified. I could feel my heart pounding whenever we slowed down, thinking we were almost there – and that this painful experience was going to start soon.
When we got to the trailhead, we all took a quintessential photo with the sign and we started walking. The first day was great. The trail was a dirt path. We were walking along a river. We started chatting with the other hikers – talking about work and other hiking vacations.
There were 16 of us on this journey. We ranged from 22 – 35. Most of us were Americans, but there were a few Europeans in the group. There were also porters there to help us carry those 4 kg of contents that I mentioned earlier. I was expecting maybe 1 porter to 2 hikers. No. There were 22 porters. They ranged from the age of 18 – 61. Sixty-one. Some of them wore broken rubber sandals. Their feet were cracked. They were so incredibly quick as they walked on the trail – hardly looking at the ground as they bounced along the ground. They carried more than 50 pounds on their back – their packs were as large as they were – easily the size of 4 golf bags. The porters would always beat us to our destination, and by the time we arrived, there was a dining tent set up and a meal was on the table. And I’m not talking about camp food. This was real food. Fish. Vegetables. Rice. Desserts.There was more food than could even fit on the tables. They even baked Andrew a birthday cake (no idea how that is possible, but it happened). But seeing these porters broke my heart. It was so hard to sit in that tent, on stools that they had carried for us up these crazy mountains, and to have them setting up our sleeping tents, washing our dishes, and preparing our food. I know that being a porter is one of the best jobs you can have in that area of the world, but it hurts my heart to think that I contributed to that.
The second day of the hike was the hardest. We woke at 4:30 am. I attempted to use dry shampoo for the first time in my life with no success. The clouds were thick, engulfing us and clouding our visibility. We went up hill for four hours that morning. Step after step, every breath was harder to breathe. We went downhill for two hours. We stopped for lunch, went up another two hours and then down another two. This second day, the terrain was so different than the first. We were officially on the original Inca trail. The ground was uneven. The stones were different shapes and sizes. They were slippery. The rain was coming down, and it was hard to see over my poncho. My knees were aching, but when I stopped, my legs just shook uncontrollably.
Most of the hike for the next two days blends together. Steep inclines and steeper declines. Ancient ruins. Llamas grazing. The conversation evolved from work and previous hiking trips to taxes and the oxford comma. Lord help us.
The last morning of our trip we woke up at 3:30 am. This was the day we were going to hike to Machu Picchu. I assumed we were starting that early to watch the sun rise over the 7th wonder of the modern world. Nope. We got up that early so we could be the first in line at the checkpoint that was about 5 minutes from our campsite. The checkpoint opens at 5:30. See, the last day is sort of a race. There are 200 other hikers all waiting to get past this final checkpoint and haul booty to the sun gate, where you can see Machu Picchu for the first time. Our tour group was the second in line, so we were lucky enough to snag benches to sit on. After about an hour and a half of waiting I headed up to use the restroom (and by restroom I mean, find somewhere isolated in the woods…). I walked by hundreds of hikers sitting on the ground, it was as if I was at a sporting event. There were so many people!! Finally, 5:30 rolled around and we were let through the gates. From there, the race was on. We hiked for an hour and a half at dawn through early morning fog. Trusting my feet to find the best rocks for placement for the first time this whole trip. It wasn’t that I needed to be the first to see Machu Picchu, but I wanted to see it before it was clouded over. The last obstacle was this huge staircase that is practically a straight vertical. You climb up it with your hands and your feet. They call these “the gringo killers.” Well, I’m pretty sure I’m a gringo, but at least the stairs didn’t kill me.
Peaking over the sun gate, I finally saw it. There was Machu Picchu. It took me a minute to realize what it was. We had another 45 minute haul down the mountain to really see it. As we got closer, it finally sunk in. What a beautiful place. These mountains are incredible. How did they get all of this stone here?
Hours later, we were back to civilization and in a hotel. The hotel was “lacking” in a few ways, but after 4 nights in a tent without a shower, the standards were low. Clean bed. Hot shower. I was the first one in our group of four to hit the shower. And about 3 minutes into it, the water got luke warm. I quickly washed the rest of my body and hopped out. I encouraged Thomas to get in before all of the hot water was gone, but he was too late.
Thomas, Joyce, Andrew and I sat in the hotel lobby trying to figure out the hot water situation. Meanwhile, I was the only one that was clean and feeling incredibly guilty that I got a shower – whether or not it was only 3 minutes of hot water. I was clean and I was happy. Two hours later, the water heater had been repaired and it was game on.
That night, we treated ourselves to a delicious meal at The Treehouse and we all slept well as we starfished in those king beds!
Don’t worry. The trip wasn’t over from here. We still had to get back home.
We took the train to a town for two hours. Then a bus ride from that tiny town to Cusco. We spent a night there and took a flight to Lima early the next morning. Originally, we were going to explore Lima for the day, as we had a late flight. But, Lima decided to have flooding issues and the four of us felt safer in the airport. Turns out, we couldn’t check into our flight 12 hours early, so we headed back to the cafeteria, where we had spent our layover on the way down. Except this time, we weren’t completely exhausted and had enough brainpower to play Pandemic Legacy, an incredible boardgame, which we played for 10 hours straight (gahhh – I want to play it again soon!). Powered by McDonalds french fries, we were happy campers.
Thomas and I said our goodbyes to Joyce and Andrew and left Lima around 10 pm. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at 5:50 am. Got a rental car and drove back to St. Pete (which saved us another 4 hours of a layover and $500 in flights). After getting off of 275, five minutes from our house, we were at a stop light and got rear-ended in the rental car. Awesome.
Needless to say, we had a pretty memorable honeymoon. We learned a lot about ourselves, and each other. We saw a new, beautiful part of the world, and got to explore an incredible piece of the earth that is only visible on foot. I’m glad to be back in the comfort of our apartment, but I will say it felt darn good to put the pin in our world map when we got home. 🙂