Week of April 11, 2004
And we're off! We met our bus headed for Kilometer 88 along the train route that heads to Aguas Calientes (it actually is the town of Machu Picchu but because of the famous hot springs, Aguas Calientes has become the recognizable reference). From Kilometer 88, we are to walk for three and half days along the Inca Trail with the reward being very sore feet (only kidding), with the reward being the magnificence of Machu Picchu glimmering in the light of the sunrise.
As part of our tour package. we carry our own clothes, sleeping bags, toiletries, etc. and we are provided "porters" that carry the tents, food, utensils, etc. A cook and a guide are provided for each group. The Ministry that oversees the Inca Trail and the Machu Picchu ruins only allows 500 people on the trail on any given day and only 1000 people into the ruins themselves. Even with these seemingly small numbers, at least 100 people start out at Km 88 every day.
I thought I was going to be the odd-person out because we quickly found out that Jose must have not clearly specified that we were looking for an "English-speaking group" and guide. Fortunately, Miguel, our tour guide, has been learning English and he and I had fun trading new words, so no problem there. And, as it turned out, even though we were thrown into a last-minute group that consisted of three Spaniard men and three Uruguayan women, all of whom speak less English than I do Spanish, we had a good time together. I am so looking forward to visiting Spain, and especially Barcelona (that's Barthselona for the proper pronunciation) after meeting these three - on several occasions they had me laughing to tears. Isn't it great how humor can translate with its own language!
We walked, hiked and trekked approximately 13 kilometers up and along the ancient Inca Trail that wound its way out of the Sacred Valley and into uncompromised beauty and infinite vistas. Gerson and I kept commenting that we felt as though we were on some vast movie stage with the mountains only a distant backdrop for the scenery was beyond our imagination. We passed by more Inca ruins and we had lunch in a meadow that nestled alongside of a echo-baring canyon. Fortunately, this first day was relatively easy as we only ascended from about 8700 ft to 9900 ft. We camped near a roaring Kushichaca river and spoke the international language of "cervezas".
Now, those of you that know me, know that I do not imbibe much in the way of alcohol, no matter how bad the influences are around me, so when I say I got sick that night, don't jump to the conclusion I drank too much. Unfortunately, that delicious fresh-water trout and I did not get along well; however, the bathroom (a hole in the concrete floor as it was) and I got along so well, that I visited it five times during the night. And, if it was not for Gerson being the kind, loving and "would you get it over with already" husband that he is and him holding my forehead while I bent over the cliff wall (hey, he had his chance to get rid of me right there and then), I don't know how I would have made it through the night.
Daybreak came and so did the information that this day was going to be a grueling, six-hour upwards trudge, climbing a total of 3900 ft (to approximately 13,800 ft). Fortunately, I was able to somewhat hydrate myself with a sprite and water and I did not even want to think about food. So, placing one foot in front of the other, Gerson and I began a hellacious day of pain and being reminded of muscles that are housed in our bodies that have no business being there.
But, you know what? I would not have missed it for the world and it is that, that kept me going, literally 100 steps at-a-time. Miguel, the wonderful guide that he is, kept pace with us and he and Gerson kept reassuring me we were almost there. (I kind of figured out they were fibbing when could see the allusive pass was still about 20,000 kilometers away).
We hired a porter to carry the larger of the two bags so that Gerson could have a break from carrying the heavy gear and I could travel light with two water bottles. I am soooo thankful for those porters. We traveled approximately 11 kilometers with all but 2 km being virtually straight up.
The decision was made not to camp on top of the pass where it was windy, rainy and just plain cold and we hobbled down another 45 minutes to our second camp, Paq'aymayo. I don't remember much about the camp, or I should probably say, I don't want to remember much about the camp. I only took the time to roll out my sleeping bag, made sure it lived up to its name, and I slept until dinner.
Dinner is the part I would most like to forget. But alas, a certain Brazilian person, whom I will leave unnamed, reminds me of that fateful gathering of the group. At that time, I had been able to keep all fluids in their rightful place and I even was able to enjoy a "cup of tea" (said with a British accent) and a slice of chewy, but tasty bread. "Of course I can stomach dinner", I answered to my critic's questions. Dinner yes, soup, well, no.
As we were pleasantly and exhaustedly gathered around the small dinner table, a hot, thick, vegetable filled broth was presented to us and it smelled delicious. The first spoonful warmed my innards. The second mouthful awakened my taste buds. The third swallow roused my...shaking my head no to others' questions if I need to get past them to get outside as my face becomes as pale as the glaciers glaring down at us...and then suddenly, I leapt to my feet just one gag slower than my stomach leaping into my throat and Voila! I deposited what little I had at Miguel's back-scrambling feet. Within a few heaves, Gerson virtually lifted me outside and I gulped in the fresh, cold air and recovered my senses.
But you know what? My stomach had the audacity to start violently grumbling in hunger, the little ingrate. I just gave it some food and it starts to get particular. So, after profuse apologies and noticing a clump of grass over a very suspicious spot, I rejoined our traveling companions. The pork loin dinner smelled so good that I came to an agreement with my stomach and we agreed that I would eat only the pork and the rice and leave everything else. Well, I kept my part of the bargain and my stomach honored its side as well. Sleep was right behind...
Our third day was like being reborn. At least for me. Fortunately, it was to be easier than the day before and because of my new found strength, I was raring to cover the 13 km of mixed terrain. This day was to be the final push to make it within a few hours of Machu Picchu and you could feel the excitement rise in the entire group. And, as though the Incas thought to tease us, they left several ruins along the way to whet our appetite for what magnificence was to come.
We were able to slide into our third camp at Winay wayna (Ween-eh wine-a) just at dusk and we raced down the path to view some very impressive ruins built into the very steep hillside. Unfortunately, the dark embraced my camera and I was unable to get much in the way of a good picture.
The fourth, and final day: We were up at 4:00 a.m. and out on the trail by
5:00. We all had newfound strength that propelled us the several km down
and across the mountain to the Intipunku ruins that serves as the gateway to the
Machu Picchu mountain (which Hiram Bingham, RE-discoverer of the ruins so
cleverly named the site after the mountains, the original name lost with the
Mystery seems to shroud Machu Picchu as densely as the clouds that ring themselves around her peaks. Scholars have searched and researched all documents they can find from the 1600's and later (when the Spaniards documented their discoveries in writing) and they can find no specific reference to this city in the sky. Even the Augustinian friars who received the lands as an inheritance in the 16th century did not note the existence of this Inca city. The Spaniards never made it to Machu Picchu (except with our group :-)), and other than the local people knowing that the ruins overlooked their lives, this site was silent.
It is not known why the Incas built this incredible city and why after less than one hundred years, they abandoned it, taking with them everything they could carry and thus leaving, only fragments of their history (along with 173 mummies) and leaving for us a breath-taking, heart-stopping, tear-wrenching, chill-inducing city that is nestled between two peaks, cradled like a baby in it's mother's arms.