Peru Day 9: Friday 10.21.22
Salkantay Day 3 // 11 miles
Chaullay to Lucmabamba
I woke up to the sound of hikers getting ready for breakfast - unfortunately my nice spot under the pavilion was right next to a table where a whole tour group was eating breakfast, and apparently they were getting an earlier start than me!
But I quickly tore my stuff down, packed up, and went down to the grassy yard to start breakfast. I saw Ian from Canada getting packed up, and whipped out my stove to start some oatmeal. His breakfast plan had been to buy eggs from the restaurant owners and hard boil them, but since his stove broke, I volunteered mine.
We sat there, chatting and boiling Ian's egg, and Kiran from the UK came down to join us. It looked like most of the couples and guided groups had already left, but I wasn't super worried since this was a shorter day, and mostly downhill according to the elevation profile.
Soon enough, me, Ian, and Kiran, were all ready to go! I was kind of excited to have some other solo hiker buddies to hike along with.
We ended up hiking together a lot of the morning, and started descending alongside a beautiful jungle river valley. A few of the sections of trail were pretty steep dropoffs!
Passing some really nice waterfalls, we stopped a few times to dip our feet and cool off.
Kiran stopped to make a full swim out of it, and Ian and I continued ahead until we found an AMAZING little campground complete with a stand selling coffee/other goodies, and hammocks! Another tour group was there, kicking around a soccer ball and enjoying the beautiful location.
Something that's super different for me about this trek is all the amenities and places along the way to buy snacks. I'm definitely not used to being tempted with candy bars and sodas a few times a day while I hike 😂 I caved and sprang for a delicious cup of coffee with milk, and Ian bought some candy... a pattern he would come to repeat, despite telling us we needed to stop him from buying more food, haha.
Kiran wandered up, and we all took a little rest in the hammocks. But soon enough, we needed to keep up our momentum.
The downhill was pretty nice and cruisey, not nearly as steep and sketchy as yesterday, thankfully. It was a super enjoyable and beautiful day. Funnily enough, we looked across the river and saw a road with vans, and realized that some tour groups were being driven the rest of the way. So much for a guided "trek"! We poked fun at them a bit as we made more miles.
At another tienda spot, we stopped and I ate my lunch. Unfortunately, this was when I realized I lost my little toy film camera! I think it slipped out of my pocket when I sat down for a rest earlier, and must not have noticed that it wasn't there anymore :( I was pretty bummed. I realized I wouldn't be able to take any Machu Picchu film shots and that was sad.
The boys went on ahead of me, and I just took my time. I passed some really fancy glass jungle domes that looked like an awesome place to stay, and soon got to a little town where kids were walking home from school. Near the other end of town, I caught up to the boys drinking Inca Cola at a tienda 😂 Always with the snacks, these guys.
We knew we were close, though! After a short bit of walking down a road, we made it to Lucmabamba. Apparently, this is a big coffee growing region! We spotted a nice looking camp spot in front of a hotel called "Inca Inspired." It was only 10 soles ($2.50) to camp there, and there were free cold showers and free wifi!
Kiran got a room as Ian and I set up our tents. Upstairs, there was an eating area with tables, chairs, and a hammock, and we all just vegged out. A lot of groups choose to take a taxi to Santa Teresa, where there is a nice hot springs. Before we arrived, we had been considering this, but now seated in comfy chairs, we all agreed we were not about to get up and move from this comfy spot.
I called Dad over Whatsapp, and it was so interesting looking out at the remote Peruvian jungle and being able to be connected.
I had some extra dinner meals, so I decided I should probably save a little money and eat my packed food. But I was really craving something fresh, so I asked if I could just pay for a side of salad. The owner and host of the place said no, it was all served together. I decided to pass on dinner, but I think the dear woman thought I was running out of money and served me dinner FOR FREE anyways. Oh man. What a sweetheart! I felt a bit sheepish about it, and decided to make sure to at least buy a cup of coffee in the morning.
While we waited for dinner, I taught Ian and Kiran a card game called Twisty Owl that I play at work with the kids. We somehow got talking about tarot cards, and I mentioned that part of why I'm not into that kind of stuff is that I have peace trusting God with my future. Kiran mentioned that while he's not particularly religious, after he had lost his job, he met some other travelers who prayed with him, and it gave him a lot of peace. I thought that was pretty awesome. I love being able to have meaningful conversations with these guys.
The dinner was breaded chicken with an avocado tomato salad and rice. I had already eaten some of my own food, so I let the guys eat my leftovers. Our server came out with some coffee liqueur for us to try (again, FOR FREE - man the hospitality here is amazing). It was super delicious! We got a bit goofy playing around with a wooden flute on the wall and cracked each other up with our attempts at carrying a tune with it. I love these kind of goofy moments with other hikers! It's the unexpected little things like that I remember when I look back at these experiences.
We headed to bed, ready for a long climb in the morning.
Peru Day 10: Saturday 10.22.22
Salkantay Day 3 // 12.3 miles
Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo)
I started the day with the best coffee of my life. Seriously. Someone needs to tell Buddy the Elf that the World's Best Cup of Coffee is actually in Lucmabamba, Peru. I asked our amazing host if I could buy beans, and she said her mother-in-law grows it just down the trail. I was really happy I could buy something more expensive from them after their generosity last night.
I hard boiled eggs with Ian again, ate the last of my oatmeal, and packed up. We were up and ready a little bit sooner than Kiran, so we told him we'd see him down the trail.
We started up a steep hill - the beginning of Llactapata Pass. We passed some other "coffee experience" stands and finally made it to Cafe Viamonte, where Santusa was waiting for us happily with the bags of coffee beans. Such a cool experience!
Considering we had already conquered Salkantay Pass, I didn't think this climb would be too bad. I was definitely wrong. This thing was STEEP. I put in my headphones and tried to rock some music to get me up the hill.
We made it to a little tienda spot with a great view. I looked up and saw Kiran swinging on a huge swing right on the edge! It was scary, but I tried it!
After our break, we were getting really close to the top. Slowly, we made our way up until we reached a sign that led to a viewpoint. We decided it was worth the short detour, and soon, we found an open area where we could finally see it: Machu Picchu!
We ate lunch in the company of a very aggressive hungry cat. I let him eat some of my salami that was on the edge of going bad. Ian's back was hurting a bit, and he was kind of in the mood to just keep pressing on to Aguas Calientes, our destination for the night, and the town base for visitors to Machu Picchu.
Kiran and I started descent... it was SO steep! Just a tiny ways down, we found our first legit Incan ruins!
And about 10 minutes past that was a BEAUTIFUL campsite with COLD FANTA! Most of the tiendas had room temp soda, which didn't really interest me. But add a fridge into the mix, and here I am, TAKE MY MONEY! haha.
Sitting on a bench drinking our sodas, Kiran and I met nice guy from Spain. I was a bit jealous of the awesome campsite, but my Machu Picchu ticket is for tomorrow morning, so I knew I had to make it all the way to Aguas Calientes.
Starting down the hill, Kiran quickly outpaced me with how steep it was. It was one of the more uncomfortable descents I've ever done - my knees didn't love the beating, so I took it slow. I was getting really hot and a bit low on water, and I knew I still had a ways to go after getting down.
At last, I made it to the bottom and walked along the river to the town of Hidroelectrica. There was a passport checkpoint there, where I had to write down my info in the log. I saw that Ian was 20 minutes ahead, and somehow I had passed Kiran, probably at the stream a little ways back. He loves going for swims!
I found another little spring past the checkpoint, and as I filled water, Kiran came up the trail. Our last stretch was a 6 mile walk along the train tracks into Aguas Calientes. We hiked together the rest of the way into town.
I was tired by now, and my feet didn't like the rocky texture near the tracks, but the conversation was helping get my mind off of things. Kiran and I talked about a lot - mental health and technology, travel, finding things you're excited and passionate about, and becoming healthier people. I explained the concept of trail names to Kiran, and he suggested "Waterboy" for himself since he can't help constantly going for swims whenever he sees a nice water spot.
We passed some different little food stands, and about a mile from town, saw an empanada stand that smelled SO good. We both looked at each other and decided we had to go for it! $2 to keep us from being hangry? Yes please.
A few trains passed us as we walked, one just before we were going to enter a tunnel.
Just as dusk fell, we walked into the town of Aguas Calientes. It was a bit overstimulating, and I quickly realized that it's very much a tourist town. Restaurants, hotels, bars, and souvenir stands abound. And again, I picked the hostel at the TOP OF THE HILL. 0/2 on that so far.
Kiran was also able to get a bunk at the SuperTramp Hostel, and we used the wifi to get in touch with Ian. The three of us went out for dinner together to celebrate making it! We all have different ticket times, so we knew that tonight was where we'd say goodbye.
It was such a joy to get to know them and hike together.
After getting back to the hostel, I let the front desk girl know that I'd be down super early for breakfast, and then got all my stuff organized in my bunk room. I knew I didn't want to take my full pack with me to Machu Picchu, and thankfully this hostel has a locked storage room where I could store all the heavy stuff I don't need to carry tomorrow.
Peru Day 11: Sunday 10.23.22
Salkantay Day 5 (MACHU PICCHU DAY!) // at least 4 miles and a billion stairs
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Mountain and back
My alarm went off way too early - my entrance ticket is for 7am, but the hike up to the entrance takes two hours, so I wanted to leave by 5am.
Thankfully, the hostel is used to people leaving ridiculously early, and they had breakfast open as early as 4:30am! I was thankful for the coffee and grub, and after storing most of my extra gear, I headed out right on time.
Once again, I opted to do things the hard way - most people take a bus to the entrance, but I had walked this whole way, and I sure as heck wanted to walk my way all the way to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Along with two other girls, I started up the steps to the entrance. It was pretty steep, but I just took my time. It was great to not have a huge pack on my back, and so compared to the past few days, it didn't really feel that bad to make it up to the entrance.
The clouds were swirling, and I was a little nervous that the views might be clouded in today, but they seemed to be misty and fast-moving, so I decided not to worry about it.
I made it up 15 minutes before my entry time, and wouldn't you know it, I bumped into Julio and Belén near the entrance again. They were happy to see I'd made it! Their ticket was for the hour before me, though, so they headed inside.
Finally, it was entrance time! Ticketing at Machu Picchu is a little bit complicated - there are 4 different circuits you can get tickets for, plus some with options to climb Machu Picchu Mountain (for an elevated view of the ruins), or Huayna Picchu Mountain (the pointy mountain in all the iconic photos of the site). My ticket was for Circuit 3, the shorter low route, but it included the Machu Picchu Mountain climb so I was still going to get up to the iconic viewpoint at the end of the hike.
A lot of folks had tour guides, but I had opted to save a little money and download an audio guide instead. I started near the warehouses and got my first view of the mountain and urban center.
Crossing along the agricultural terraces, I spotted my German friends from the big tour group at Salkantay Pass. They waved, but were headed off to Machu Picchu Mountain.
The views from the terraces were awesome!
I continued on towards the Temple of the Sun, one of the most important religious structures of the site. The top was used as an observatory, and during the solstices, the windows cast a perfect shadow in the center of the rock. It's also the only curved structure at the site, and it utilizes a natural formation as part of its design. The engineering of Machu Picchu is really incredible - the rock construction techniques are laid without mortar, so during earthquakes, they can"wiggle" a bit. MP has survived earthquakes that have devastated nearby Cusco because of this building method.
60% of the site construction is said to be underground - the engineering allowed for expert drainage and irrigation.
After the Temple, I headed to the Casa del Inka, the royal residence.
Rounding the bend, I was greeted with a beautiful sight of Huayna Picchu.
Heading that direction, I found some really interesting round shaped formations that are "Water Mirrors".
At this point, I started to make my way towards the entrance to the Machu Picchu Mountain hike. Getting around was a bit confusing. I had to go out the exit and back in a different way. But I started heading up some stone steps following the signs, and eventually got to a checkpoint. My start time was between 8-9am, and I made it at 8:50. I had NO CLUE how many steps I was in for!
I started to get a really cool view from above the site. But it was also super exhausting!
The steps were uneven, and closer to the top, I had to use my hands to keep my footing. As I neared the top, a lot of people were coming down, including the Germans. It was really nice to see them! They were super happy to see that I had safely made it all the way to Machu Picchu.
I took lots of breaks, and was thankful for all the water I had brought. The hike was supposed to take around 4 hours, and I was almost 2 hours in.
Finally, finally, I made it to the top! The view was beautiful - I could see the curve of the river from Hidroelectrica, Machu Picchu, and all the way to Aguas Calientes.
But honestly at this point, I was SO TIRED. I had been hiking for 5 days and hadn't expected this "day hike" to be so strenuous. I think if I did it again, I'd skip hiking all the way to the top.
As I headed down, I realized that I was mostly alone. There were a few people way behind me, but since the entrance to this hike keeps people from starting later than 9am, it felt like I was suddenly on a deserted trail.
But I appreciated the quiet. I made it down the hill around 12:30pm, and finally had a chance to curve around to the terrace with that iconic postcard photo. There were llamas grazing and lots of people getting their pictures taken.
I didn't take too much time there though - I was ready to sit on an air conditioned bus and go get some food 😂
After getting back into town, I made it back up to the hostel to claim my stuff. I went right across the street to a restaurant and ordered food. Craving veggies, I got a salad and some tequeños (cheese sticks wrapped in crunchy fried wrappers) with guac.
Later I would come to regret this order...
After finishing my food, I grabbed my pack and walked around, scoping out the souvenirs and trying to make sure I knew where to go for my 4:45 train back to Cusco. I bumped into Louisa and Sebastian, the couple I had met at my first big campsite. They were really impressed I had made it all the way by myself. Sebastian's knee pain had flared a few days before, so they ended up bailing on the last part of the trek to make sure he was okay for their Machu Picchu day!
I bought a few things at the creative market before heading to the train station to wait.
Boarding the train, I was pleasantly surprised to be seated across from a French couple that I had greeted a few times while on the trek!
As we left the station, they asked me if I knew that the train didn't go all the way to Cusco. This was super surprising to me! Apparently, the station is about 10km outside the city center. I was worried, since I was almost completely out of cash. But they were super kind, and offered to share a taxi.
The views were beautiful out the window leaving town, but soon it grew dark and I napped as much as I could. We reached the station around 9pm, and quickly found a taxi to drop us off at the main plaza. I offered to go pull some money out of a nearby ATM to help with cab fare, but they wouldn't let me. I hugged them and said goodbye before walking to my hotel. Hikers, man. I just love the way we look after each other.
I found my Airbnb just north of the Plaza San Francisco, and was greeted by my sweet host. She welcomed me in and showed me my cute little room, and then brought me a cup of tea. There was some sort of parade going on right outside my window to celebrate one of the saints, and she apologized for the noise. But thankfully, after my shower, they had finished up.
I fell into bed exhausted, but sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up feeling like everything on my insides wanted to come out... and it did. Oh dear. I threw up like 3 times before getting back to sleep, hopeful that I'd gotten it out of my system and would feel better in the morning. Uh oh.
Peru Day 12: Monday 10.24.22
Sick in Cusco
I had planned to get up around 8am, since breakfast was served until 9am. But my body protested, so I waited until the last possible moment. I got up at 8:45, and saw a lovely table set and ready for me. I thought I might be able to nibble on a breakfast meal. I took literally one bite of eggs and immediately felt sick to my stomach. I sprinted to my room and it all came up. Nooooo!
I went back to the kitchen to apologize to the señora and tell her I was sick. I asked if there was any way I could do a late checkout, but she apologized profusely, saying she had guests checking in to the room early today. But the upstairs common room had couches that she said I could lay down on.
My original plan for the day was to spend some time exploring Cusco more: visiting Qorikancha and maybe Saqsaywaman, purchasing some alpaca yarn, and then retrieving my duffel from the other hostel's luggage storage before my 8:45pm flight to Lima. But I did NOT feel up to much of anything.
I messaged my mom that I was sick, probably from something I ate. At the time she was with my brother Dan, who is an ER doc. He told me to go to the pharmacia and ask for a course of Cipro, an antibiotic that helps with traveler's food poisoning.
I moved my pack upstairs at checkout time. My only necessary task for today was to retrieve my luggage, repack my bag, and get the antibiotics. I considered trying to taxi my way there, but last time, the taxi couldn't make it up the steep hill. So I guess I'd have to walk.
My stomach had calmed a bit, so I decided to venture out. My sweet host let me keep the key to the front door so I could come back and rest upstairs before my flight.
I headed out, and realized that I was right near that yarn shop that I had heard about. Despite feeling sick, I couldn't resist stopping in. Sure enough, the yarn was beautiful, and with the exchange rate, relatively inexpensive for such high quality. I bought a bag of 9 skeins of DK baby alpaca for around $25.
From here, I slowly walked my way towards pharmacy in the direction of my old hostel. I told the woman in Spanish that I was sick from food and that I needed Cipro. Thankfully, no prescription was needed, and I was in and out without any trouble.
At this point, I was feeling weak and tired. I sat on the steps of the cathedral in the main square, steeling myself for what was going to be an exhausting walk up the hill to the hostel.
It took me an eternity to get up those steps. I had to stop and sit a lot, my energy depleted from the last 5 days of hiking 50+ miles and then the subsequent loss of all the food in my stomach. My tank was empty. But I made it up to the hostel at last and let the front desk girl know I was here for my luggage.
I was so exhausted, that I couldn't help but lay down on the couch in the outdoor common room. I completely conked out for 2 hours, and then asked the desk worker to call me a taxi. The nap had helped a bit, but I wasn't about to drag my duffel all the way back to my other Airbnb. Even if I had to walk down the hill to meet my taxi.
When I made it back, I dragged my duffel upstairs and quickly packed my backpacking pack inside so I could check it for the flight. Finally I could rest.
I felt someone lay a blanket over me and woke up to a cup of tea courtesy of my host. It was so sweet. It was nice to feel taken care of - especially since as a solo traveler, you are so often relying on yourself and your own planning to pull you through.
Before I knew it, it was 6pm. I had taken the antibiotics and some Imodium, and I had kept down a package of Gushers fruit snacks. I was weak, but I didn't feel like I was going to throw up anymore. So I decided I should be okay to fly.
Unfortunately, my host was out, so I wasn't able to thank her in person for the help. But I sent her a sweet message on the Airbnb app. I called an Uber and made it to the airport on time.
The wait in the airport was exhausting. I dozed off several times, completely drained from the day. I thought back on my food choices, and realized that the salad I got after finishing Machu Picchu may have been rinsed with untreated water. Or the cheese in the tequeños may have been bad. Either way, I was pretty certain it was one of those things.
I completely crashed on the flight to Lima, but on arrival, I actually was feeling a bit more energy. But as my phone connected to the airport wifi, I hit another snag - my flight home for tomorrow morning was cancelled. When it rains, it pours.
My bag made it safely, and after a short bit of trying to wifi call American Airlines, I decided I'd just get to the airport hotel I'd booked and then try to untangle this mess. I splurged for an official airport taxi - not about to try to figure out the mess outside the airport alone and sick at 10:30pm.
I settled into my room and was able to contact American customer service and schedule a morning call. The app was showing that the next available flight was Thursday morning, so I'd be here at least another two days. I let Char know what was up, and realized I might get a bonus visit with her.
Peru Day 12: Tuesday 10.25.22
I woke just before my call with American customer service, and spent a 45 minutes on the phone figuring out what the best flight options were. For some reason, the app had not registered that my cancelled flight would mean that I missed my connection in Dallas to Grand Junction. The customer service guy was super great though and kept exploring different options for me. The earliest flight out I could make was a redeye to Miami that left Wednesday night, with a connection through Dallas, and then getting into Junction at 4:30pm Thursday.
Once that was all figured out, I got in touch with Char and planned to Uber to her house to get there around her lunch break so she could let me in. I had breakfast at the hotel, and thankfully was feeling hungry again. The worst was over.
Most of the day was spent resting at Char's house, and in the evening I got to go to a bible study at her friend Carrie's apartment in Miraflores! It was fun getting to see Char and her friends again and tell them about my adventures on the trek.
Peru Day 13: Wednesday 10.26.22
I spent another day resting up at Char's house, reading my book and watching more episodes of Married at First Sight 😂 I got all my things packed and checked in for my flight.
I was grateful for some time to make sure I was feeling better before another long travel day.
Char and her roommate Vicky got home from work, and Char and I decided to start the new season of Love is Blind, and then before I knew it, I was headed to the airport again!
We left Lima just before midnight, and I did my best to get some sleep on the plane.
Travel Home Day: Thursday 10.27.22
My Miami connection was stressful. I had about 2 and a half hours, but with having to go through customs and recheck my bag, and go through security again, I wasn't sure how it would go. The bags took what seemed like an eternity to come through. I was probably waiting at least 45 minutes.
But to my relief, I made it to my gate just as boarding was starting.
The flight to Dallas was pretty quick, but I had a decently long layover. At this point, I was so ready to be home. The trip was excellent, but that last little bit of getting sick and having to deal with crazy logistics made it extra tiring.
Arriving in Junction felt so great. I love getting back to Colorado and seeing the mountains dusted with the first big snow of the season. And who was there to pick me up but my friends Rob, Catherine, and Sam. We swung over to a great little Vietnamese restaurant for some delicious Pho, and it felt so good to be back in the company of friends.
Retelling crazy stories and moments from the trip, I couldn't help but feel so grateful for this experience.
Until the next adventure,