We arrived in Peru on the 1st October. Excitement was brimming as we were meeting Leanne, a friend from home to continue this epic journey with us!
Now armed as a three we felt ready to start the last leg of our adventure and find out what South America had to offer.
We started in the capital, Lima and spent most of our time in the beautiful Miraflores area. We got a taster of the incredible markets and Artisans to come, yet resisted buying any goodies as Cusco, the home of great markets was to come.
If I give you one piece of advice in my life time let it be this. DO NOT GET THE OVER NIGHT BUS FROM LIMA TO CUSCO! 24 hours of weaving through mountains and flying around corners left us all undesirably green in the gills and dizzy! Flyings the only way!
Cusco is nestled beautifully in a highland valley. At 3400m above sea level we planned to stay and explore Cusco for a few days to allow our bodies to adjust to the high altitude before going on to bigger and better things.
The city is an amazing place to simply walk around and explore; one minute you’re walking down a shadowy, stone-walled alley, the next you burst onto a plaza full of brightly dressed local women from the countryside, joining in what seems like the endless market and shopping experiences for which Cusco is apparently famous.
Cusco is known as the centre of handicraft in all of South America, therefore the markets here are outrageous in the best possible way. Streets overflow with shops stuffed with colorful, enticing clothes. From tiny one-person shops to large markets with dozens of stalls.
You can’t help but be captivated by beautiful warm weather gear that floods out of every stall. Infact I can speak for everyone when I say people end up replacing their own clothes for the warm alpaca wool that is bursting out of the markets.
By this point our nerves had officially set in it was now less than 24 hours until we start a five day trek to Machu Picchu. At this point we know very little, we’d met with our guide who didn’t put our nerves at ease at all. He told us the climb is really hard, it will get to minus 5 celsius at points, altitude sickness is a probability and your mind and body will want to shut down – oh good, now we really can’t wait to get going!!
Then the time came;
After a sleepless night we met up with our group early to start the adventure. A three hour hair raising drive through the mountains leads us to our first stop, a small village in the middle of no where for some breakfast.
Here I feel like I’m eyeing up the other groups of hikers. Some look as if they have trained for years, others at retirement age make me feel a bit better about myself! We had another 30 minute drive higher into the mountains before we were dropped off on the side of the road and the hike began.
The walk today was to get us all used to the altitude and warm us up for the gruelling days ahead.
Was it meant to be this hard? Surely I’m not meant to be struggling already? How am I going to get through the rest? This was all going through my head as the group started to separate between the fast and slow walkers. I found the change in altitude from Cuzco tough and there was no way I was keeping up with the front of the pack.
I soon found a pace I was comfortable with and continued the walk with my new friends Sarah and Joe.
Finding it difficult on the first day worried me and I honestly thought I wasn’t going to be able to do the next day – the big one – the Salkantay climb. Could I get a horse? Would the climb be impossible – God probably. I’ll sleep on it.
We were fed like kings that evening, first with a ‘Inka Happy Hour’ which consists of hot drinks and popcorn – just what the doctor ordered. Followed then by a four course dinner, holy hell we were absolutely stuffed!
That night we slept under stunning snow capped mountains that took the little breath I had away every time I looked at them. However beautiful it was to be so close to this kind of scenery it meant it was seriously cold at night! We even brushed our teeth in a field while it was snowing!! An unforgettable day one.
I woke up after a surprisingly good nights sleep and felt positive enough to put my best foot forward and attempt the Salkantay Climb – progress :). This was the day Francisco had warned us was tough, with a 3 and a half hour up hill climb and 21 miles covered in total during the whole day, I felt if we were all doing it there was no way I wasn’t going to give it a good go!
Those 3 and a half hours were the hardest thing I have ever done. The continuous incline of Salkantay met with the rapidly decreasing level of oxygen made the climb a constant struggle. With your thighs screaming at you to stop walking up hill and no oxygen getting to your muscles or into your lungs thanks to the altitude all you want to do is give up and jump on a horse.
That turns out was never an option for us so any doubts about being unable to go on had to be beaten by sheer determination and focus that we were able to do it.
Finding a good walking pace is the only way to defeat a monster like Salkantay and the higher we rose the slower mine became. After 4000 meters above sea level I felt I was talking around 10 steps and then stopping to catch my breath and bring my heart rate back to normal.
It was intense but with constant moral support and regular breaks we edged our way closer to the summit.
The elation apon reaching the sign that reads ‘Salkantay 4600m above sea level’ was surreal – we had actually done it. I had personally completed the toughest thing I had ever set out to do and it felt like an incredible accomplishment!
The realisation of the imminent 6 hours down hill stretch was looming so before any of us got cold or any more emotional we started the walk down the otherside.
This is where our walking poles came into their own and saved us all multiple times from landing on our bums.
After three hours of loose stones, steep drops and changing climates we made it to our first rest stop, which meant the opportunity to take the wait off our feet and eat some food. We were all utterly exhausted by this time and the food was only consumed as a source of energy – the thought of having to walk for a further 3 hours was daunting!
All of us pulled motivation from the pits of god only knows, rose to our feet and started heading further down into the rain forest. As the name eludes, it continuously rained for the following 3 hours. We were miserable, exhausted and wet threw. At one point we were walking down what can only be described as a river which resulted in not only wet but saturated tootsies.
Spotting the campsite in the far distance was the motivation we needed to get us through the last stretch and seeing the faces of those we recognised from the group was the last push to get us there!! We were so thankful for a seat to sit on, a roof above our heads and a warm drink to hug.
The thought of sleeping in a tent that night loomed above our heads, wet threw and sleeping in a field you can imagine we weren’t the happiest people in the world.
After the worst nights sleep, even after such a intense day previously, I was not feeling motivated for the 6 hour walk ahead. The blisters were now out in force and were consuming my walking pattern.
This made day three my toughest yet and my motivation came from the fact that at the end of this walk will be a town called Santa Teresa and in Santa Teresa lays some natural hot springs simmering at a wonderful 36 degrees – just what our muscles were screaming out for.
My pace had dramatically slowed today and a couple times I physically had to hold back the tears for fear of crumbling and loosing the will.
With little option but to continue on both Sarah and I continued through the pain. The scenery was beautiful, we walked over so many waterfalls, saw thousands of brightly coloured butterfly’s and took in the untouched wonder of the natural rain forest. We even walked over a recent rock slide that had left the whole of the mountain side deathly steep. In England this would be fenced off and probably guarded but in Peru, where there are no safety rules we swallowed our fear and gripped on for our lives as we edged ourselves across! Insane!!
Sarah and I motivated each other and without her I know I would of really struggled in completing the walk. When we eventually found the group they gave us a cheer and I felt overjoyed to have made it. I had to sit in silence for a while in fear of crying at the table.
We all did it though, which only meant one thing..
It’s hard to find the words to describe how good it felt to be in the 36 degree water. The pain instantly gone and the relief was epic. It was exactly what we all needed and we soaked it up for over an hour!
Tonight was party night in celebration for everything we had done so far. With a bonfire roaring and a huge dinner to sink our teeth into I can personally say I was feeling 100 times happier. We danced round the fire and drank rum until our voices got louder and our dancing became worse, that was when it was time to literally fall (Leanne) into our tents and call it a night….
Waking up with hangovers and instantly regretting the Inka Tequila we agreed to try we were not in brightest of moods. However with the sun warming our skin and funny stories from the night before we all shared the banter around the breakfast table and felt better about the hangovers.
Today we all chose to go zip lining in the jungle. An optional activity that cost around £30 and was too good an opportunity to pass up. We donned harnesses and hats, took a couple nuerofen for the headache and headed up to the first line.
This turned out to be a 20 minutes up hill hike which none of us were ready for, so with no water and alcohol leaking out of our pours we heaved ourselves to the top.
After that exhausting, sweaty hike up the mountain, I was numbingly scared as my turn on the line was next. I just felt my feet go forward and helplessly watched as the guide hooked me onto the wire. Then I did the most insane thing and stepped off a cliff. Your body is just in panic for a second. Next thing you know, you’re soaring above the valley of trees but looking up at the sky, and for a while it’s very calm and quiet. The only thing making a sound is the wind roaring in your ears and the noise of your body whizzing across the wire. It’s sheer wonder. There you are, a tiny figure floating across these two massive mountains, and you only have a short bit of time to look rapidly at the scenery around you. The huge open sky, the river tangled in the lush green jungle far below, and the guide on the platform at the end of the line getting bigger as you zip closer to him.
The braver you get the crazier the moves on the zip line – at one point I found myself hanging upside down looking at the sky and the next pretending to be superman looking straight down into the jungle below me.
We thought we were done with hiking, after the celebratory hot springs and campfire dances. But nope, Francisco sprung a last 3 hour walk to Agnes Calientes on us – charming!
I knew straight away there was no way I would be able to walk that distance with my sore feet so together with Mari, a fellow invalid 😉 we chose to get the train for the last stretch! May I add it was the poshest train we had ever been on, we were well under dressed for such a trip and tried to hide our muddy boots from preying eyes.
I give it up to the rest of the group with aching bones, sore feet and exhaustion all setting in they all marched on, however much they hated every step, and made it to the final destination – Agnes Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.
Tomorrow is the big one but first we get a night in a hostel with hot showers..
The big one, the main reason, the climax…
We awoke early as the plan was to be up for sunrise at the top of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately the day greeted us with torrential rain and low clouds so no sunrise for us, but as we climbed in altitude on the bus to the top we passed through the clouds and the rain stopped.
The first glimpse of Machu Picchu was mind blowing and I felt more emotions than I even knew was possible.
Macchu Picchu is hands down one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever travelled to in my life. Before this trip, I thought I knew what it would be like, what to expect and the type of things we would see. Once I arrived, it still managed to be 100 times more amazing than what my imagination created. It’s hard to believe that human hands could build something like this, not to mention before the age of modern technology.
During our first couple of hours at the ruins the fog and cloud was still lingering over everything. It felt like we were on another eery planet or something! It was really quiet so this was a great time to get pictures before the rest of the tourists arrived!
We opted to climb to Sun Gate, which was the entrance into Machu Picchu for the Inkas – the walk was tough, but nothing in comparison to what we had put our bodies through a few days previous. The views from the top made our last climb totally worth while and we soaked in the astonishing views for a while.
It was around midday now and the fog had cleared leaving us with bright sunshine, an excuse I used to take more photographs of the incredible buildings and wander round one more time.
The traditional and best view of Machu Picchu is from the guard house at the highest point. From here you are able to see the whole village and get some amazing pictures.
In the background a giant mountain called Wyna Picchu stands majestically over the village. Apparently this is where the Inkas stored their meat as the height of the mountain means the temperature drops way below freezing.
The optional but hellish climb to the top of Wyna apparently turns out to be more of a rock climbing scenario but if you do reach the top the views back over Machu Picchu more than make up for it.
The whole 7 hours we spent exploring this hidden village was surreal and enchanting. I felt lost in a maze high in the clouds investigating something from another time!
After nine months of travelling and what feels like a measly level of fitness I felt pretty nervous about this hard core hike.
The emotions I’ve under gone throughout this trek proved to me that I am able to tackle anything if I put my mind to it.
Serious doubt and hesitation took place as well as the most overpowering elation and joy at accomplishing something so massive.
I put myself through serious physical pain but found the mental strength to over come those obstacles and continue on just because the outcome was worth everything and more.
Machu Picchu has stolen my heart. I feel like I earned every emotion I experienced throughout those 5 days. What an incredible achievement and an unforgettable memory!!
As a massive side note I must dedicate this blog to Andes and Mari who got engaged while they were at the top of Sun Gate in Machu Picchu. The sneaky loveable duo. We send the biggest congratulations to you both and a life time of happiness!!