Machu Picchu!

well, we made it. we´re back in cusco after four days of hiking, a beautiful day of exploring Machu Picchu, a night in aguas calientes, a delayed train and one final bus ride. the trek was incredible. the hiking itself was tougher than i anticipated (for which i was glad). our group was great: a grand total of ten gringos, 2 guides, and 16 porters (refered to as chaskis, meaning swift footed runners – which they certainly were). here we are in all our glory (if you look closely, you should be able to pick out the cook):

anyways, we began our hike on a sunny friday. the first day was about 12 km total, and most of it was “inca flat” meaning a slight uphill but nothing too bad at all. we stopped for lunch around 2pm and were delighted by our first meal. we started out with some soup, and followed that up with stuffed avocado, river trout, rice, potatoes, juice and tea. it certainly beat the cheese, sausage and crackers that usually comprise a meal for me while camping. after hiking a bit in the afternoon, we settled into our first campsite, where we enjoyed a few beers and awoke the following morning to roosters at 4am and coca tea delivered to our tent at 5. somehow the tea made the early wakeup a bit more bearable. here are some photos of us upon arrival, of the view we saw in the morning, and of chris enjoying his morning cup of coca tea:

day 2 was greeted by sunshine in the morning, which was nice considering this was to be our toughest and highest climb of the trek. we hiked a total of 15 km that day, the majority of which was uphill…and in the rain. we topped off at just over 14,000 ft when all was said and done that day. the hike itself was beautiful – unbelievable views and scenery – despite the 6 straight hours of uphill climb. after our morning tea break, we encountered the rains, and they stuck with us throughout the rest of the day. come sunset, the clouds began to part and we enjoyed a clear evening to relax after a long, chilly day of hiking. here´s a photo of my chaski, quasimoto, on his way up the steepest steps right before we reached dead woman´s pass, along with one of us atop the pass:

following the pass, we made our way down for about 2 hours before reaching the campsite. lucky for us, the fog cleared a bit and we were able to enjoy the valley below. again, the views were just breathtaking (both the night we arrived and the morning after when we were a couple of tired campers)…

day 3 was quite a bit nicer. we hiked 15 km that day as well, but the majority of it was a nice, slight uphill. nothing compared to the day before. the scenery was quite different, as we entered into more humid, wet areas and passed through a cloud forest. the group spread out a bit more on the third day as well, so we were able to enjoy some quiet hiking on the trail (it´s generally quite busy with people!). we passed quite a few ruins along the way, which made for nice rest stops, and ultimately made our ways down 3,000 rocky stairs to reach our final set of ruins for the day, as well as our campsite. our view for most of the afternoon looked a little something like this:

camp the final night was unlike the others in that there was a bar, they sold food, and those who wanted to could take hot showers (we did not want to). dinner the final night even included a cake, prepared by the cook and presented by a chaski. in the photo you can see our guide (david, dressed in yellow), the assistant guide (ricky, on the far left), and one of the chaskis (victor). they baked a cake for us while we were camping?! crazy.

up at 3:40 am the final morning, we readied ourselves for a 4:20 breakfast followed by a 5:00 departure to make our way to the sun gate, where we would catch our first (albeit very foggy) glimpse of machu picchu. we could see very little, but we hung around for a while before the rain really picked up and did manage to see a bit (though the photos suggest otherwise). as we made our way to machu picchu, it cleared a bit, then fogged over even more. patience proved to be a virtue for us though, because as the day progressed we were blessed with more and more blue skies. chris and i chose to climb up waynapicchu, a mountain right next to machu picchu, that we were told would give us spectacular views of the ruins. we hoped what we were told held true, because the climb was a bit ridiculous after waking up before 4 am! here´s a view of machu picchu (the mountain in the background is what we climbed), a view of machu picchu from the top of the climb, and a photo of us and our new friend, the bird right above our heads:

anyways, following the last climb we were entirely beat and opted to head into town for an afternoon of hot springs. sounds delightful, and it might have been had there not been 40 (chris counted) other people in the tub with us. ha! it was semi gross and semi really funny. everybody into the tub.

that about does it for our trek. we´re now over halfway done with our big adventure. today we´re in cusco, and we´ll be here tomorrow as well. there is currently a bus strike that is preventing us from heading down to lake titicaca, but we´re told it should be resolved by friday. our fingers are crossed! in the meantime we relax, enjoy sleeping in a bed, and take some time to explore cusco. hope all is well at home; here´s one final shot of machu picchu for all to enjoy (it really was unbelievably beautiful):

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