Peru, this South American country has it all! Great food, warm people and one of the best sights in the world, Machu Picchu!
My boyfriend and I picked Peru as we had won airline tickets to anywhere in South America. We agreed on Peru. Machu Picchu was a given, however I stated there was no way I was going to take the train up! And so, we started planning our four day trek of the Inca Trial.
In October we arrived into Lima late in the evening and after a short night, caught a flight to Cusco, the starting point of most Inca trail departures. We were required to arrive at least two days early to acclimate to the high altitude of 11,200 feet. Having had altitude sickness on numerous occasions, I did not want to have the experience ever again! We arrived, payed the balance of our trek and had a walk around town. Sleep was interrupted that night as unfortunately altitude sickness reared its ugly head for both of us. We were both exhausted, but couldn't sleep. We had a headache, nausea and had trouble catching our breath. We were freezing cold and just all around miserable. In other words, classic altitude sickness. We laid around most of the day hoping it would wear off. Unfortunately, it did not. We even tried the nasty coco tea that is supposed to help, alas, it didn't. The following day, still under the weather, we had to be up early for an early morning pick up. We were driven to Ollantaytambo. From here, with backpacks firmly in place and trekking poles in hand, we began the four day trek.
The Inca Trail was built by the Incas to connect the points in their empire. It goes over high passes and along steamy cloud forest with views of majestic Andean peaks in the distance. We set off with a small group and after being processed and having a group photo, we began the trek. The first day was to be easy, but as we were under the weather, it was tough. Our guide would state where we were to meet on the trail so that everyone could go at their own pace. He usually did this at least a few times during the day. Although I don't like group travel, since most of the time we were on our own, I didn't mind too much. The close of the first day came and Randy and I were both happy to be finished for the night. Our tents were already set up for the evening when we arrived and after unpacking a bit we headed to the meal tent. Most unexpectedly, our guides had set out containers with warm water and soap to wash our hands. Most of the food we were served was delicious. We sat around a long table and our two guides entertained us, as they did most of the trip. After dinner we retired to our small tent, tired and still a bit ill from the altitude sickness.
The second morning came and we were up early for breakfast. I felt fantastic as my illness passed, but Randy was still not feeling well. We had our meal and set off on a more treacherous trek. This day we were headed up Dead Woman's Pass. Located at 13,780 feet, this pass was tough and long. Our guide told us to stop at the top and wait for the others before heading down the other side of the pass. We huffed and puffed for hours following the Inca Trail as in went up and up. Interestingly, it's virtually impossible to get lost on the Inca Trail. Years ago I had done a thirteen day trek to Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal. On that trek, without a guide, I think it would have been difficult to find your way as often throughout the day, you weren't sure which way to go as there was no clear cut path. Hence the reason, I guess, there were so many "missing" signs along the trail of travelers which had never returned. The Inca Trail, however, was pretty straight forward. A very clear path was present at all times, so getting lost wasn't a concern. As such, we moved at our own pace and finally reached the top of the pass. We collapsed in a heap and watched as more from our group arrived. The views were stunning on both sides of the pass. We sat a while longer until all in our group had arrived before proceeding down the other side. Unfortunately, by this time the weather had changed for the worse. The clouds started rolling in and since we were so high, we were in the clouds! We started the trek down into the damp weather. At the end of the second day, upon reaching our camp for the night, we picked a tent and rested a while before the meal. Eventually we got up and hung out in the dinning tent chatting and waiting for our meal. After dinner, we retreated to our tent for the evening.
In the middle of the night the rain began. From inside our tent it sounded like a monsoon! From early in the wee hours of the morning, continuing as we woke and exited our tent, it continued. We put on our rain ponchos and headed for the meal tent. Breakfast was had and we packed up and pushing on into the rain. We took a small detour and headed up some stairs for a breath-taking view before continuing to our meeting point. By this point, whenever we were headed down steep steps, I could feel my calves screaming. The rain continued for most of the day. It was a bit miserable, but we just kept putting one foot in front of the other. With most of the Inca Trail now behind us, we eventually walked into the last night's camp. We chose a tent and then had dinner. It was our last night together with those in our small group and the young newlywed couple was presented with a cake from the cook. All along the trail the cooks and porters could be seen hauling unbelievably large loads of equipment. They were small in stature, but the strength and speed with which they moved along the trail was impressive. Especially considering the fact they usually only had basic footwear. They glided over the rocks with the greatest of ease putting the rest of us to shame.
By morning four, we were up way before dawn. We were so close to Machu Picchu we wanted to get a very early start. This day only involved a couple hours of trekking. Most was pretty easy until we reached the Inti Punku, or Sun Gate. These steps were so large, we almost had to crawl up them. Once at the top, we were greeted with blue skies and a distant view of Machu Picchu! After much picture taking, we headed down the relatively short rest of the trail. We eventually strolled into this magnificent sight and at such an early hour, it really didn't have a lot of people. Of course as the day progressed the crowds arrived. We spent hours wandering around while watching llamas graze. It's truly magnificent and the Inca Trail is the only way to go!
After a couple hours at Machu Picchu, we took a bus the short ride down to the small village of Aguas Calientes. We got to our hotel and after four days on the trail, were happy to take a shower. The following day we took a bus back to Machu Picchu for some more wandering and picture taking. We eventually took the train back to Ollantaytambo and on to Cusco, our journey to one of the most magnificent sights in the world now complete.
Alas, Machu Picchu was not the only grand sight we wanted to see in Peru. After doing some research, I found the most extraordinary room for the night. The Skylodge is located 1,312 feet above the Sacred Valley. It's the first hanging lodge. On an Andean cliff overlooking the Sacred Valley, there are three oblong, glass capsules or pods dangling from the rock face. These three suites, along with a dining room comprise the Skylodge. They are transparent on all sides. From them, you have a beautiful view of the surrounding Andes and condors circling in the open skies above. How do you get there? Climb up the rock face using via ferrata, of course! Spend the night in the lodge and then rappel or zip line down the next day.
We were picked up from our hotel in Cusco and drove an hour and a half to the Sacred Valley and the start of our climb. We were harnessed up and briefed on the do's and don'ts of climbing via ferrata to the lodge that loomed above us. Via ferrata is Italian for iron road. It's made up of a steel cable which runs along the route and is periodically fixed to the rock. Basically, you attach yourself to the cable using two carabiners as you climb. When you reach a post where the cable is attached to the mountain, you unhook one of the carabiners, move it across to the next stretch of cable and once securely in place, unhook the second one and do the same, thereby eliminating any chance of falling off as you climb. If you were to miss step and fall, you'd only drop a few feet. No need to worry as Randy and I had no problem whisking up the mountain. We took breaks on the way up to admire the view and take pictures. We arrived at the top about an hour and a half later. Besides the three pods for sleeping they have a brand new dinning room for meals. Previously, meals were served on top of each individual pod. Fine when it's nice out, but not so much in inclement weather. As such, they designed the very beautiful, curved futuristic-looking dining room. We stopped in the dining room first. It was glass and metal, but also had the bright vibrant colors of South America on the seat cushions. The view of the valley was spectacular. We eventually walked to the other side of the dining room and out the door opposite of where we had entered and headed to our pod. We picked the top one and once again had to climb the short way using via ferrata. We ended up on the top of our pod and opened the hatch to climb down into it. Once inside, it reminded me of a tiny home. It had a queen size bed at one end and two single beds on the side. It had a couple, small fold down tables and an area to store our backpacks and harnesses. It also was complete with a bathroom! A bid rudimentary, but functional. We hung out a bit picture taking and relaxing and then headed back over to the dining pod for dinner. Cesar, our guide had brought up some delicious food in his big backpack and was cooking away when we arrived. Yes, the dining pod is complete with a kitchen. Basic, as it only had a stove top, but enough to make a good meal. We had a salad and chicken breast with couscous. The table was beautifully set complete with a split of wine, each. Only outside of America would you be offered booze and then have to climb 1,312 feet above the ground to your bed for the night! We enjoyed our dinner and retired for the evening. Inside the pod were beautiful, thin, white curtains that could be opened or closed. Not that anyone could see us that high up, but it was still nice to have them closed for the evening.
Bright and early the next morning there was no sleeping in as the sun shone in through the thin curtains. We opened them and were greeted, once again, with a spectacular view of the valley below. We got dressed, donned our harnesses and climbed over to the dining room where Cesar was cooking up a storm. The spread was huge and we enjoyed our meal while taking in the view. Once finished we climbed back over to our pod, collected our things and got ready for the decent. We had a choice of rappelling or zip lining down. We've both repelled before, so we decided to zip line as Randy had never done it. We got hooked up and did a total of seven zip lines zig zagging down the mountain. We reached the bottom and looked at the pods high above us. What a unique way to experience the Sacred Valley. It gets my vote for best "hotel" room ever!
Peru, well, what can you say. It's been a travelers favorite for a long time and there's a reason for that! I can't believe it took me so long to get there. It was definitely worth the wait!