A week ago (3:30pm) I was waking up from a deep, foggy sleep after arriving back in Durham at 11:30pm Wednesday night, and finally drifting off to sleep around 1:30am. I had been through a rough 24 hours of leaving the country I love, the man I love, and weeks of memories behind me. It seems like it’s been longer than a week and I’m still trying to process everything I experienced in Peru…
Two weeks ago at (4:15pm) I was dropped off in a random gravel parking lot with 12 other people and a heavy backpack on my back. We were introduced to a tour guide who would lead us on a hike to get to Aguas Calientes, the tourist trap town that is the go-to point for Machu Picchu. We had been riding up and down mountains and around hairpin turns on gravel roads for a good 7 hours in a cramped van with people from Peru, Brazil, California, China, Chile and North Carolina. It felt so good to get out and be able to stretch without being on a “diez minutos” time limit like we had been all day when stopping for baño breaks.
I don’t think any of us knew what lay ahead of us as we followed our tour guide, Alex, out of the parking lot and onto a gravel trail beside train tracks.
The whole trip to Cuzco & Machu Picchu had been planned out and paid for in advance: 3 nights + 4 days, tour guides the whole way, transportation, 4 meals included. We didn’t realize, or maybe we didn’t read the fine print, that part of the trip included a hike to get to Aguas Calientes. When we did realize it as we hopped off the van in the parking lot, we thought, “ehh, maybe a mile or two. Won’t be too bad.”
This is the part where I’m sure our tour guide would have laughed at us had he understood English.
So off we go… all excited… following the leader… on an uneven gravel trail… beside some train tracks… through the semi-jungle of Peru. Keep in mind that we started on the trail about 4:20pm…
We stay to the back of the group. I always tend to gravitate toward the back of any hiking group or walking excursion with a group because I like to go at my own pace and take time to enjoy my surroundings. We took pictures, talked, and admired the land around us. It was rather warm for this Southern girl, and I was sweating! But I liked the warmth and fresh air and tried not to complain.
At one point I notice a sign with “19km” on it. “Oh, that must be some kind of marking for the trains or something.” I mused aloud. But I secretly hoped we weren’t walking to the “1km” sign!
Being the silly tourist that I am (or maybe it’s just because I like stopwatches?) I started my stopwatch when we left the parking lot, and I was trying not to look at it. Our tour guide said it might be a 2 hour hike or so, so I kept thinking if I didn’t look at my watch, then time would go by quicker. Yeah, I’m weird like that.
Speaking of our tour guide, homeboy was at the front of the group and we lost sight of them about half an hour in. We didn’t really panic or worry because there was no other trail besides the gravel beside the tracks, so we were fine walking alone without the group.
At about the hour point, the train passed us going the opposite direction! I so wanted to jump on and ride because at this point I was starting to get tired of my heavy backpack. [Had I known we were legit hiking, I would have packed less odds and ends!] My travel companion (boyfriend) offered to carry it for a while, which was such a relief! In return, I carried his camera bag.
We stopped every so often to drink water and snack on itty bitty tangerines. Once we would stop walking I wanted to rest, but knew I shouldn’t until we got to the town. And of course I kept thinking, “oh, it will be right around this corner…”
Around 5:45 the sky starts getting considerably darker as the sun sets behind the surrounding mountains. Then, not much longer after it starts darkening, it also starts raining. Just a light rain that was refreshing, but I tried to stay under the cover of the trees as I’m carrying a camera bag with a nice camera, and my purse with our passports!
Once the sun had completely surrendered its light to the horizon, the rain really started. At this point we started freaking out because #1: our tour guide left us, #2: it’s dark, and #3: it’s raining! Thankfully, my companion was prepared with a rain coat, hat, and flashlight! He wore the hat, I covered our bags awkwardly with the raincoat (forget about keeping myself dry!), and he shone the flashlight on the gravel pathway.
Every time we would see lights from what we thought was our destination, we would get excited, only to realize it was the hydroelectric plant, or a house. Talk about a let down. We had no idea how much farther we had to walk, nor what to do when we arrived, seeing as our guide had our hotel information!
After a while, we get to a crossroads… the track continues straight ahead, and then there’s pavement going down to the right. “Uhh, which way?” we question each other. Then we hear a voice coming from the darkness and lo and behold it’s Alex, chilling underneath a building’s roof, waiting for the remainder of his group. We were really relived to see him and hoped we weren’t much farther from our final stop!
He leads us on a 20 minute walk into town and we meet up with the rest of the group. My whole top half of my body was soaking wet, my feet were tired, legs were shaky, but we made it! Seriously, after riding cramped in a van all day, then hiking to town, I was whooped!
Of course after we were safe and dry in the hotel, we laughed about it all. And had we known how far it would be I think I would have been better prepared (lighter backpack, rain gear, no jeans). I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything though, and I hope to make it back someday to do the 4-12 day hikes to Machu Picchu!
So, in short, our “Camino a Machu Picchu” turned out to be 10km, nearly 2 1/2 hours, our tour guide abandoned us, it got dark, and it was pouring rain. Talk about a story to tell the grandkids!
That was only the beginning of an unforgettable, amazing, and super fun trip to Machu Picchu!
Have you ever signed up for a trip and not known exactly what you were getting yourself into?