Five AM in the morning came FAST, when a van came to pick me up to take our group to our starting point to begin a 4-day hiking and camping trek through the nearby mountains. Ahead of me I had in store 3 full days of hiking through a mountain pass, sleeping in tents in villages along the way, and finishing day 4 exploring Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world! Many other people who visit the Machu Picchu area sign up to do a hike along the Inca Trail— to actually follow the footsteps of the Inca tribe from years and years ago—- but in order to preserve the trail and land, the government now limits the number of people who can trek through the area daily, and you have to sign up over four months in advance. I unfortunately missed the cutoff since I planned this trip only a few months prior, but was happy to find this other “Lares 3 day trek”, which followed the “Lares trail” instead. And in the end, I actually think the Lares Trail experience was MUCH more rewarding and cultural that the Inca Trail experience I heard from others.
I had gone to bed at almost 2am that morning, so I was running pretty LOW in the energy department. I tiredly climbed into the van with four other people, who I later found out were my new trekking companions for the next few days. Included in this group was a nice boyfriend-girlfriend couple from the country of Malta, and a father-son duo from Quebec, Canada. Since we had a bit of a drive, I tried to zonk out in the van to catch up on sleep and got a wink here and there over the few hour drive.
We stopped part way in a small little town to use the restrooms. I found it fascinating that it was only 6:30am and the town was CROWDED, bustling with people starting their day and selling their goods. I guess they start EARLY there! I reluctantly paid to use the most disgusting bathroom that had no soap or toilet paper. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer and kleenex!
Our small group of 5 met our tour guide, “Washington” (yes, that REALLY was his name!), who took us to a hot springs “resort” nearby to relax before our big hike. It definitely wasn’t the cleanest place, and the sulfur smell in the hot springs was pretty strong. I decided to soak in the hot water for a little just to try it out, but was somewhat reluctant as I wasn’t sure how clean the water really was. After an hour or so, we all showered and got dressed and ready to begin our hike. We were fortunate enough to have porters on our journey who gathered our main luggage, tents, some cooking equipment, and food, and saddled up a bunch of donkeys who would be kindly lugging all of our belongings along on the hike.
Ever since I had arrived in Cuzco, I had constant nausea most likely due to elevation sickness, and the dull feeling continued as we started our hike. I was somewhat concerned that the stomach uneasiness would increase on the trip, as we would be hiking up to 14,800ft at the highest point . . . so I REALLY focused on other things and kept my mind rapidly busy to keep my mind off the stomach pain as we trekked four hours through the mountains that day.
The views were really amazing, with rolling mountains, streams, rocks, and sheep and alpaca roaming the lands everywhere. Alpaca are similar looking to llamas, and are one of the most recognized animals of Peru, as its furry coat is extremely warm, and many locals sew clothing out of it and sell in the nearby towns. There were actually many wild dogs in the mountains as well, and we also often passed farmers tending to their lands, children making the long trek to/from school, and women knitting alpaca hats and scarfs as they watched over their animals grazing.
I have always loved hiking in the past, so I was extremely excited to be on my first official “tour” in another country, with many new and amazing sights to see and places to discover. Washington was really informational and funny, and I enjoyed chatting with the other people in the group and getting to know more about themselves and their culture.
During all three days, our porters and donkeys would hike way ahead of us, quickly and “magically” set up camp, a cooking area, and a tent for us to eat inside in NO TIME flat, and by the time we caught up to them they would already have water boiling and food made for us! At night, they set up the sleeping tents for us as well, and greeted us in the morning with a 6am wakeup call and hot coca tea.
NO…. I didn’t say “cocoa tea”, I said COCA tea. Yes— COCA, like cocaine. Coke. Where coca cola got its name from back in the day. In Spanish, they call it, “Mate de coca.” I know what you’re thinking: “BreAnn, you took crazy drugs in Peru!?” Haha… NO! Coca is obviously best known throughout the world for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine… however, the alkaloid content of coca leaves is low: between .25% and .77%, and chewing the leaves or drinking coca tea does not produce the effects people experience with cocaine. It IS, however, supposed to help the negative symptoms of elevation sickness, and our guide and the porters encouraged me at every meal and in the morning to drink the tea to help me feel better. I’ve never been a coffee or tea drinker in the US, but I definitely became a tea drinker on this trip to help me stay warm and ease my stomach!
One of the most rewarding parts of this particular “Lares trail” trek was the fact that in the middle of the mountains we actually camp in the small villages we came across; specifically in the yard next to one family’s house. This meant that we actually got to meet the inhabitants of the house, experience how the people live, and play with the children who lived there as well. It was interesting to see how simplistic and basic they live, and hear stories about how some children have to hike through the mountains over one hour each way by themselves just to get to school!
Our “toilet” was actually a hole dug in the ground with a pop-up “outhouse tent” on top of it. Yea…. LOVELY, I know. Using a hole in the ground to do “your business.” Not my favorite part of the trip. Fortunately, the second night we stayed in a more “modern” village, and we had an actual toilet there, but had to dump a bucket of water into the bowl in order to force the toilet to “flush.”
We started each day when the sun came up around 6am, ate breakfast, filled up our water bottles (with water that the porters boiled and then chilled for us), hiked for hours on end, stopped for lunch, hike more hours on end, and then finished in a village at night to set up camp, eat dinner, and then tucker out for the night around 9 to 10pm. It was amazing how primitive the villagers were, and how everything truly revolved around when the sun rose and set. I quickly got used to the 6am wakeup and 9pm sleep time, despite my normal late-night-to-bed habit.
At night, I actually got to sleep in my own tent (the couple from Malta got their own tent, along with the father-son duo from Canada), and I wore tons of layers of clothing, a winter hat, a scarf, and gloves, and tied myself into the sleeping bag tight in order to stay warm through the night. I also used an eye mask to shield out the morning light, and earplugs to help drown out any other noises. And I’m SO GLAD I did all of that, because I got “decent” sleep each night and was the only one of the group that wasn’t woken up a billion times from the wild dogs barking and howling through the night.
On the second night, we camped in the yard of a nice family who had two small children. I spent some time trying to speak to them in Spanish and also teach them a few English words. There was a chicken roaming around the yard, and I taught them to say “Chicken” . . . but they also giggled and thought the word was funny because it sounded like “Chicle”— like chicle chewing gum, which is popular in Latin America.
Most children we came across in the villages as we hiked were usually poorly dressed in extremely dirty clothing, and had extremely chapped skin on their faces… it was somewhat sad. But they usually were happy and excited to see us, so it made you smile to know you brightened their day!
The second day was the longest and hardest day of hiking, spending over 8 hours hiking through the mountains, and at some points very steep, ending up at 14,800ft! I burned probably 2,000 calories alone from the hiking part, and it was harder to breathe as we got higher, and it was FREEZING, too! It was all worth it in the end, though, and we spent the third day descending for hours and hours…. although I realized that was also very painful on your knees.
On the third night, we actually got to stay IN A HOTEL in the little city of “Augas Calientes” at the base of the mountain up to Machu Pichhu. After wearing the same clothes for three full days of hiking, using outdoor “toilets”, and not being able to shower, I can’t explain HOW AMAZING it was to strip off my STINKY socks and clothing and clean up in a HOT HOT shower!! Nothing is as wonderful as a hot shower after days of hiking and camping in hot and cold conditions!
Woke up on day four (September 10th) SUPER early in the morning to see Machu Picchu! I realized I was INCREDIBLY sore from the descent the previous day, so I was glad in the end that I hadn’t signed up for the extra steep hike up —– Huayna Picchu, because I was way too exhausted and sore to do a steep one hour hike up and down the peak. We arrived at Machu Picchu, and it was one of the most amazing places I have ever seen in person. There’s just something INSANELY different about seeing something so incredible up close and personal versus looking at photos online or printed. It’s this feeling that fills you up with wonderment and, “Wow, am I REALLY here IN PERSON?!” We explored for several hours, and there still was plenty more to see, as there are many parts to the whole Inca village.
I branched off with the Maltese couple and we headed on the bus back down the mountain to the town below. I decided I would splurge a little bit and get a cheap massage at a local shop. They gave me a foot soak and foot and body massage, and I SOOOO needed it! It was quite wonderful!
Spent a little more time in the town for the day, got some food and shared some beers with my hiking buddies, then took THE LONGEST TRAIN RIDE back to the city of Ollantaytambo, just to catch THE LONGEST VAN RIDE back to Cuzco. Oh yea, and might I mention—OUR VAN DRIVER HIT A DOG!!!—and he barely flinched. I know many dogs are wild in Peru, but to hit a dog straight-on and not flinch, say anything, or care? Ick. Oh well, I guess to them it’s like hitting a raccoon or something… but it was still sad seeing the whole thing happen before my eyes.
Overall, the 3-day hike to Machu Picchu was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life and would recommend it to anybody and everybody! It was a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience with memories I’ll cherish forever.
See pictures of the 3-day Lares hike here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151051689100343.779896.596295342&type=1&l=5452e8cacf
See pictures from Machu Picchu here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152427786815343.956892.596295342&type=1&l=2f60e0bc91