Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Machu Picchu 2009... another way to look at it

Adventure:Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

Duration: 8 days – 4 days hiking – 2 days exploring – 2 days travel

Rating: 10 / 10

Extreme Factor: 6

Cost Factor:$3,000 all in

In Attendance: 10 people up for an adventure

Recommendation:High for Unique Experience

Medium for Physical Challenge


For most of the things on my ‘list’ I already have a pretty good idea what it will be like to do them.  I can anticipate how hard the physical challenge will be, I know if it is something that I am going to want to do over and over or just once to ‘check it off’ and I have an idea how I am going to feel about the accomplishment.  In the case of visiting Machu Picchu I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  So, despite the fact that I had no real expectations, this trip blew me away. 


Day 1 – Travel to Lima was uneventful (which is a good thing when you are flying).  10 hours of flying time and we arrived in a city of 9 million people only to have quick night cap –  the local drink of choice – a Pisco Sour …  with a wake up call scheduled to take us on our short flight to Cusco.


Day 2 – We arrived in Cusco and were all immediately impacted by the elevation.  At 3300 meters our breathing quickly told us that we were no longer at sea level.  It was not surprising to see ‘oxygen bars’ in the airport.  As we bussed into town we all starred out the windows checking out the new landscape.  No high rises - just low buildings, many unfinished and made of clay bricks. 

 We spent the afternoon wondering around town, having lunch, shopping and attempting to get used to the elevation. 


I have never been in a situation where I thought that walking up two flights of stairs was a workout.  My hotel room was on the 3rd floor so with the lack of oxygen I planned well so as not to have to go up and down the stairs too many times.


We attempted to find someplace that might be televising the Canucks game… but as you can imagine, hockey turned out to be not so popular in Peru.  We did however find a pub where we enjoyed a few beers and dinner until Darryl’s food arrived.  He thought that he would try the local delicacy – Guinea Pig!!.  It arrived head, legs and all!!  The rest of us quickly lost our appetites as Darryl dug in.  You know the saying… when in Rome!! 


Day 3 – The Sacred Valley Tour – Visits to Pisac and Ollantaytambo Ruins


Today was our first exposure to our guide.  His name was Virgilio.  An extremely knowledgeable guy about all that is Inca.  He exuded so much passion about everything that he described.  We could not help but get into learning all that we could about these incredibly smart and ingenious people.  We were particularly astounded by how massive the rocks were (everything is made of rock).  The rocks had been shaped only by stronger rocks and they fit together with such precision that you could not even slide a piece of paper between the rocks.



We enjoyed a day of ruins, beautiful countryside, observing the native crafts of making mud bricks and colouring alpaca yarn.  We chuckled over Darryl bartering for a hat.  We all wanted to say, “just give her the money” yet he was closing the deal of the century.  In the midst of the transaction, from out of her traditional skirt comes a ringing cell phone.  You have got to know that she lost any sympathy that Darryl had and he bargained even harder. He did get some nice hats though and she looked happy too – a true win / win.


We had a quiet evening and you could sense the anticipation of what the next four days would hold for us.  We were getting accustomed to the altitude but we were still easily winded and not with our typical IF strength.


Day 4 – Inca Trail


Everyone was excited as the adventure really began to unfold.  Would the hiking be hard? Would we suffer from altitude sickness? Would we survive the bathrooms (okay, they really weren’t bathrooms  - simple holes in the floor)?


We handed over our duffle bags to the porters who promptly piled at least half of their body weight on their backs leaving us with only a meager day pack and water.  Then, the porters proceeded to run up the trail ahead of us wearing flip flops on their feet.  Made us look a little silly after debating for hours about which hiking runners to wear.  Those porters had all of the tents, the cooking supplies, the food for four days and all of our belongings.  Quite a feat.  The size of their packs reminded me of when the Grinch dressed up his dog and went down into Whoville and loaded up his sled to beyond bursting.


We started out quite easily.  No problem at the check point followed by a four hour hike on relatively flat surfaces.  We were starting to feel good about what we had embarked on – oooing and aaahing at the mountains, glaciers, rivers, farmlands and spectacular blue sky.


Our first stop was for lunch.  We were expecting a sandwich and a drink only to find buckets of warm water and soap for us to wash with, a large dining tent set up including a table for 10 WITH a table cloth and origami napkins!.  A full meal starting with soup and a bit of  rest before we were sent on our way to our first camp site.


Sure enough.. the amazing porters packed up the lunch, loaded up their backs and ran ahead to set up our tents at our campsite.

The afternoon continued to be beautiful.  We gradually meandered through Eucalyptus groves and little villages.  We stared up at the jagged heights of the Andes as the loomed above us.  We got a bit nervous when we saw a very high peak only to discover that we would be summitting something higher than that the next day. 

We were actually here.. in the middle of the Andes on the Inca Trail. a bit surreal.

Our first campsite was stunning. again, warm basins of water and a snack when we arrived of popcorn, crackers jams and cocoa tea. 

I experienced one of the highlights of the trip that night.  It had gotten dark during dinner.  When we finally left the dining tent to find our own little sleeping tents we looked up at the sky.  The stars were like I had never seen before.  Think of the starriest night you have ever seen – multiply that by 100 and you can just begin to imagine the number of stars that filled the heavens.  I guess it is a combination of the lack of pollution, lack of lights and the elevation that created this phenomenon.  I was blown away.  The beauty and the peaceful feeling that we observed stopped us in our tracks and we all stood silently in our own thoughts, feeling at peace and feeling so very grateful for what we were experiencing.

Day 5 – The Hardest Day

The hike consisted of 8 km uphill from an altitude of 3600 m to the highest summit at 4200 m – Dead Woman’s Pass.   We thought that the naming might be indicative of what happened to some former hikers but as it turns out, it has to do with the shape of the mountains – it appears to be a dead woman. 

We hiked through a variety of micro climates including jungle, rainforests, an open valley filled with llama and sheep and high alpine.  

We all felt a major sense of accomplishment as we reached the summit.  We were jubilant as we go to the top – high fives all around.  Other than Darryl who had hiked Kilimanjaro, this was the highest point anyone of us had ever been to. 


We were elated, we were in Peru and now, the most difficult part was behind us.  While celebrating I think that each of us took a few moments to take in the surroundings. The beauty was breathtaking and the majestic mountains exuded a sense of calm and tranquility beyond compare.

Day 6 -  The Longest Day – But Lots of Downhill

We were awoken early with coacoa tea and started with a 2 km hike straight up hill.  We were rewarded by seeing the sunrise over the Andes as we approached another summit.  Truly beautiful!  The sun’s rays streamed across over the tops of the mountains and started to brighten and warm everything up.  We explored 3 different ruins and enjoyed a 3 hour downhill after lunch.  We arrived at our final camping spot from which we could finally see Machu Picchu mountain.  We celebrated the last night with a cake that the chef had made (don’t ask me how!!) iced and adorned with Innovative Fitness on it.  We enjoyed a few rum and cokes or beers (amazing what you can buy in the middle of the Peruvian wilderness) as we anticipated what we would see the following day.   As we headed to bed it started to rain and we were a little worried that we might get to the famous ‘lost city’ to find it covered with clouds.

Day 7 – Machu Picchu

After hiking for 3 full days we awoke at 4am to begin our hike at 5.  It was raining and dark and we were starting to wonder if we would be able to enjoy what we had worked so hard to see.  “Vamenos” and off we went on our final 2 hour hike.   We all donned our ponchos and began to hike in the rain wearing our headlamps.  We all said our silent prayers to the Inca gods that the rain would stop.  As we arrived at the Sun Gate our prayers were answered.  The rain stopped but Machu Picchu was nowhere to be seen.  The city was covered by cloud.   We still had an hour of hiking ahead of us so we kept hoping.  We arrived at the agricultural area where we were welcomed by grazing llama and alpaca.  VIrgilio explained that this was the best place to see Machu Picchu from but it was still hiding.  We rested for a half hour and were just about to leave when miraculously the clouds parted and the city unveiled itself to us!.  After a four day pilgrimage it was a spectacular sight – breathtaking mountains, jagged jungle covered cliffs, billowing clouds, blue sky and a deep valley with a rushing river.

We spent about four hours at Machu Picchu being educated about the various buildings and theories behind what each of the buildings and areas were for.  We sat silently in awe as we stared and stared.  Each of us seemed to be overwhelmed by what we were seeing and experiencing.  The city did seem to provide truly spiritual experience for each of us in a different way.  We celebrated with champagne and chocolate bars (courtesy of Jan) and final left behind a magical place.   It was a long trip back to Cusco and we were thrilled to shower, go for dinner and finally hit the sack some 21 hours after we had awoken that morning.

Day 8 – Cusco

We had the day to explore Cusco, see the sights and do a bit of shopping.  We were lucky to see a parade in town which exposed us to some traditional costumes and dances.  By mid afternoon we said farewell to Peru and an incredible adventure!

Notes to Self:

1)    Don’t order Guinea Pig in a foreign country – or in any country!

2)    Two Bosa brothers really don’t fit that well in a 2 person tent

3)    When you think that things are tough and that you are slogging up the hill – take a look at the porter – wearing flip flops and carrying all of your belongings as well as your tent!

4)    There is a greater force  - The Inca people knew it and we should remind ourselves regularly

5)    We should attempt to keep as much of our natural surroundings pristine – the enjoyment from natural beauty is unsurpassed

6)    When you think your lungs are filling up with fluid  - they probably are – right Carmen (glad you are better!)

7)    Toilets are a beautiful thing to return to in North America

8)    Champagne tastes unbelievable at Machu Picchu

Many of us knew the other people in the group before we left Vancouver but we hadn’t spent much time together.  I was thrilled to be part of such an amazing group of people – thanks to all of you for sharing as the adventure unfolded.   Special thanks to IF for organizing such an amazing trip.

Kris Schjelderup, Janice Schjelderup, Darryl Bosa, Dale Bosa, Chantal Hilbert, Carmen Bradford, Kendra Burns, Pam Burns, Candice Levy, Denise Duchene 

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