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Sunday, March 24, 2013

In the Footsteps of the Incas

I am fully convinced that the best way to see Machu Picchu is via the Inca Trail.

There were times during the four-day, three-night trek through the mountains of Peru that these convictions were a bit shaky. But arriving tired, sweaty and a bit wet at the Sun Gate before 7am on the fourth day after a 40+km, four-day hike to see the glorious Inca city below… words can not do justice to that feeling.

To those, like me, who have yearned to see Machu Picchu (literally “Old City” in the local Quechua language, not to be confused with Machu ‘Pichu’ which apparently means *ahem* old male genitalia), I highly recommend getting into shape and braving the Inca Trail. Topping out at just under 14k ft at the Dead Woman’s Pass (based on the shapes of the rocks, not on historical events) on day 2, the daily hikes are stunning. Literally breathtaking. If you go in a big group like ours, a ridiculous amount of porters and guides (seriously, at times it felt like we were going on a colonial expedition in Rhodesia) make sure that you only have to worry about getting yourself–and your daypack of course–to the finish. When you arrive at the campsite your tent will already be erected and water will be boiling just in time for a nice hot cup of coca tea and some popcorn.

But back to the walking. The copious amounts of walking.

Littered with smaller ruins along the way showcasing systems of infrastructure, culture, transportation and communication unknown elsewhere in the ancient world, the trail is sometimes gradually up and down, oftentimes not so gradually up and down. Not for the faint of heart/breath; hence the whole getting in shape thing. Apparently one porter made it the whole length of our trail (about the equivalent of a marathon) in 3 hours, 40 minutes; needless to say were weren't going that fast. The vistas along the way showcased, as our guides pointed out several times, the copious and varied ‘flora and fauna’ that can change at every turn. Peru is, in a word, beautiful.

And it all builds towards the final views of Machu Picchu. An homage to the gods. A place of serenity nestled atop a mountain. A miraculous feat of ancient ingenuity. A chance to use a western toilet.

Sure, it rained on us (unfortunately Lauren’s spring break didn’t line up with the dry season in Peru). Yes, at times the altitude thumped my head (though 3 days acclimatization in lovely Cuzco certainly helped). Naturally, running down the stone paths pretending to be Quechua porters may not have been the smartest idea in the world. And of course, our collective smell after several days with no showers made even the llamas cringe.

But that’s what made arriving in Machu Picchu on that final day that much better. We worked hard for it. We… well, some of us at least… sweat for it. We mended blisters and fought colds for it. We woke early and walked hours and hours each day for it. We earned it.

Highly, highly, highly... times infinity... recommend it!

Photos from our trip can be found here.