On this morning, our 5AM “Buenos Dias” wake-up call was preceded by a 4:30AM alarm when every rooster in the village started crowing. In that moment, as we struggled to move our aching bodies, the thought of scaling another peak seemed entirely impossible. I struggled to even stand on my swollen feet, and started to accept the fact that I had broken my toe somewhere along the way. Bryan joined in my pain with a twisted knee. “Are we old or just out of shape?” I asked him that morning as we hobbled around, our walking sticks seemingly transforming into walking canes. We decided it’s a bit of both, and scolded ourselves for not taking the time to better train for our adventure.
Thankfully, we started the day with an uphill climb. I’m not being sarcastic here – hiking uphill is much easier than hiking down. We said goodbye to the chickens and ducks, and good riddance to the noisy roosters, before heading off down the road, one step at a time. We left the village of Playa to climb to the top of Llactapata Pass, where we were promised a spectacular view of Machu Picchu from the top.
Our climb began with a steep hike through farmlands filled with coffee plants and rows of corn. As we continued, the ever-changing landscape evolved again, and we were suddenly in the jungle. Aside from a light rain and rolling fog, the weather was perfect. We passed beautiful vegetation – large leaves on tall trees and Spanish moss creating canopies overhead – and tons of beautiful butterflies along our way. It was magical. Almost magical enough to forget how much pain we were in (almost), but we were reminded of that with every step!
We finally reached Incan Ruins at the top of the peak, and the sky was perfectly clear. We took some time to rest, gazing towards the mountains of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. We could even see the ruins cradled by the peaks. We were so close to our final destination, but it seemed so far away.
Climbing down from that peak was the most difficult part of our journey. The hike was breathtakingly beautiful but was also quite painful. Every step I took sent a shiver down my spine. Poor Bry was in even worse shape and we both found awkward methods to make our way down the mountain. I found that a crab-walk style worked for me. We looked ridiculous and I’m sure Jorge was highly amused. It took us 3 hours to get to the peak, and another 3 hours to the train station below, where we would ride to Aguas Calientes. A hotel, with a real bed, was waiting for us!
Aguas Calientes looks like a ski town nestled in the mountains beside a roaring river. There is a big market in the center with stalls selling all the same things – Panchos, hats, scarves, stuffed Guinea pigs, and llama dolls.
Bry and I wandered into the square in search of food, and found a spot that filled our burger craving (standard need typically arising after a week abroad). We dined overlooking the square, and were hilariously reminded that it was Christmas. I sat for a moment, taking it all in. Santa being pulled by llamas… a big, colorful tree… a snake with a Santa hat… it’s an interesting, Incan Christmas. We celebrated by propping our feet up and stuffing our faces.
To be continued…