My husband Richard and I started our Andes adventure leaving from Lima for Cusco. All flights are early morning departures to avoid the strong wind coming in the afternoon. So we arrived at 7:30am.
We were met at the Cusco airport by our local host and guide, Santiago. At the hotel where we would stay after finishing the trek, we reorganized our luggage and picked out the necessities we would need on the trail and left the rest of our baggage with the hotel. It was at the hotel we tasted coca tea for the first time which is supposed to lower your blood pressure to acclimatize to the high altitude (11,000 feet).
We then were driven to Kilometer 82 by mini bus where we met our porters and cooks. Although we purchased the economy tour, not even first class, our crew included ten people: 2 tourists, 1 guide, 1 cook and 1 assistant, and 5 porters. It is hard to imagine such a troop just to accommodate 2 tourists but once we saw what porters had to carry, 2 small tents and 2 big tents for 10 people, sleeping bags, mats, food for 5 days, cooking facilities, etc., we understood. Along the trail, we saw some porters carrying way too much, at least 120-150 pounds on their back and they run along the trail wearing just old rubber soled sandals. I am glad we had 5 porters so they did not have to overload themselves.
The trekking for four days was rough, the weather either overcast or raining. The local farmers really enjoy the rain this time of the year because it promises a good harvest. We even had hail when climbing up the pass of Warmiwanusga (Dead Women's pass) at 13,800 foot (4200 meter) altitude. The daily trek was only about 6-7 miles, it still took about 7-9 hours depending on how many passes we had to climb per day. We walked very slowly and breathed hard carrying only bottle of water, 2-3 pieces of fruit, camera, binocular and first aid kit on our back. I envy the young college students who carry their own gear (so no porters needed) and still walk the same or faster speed than us. We were just too old for that.
The farmers living along the trail are poor. They grow corn and herd cattle and sheep. They have enough to eat and wool for cloth, but they don't have much anything else. So some farmers are part-time porters to earn cash for the family to buy salt, sugar, school supplies for kids. Except the first village we went through, where we heard a radio playing music and saw 2 bikes, there is no sign of the modern civilization along the trail. No electricity, no sewage system. People go to bed when it's dark and get up when the sun rises. They are very quiet and polite and seem not to be expressive.
The scenery is glorious. Since the Andes is such a young formation, the glacier has cut the Urubamba River valley very deep and the mountains are pointy, not rounded by time yet. Through the misty rain with sun breaks, we saw creeks, waterfalls, the magnificent glacier Veronica of 18, 860 feet (5750 meter) and Salgantay of 20,574 feet (6272 meter). We also saw the most beautiful butterflies (in neon blue color) there and some very pretty birds we can not name. During the night, when the sky is clear, we could see the Southern Cross shining on the sky which we could not see north of the Equator.
Even though the first 4 days' weather was not great for hiking, luckily when we arrived Inti Punku (Sun gate), the sky cleared and sun came out. It is a perfect place to overlook Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is such a truly magical place that my words (no matter how hard I try) will never do justice to it. It has all the elements the Inca culture values. The condor (small hill next to the ruin looks just like the bird is flying away), the puma (bigger hill next to the small hill looks just like the puma is laying down), and the snake (the Urubamba River underneath, which eventually flows into the Amazon), representing freedom, power and knowledge.
The fifth day was sunny and we spent about 6 hours walking around the citadel ruins from 6:30 am. Santiago was an excellent guide and he also took great pride in the Inca history and culture. We learned so much from him about the ruin, its history, its people. We saw the Sun Dial, the Sun Temple, the Moon Temple and the Bird Temple, we walked around the terraces, the fountains and the sport arena. I believe that Inca Empire probably has the finest stone masons of its time to create such seamless beautiful work. There are a few llamas around, ignoring the tourists. Right before we were leaving from the llama house at the top of the ruin, we saw two condors flying around the site, while someone we couldn't see played a native melody on a caina (Peruvian flute) from somewhere among the hills. It was so beautiful that made me cry.
We overnighted at Aguas Calientes (Hot Springs) at the foot of Machu Picchu and tried their magical springs. Santiago introduced us to his college buddy, Luis, a flute maker. As a musician, Richard (whose Spanish was limited to Gracias and Baño) enjoyed playing cainas Luis (with little English) made, and communicated with Luis through music. We purchased two simple looking but beautifully made cainas from Luis, which Richard refused to let out of his hand while we were on the bus, train, or airplane home.
Now we are back home to our civilization. We had a surviving kit with us in Andes, a camping knife, some ropes, matches, flash lights, bug repellents, which was soon replaced by our model life surviving kit, a key ring with half dozen keys and car alarm, portable computer, cell phone, wallet full of cards.