Michelle and Charlie's Around the World Trip 2004-2005 travel blog

The start of our 9 day hike

as we mentioned, this hike was really out in the wilderness

full moon in the valley of the vampire bats

David is illustrating the proper coca chewing technique

down at the bottom of the first valley

I´d rather be a... (we´ve had many occassions to sing Paul Simon´s...

sleepy or shy? Anyway, that is a lot of sugarcain

lunch with a view

overlooking the Choquequirau ruins

we were the last campers on the Inca terraces

meal under the flag of the Inca

curious building tecnology

the trail sort of disappears above choquakirau

David shows how to use an original inka grinding stone

pants are optional for river crossings

happy campers

hey guys!

Charlie got the highest on this hike at 15,672 feet

the old bridge

the biggest store in the valley. We bought up all the wine...

we are crossing a river


Charlie´s ferry service

only the little girl got to ride

happy hiker

another store, time to replanish our Gato Negro stocks

OK, I'll be the turtle

I apologize to anyone that had a guinea pig as a pet

these Inca ruins are really uncovered

on the local train

yay, Machu Picchu!!

yay, Machu Picchu!! (again)

MP in the fogg

Its steep to get up on the peak behind the city

the peak has some buildings on it, too

looking back toward the city, the opposite view of the "typical"


back in town


train station in Aguas Calientes

So the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu typically takes 4 days and gets about 300 to 500 hikers per day. In contrast, the hike we did takes at least 8 days and usually gets less than that number of hikers per year. It was organized by a tour company, but this was a trial run of the route for them so they were referring to it as an expedition, since a lot of the organizational aspects were to be figured out as we went. They recruited as a guide a guy from the area who had spent decades exploring the region and had also led a National Geographic team looking for lost cities, as well as archeologists. In addition, he looked the part of a Andes mountain guide, so we felt like we were in good hands. We were warned that the hike was very strenuous since it went up and down through canyons and over mountain passes. Yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before and these things are never as hard as they're advertized. In this case, however, the route did turn out to be pretty tough, although still doable, especially since we had mules carrying some of our gear.

One of the nice things about the route was that not only did we not see any other hikers along the way, it was also mostly uninhabited, whereas most of the other valleys in the Andes we've seen have been taken over by agriculture. The first day was nearly all very steep down hill on loose stones to almost the bottom of the river canyon. The campsite was very pleasant for us, but apparently not for the horses. In the morning we were upset to see blood trickling out of one of their necks. When we asked about it we were informed that the area is the home to vampire bats who had decided to make a snack out of one of our horses. I was happy I was told this in the morning, not before I had to walk 5 minutes in the dark to use the bathroom the night before! The horse didn't seem to mind as much as we did.

We crossed the river and then had an extremely hot and steep climb to about 10,000 feet, during which we saw an Andean Condor. To help with the climb most of us indulged in some coca leaf chewing (legal in Peru and Bolivia). You start by cramming as many leaves as possible into the side of your mouth and then adding an alkalyne catalyst (in our case ashes from burned banana trees I think). The only sensation Charlie and I got was an extremely numb mouth, and for Charlie, a slightly upset stomach. A little disappointing since we were promised a high, or at least indifference to pain and heat, etc. Oh well. We also had a break where we tried nature's candy (not raisins, as advertized at home), sugar cane. It was a bonding experience with our horses since they enjoyed it as much as we did and didn't have to bother peeling the outside bark off. The day ended at the Choquequirau ruins where we got to set up the tents on one of the cleared agricultural terraces used by the Incas. We were supposedly the last group who got to camp there because starting in December they will have people camp on the a lower site outsite of the archeological site. It was only our group and one French guy at the whole site, which was nice for us, although I felt a little bad for the French guy when we showed up (although he got a free dinner out of it with us). The next day in a strange role reversal I got up to climb up to the higher hill to get a picture at sunrise while Charlie slept. Then we all explored the ruins for the morning. The site is still being explored and excavated, only about ¼ of the 1000 feet of mountain side has been cleared. Not much is known about the city but it's been called the sister city of Machu Picchu and it was probably an important and very large Inca settlement. Recently 7 mummies were also discovered there. It seems like it was built by people from the northern part of the country which lends to the theory that the way the Incas conquered the locals was by forcing them to move to distant places with unfamiliar terrain.

After the ruins the path got more wild and our guide had to do some work with his machete to get us through. We climbed up and then down through even more uncovered ruins and terraces where you can see dozens of grinding stones scattered along the way. The next day we went day to the bottom of another canyon and had a much needed bath in the white water that was cold enough to numb our legs (which was good for Charlie because he had acquired about 150 insect bites by that point on his legs). We then had another 4000 feet hike up which undid all the good we had done with the bath, but at least we were used to these steep climbs by then. The next day we followed an old Inca road up to a high mountain pass and also went by abandoned silver mines carved into the mountain side. Then it was back down again through meadows used by cattle and then camped at the bottom of a valley surrounded by snow capped mountains looking like it was straight of a supersized Sound of Music. The next day we went up towards the peaks to the highest pass of the hike at about 15,600 feet. We were happy to discover that all the time we've spent at higher altitudes has helped to cope with this and we both felt very good. On the way down the other side we got the first rain of the trek, which was really good luck since this is the start of the rainy season in the area. It wasn't heavy rain and didn't make the path too slippery. This time of year the rivers are a little bigger than in the dry season though, so it was good luck that Charlie was in Tevas (as always) and was willing to carry all the women and one of the guys over one of the rivers where the stepping stones had been washed out. The rain cleared up and we set up camp near a place where there were hot springs gushing out of the side of the canyon.

The next day I woke up feeling really yucky and nauseaus. I couldn't eat breakfast and after a couple of hours of very slow hiking I decided I should try riding one the horses that they brought along in case anyone was injured or sick and couldn't walk. The morning's path had been wide and relatively flat, but of course, the second I decided to ride the horse the path turned narrow and rocky with steep ups and downs. I was happy that my horse was no dare devil either, and at the top of each of these steep hills he'd come to a halt and had to be pulled a little to go down. The excitement at least took my mind off of my stomach. We camped that night near a small village filled with raucous children and roosters and one giant turkey that reminded me that I had missed Thanksgiving while doing this hike. I spent the afternoon sleeping and by the next day was feeling much better, so I just chalked up it to being overtired. That day we were supposed to get up at 5:00 am (which was pretty standard for us at this point) however that night it rained heavily so someone made the decision that we would leave at 8:00 instead and hire a truck to take us part of the way. Unfortunately, half the group, including us, wasn't informed of this change of plan until we had gotten up and packed all of our stuff, so we had a nice, cold nap on the bare floor of the tent until 8:00. We had a bouncy ride through the jungle to the basic lodge we were staying at that night. The area was full of coffee plants and banana trees and looked to me what I imagine Columbia must look like. We had a relaxing day at the lodge where they had a cold shower and the most luxurious item, a flushing toilet. The owners spent the day preparing a feast for us, including several cuys (guinea pigs) which were slaughtered in our honor as the first guests of the lodge. We took before and after pictures of the poor (but tasty, according to Charlie) creatures. In the previous village we had bought up the whole town's supply (3 whole liters) of Gato Negro (red wine) and enjoyed it by the campfire.

The final day started with a 3:45 am wake up and then a hike up a very steep, muddy and narrow path through more jungle like vegetation and coffee plants. We were dripping with sweat by the time we got to the top but after a little descent we came to a clearin where we were rewarded with a far away view of Machu Picchu on the peaks on the other side of the valley. We rested here for a couple of hours before beginning our final descent. The final stop was the train station near Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. Because of some ridiculous monopoly granted to the train company, foreigners are not allowed to take the local train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, but must take special (much higher priced) tourist trains. However, they didn't count on foreigners taking the train from the end of the line from the other direction, so there aren't any tourist trains there and we could take the local train. Hahahaha.

We got a room in Aguas Calientes and the next day I cheated the system again by walking up to Machu Picchu instead of paying an extra $5.00 to take a 15 minute bus ride there. I left at around 5:30 am with two other people from our group and it took about an hour and a half to get to the entrance. We were yet again dripping with sweat but it seemed wrong to hike for 9 days and then take a bus for the last hour. At first I was a little upset by the number of people already crowding the site, but after I readjusted to being around people I enjoyed the area a lot. It was kind of like being at the Pyramids at Giza in that I've seen so many pictures of Machu Picchu so it's kind of surreal to be actually standing there looking at it. Still not done with climbing, I did the hike up to the top of Waynu Picchu (they spell this differently every time I see it, but it's the pointy peak in all of the standard pictures) which took about 45 minutes and was extremely steep with huge stone steps. It was worth the climb and gave great views of Machu Picchu and also gave me lots of opportunities to feel superior to lots of the other people struggling their way up and down. I took the path back down to Aguas Calientes and vowed to never walk again.

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