What Happens in Machu Pichu – Day 1

It’s funny looking back on the trip to Machu Pichu, one of the World’s most well known tourist destinations, mainly because right before the trip, I was highly concerned that I actually wouldn’t have anything to write about.  The stories about Machu Pichu are so ubiquitous amongst travelers and non-travelers alike that I really didn’t think there was anything different and interesting that I could add to the volumes of tales about Machu Pichu.  I was starting to understand the frustration photographers, like my roommate Elisabete, have with shooting landscapes.  How do you add your own signature to the final product?  Well, as the theme of my entire blog suggests, the keys lies in the journey.

As you’ve probably already deduced, my trip to Machu Pichu was far from ordinary.  For background, let me start with a brief list of the multiple ways one can make passage up to the famed Inca ruins.  The easiest route is simply taking a train from Cusco up to the closest town which is Aguas Calientes.  From there one can take a bus for USD $9 one-way up to the entrance.  The second option for the physically fit, outdoorsy type is the 4D/3N Inca trail hike.  From what I’ve heard this is hardcore hiking and camping at its best.  The in-between option for the two is the 4D/3N hike and bike Jungle Trek.  Think of the Inca Trail as more of a studious captain of the softball team, whereas on a scale of 1 to Charlie Sheen, the Jungle Trek was a solid 8 (I had to discount for the disappointing absence of hookers).  This was unbeknownst to me at the time and I chose the Jungle Trek because I’ll do almost anything that involves a bike.

You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

For the first day of our tour, the idea was that we would drive to the highest point, Abra Málaga, and from there, we would enjoy a leisurely downhill bike ride to our first stop on the trail, Santa Teresa.  However, the weather decided that the whole “leisurely” part of this trip was unacceptable and served us up some cold drizzle to start the bike ride.  I, being the clever veteran Amsterdam expat that I am, thought ahead and figured I’d solve for rain by bringing my umbrella and simply riding along with a handlebar in one hand and the umbrella in the other.  You know, as we did back in the good ole days?  It was often cold and rainy in Amsterdam, so I didn’t see why I couldn’t do the same here.

About five minutes into the ride though, I’m glad I abandoned that obnoxious idea.   Riding a bike in cold rain downhill on a curvy road is in fact much more difficult than riding on flat bike paths.  I mean, who would’ve thought.  The light drizzle also turned into a really cold heavy rain and not too long after we started, my pants were soaked completely through and leaking into my waterproof hikers.  By the time I made it to the halfway point my fingers felt the closest to being frostbite that I’ve ever felt and I had an extremely attractive amount of drainage leaking from my nose.  The sensible Costa Ricans bought a handle of rum to share with the group to warm our frigid bones and about half of us, myself included, opted to finish the rest of the journey in the van.  Excellent start to the trek!

Backpacking Merit Badge

I sometimes view backpacking as one of those non-violent gangs where you really have to prove your mettle if you wish to be accepted as one of them.  This usually takes the form of some extreme mishap such as diarrhea-ing all over yourself on a long haul bus or MacGuyver-ing your way out of a sticky situation such as using the underwire of your bra to pick a lock or experiencing some bizarre travel hiccup such as a landslide blocking your route.  I came extremely close to the first two experiences, but it was the landslide experience on the way to Santa Maria, that earned me my first merit badge.

After warming our heels in the van for about an hour, our guide, Alex, informs us that we must walk through the mud from the landslide in order to catch another transport to our final destination for the evening.  There were two ways one could do this – walk safely through knee deep mud in the center of the road, or walk on more sturdy ground on the edge of a cliff.  I went half and half.  I started on the more dangerous side but moved to the center of the road when I didn’t trust my balance.  I mean, mud can really be easily washed off right?  All went smoothly after this and we made it to Santa Maria in time for a late lunch and early dinner.

Amongst My Own

By dinner time, everyone in the group had more or less gotten to know each other and we were at the comfortable phase of conversing with one another.  Amongst the ten of us there was a solo Dutch girl, a Chilean couple, Argentinean women and a rowdy mix of Aussie and British boys, one of whom, Alejandro, the Chilean guy, was quick to note had an uncanny likeness to Daniel Stern’s character from the Home Alone movies.  What I loved so much about this bunch was everyone’s sincere interest in exploring borders beyond.  I was finally not caught amongst another group of married couples with children who chatter on and on about the modern marvels of home improvements and baby toys.  The usual talk of “When I was at my mother-in-laws” house was replaced with “When I was in Antarctica” and “How tall my son is” was now “How high was the Everest base camp again?”.  It was music to my ears and a general relief to not feel like I had to be prepared with a witty yet non-hostile comeback for the “Why aren’t you married question?”  Judgment would not be something I had to worry about with these folks (at least not in regard to how I was living my life).

And so ends Day 1 of the trek, which was more of an inconvenient struggle with nature more than anything.  Day 2 begins the real hike and the more colorful aspects of the journey.

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