Last year, I got fired from a job, ended my first serious relationship, and found myself once again broke and alone with my cat in my childhood bedroom of my parents home. I instantly regretting my spur of the moment decision to return home, and my first instinct was to leave the country again. I immediately began emailing out resumes to anyone and everyone who would read them, in all parts of the world. Despite this, as the offers came in, I found myself turning them down. Apparently, on top of everything, I was becoming a crazy person too. But then, I received a text message in my study abroad group chat that read something along the lines of: “anyone wanna go to Peru?”
Four of us committed to a 10 day trip, but if you know me at all, then you know I always have to go above and beyond. So when I was offered a temporary position Coordinating Volunteers for a non-profit based in Cusco, I accepted. Leaving finally felt right again. So here I am, still in Peru, hours after my friends have returned home, feeling both excited and terrified for the months ahead. The past 10 days with them provided me with a crash-course in my new home, and I am SO grateful that they were here to explore it with me (even if I did think I was going die on my way to Machu Pichu)!!
The main reason for this trip was my friend’s bucket list item of trekking to Machu Pichu. I agreed to this months ago, somehow not realizing what I was signing myself up for. Most people do the Inca Trail, but we decied to the Salkantay Trek, which is in National Geographic’s Top 25 best treks in the world. This trail is a remote footpath pretty close to the Inca Trail – it even overlaps in one place. One day, there are massive snowcapped mountains towering over you, and the next, you are inside a tropical rainforest. It gets it’s name from Mt. Salkantay, which translates to “Savage Mountain” in quechua. Despite the fluffiness of this post, this trek was the most challenging thing I have ever done, and probably will ever do, in my life.
Day 1: Pick up at 4:30am from out hostel. We were driven 2 hours to a village for breakfast and last minute shopping (I bought a walking stick for $1.50), and then we were off on foot. the first 2 1/2 hours of trekking were straight uphill, and I was not fully acclimated to the altitude yet, and I contemplated turning around while I still could. But up I went, trying to keep up with my friends and failing miserably. Our guide, Veronica, was outstanding and supportive. This kept me motivated for the next 5 hours of hiking on flat but uneven ground to our first campsite. We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon, and were presented with an option hike up a mountain behind the camp to visit a lake. I nearly laughed at the thought of this, and then realized that the next day would be the hardest. One of my friends stayed behind, but I grabbed my hiking stick and said to the other two, “there’s a 50% chance I’m turning around half way up”. It took me longer than everyone else, but when I reached the top, my friends were there waiting for me, because they knew all along I wasn’t going to give up.
The first night reached almost 0 degrees, and I wore every item of clothing I had to sleep, including my gloves and my hat. When we were woken the next morning at 5am with tea delivered right to our tents, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to join one of my friends on a horseback ride up the mountain instead of hiking, or suck it up and deal. Veronica, our guide, had heard my struggle and said that if I hadn’t decided, I should probably take the horse.
Day 2: Despite this, I chose to hike, though I regretted it almost instantly. For 4+ hours, we went practically vertically up the mountain. Snow was on the ground around me, I could barely breathe due to the altitude, and after every 10 steps I had to stop to make an attempt at catching my breath. I imagine that this must be what suffocating feels like. My friend had to loan me her inhaler on more than one occasion. I found myself farther and farther behind the group, but Veronica surprised me by falling back and encouraging me up the trail. When we reached our highest point, just over 15,000 feet, I had never felt better about myself. Veronica pulled me aside and said, “lady, I wasn’t so sure about you, but you showed me today that you’re a strong woman, and we have to stick together!” I obviously got her phone number and all but begged her to be my friend in Cusco when this was all over.
Though we had reached our highest point, and the toughest part of the trek was behind me, the day wasn’t even half over. We had 6 more hours of straight downhill through a rainforest to go before reaching our next campsite.
Day 3: The easiest day! We had a free morning to decide what excursion to do, and we chose to relax in the hot springs before a 4 hour hike along the train tracks leading to the town of Aguas Calientes (hot water), where we would spend a night in the hostel before finally reaching Machu Pichu! Carrying 20 pounds worth of stuff on my back during that long walk in the forest along the tracks, it began to downpour. To say that we were soaking wet and cranky upon our arrival would be an understatement.
Day 4: At 4:15am, we began the hike up to Machu Pichu. Had I been warned that it was straight up stairs for 2 hours, I probably would have opted for the bus, as my knees were NOT happy with me. But it all became worth it when we reached our final goal – words cannot describe how incredible it was.
We spent the remainder of our time together exploring Cusco and making memories. I’m really sad to have seen my friends leave, but I’m excited for the rest of my journey. This time, it’s starting to feel more like I’m running towards something