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¿Dónde está Alyssa? Looking for the next destination.....the hunger will never be quelled.

Breathless and blistered for Machu Picchu

PERU | Tuesday, 15 May 2007 | Views [8484] | Comments [4]

I can't believe that in the last 4 days I trekked 32 kms hiking through the magnificent Peruvian Andes. I trekked through a pass at an elevation over 12,000 ft, camped at freezing temperatures and felt all wonderful types of altitude sickness... all for Machu Picchu. I was breathless at times, nauseous, experienced dizziness and serious stomach issues (which I won't go into detail so not to disgust you all). Apparently I am still very much so affected by high altitudes. Was it worth it you ask? Hell, yes. I would do it all over again in a second. My stomach is still recovering and I have open blisters on my toes but watching sunrise at Machu Picchu made it all worthwhile.

But let me back track to a week ago....

Trishy and I finally made it into Peru after a very laborous few days spent on buses, which I am still cringing from. We spent our first few Peruvian days in the northern city of Chiclayo exploring the ruin sites of Lord Sipán and the amazing museum where the genuine artifacts are stored. We then flew to Lima for an afternoon. Had our first true Western meal at a Pizza Hut and watched paragliders sail in the sky over the foggy coast of Miraflores. We woke at the crack of dawn the following day to fly to Cusco, the tourism mecca of Peru. In flight we met two awesome girls sitting next to Trishy that we have spent the last week traveling with. After landing in Cusco I could immediately feel the lack of oxygen at 9,000 some odd feet above sea level. When I grabbed my bag I felt slightly dizzy and told Trishy that I hoped the feeling would pass, otherwise there would be no trek to Machu Picchu for me. Fortunately after a few days of doing mostly nothing other than sipping coca tea (it is perfectly legal here) and watching tourists and locals alike walk through the attractive cobble stone streets of Cusco I was up for the trek. Yay!

The four of us (since now we were joined by our two new friends Regula and Becky) met up with our trek group bright and early on Friday morning. We took a 5:45 am bus to Pisac to have breakfast looking over the gateway to the Sacred Valley. Our Lares Trek group was reasonably small at only 8 people. I was happy not to have the usual 16 or so trekkers like the Inca Trail groups. The first day of trekking was generally easy and flat. The Totora Canyon was absolutely beautiful and I am just amazed that I didn't trip over my own two feet as I took photos while trying to walk. Day One took us through farmed terraces, stunning mountain ranges and green valleys. We soaked our legs at the Lares hot springs before finishing the last three hours hike to our camping site. As we continued on...and up the weather turned quite chilly and misty. Soon we couldn't see much but we could hear llamas and Peruvian farmers every now and then. Our first camping spot was in a traditional Andean community called Huacahuasi. We couldn't see it until the next morning but we assumed it was pretty (and it was). Our amazing crew from SAS Travel had coca tea waiting for us almost immediately. We had an early night as it was freezing and we were exhausted. I think we turned in around 8:00. It was so cold that all any of us could think about was bundling up and jumping into our down sleeping bags for -10 degree weather.

Day Two we awoke around 7:00am by the SAS team greeting us again with hot coca tea and boiled water for washing. It was refreshing and fortunately the morning was warming up so we were prepared to take off the additional sweaters, gloves and thermal pants. I awoke feeling quite nauseous but still managed to shove some food down my throat. I figured I needed some fuel to keep me going through the day's hike. After breakfast and visiting a local home we began the trudge uphill. I thought I was going to vomit...but luckily I did not and made it up the valley without spewing breakfast all over the beautiful trail. Our guide gave me something for the nausea and by the time we made it through the valley I was beginning to feel somewhat better. However my appetite never fully returned until we finished the trek and came down 2,500 feet in altitude. The rest of the day's trek was much easier after we climbed up through the Ipsaycocha pass (12,500 feet or so). The last 4 hours were all down hill and through fantastic tranquil mountain lakes and snow-capped peaks. Our second camping site was much warmer than the first night, even though we were at the same altitude. Again we had plenty of hot coca tea in the evening and refreshing rum with hot apple juice to warm our bones. Just the right combination to put 8 tired trekkers straight to bed.

Our third day was entirely down hill walking along a road passing local farmers tending their potato crops, llamas and alpacas. We stopped at a local market and tried some horribly sour local drink, gave away pens, paper and sweets to the children and enjoyed the sunshine. Half way through our 5 hour walk my toes started to hurt and I realized I should have left on my dirty muddy socks from the past two days as the new ones were giving me blisters. I carried on and finally took off my shoes just before lunch in Ollantaytambo to discover my toes were just about to start bleeding. I tried to forget my aching feet as I gazed down the adorable narrow cobble-stoned streets of Ollantaytambo and up at the Inca fortress above. We enjoyed a tasty lunch and then boarded the train for a fantastic scenic journey to Aguas Calientes.

On arrival to Aguas Calientes we were hit by the swarms of market vendors, restaurants, internet cafes, hotels, etc. Two days of barely seeing a single other soul except the people that live high in the Andes made Aguas Calientes feel like a bustling city. However it is far from it. Aguas Calientes is a village nestled in the deep valley below Machu Picchu, a mere 8 km away. The town is beautifully enclosed by towering walls of stone and cloud forest. In other words, it was damn cute. A few of us soaked our aching bodies once more at the hot springs here to reward ourselves for completing the 3 day hike. Once more it was an early night, but this time in a bed with four walls surrounding us. We had to be up by 4:00am the following day to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu. I had no problem pulling myself out of bed at that hour for MP. Our group had a quick breakfast and then walked the block to the station and waited with what felt like the entire town to catch the first bus up. We boarded the fourth bus and wound up through Andean mountains that teased us in their similarity to Machu Picchu. The sun was slowly creeping up so we had to hurry to make it in time for sunrise. Once at Machu Picchu we still had to climb up a good 15 minutes of zigzagging stairs to watch the sun rise over the terraces of the Inca site. This is where you get some of the best views of MP and get a visual fix of the whole site and take the classic photo. Seriously though, I think all my photos look like postcards for Machu Picchu. But I guess everyone who has been to MP can say the same.

After sunrise around 7:15 we had a three hour tour to learn about the stunning site. For as well known as MP is, it is still very much so a mysterious place. Machu Picchu was never mentioned in any documentation so everything that is known about the site is based on archaelogical and educated guesswork. Since there wasn't any mention of MP in the Spaniards chronicles nobody really knew about Machu Picchu until an American historian, Hiram Bingham, stumbled upon the old city ruins in 1911. Most speculation points to MP being abandoned as the Spanish invasion approached the area. But like I said, this is all educated guesswork so knowledge of the site is still a bit sketchy. Regardless, it is an unbelievably beautiful place that must have served as a ceremonial center for the Inca people. The carefully planned stonework of altars and sacred niches can only mean Machu Picchu was incredibly important to the Incas. There is a reason people come to Peru just for Machu Picchu. For those that are considering a visit, just buy your plane ticket to Lima now. Machu Picchu is reason enough to come to South America. It has definitely earned the #1 spot on my "My Favorite Places in Latin America" list.

So now we are at the end of our brief time in Peru. We left Cusco yesterday and stopped off near Lake Titicaca. We visited the Floating Islands of the Uros people and Lake Taquile today. I finally didn't feel the effects of being at 12,000 feet above sea level (Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world). This is a good thing as we are about to journey into Bolivia--famous for the world's highest everything it seems. The lake is magnificently clear at this altitude and despite the overcommercialization of the Floating Islands I really enjoyed the trip.

Now it's time to turn in my soles for bolivianos. With about five weeks left and three countries to get through we still have a lot to do. It's just enough time to scratch the surface of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina but it will have to do.

Tags: Sightseeing



Oy vey! I'm so glad you made the trip. I feel your
pain in your feet. I will take care of you when you
come home.

I love you and miss you.


  Mom May 17, 2007 1:51 PM


Alyssa M. shared your Peru journal with us since Dave & I were there for 11 days last year just after Thanksgiving. Machu Picchu more than lived up to any expectations we had. It was incredible. We had a great tour guide and only one other couple in our small group so it was easy to absorb all the atmosphere and sense of history. We didn't arrive at dawn, but early in the morning there were clouds floating through MP, and after lunch we went back in the park and enjoyed blue skies and moderate temperatures. By 3:00 or so most of the tourists had left, and we didn't leave until the park closed so had MP almost completely to ourselves. We also visited Ollantaytambo and the floating islands. Enjoy the rest of your So.Amer. adventure and we look forward to hearing about your experience when you come home. Love, Lanelda

  Lanelda Mummert May 18, 2007 1:20 AM


This all souns AMAZING! Except for your feet. Keep them lightly lotioned before socking up and you should stay blister free. Your wet socks were the way to go: blisters form because a layer of dry skin rubs against a moister layer underneath! Just don't stay so lotioned that you end up with a fungus!

We miss you terribly and are looing forward to seeing you in July!!!!

  Tami May 18, 2007 6:20 AM


I need to see pictures. I wish I could be there. I told my dad about your trip and we are both green with envy. I love you to death Alyssa. I literally cannot wait to see you!

  laurabell May 18, 2007 2:19 PM



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