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I realize that the heading on this post does not do these amazing locations justice. With limited time and realizing that I had to tone down my adventures due to knee injury from a few years back, unfortunately I could not handle the intensity of the full Inka Trail trek or it’s more wilder version, the Jungle Trail. Having resigned myself to this decision, I did not want to feel fully defeated and I could not accept seeing Manchu Picchu from the relative comfort of train and bus. This is one place in particular,where I felt that I had to earn my entry.

I for one am a fan of solo travel and in instances like these it was relatively easy to find trek mates who wanted to go at my pace. I met another solo female traveler who stopped by the language school for 2 weeks as she traversed South America. She too having suffered serious injuries in the past that left her hip/knees in bad shape, could not take on intense hikes but did not want a “free ride” to Manchu Picchu. So that settled it, having found a trekking partner, we set  out to find the best means of getting some moderate trekking, while realizing the limitations of our bodies.

With tour agencies and touts aplenty around Cuzco, it was a headache to sift through and find a decent agency that won’t over charge and provide basic services. The takeaway from this research was to find out hidden costs, what packages actually include (transport, lodging, meals, if so, how many meals, and equipment rentals). Thankfully, my trek-mate Alli did most of the legwork and haggled for a great deal.

We headed off on an early morning bus from Cuzco to Hidroelectrica. From there were trekked to the town of Aguas Calliente. This short trek was a breeze and at this point, I was feeling confident that the remainder of the trip will not be as bad. I didn’t realize what was in store. After a few hours of rest we eagerly got up at 4:15 and walked out-of-town to cross the bridge and begin the hike up to Manchu Picchu. Our adrenaline rush was quickly squashed when we realized the gates to cross the bridge and enter the national park do not open until 5. So we moped around, half asleep disappointed that we can’t just get on with our trek.  Finally on the trail, I quickly realized how out of shape I was. Despite being reasonably fit, and using a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation, I was quickly humbled by the steep, uneven steps and high altitude of the trail. I nearly puked, despite having no food in my system.

Despite the arduous climb, after reaching the top, the walk around Manchu Picchu was well worth it. It was well worth it to make it up to Manchu Picchu before sun rise, to witness as the veil of fog lifted to reveal spectacular views of the ancient empire. After a one hour guided tour that gave a bit of insight on the historic site we ventured on our own. I realized that if I were Peruvian, I would be annoyed and disappointed by the portrayal of these historic ruins. Much of the credit is given to Yale Professor for “discovering” the site. Little mention is noted that an 11-year-old boy guided him to this location, so clearly many people in the area knew of its existence.

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As the hoards of buses started to arrive, the site quickly became crowded. From there we decided to hike up to Mount Manchu Picchu towards the Sungate, which is the trail that is used by most trekkers on the traditional Inca Trail to enter the ancient city. It was nice to escape the crowds and the view was spectacular. The views were overwhelmingly beautiful and I was left in awe of the mite needed to erect this ancient city in such an isolated and difficult terrain. The climb back down to Aguas caliente was equally difficult, given the late afternoon heat.

bottom line, despite the express trek… the trip was still simply spectacular.