Make it Happen #6: See Machu Picchu

by - 10:43 AM

From Envy's Make it Happen List
#6: See Machu Picchu
Status: Awesomeness achieved

When told to write a paper in 5th grade, most kids in my class chose their dog, cat or pet unicorn as a topic. Well, maybe not the pet unicorn, they weren't that awesome, but you get the idea. I, on the other hand, chose to be nerdy: I wrote about the Inca's. That way I learned about the forgotten city of Machu Picchu. Right on the spot, ten year old me decided that, no matter what it would take, I would be in Machu Picchu one day. Eight years later, I made my dream come true. But it was an ordeal to make it happen...

Day 1: When it still seemed fun
Alarm set to: 4.15 am
Distance walked: 12km
The Camino Inka, or Inka Trail, is a four day trek from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. Forthy-three kilometers, all ancient Inka roads, past archeological sites, through subtropical forests, over mountain passes and through Andean valleys. Only 500 people per day are allowed on the trail, which sounds like a lot, but includes guides and porters. About one in three people on the trail is an actual tourist. It's a privilege to be on the trail.

We were picked up from the hotel at 5am, then brought by bus to the starting point near Ollantaytambo. At 7am my parents, our guide Bonnet and I crossed the start line and started our epic journey to Machu Picchu. It's quite a story to tell, but most of it is for later. The first day was all fun and games, especially compared to the days that followed. We walked only 12km that first day, with lots of breaks to take pictures. Bonnet told us about the vegetation, Inka history, local wildlife and just about everything else. She was a great guide.
I was happily walking wherever the road would take me. I jumped away for unexpected motorcycles, said buenos dias to the porters and had a great time. It got even better when we stopped for lunch. Our porters had already set up camp and the cook had made us a three course lunch. After lunch like that, I felt like I could do anything.
Just you average three course lunch with my goofy looking Dad
The last few kilometers of the day were the hardest. My legs were tired, I was tired, everyone was tired. The last kilometer to our camp for the night was uphill. Terrible. Somehow I made it. Without looking at the camp, I sat down on a rock and almost fell asleep.
Camp turned out to be a patch of land full of chickens, with a French toilet (aka a hole in the ground). After a long day of walking, it looked like heaven to me.

That night I didn't eat much at dinner and went to bed early. I didn't worry about it - after all I had walked 12k at an altitude we can't even imagine in the Netherlands. I went to sleep and, just like Bonnet had assured me, I slept like a baby.

Day 2: Never eat Chinese food in Peru
Alarm set to: 5am
Distance walked: 9km
Can you imagine doing this for a living?
In the middle of the night my stomach woke me up with some bad news. I had to throw up, but where? I slept in a miniscule tent with my parents. I knew I wouldn't be able to get out in time and the last thing I wanted to do was puke all over my Dad at 3 in the morning. Luckily my Mom woke up and quickly grabbed a plastic back from out of nowhere (Mom-magic at its best) in case I would let my dinner see the light of day, or in this case night, again. I was able to keep it in, but the tone was set for the day.
Bonnet was really worried about me and said that one of the porters could carry me if my situation got worse. I didn't want them to. The 'porter's law' states that a porter is forbidden to carry more than 20 kilos at any time. As you can imagine, I weigh a little more than 20 kilos...

Before we started walking, I had to use our beautiful bathroom facilities, which stank like hell. I already disliked using a hole in the ground as a toilet, but when my body decided everything had to get out, front and back, I hated it even more...
My Dad and Bonnet asked me if I wanted to go back, but I couldn't. I think I wouldn't have been able to live with the shame and guilt if I'd gone back. I insisted on doing the Inka Trail - and doing it all by myself, no porters carrying me.

My Mom and Dad stayed with me in the beginning, but my Dad became restless. We sent him ahead. After a while he came back to carry our packs. He did this for the rest of the trail. People who saw him started calling him Twopack, of simply 'the guy who walks the Inka Trail twice in one go'.

Though we only had to walk only 9kilometers, day 2 was already marked as the toughest day: we had to cross a mountain pass at an altitude of 4200 meters. I wasn't even halfway up when I felt like I couldn't keep going on like that. For the first time in my life I stuck a finger down my throat; it was the worst thing I've had to do to myself in my entire life. After throwing up like that I felt a little better, but also ashamed and dirty.
I didn't eat anything during our first break, I just couldn't. Carefully I sipped some overpriced Coca-Cola. An Irishman, who'd noticed me being miserable along the way, gave me some medicine against the nausea. I started thinking of him as Medicine Man. Without his help, I wouldn't have made it.

It was still a long way to the top, to the pass, but at least I started to feel a little better. My legs were sore and the stairs were steep, so I told myself to walk 100 paces before taking a break. That way I made it to the pass.
Going down was a lot easier. Bonnet kept telling us to take our time, and we did. Slowly but steadily my Mom and I made our way down to the camp. My Dad, who'd earned the respect of our porters by becoming Twopack, went ahead with the porters. I was still on the trail when he reached camp. I had 40 minutes to go and thought I couldn't take it anymore. At that moment one of our porters came back to ask if we wanted tea or sandwiches. He saw my condition and asked if he had to carry me. I wasnted to say yes so badly. I couldn't bear the thought of walking any more. My Mom held my hand and said I didn't need a porter to carry me, that i could do it all by myself. And so I did.
When I finally reached camp, teh porters gave me a big round of applause. I smiled warily, stumbled into my tent and slept for almost 12 hours.

Day 3: Thank God for Imodium
Alarm set to: 5.30am
Distance walked: 16km
I felt good when I woke up on the third day of the Inka Trail. After twelve hours of sleep, I was even able to eat a piece of pancake for breakfast. Then I had to run to the toilet again...
There was no question of being carried that day. I was determined to do it all by myself, walk every last centimeter on my own two feet. We had to climb 400 meters that day and I did it with two tiny pieces of pancake in my system - nothing else. I make it sound easy, but I was still going through hell. Diarrhea isn't much fun, especially when there are no toilets along the and the amount of toilet paper is limited. I'll spare you the details.

All day long, I had to count my steps to keep going. The numbers calmed me and distracted me from the distance I still had to go. I was exhausted and the climb toward the next mountain pass was even more exhausting. By counting the steps and estimating the height of the stairs I could calculate how much I had behind me and how much I still had to go. No bad for a girl who hated math.

At the pass was our first resting point for the day. It was beautiful to see what happened there. Every tourist helped each other out. Medicine Man gave me some Imodium for the diarrhea, while my Mom and I helped a kid from Birmingham back to his feet when he was suffering from altitude sickness. Some kind of wonderful bond made us all feel connected. 'We're all in the same shit, the least we can do is make it a little easier' is what we all thought.

The journey continued, mostly downhill now. Bonnet made me sniff pure alcohol when I started to feel nauseated again. Don't ask me how or why, but it helped instantly. And then, a little while later, when we were taking a small break, we suddenly saw not one, but two condors fly! Even Bonnet was amazed. In the previous two years on the Camino Inka, she'd seen only two condors - and now there were two at once! From that moment on I started enjoying the Inka Trail again. I started hour long conversations with Bonnet about everything that came to mind. I was stunned by the beauty of the Andes. I was tired beyond measure, but it was all worth it when i reached lunch camp, where the porters greeted me with applause again. I was even able to eat some luch. And okay, I admit it, I took a shortcut to our final camp. But in my defense: I was still suffering from food poisoning.

Day 4: Machu Picchu
Alarm set to: 3.30am
Distance walked: 6km
That morning I woke up when a Belgian tourist yelled: 'Allez, on your marks, set and go!'. I have no idea how he could be so awake and cheery, since it was only 3.30am.
After a small breakfast, we went to 'the gate'. the gate is just a fence that marks the start of the final stage of the Inka Trail. It opens at 5.30am, when the night is almost over and the sun is about to rise. So even though we were in line in front of the gate at 4am, we had to wait 90 minutes until it opened. I got impatient, but Bonnet told me it was for my own safety. The Inka Trail is a dangerous route to walk in the dark. As recent as January, a tourist died when she fell of the path. Suddenly I didn't mind waiting.

At 5.30 everyone went crazy. People started running, racing eachother and, more important, the sun. Everyone wanted to be at the Sun Gate at sunrise, to see the sun take a peek over the mountains and bathe Machu Picchu in its early morning light.
I took my time. I was also racing the sun, but I thought my safety more important. Besides, the headlight I was wearing didn't illuminate my path the way it was supposed to; I had to stalk others with better headlights to see where I was going. Not that a better headlight automatically meant a steadier progress. I've seen people with spotlights on their head fall over rocks the size of my upper body... But light or no light, the view on the last part of the trail was amazing. I can't even begin to describe it. Some things you've got to see for yourself.

Finally there!
Then, just before sunrise, I had to climb a staircase on all fours, incredibly steep, stubled a minute or so along the path and stopped. Just stopped and took in the view. Machu Picchu. Finally I saw the forgotten city.
We rushed down the last 2km to the actual city, after seeing the sun rise over Machu Picchu. I can't remember ever being as happy as I was when I walked between the houses, storage rooms and temples. After a tough trek with barely any food in my stomach, I could barely believe I'd made it. I remember saying that I was the only one who could make the things on my Make it Happen List actually happen. This was one of them. The trouble I had to go through to achieve my goal was unbelievable. But the reward was worth it. As we took the bus back to Agua Calientes, I shot one last glance at Machu Picchu. My whole body filled with pride, euforia and, for the first time in years, love for myself. I went through hell and back for it, but I never gave up and succeeded. And that was what 'Make it Happen' is all about.
Greetings from Macu Picchu!

You May Also Like

9 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Wow, I never knew it took so much endurance to get to Machu Picchu.. I think you were brave to stick it out! By the way, I nominated you for The Sunshine Award :)

    1. OMG Thank you! I've got some award posts to catch up on, it'll be posted asap :)
      You can also go to Machu Picchu by train, by the way, it's just that my Dad thought it would be 'fun' to walk there. His opinion hasn't changed. I, on the other hand, will go by train if I'm ever in Peru again. It's one of the top10 train trips in the world, so it must be spectacular too

  2. Wow, it looks gorgeous up at the top (hopefully that made up for your "expierences" to get there haha)!

    1. It was :) And yes, it did make up for a lot. I can now look back on it as something amazing that made me tougher in more than one way. It's also great to be able to tick of an item of my list for the very first time :)

  3. Wow, beautiful view! Love the sky!

    1. Most people go to Machu Picchu just for the city and forget to look up, but the sky was actually prettier at some moments than the path that led us to the city :P
      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Dude,you're strong :D
    You've got good will power :D
    The Photographs are so awesome :)
    And Machu Picchu just made to my "Places to visit" list :D

    1. I started out strong, but by the end of the Trail I'd lost between 5 and 10 kilograms, which is like 10 to 20% of my total body weight... It's the strong will power that got me there :)
      You should definitely go to Machu Picchu if you ever get the chance. Do the Trail, it's totally worth it! The train is nice, but the Trail is awesome!

  5. Loved reading this! Makes me so nervous but also excited to do it myself one day 😊


I solemnly swear that I am up to no good! Wait, no, I mean: I solemnly swear that I will answer each and every comment ;)