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Machu Picchu – Two Grueling Days (Part I of II)

Having decided Peru (cheapest one-way flight) would be our first stop on our global tour, I couldn’t wait to embark on the Inca Trail and spy Machu Picchu. We booked our spots in June 2009 as only 200 hikers are allowed on the trail each day. Finally, the day was here!

Before we departed, the omens of inclement health were gathering. I had spent an evening in the chilly hostel restroom the day prior and Ash began to have fits with her stomach. Nevertheless, we met our guide and fellow hikers the night before hitting the trail for a debriefing. What a diverse and exciting group we would be getting to know: newlywed physicians from Finland, a globetrotting tandem from Ireland & Germany, a Brazilian man on leave from his wife for 10 days, a Niece and her courageous Aunt from Australia, and a young couple from England wrapping up a 9 month world expedition.

We were under a sheet, two blankets, and a bedspread by 10pm, though neither of us felt up for dinner – not even a guinea pig (a delicacy in Peru).

Almost to Kilometer 82Pretty in PinkFinal Wishes Upon Departure

A newish blue van fetched us early the next morning and we were off to get final supplies (walking sticks, chocolate, water, ponchos) and headed for Kilometer 82 – the starting point of the Inca Trail. Day 1 on the route to Machu Picchu was characterized by a steep climb along the Vilcanota River then gradual inclines/declines until reaching the first campsite, 12 kilometers down the rocky trail. The terrain was not too difficult, but the inability to consume food/water, severe nausea, and an overall lack of energy were beginning to wreak havoc on Ashley’s frail body. We ate a simple dinner then Smitty (guide) taught Russ, Amelia (English couple), and me a classic Peruvian card game with the oh so clever name of “cards”.

Twas a LONG night for Ash. She was up and down every 30 minutes having to evacuate from either end of her suffering body. All told, she got about 2.5 hours of sleep… the night before the toughest day of hiking.

Already awake when the porters roused us with a warm cup of cocoa tea, Ash was in bad shape. She nibbled on 2 bites of a cold pancake and it was clear a decision was looming. The nine other hikers moved along to the first checkpoint, while Ash took frequent breaks. Our companions were resting when we arrived and Smitty was concerned. I forced Ash to eat one piece of chocolate after seeing she could hardly lift her arm over her head. The hikers went ahead as Smitty advised us about our choices. We heard his recommendation loud and clear: the next five hours of hiking are steep, we will gain altitude, and the campsite is frigid. Because Ashley had barely eaten in two days and couldn’t keep anything down, it would be foolish for her to continue. So the decision was made – Ash would go back to Ollantaytambo via horse with Hernan (2nd guide) and meet us at Machu Picchu on Day 4. Saddened, we said our goodbyes and I provided Hernan with a healthy tip to take good care of my beloved gal.

Typical Trail4,200 Meters Above Sea LevelDead Woman's Pass

With a heavy heart, I double-timed it with Smitty to catch up with the rest of the group. After a grueling 45 minutes uphill, we reached them at a river crossing. The next five hours offered some fantastic terrain coupled with the most difficult hiking of the Inca Trail. At first the sun was scorching, but as we reached the highest pass of the trail, the wind was fierce and the air cold. Having climbed 4,000 feet to Dead Woman’s Pass, the view was incredible. The physical drain of this hike validated our decision for Ash to head back… it really would have been Dead Woman’s Pass.

Day 2 CampStill ClimbingDice, A Game of Ambition

A two hour decent and we reached camp around 3pm and enjoyed a much needed siesta after hiking 11 kilometers. Claudio, the Brazilian fellow limped into camp later after falling and tweaked his knee. Ray (Irish man without red hair) had an infection on top of his right foot. Dutifully, the Finnish doctors were there to help them both. Smitty taught us a Peruvian dice game called Ambition then we dined on rice and chicken. I retired to my tent with Ashley on my mind, though I was happy to have her sleeping bag and pad on such a cold night!

Stay tuned for Day 3 & 4!

- Greg

Tips

1) Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer – holes in the ground don’t have TP dispensers and it seems as if soap hasn’t been invented quite yet.

2) Other hikes leading to Machu Picchu are available – all cheaper than the Inca Trail.  These can be booked once in Cusco days before your adventure.  If your heart is set on the Inca Trail, book early.

  • Mark S. Waligora

    Ash – I hope you are feeling better. I'd feel sick if I were around Greg for that long too. You're a much stronger girl than me….wait.

    Greg – this sounds incredible. Can't wait to hear about days 3 & 4! Would you say this is the hardest physical challenge you've ever had other than running laps for Mark Debrunner?

  • belindaconnell

    Love the blog… Ashley it was sooo good to hear your voice, glad to know you are doing better.
    greg, i am so glad you climbed on up, you made the right choice. How many times do you stop and rest while hiking for a day? How old is the lost city? I sure do love this stuff and i wish i was with you!

  • Addie

    Ashley- I hope you feel better soon! Love the pictures!

  • tamimiller

    “You can either live your life like a daring adventure or live your life safe but sorry you missed it.” Coach Lee

    Ashley~Hope you are feeling better soon so you can continue on. I am soooooo jealous. Wish I would have had the nerve to do something like you are both doing when I was younger and had better knees! This is like reading a really good book and I want to know what happens next and I don't like waiting… Did Greg make it to Machu Picchu? Did Ashley make it safely with Hernan and the horse? Did Ashley get better? Stay tuned tomorrow??????? Love you both!!!
    Tami

  • Laura Keller

    We are so enjoying following your travels! Gets us so excited to get on the road.

    Ashley – Sorry to hear your stomach got the best of you. Hope that turns around soon.

    Greg – Glad you got the full Inca Trail experience. It truly was one of the most challenging things I've done. Dead Woman's pass was killer. Felt like I had just finished a marathon when I got to the top, but of course so worth it.

    Looking forward to hearing about third and fourth day of the hike. In the meantime, we are looking forward to a glorious reunion together in Buenos Aires :) We arrive Oct. 20. Keep us posted on your plans.

    P.S. Did you hire porters? When we did it Ryan told me I was strong enough to carry my own belongings. Let me tell you he regretted it the entire trek as I reminded him what a stupid idea it was ;)

  • Jessica Keeton

    Ash, sorry you weren't feeling well, glad you are doing better! Thank you to you both for allowing all of us to “travel with you” through your blog! So exciting! We miss you both…keep enjoying!

  • fofs

    The Andes cannot compare to laps for Mark Debrunner.

    - Dietz

  • fofs

    Nina – during the steep climbs we rest about every 15 minutes. Lots
    of water, chocolate, and chewing cocoa leaves all help. Machu Picchu
    is thought to have been developed in the mid 1400's… amazing
    engineering for the time!

    - Greg

  • fofs

    Laura – we did hire an extra porter. Machu Picchu is a breeze when
    you have burly men carrying you up the mountain.

    Can't wait for Buenos Aires! We should arrive a couple days prior to
    your arrival and are aiming for the Palermo Viejo neighborhood… let
    us know when you get your apartment.

    - Dietz

  • fofs

    Tami – I am feeling much better after feeling ill for 8+ days. I did
    see Machu Picchu, though not the way I would have liked due to being
    so sick.

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog. It takes more work than I
    would have ever guessed, so the positive feedback is the motivation we
    need to keep it up.

    - Ash & Greg

  • fofs

    Tami – I am feeling much better after feeling ill for 8+ days. I did
    see Machu Picchu, though not the way I would have liked due to being
    so sick.

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog. It takes more work than I
    would have ever guessed, so the positive feedback is the motivation we
    need to keep it up.

    - Ash & Greg

  • fofs

    The Andes cannot compare to laps for Mark Debrunner.

    - Dietz

  • fofs

    Nina – during the steep climbs we rest about every 15 minutes. Lots
    of water, chocolate, and chewing cocoa leaves all help. Machu Picchu
    is thought to have been developed in the mid 1400's… amazing
    engineering for the time!

    - Greg

  • fofs

    Laura – we did hire an extra porter. Machu Picchu is a breeze when
    you have burly men carrying you up the mountain.

    Can't wait for Buenos Aires! We should arrive a couple days prior to
    your arrival and are aiming for the Palermo Viejo neighborhood… let
    us know when you get your apartment.

    - Dietz

  • fofs

    Tami – I am feeling much better after feeling ill for 8+ days. I did
    see Machu Picchu, though not the way I would have liked due to being
    so sick.

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog. It takes more work than I
    would have ever guessed, so the positive feedback is the motivation we
    need to keep it up.

    - Ash & Greg

  • fofs

    Tami – I am feeling much better after feeling ill for 8+ days. I did
    see Machu Picchu, though not the way I would have liked due to being
    so sick.

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog. It takes more work than I
    would have ever guessed, so the positive feedback is the motivation we
    need to keep it up.

    - Ash & Greg

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