My first night in Peru was spent in a small town called Puno. It was just a brief stint before boarding my final bus to Cusco. Cusco is a charming little town and is the starting point for most tourist heading to Machu Picchu. It is recommended that you spend a minimum of two days in Cusco before going to Machu Picchu so that you can acclimate. Due to my ever fabulous planning skills I ended up in Cusco for four days…which turned out…not to be a bad thing.
My first full day in Cusco I headed out to see if I could find a tour where I could trek to Machu Picchu. Of course the Inca Trail was at the height of their season and I learned that I should have booked that tour 6 months in advance…like that would ever happen:) Only a certain amount of permits are issued each year to hike the popular Inca trail. When I started doing my homework about 3 weeks prior to arriving in Peru I realized that I had missed the boat on that one:( Luckily, I did get a spot hiking the Salkantay Trail but found out I could not depart for another 4 days…prolonging my stay in Cusco a bit longer than I had originally anticipated. Garrett had suggested I just wait until I got there to book something and even though I had to wait a couple of extra days, I did save over $250 off of any of the treks I found on line. Thank you Gar!
I spent my days in Cusco wandering the city and making an occasional friend or 3. One day I asked a woman where the market was so I could find my hotel. She thought I wanted to eat and insisted on walking me to a very good restaurant. I just smiled and went in always willing to change plans. I figured I could find my hotel after lunch:) I sat at a table and there was no menu, the place started filling with locals. Before I knew what was happening I was sharing a table with 3 local women who needed a place to sit. They had all come in separately but all knew each other. Food began arriving in courses. It was fun, delicious and the women (probably 5-10yrs older than me:) were great company…even though I had to converse in my not so great Spanish. I did learn from one woman that the Peruvian government had taken her families land that was at Machu Picchu. She said they have been dealing with the courts for over 10 years trying to get compensation. I said “oh, you mean I should be paying you for the hike.” She smiled and was happy that I understood the situation. The next day I had coffee with two adorable older gentleman that insisted I sit with them. I insisted on buying them a coffee. I thrive on these spontaneous little meetings of humanity. People are generally so friendly and awesome…I just love that!
So, my big fear walking the trail was that I would be slow and hold people up. I even expressed my concerns to the person I booked the tour with. They didn’t seem that worried and assured me it wouldn’t be a problem…so had Garrett…but still I was worried. Never one to back away from a challenge though, I booked the 4 day, 3 night trek anyway and rented a sleeping bag…oh boy…Machu Picchu here I come…maybe:)
We ride the bus to a little town and we all get off and have breakfast. At this point they split us into groups and our trek soon begins. The group that got stuck with me turned out to be awesome. It is always a bonding experience to hike and camp and exert yourself to what seems at times beyond your limits. We represented a lot of countries between us. I was the only person from the USA. At one point one of the Canadians jokingly called me Miss America. I immediately said thank you, everyone laughed and this new name stuck with the group. I of course was the oldest person there so this was pretty funny…I’m sure the real miss America might not have seen the humor:) Our group consisted of our two awesome Peruvian guides, Pedro and Javier, several Spaniards, several Germans, a few Canadians, a Dane, a Brazillian and a Mexican and of course Miss America:) Surprisingly I was not the slowest one and usually the first or the second to arrive at camp. I surprised myself and I think most of the others. Of course that being said, I must admit I did cheat on day two and took a mule for the 2 hour steep incline in the morning and then walked the remainder of the 6 hour trek. I had heard that day two was brutal and even with the aid of the mule it was true. I love going downhill but uphills added with altitude just about kill me. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I told myself that it wasn’t a big deal, that I had to breath but then realized…not necessarily:( Anyway, I did end up making it to Machu Picchu managing to make some new friends along the way.
Machu Picchu was spectacular! These ruins were what I had looked most forward to seeing in South America. I can’t even begin to describe the thrill I felt when we finally made it to the sight. Dramatic clouds with the sunlight beaming through, gave it an even more mystical effect. The backdrop was incredible, the ruins are nestled amid rugged mountains that surround Machu Picchu. The sight, like the hike, left me breathless.
Returning to Cusco I was on the same train with two great couples from the trek. A Canadian couple and a German and Danish couple. I had lost sight of them after the train ride and there were throngs of people and it was all very confusing…I was supposed to see a sign with my name on it. Most of the time I never have any idea what’s going on and have to just have faith that it will all work out. I’m this tiny person packed jammed with tons of others, seeing only backs and all of a sudden this tall, thin, beautiful veterinarian plucks me out of the crowd and there are all my amigos waiting. My new friends once again had my back:)
What can I say except Peru was everything I thought it would be and the wonderful people I met, just the icing on the cake!
From Peru…Mystical places and magical people…all leaving Miss America breathless:)