As if the Colca Canyon hadn’t fulfilled all of our trekking fantasies, we decided to undertake the big boy. A four-day inka-jungle trek to every instagrammer’s fantasy: Machu Picchu. So today’s post is a day-by-day run through of that little adventure.
Our day started off pretty alright. Unlike the Colca Canyon, this time we got to enjoy a luxurious lie-in the first day: until 6am. A minivan zoomed us out of Cusco, the city we’d come to love deeply, and up into the mountains sacred to the Inca’s. Then, at 4300 metres altitude, surrounded by snow and cloud, the van spat us out again, this time with mountain bikes and so much protective gear we became slightly worried about what the hell was waiting for us. I looked on as the others geared up. Sigi (our new Austrian addition) and Sanne looked like some kind of motorbiking royalty, their protective gear tight around their tall figures. Guillermo, Myrthe and I however… not so much. Guillermo stood at almost two metres, and was about as wide. He looked like a power-ranger stuffed into a costume too small for him. Myrthe and I were just too small. I can only compare it to when the hobbits arm up to fight in Lord of the Rings. Except I had the good fortune of also having a head the size of a toddler’s, and so also had to stuff a beanie into my helmet before wearing it. So now I was an armoured hobbit with squashed cheeks who spoke slightly too loudly because of the beanie muffling all sound around me. I felt awesome.
Eduardo, our guide, motioned us to follow him as he pedalled his bike down the mountain. And then the fun began. Myrthe and I shot down the mountain like tiny bullets, leaning low over our wheels, feeling none of the wind as Guillermo’s gigantic frame blocked out most of it. The mountain was filled with twists and turns and the two of us revelled in our Dutch heritage as we flew round each bend flawlessly, thanking the lord that we were born and bred to be cyclists. At the halfway point, we were feeling rather good about ourselves. Sanne and Sigi came through a few minutes later, panting and whining that their tyres were flat. ‘Ha! Wimps.’ I thought to myself cockily. Shouldn’t have. Karma is a bitch.
When we set off again, I realised Myrthe, Guillermo and Eduardo were getting ahead of me. I pedalled furiously, feeling the altitude in my lungs, trying to catch up. But one bend and they were gone, all three of them. I looked behind me. Nobody. No! And gone was the cockiness, the ego, the attitude. My tyres were flat. And now there was nobody to block my wind. All I could do was peddle forward as fast as my little legs would go and hope I’d get somewhere.
An hour later, overtaken by Sigi and Sanne twice, but having scraped my way ahead again, I arrived to where the others had been waiting a good five minutes, completely out of breath and sweating like a pig.
‘Ha! That was easy!’ I wheezed, bent double with pain. Myrthe flinched and I realised I was yelling again, the beanie still serving to block out all sound. I took the helmet off, my hair sticking to my forehead, my eyeliner smudged with tears the wind had forced out of my eyes.
Myrthe just rolled her eyes, tucking her helmet under her arm, brushing a hand through her golden hair. Even that little midget looked cooler than me. Damn it.
‘It’s beautiful.’ Sanne sighs, gazing over the ancient Inca trail that we’re trekking across. The valley shines a vivid green below, a little glimmering river snaking its way through the jungle. The epic Salkantay mountain towers in the distance, the sun beats down fiercely overhead. Sanne’s right, it’s pretty awesome.
‘Wow. Unreal.’ Sigi proclaims in an emotionless monotone.
We all stare at him for a moment, blink, and shrug.
The trek is truly one of the most beautiful I think any of us have ever done. Eight hours of jungle and river and cable cars and caves, chattering nonsense the whole way about studies and babies and cats and future plans as if we had any real idea what we’re doing.
And at the end of the day we were led to hot springs to top it all off, and treated ourselves to a good number of inca tequilas. The day was almost perfect. Almost.
Then Eduardo decided to feed us some kind of Quechua snake spirit at dinner.
Myrthe took one look at the jar he presented and seeing the decapitated snake floating pathetically in brown liquid, made the sensible decision. ‘Nope. I’m not drinking that.’ Princess Sigi also declined.
I decided to be an idiot and took the plastic glass Eduardo offered me. I took one sniff and fought the urge to gag. In case anyone’s wondering, decomposing, decapitated snake fermenting in tequila smells just as revolting as you’d think. Closing my eyes and trying not to think, I downed the rotting liquid. Nausea rose up in me and I tasted vomit. The taste was like someone had amplified the smell to penetrate into your every pore. Everything I smelled, tasted and saw for the next ten minutes was that rotting snake in the brown liquid. I fought hard to control my facial expression. ‘Yeah that’s alright!’ I managed, the sentence tasting like death.
Apparently I was convincing enough to Sanne, who chugged her glass whole. For a moment her entire face contorted in agony, before looking at me with an expression of deep betrayal. I could see the urge to vomit in her eyes.
‘You. Lied.’ She spat.
Myrthe sat across the table, grinning smugly. ‘I knew it. I knew it.’
Almost a perfect day.
We done some ziplining, we done some hiking. Sigi thought it was unreal.
Another 4am start. Another pack. Another hike in the dark. Except this time it was Machu Picchu we were hiking up to. A gruelling start to the morning though, 1800 steep staircases up a misty mountain. Myrthe and her cold and her asthmatic lungs suffered all the way up, so being the awesome friend I am I left her behind, thinking I could keep up with an Austrian mountaineer instead. Turns out I keep forgetting I no longer have any muscle or stamina, nor am I a 1.90 metre tall man. Mountains have a way of keeping your ego in check like that.
Once I’d managed to scale up the damn thing, and get through the checkpoint, I found Sigi frowning at the astounding view below.
‘I thought it would be bigger.’ He muttered. Thankfully I had enough energy to whack him over the head. He quickly backtracked. ‘Oh. Wow, yes. Unreal.’
Eduardo led us around the beautiful site, explaining as he went. We stumbled along after him, half asleep, trying to keep up with what he was saying. ‘This is important information, listen.’ He’d say, before uttering twenty Quechua words that we’d proceed to forget instantly. Half a minute later he’d quiz us patiently, and we’d all shrug helplessly, clueless. He told amazing stories, about ancient Inca warriors, prisons in the temple of the Condor, the chiefs daughters’ lodging, Inca astronomy, sacrificial altars for black llama’s… none of which I can repeat with any accuracy as I was having to lean against ancient Inca walls just to keep myself awake and upright.
All I can say with certainty is that the Quechua loved representing things with other things.
‘Here’s a sundial that represents the sun. Here’s a triangular rock that represents the equinox. Here’s a window that represents this specific location of the sun. Here’s a hut that represents the important people and the afterlife. Here’s another hut that represents the poor people and death. Here’s a rock that represents the mountain just behind it. Here’s another rock that represents the mountain just next to the rock that represents that other mountain.’
And, to top it all off: ‘Here’s the Chakana, who’s different sides represent love and trust and connections and acknowledgment and protection and awareness and happiness and passion and expression and responsibility and productivity and the present. But also this life, the life before life and the life after life. And also the condor, the puma and the snake. And the cardinal points. Also Earth, Air, Fire and Water. And also the four seasons. And the sun and the moon.’
By the end of that explanation all we were certain of is that the Quechua like adding meaning to things. But that they did it in a very pretty way.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, rounds off our monthly catch-up. We’ve had to leave Sanne behind in Cusco and continued to Copacabana in Bolivia ourselves, and are now in La Paz, trying to ignore how ugly the city is by sitting in pretty café’s drinking artisanal coffees. This is not good for our budget.
Until next time folks! xxx