After drinking my coca tea I met with the group and we loaded up in a van. We then drove for about 30 minutes to the start of the trail. Hugo was full of energy and from the start I could tell we would get along very well. Most of the other guides and members of the crew did not speak English so it made it difficult to communicate for some of us. We approached our starting point unloaded the van and loaded up our backs. Hugo explained the first section would be flat at the beginning but long and steep at the end and should take around 8 hours to get to the first camp.
As I loaded my pack onto my back I had an overwhelming feeling of anticipation, excitement, and anxiety. I had waited this experience for a long time and it felt surreal at that moment.
Breathing at these altitudes is difficult and can make even the seasoned athlete keel over but I was looking forward to the challenge and needed the escape. Looking down one foot in front of the other I began the hike. The atmosphere and scenery are amazing and the sense of oneness with Pachamama (Mother Nature) was undeniable. As we hiked along the trail Hugo was very knowledgeable about local flora and fauna. He also knew the history, practices, and most of the previous ancient civilizations that occupied the territory in the past. Every once and awhile we would stop rest and Hugo would tell local legends and stories. As we progressed up the mountain the breaks became more frequent as the oxygen in the air got thinner. After a few hours of hiking we came across a few villages of local people living similar to the Qutchua. He explained how many people in this area still live the same as they did generations ago.
As we continued to walk the terrain got steeper and we could begin to see an immense waterfall in the distance. We continued to hike until we came to the base of the Perolinyoq waterfall. The power and presence of the waterfall was all encompassing and it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever had the privilege of being in the presence of. Hugo told the legend of a mermaid like creature that lived behind the waterfall and would come out at night to scavenge for hikers food and equipment.
After spending some time at the waterfall cooling off, we continued to hike up the side of the mountain. Eventually we could see an ancient Inca ruin across the valley on the side of a mountain and above that our first base camp. We continued for another 4 hours or so until we reached the ancient Inca ruins of Q’orimarca which is believed to have been used for food storage, worship, and a resting point for Inca messenger. From here you have an amazing view of the valley and the trail that we had hiked this far. We rested as Hugo talked about Inca culture and how they would build food storage sites throughout the valley and how they knew how to preserve foods like potatoes for hundreds of years. How messenger would run different trails to locations like Machu Picchu and needed these places for food and shelter. Once Hugo had finished we continued hiking another 30 minutes until we reached our first base camp. All the tents had been setup and Hugo let us know which tents were who’s and a brief explanation of where to use the restroom, when we would eat, and other basics. I walked over to my tent pretty exhausted and took off my backpack which felt really heavy by that point. It felt so good to unload and relax. I got my sleeping back and gear situated in my tent and then laid down in front of my tent and did some yoga stretching. As I sat back up and looked out over the valley the sun began to set. I felt really good about my strength and endurance and more alive than I had in a long time. I thought about mom and could feel her presence around me and smiled with a tear in my eye as I knew she was enjoying the moment with me.
In the background I could hear Hugo letting us know that dinner was about ready and for everyone to come to the main tent to eat. I strapped my headlamp on my head as it was almost dark and walked over to the main tent. Evenings in the main tent were a lot of fun and many great conversations with Hugo being the organizer. He also liked to play name that tune. We always had an assortment of teas and hot chocolates as well as bread and cracker, sometimes popcorn. Then we would have soup followed by main dish which was usually rice, potatoes, some vegetable and chicken, fish, or beef. That was followed by desert and more conversation. After we had all had our fill it was time to sleep which was not a problem because all of us were tired. After once more cup of coca tea I walked over to my tent and managed to work my way into the sleeping bag. It was cold at night between 30-40 degrees and the oxygen in the air was thin. As I began to close my eyes I could not help but think of the mermaid creature lol and thanked god for the amazing day and fell asleep.
I walk up the next morning around 4:30 and got my boots and jacket on and headed over to the main tent for breakfast. A few people were having altitude sickness and did not sleep well so they took medication which helped them some but Hugo insisted not to take the medication that the side effects were bad and to drink coca tea. After breakfast, coffee, and conversation consisting of what the days hiking would consist of everyone went back to their tents to load up. After getting everything situated and water bladders filled up Hugo handed us all a bagged lunch and we began our hike around 6:00.
Hugo had let us know that day 2 would be the hardest with the steepest accents and longest distance. I felt good and was excited for the challenge. After hiking about two hours we were at a very high altitude about 14,500 feet and breathing became even harder. So our paces slowed and our breaks became more frequent. The landscape was so dynamic yet peaceful with a wide range of sights and smells. After another few hours we stopped to eat our bagged lunch. By this time the temperature had warmed up and the sun was intense. I re-applied sunscreen and striped a layer of cloths. While eating my lunch and conversing with the group, Hugo answered question about local culture and wildlife. Explaining that the Condor was one of the most sacred animals to the area and much of Peru. As we came to one of the steepest climbs Hugo asked if everyone was ok and that the next 1000 yards would be challenging but rewarding. We all shook our heads, some more sure than others and pushed on breaking frequently as my heart pounded out of my chest. As we reached the top we were rewarded with an unbelievable view of the snow capped mountains of the Andes. It was literally breathtaking not just because of the hike and lack of oxygen but the power of the view. I sat down and took it all in. It’s points like this in life I realized that you learn the most and grow. Along the mountain range we were on you could see rocks stacked randomly everywhere. Hugo explained that they are placed for various reasons; trail marking, prayer, wish, memory, and I’m sure various reasons for other cultures in different regions. I gathered a group of rocks stacked them with the intention of a memorial for mom and said a few prayers. We all had our moments and then we got together for a group picture before continuing on our way. The rest of the hike was pretty flat with slight up and down small hills until we reached camp.
At camp it was routine of taking off boots, backpack, getting tent situated, and relaxing a minute before going to the main tent for dinner. By this time I felt really acclimated to the altitude and my breathing was not as labored. My feet and back where a little sore as well as my knees but overall I felt good. After eating another delicious meal Hugo played name that tune which consisted of 80’s and pop music which surprised me that he liked it and I knew most of it. We all had some good laughs that night about the hike and our adventure this far before heading to our sleeping bags and passing out.
The next morning I got up feeling a bit stiff but good overall and excited that today I would see the sun gate. Ate breakfast, loaded up, and headed out. Todays trek would be challenging with a steep accent followed by a rocky switchback decent and the a gradual slope upwards toward the sun gate. The up hill accent was very challenging and at that altitude was much more difficult than it looked but once at the top I was rewarded once again with an amazing view of the mountains and valley. Once everyone had reached the top we had lunch and listened to Hugo talk about the Qutchua and Inca people’s traditions and culture. He then explained that the next section would be dangerous and we would need to use hiking poles to ensure proper stabilization while hiking down the steep boulder and rock filled switchbacks. As we continued on the hike Hugo spotted a Condor far up in the sky circling the mountain top and I must say it was quite a majestic experience. As we got toward the bottom we rested a bit and talked about how technical that section of the hike was and how fortunate we felt to see a Condor flying in the Peruvian Andes.
The next section would be to the Sun Gate and would take a few hours on mostly even terrain. It is somewhere in this section of the hike that I lost my headphones which at the time I was frustrated but feel in the end it was a good thing because they can be isolating. As we got about 30 minutes out you could start to see the sun gate in the distance and the amazing Andes mountain peaks behind it. It felt like something straight out of the Lord of the Rings. My heart beat faster as we approached and walked along what seemed like the mountain giant backbone.
The Sun Gate Inti Punku on the Inca Quarry trail which in Qutchua, means ‘Sun Gate’, and the Incas built structures like these throughout the Andes to honor the sun god. This intriguing archaeological complex overlooks Ollantaytambo and the valley below – which was a fantastic reward on the challenging second day. We all took pictures and then hiked downhill toward the Sacred Valley and base camp for the last night.
As we approached base camp we stumbled upon another group which was camping 100 yards above us. The nice thing about the quarry trail is it is not crowded and this is the only other group we came across during the entire hike. We stopped and talked for a while shared experiences and continued on. Once at camp the same routine of unloading, getting everything situated, freshening up, and most importantly taking off my boots. By this point my feet were sore but no blisters thanks to good smart wool socks and Salomon boots. I rested for a moment and then headed to the main tent for dinner. At dinner as usual Hugo had a funny story to tell about a group of girls that came on the hike a few month back and how the porters and guides where going out of there way to be nice to them because they were very attractive. Well apparently on the second day the porters stumbled upon the girls peeing standing up and were shocked, They could not believe they where transsexual. So Hugo said from then on the porters no longer hit on them or went out there way to help. So one evening one of the so called girls said to Hugo what is wrong with the porters they seem to be shy and no longer interested in us. Hugo said honestly they saw you pee standing up and were surprised to find out you are men. They started laughing and said we are not men we use a “She Wee” a devise that girls use to pee standing up. They all got a good laugh and the porters could not believe it.
After more stories and plenty of food and tea. I headed to the tent for the final night sleeping on the trail. As I walked to my tent I had a deep conversation with the gentleman Robert from Scotland. We both looked over the valley as the sun faded and the sky turned black. I can say the stars were absolutely amazing that night and although I felt one with the universe at that Monet I felt very small compared to the depths of time and space. I headed to my tent got in my sleeping bag and passed out completely exhausted mentally and physically.
I woke up around same time and same routine. Todays hike would be the easiest of all the days as we hiked through the Sacred Valley down into Ollantaytambo. Since we had descended so much yesterday and would continue today the weather got warmer and the oxygen was more available in the air and my lungs were appreciative. As we continued hiking Hugo had mentioned to me previously about ancient tombs up into the mountains that was far of the trail but he would take me when we got to that point if I was interested and had the stamina. Robert and I were game so we left our bags with the rest of the group who were gracious enough to wait and hiked up the side of the quarry mountain to the ancient tombs.
The hike was hard and took about 45 minutes but when we got close you could see mounded stones and underground entrances to tombs. This was amazing and almost seemed like a childhood fantasy of living out an adventure of Indiana Jones. The entrance was very narrow but as you climbed down in the rock quarry tomb you could see the remains of skeletons. The feeling in the tomb was eerie and I was very respectful of the environment and of the loss of life especially considering I had just lost my mom, dad, and grandmother. I was very emotional as I excited the tomb and said a prayer. We each took a turn going down into the tomb as Hugo explained he rarely ever takes anyone to these tombs and assured me that death is just the beginning of something new and that life soul energy never ends.
We hiked back down to the group shared our experience and headed toward the trail. We hit a few rough patches of mosquitos which were happy to see me but I cannot say the same. Hugo explained rubbing leaves from the peppercorn tree would repel then and sure enough it worked. We saw some amazing plants including San Pedro a local medicine that produces hallucinations similar to Peyote. We also started seeing animals, small villages and farms. After a lunch break and a few more hours we crossed the bridge back into the town of Ollantaytambo. At this point if felt aqward and strange to be around civilization and so much commotion. My senses were very heightened and I really just wanted to hike back up into the mountains. I did enjoy a beer as we headed to the train that would take us to Aquas Callientes the gateway to Machu Picchu.