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Archive for November, 2008

Scenes from a bus ride

You know you are on the right path when, for no particular reason, you find yourself thinking, “God, I love this place!!”  Bolivia has worked its way into a soft spot in my heart.  I love the sense of freedom I feel here; I love the simplicity of the small towns and the excitement of La Paz.  I love the varied wild landscape and the wide range of opportunities for exploring. 

This torrid affair between Bolivia and me began in Coroico, the afternoon following our bike ride.  (Yes, after.  Not during or before.  Most definitely after.)  It reached a fever pitch last week during our pampas tour, and we are so eager to share the details of that time.  However, we want to do it justice and include lots of pictures—an obstacle at this point J  We’ll hopefully be able to have those pics up next week.  In the meantime, the following is a collection of observations I jotted down after our bus ride from Coroico to Rurrenebaque.  I hope that it can convey even a small portion of how overwhelmed (in a wonderful way) I was feeling.

***

We leave Coroico and are deposited at a place called Yolosita—shown as a town on the map in the tourist office, it turns out to be little more than a row of vendors selling cold (!) drinks and snacks, and a toll booth, consisting of a large gauge metal chain blocking the road and a sign informing drivers that if they want to continue down the road, they had best get out of their cars and pay the toll.  We have already purchased our tickets for our bus ride to Rurrenabaque and have been given the make and color of the bus and the license plate number, along with assurances that it will be passing through Yolosita on the way to Rurre.  We can just flag it down.  This must be Bolivia’s version of a bus station.

***

The scenery is immediately jarring.  I feel like I’ve been dropped on another planet.  I search my brain for other words to describe green.  Lush, verdant—words that I’ve never felt were appropriate before now.  So many different shades of green.  So green, so alive, almost aggressive in its fertility.  The plants seem to be pushing each other out of the way to reach the sky and sun.  The occasional silvery-white tree trunk hoists a flat-topped tree beyond its neighbors; other plants simply overtake those nearby, growing into one tangled mass of vines.  The spectrum of green is interrupted only by riots of red and purple flowers and by sheer cliffs supporting only monstrous agave plants, giving the impression of huge pale green spiders climbing out of the valley.  The only dullness in view is the dust-masked plants lining the roads.  I think, “This place could use some rain—to keep the dust down.”  As soon as I form the thought I realize that if the jungle is given any more nourishment, it will consume the road on which we are carving through the green: a narrow slice of dusty brown, clinging to cliffs, teetering over the river valley.

***

The air cools noticeably as we descend towards the river.  We round a bend and I notice movement in the river.  It is full of people: bathing, washing laundry, just lazing on a scorching Sunday afternoon.  My eyes settle on a middle-aged man in the river, slouching forward on a large rock, watching a woman wash clothes.  When he looks up at me, I realize, embarrassed, that I was staring.  After looking away, I glance back at him and find him still staring at me.  I am struck with the realization that he is looking at me with the same expression on his face I was embarrassed about moments before.  I—a windblown, dusty, pink freckled face staring out the last window of a Bolivian bus—elicited the same reaction as a large middle-aged man sitting completely naked in a river in Bolivia.

***

There is consistency in the homes—they sit in rows along the road, leading the way through each small village: a row of single-room, mud brick squatting sentries, nearly identical, differentiated only by their roofs.  The well-heeled buildings are topped with corrugated metal roofs, clean-seamed and firmly attached.  Those apparently lacking resources also have corrugated metal roofs, except they are constructed from scraps of metal, each tiny piece held in place by a brick, stone or wooden board.  Despite the rough conditions, all of the homes appear to be dropped into the same Eden-like garden.  Who needs to go inside when your yard is shaded by banana and mango trees and bursting with flowers in all shades of pink and purple?  The locals cover their faces when the bus passes and stirs up a monstrous cloud of dust, scattering the ever-present gang of dogs and chickens.  Rushing inside wouldn’t make a difference—there are no coverings over the windows.   

***

***

We are leaving La Paz on Sunday to head for southern Bolivia.  We expect to be in Tupiza by Monday morning and will hopefully be leaving on a tour of the Salt Flats on Tuesday or possibly Wednesday.  As always, we have no idea how connected we’ll be, but hopefully we’ll be able to get those pampas pictures up soon!

~Meg

 

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Thanksgiving 2008

thanksgiving-hammocks

This was the first Thanksgiving either of us has ever spent away from our families and friends.  We were terribly sad to not be able to spend this day with all of our loved ones, but if we have to miss great times with family, good food, football and parades, we figure this is a pretty good place to do it.

Rather than parades to start the day, we went on a sunrise boat ride to look for monkeys.  Instead of time spent in the recliner or on the couch, we chilled in hammocks, swinging lazily to keep cool.  Instead of ignoring the football game on TV, I caught part of a spirited game of mud volleyball in our jungle camp, then went swimming with pink river dolphins.  And instead of pigging out on mom´s awesome Thanksgiving banquet, we had pizza and fresh orange banana juice.  It´s certainly no substitute for family and friends, but again, if we´re going to be away, this is not such a rough way to do it.  We are so grateful for the opportunity to be here! 

We are having an amazing time in Bolivia and will be updating again soon with lots of alligator and monkey pictures from the past few days.  In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all!

–Meg

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Disclaimer:  We did a bike ride Friday with the above title.  It was slightly dangerous, but it was a decision made by both myself and my wife to do it.  We successfully completed it with no injuries; however, the bike ride is called this for a reason, so read on at your own discretion.

 

When researching Bolivia, we always read about the so-called World’s Most Dangerous Road bike ride.  It is a bike ride that begins about an hour outside of La Paz at the top of a mountain at 4660 meters.  You then proceed to descend over 3400 meters, riding 80 kilometers, into the jungle.  The road got its name in the mid-1990’s because, statistically, it had the most deaths (by way of car, not bike) on a road in the world.  The road is steep and twisting and clings to the side of sheer cliffs with 800 meter drop offs.  So of course after the road received its name, some people had the bright idea of riding bikes down it and capitalizing on dumb tourists like ourselves to shell out a good amount of money to possibly ride a bike to our deaths. 

Now when reading about this before we came here, we both thought, “What kind of moron rides on a road dubbed the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” or “The Death Road”?  After talking to many people who have done the ride and reading all about it on message boards, we decided to at least inquire about it.  So we went to Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, who had the best reviews for both safety and professionalism by far of the hundreds of different companies in La Paz who do this ride.  They have a nearly impeccable safety record, only one death in the 10 years this company has been doing the ride (far better than every single other company doing the ride). 

So went to Gravity on Thursday to find more out about the ride.  We read a bunch about it and talked to a guy at their office for quite a while.  We felt as safe as we were going to, so to answer my own question from above, I guess we are the kind of morons who do something like this.  In my opinion, it was a very wise decision (depending on your definition of wise, of course).  So we went on the ride on Friday, leaving La Paz at 7:30am with a group of seven, two guides, a driver, a jeep, and nine bicycles.

We drove out of La Paz and went straight up.  After about 45 minutes of driving, we came to a checkpoint, where our guide pointed out the death toll sign for the road for this year on the side of the road.  It read 43.  He also pointed out that was the official death toll, and they all knew that the unofficial toll was higher.  Now we were starting to get a little nervous and wondered why again we would do something seemingly so stupid.

After a short ride, we arrived at the top.  It was cloudy.  And that is an understatement.  We were, again, in the clouds.  Only this time we weren’t hiking and enjoying the views, we were supposed to ride down this road with about 10 meters of visibility, on a slick road, sharing it with cars.  Yes, we are the morons who not only decided to do this, but PAID to do it. 

After getting all of our safety gear, which was a fair amount (even though all the helmets, gloves, pants, jackets, etc. certainly wouldn’t do much good in a 800 meter fall off a cliff, but that’s neither here nor there), we were almost ready to go.  We all received our bikes individually, with our guide going over all the features with us.  He prepped us for about 15-20 minutes on the rules and procedures for riding, reminding us of Gravity’s record of safety and the reason for that record.  Everyone HAD to follow the rules or end up riding down in the jeep.

So, finally, we were off.  A guide started us off, with each person in the group following at a minimum of four jeep lengths.  The second guide brought up the rear, with our jeep right behind.  We would have 17 stopping points along the way to make sure we were all doing well, and they checked the bikes to make sure everything was working properly at every stop (see, perfectly safe). 

The first part of the ride was not my favorite.  The visibility was low, it was extremely cold, raining at times, and the road was paved, which made it somewhat slicker.  And this was supposed to be the easier part (I thought it was harder, Megan thought it was easier).  At least the sheer cliffs weren’t present, yet.

After about an hour or so (and several stops, one about every 15 minutes), we came to a resting point and had our first snack.  We were now off the paved road.  The paved road is the new road, and it is paved all the way down to the bottom.  We went off the paved road to the gravel road (which can still be used by cars, but thankfully there were NONE the day we did the ride).  When we entered the gravel road, we were officially on the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”.  We were again prepped with safety precautions, going over all the rules and the changes now that we were going to be on a road that was gravel, narrower, and had different rules for passing and dealing with the possibility of cars.

So again, we were off.  We were out of the clouds, which was good, but the sheer cliffs (with no guard rails) were now easily visible, which was not so good.  Our guide told us that the first two sections would be a good indicator of whether or not we were going to like the rest (and longest part) of the ride.  If we hated these first two sections or felt uneasy about them, we could ride down in the jeep.  He told us that many people decide to do this, and it was no big deal if we were not feeling confident.

I’m not going to lie, it was a little disconcerting at first, but honestly, I thought it was better than the first section that was supposedly “easier”.  The visibility factor was huge, and the fact that we didn’t encounter any cars was also huge.  Again, the Pachamama was on our side and we got great weather with no rain the rest of the way, so again, that made it easier.  We stopped often, and our bikes were constantly being checked, so that built our confidence as well.  But each time we gained confidence, our guide reminded us not to get too confident because that was the number one reason for accidents. 

The extra money we plopped down for going with Gravity was money well spent.  They were very professional and kept us informed and safe throughout the entire day.  As the day went on, everyone in the group realized what order we should go in, so passing each other was at a minimum, which was also safer.  I personally got braver as the ride went on, going faster and faster, which was a huge adrenaline rush and made the ride spectacular, for me.  Others decided to keep riding their brakes most of the way down, feeling safer and more confident.  It was a personal preference for each person, and the guides were great to encourage everyone to go at their own comfort. 

We started the ride at about 9am and finished at about 2pm.  Five hours of nothing but a descent down a mountain, with spectacular views all around us.  It was awesome and an incredible experience.  When we started, most of us had on at least 3-4 layers, with hats and gloves.  When we finished, we were all stripped down to t-shirts and sweating profusely.  At the bottom, we all met at a lodge that is an animal refuge.  We all received our free beer and t-shirts proclaiming that we survived “The World’s Most Dangerous Road”.  There were all types of animals running around, including several monkeys who were very affectionate, jumping in our laps, playing around on our bags, and in one case, pooping on Megan’s backpack.

We all had lunch together at the animal refuge and were able to take showers (our first hot showers in about 2 weeks).  After lunch, several people from the tour went up to Coroico, which is a town we passed, about 7 kilometers up from the bottom. 

Our cab that took us up to Coroico was a huge truck, and we all sat in the back with our luggage.  It was a really cool experience, one that made us realize again how lucky we were to be on this trip.  Here we were, in freaking Bolivia of all places, after riding the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”, riding in the back of a pick-up truck with another American, two Ozzies, and one Kiwi, talking about travel and the differences in our cultures. 

This (the car ride, not the bike ride), was a huge reason why we wanted to come on this trip.  We all stayed in the same hostel, which is set above the town amidst a jungle, with a pool, hammocks, and a stunning setting.  The place we are staying at also has a restaurant, and Megan and I and Katherine, a woman from New Zealand (who has lived in London for the past 9 years and is traveling for 7 weeks, by herself, before moving to Sydney), decided to eat at the restaurant.  We had a wonderful time before being joined by four more people from our ride who randomly ended up at the same restaurant (3 Brits and a Swiss man).  The other three who were staying at the same place joined us as well, and we had a marvelous time eating and drinking and talking and telling stories about our travels, our countries, our cultures, and anything else under the sun. 

Again, this is why we are doing this.  It’s so eye-opening and beneficial to experience other cultures and talk to people from around the world.  I think it would do everyone some good to be able to chat with others and get their viewpoints about certain things, whether it’s politics, travel, education, food, television, whatever.  Just to see the differences and similarities of other cultures makes one more accepting and understanding and more likely not to buy into typical stereotypes, and I personally believe that makes the world a much better place to live in.

We leave this afternoon for a 14 hour bus trip to Rurrenabaque, which is a jumping off point for trips into the Amazon Jungle.  Our computer is officially shot as far as internet goes, but we have been typing up posts and picking out pictures, so there is a small gallery that I uploaded from the internet cafe for this post.  We have a few more posts ready to go (from Copacabana and Lake Titicaca) that we can hopefully get up next weekend when we get back to La Paz.  We´re just having to adjust with no computer of our own, but we really want to keep the blog going because it´s so nice to be able to communicate with everyone who´s reading it.   

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone, we are going to miss pigging out on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, drinking beer and wine, and watching football.  Think of us as we’re in the jungle Thursday getting mauled by mosquitos and seeing monkeys, anacondas, alligators, pink dolphins, and eating rice and tuna (again, I ask the question, what kind of moron does this again?).

Until then, love you all and miss you!!

~Adam        

      

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Inca Trail Tidbits

As some of you know, I was feeling a little under the weather after we got back from the Inca Trail, but, finally, for your reading enjoyment, I’ve completed my (not so brief) reflections on our trek—turns out Adam isn’t the only who is “descriptive.”  J
(Also, our internet is wonky and our computer is broken, so I can´t tell if the pictures are showing up.  If not, we´ll fix them as soon as we can.  However, tomorrow we are off to Coroico for some mountain biking and then possibly into the jungle for a little while, so we´ll be out of contact for probably at least a week.  Sorry to neglect the blog–we will update with something more interesting than updates on our wherabouts soon!!)

 

 

Anyway, since Adam did such a great job of recapping the full experience, I thought I’d share some of my favorite/shocking/exhausting/humiliating/hilarious/moving moments of the trek with the blogosphere.  In other words, my Inca Trail superlatives!

Most Humbling

As Adam has already mentioned, the company we hired for the trek was stellar. We did a lot of research beforehand as we had heard that some of the companies offering Inca Trail treks were guilty of exploiting their porters–forcing them to carry unreasonable loads, not paying them a living wage, etc. We wanted to do our best to avoid giving our business to company that would use such business practices. I was relieved to learn on the first day that the Peruvian government has recently lowered the maximum load each porter can carry from 50 (!!) to 25 kilos. (Granted, we’re still talking about booking it along a strenuous hike with 55 pounds on your back, but at least 55 is better than 110.)

I was immediately struck by not only how strong and fast the porters were, but how kind they were. They smiled genuinely and greeted us every time we passed one another. (Let’s be honest: they were kind every time they passed me. I was only passing a porter if he was sitting down taking a break!) We were met at each stop with gear, camp and food set up for us, as well as by a round of applause (for arriving alive, I suppose). The grins on their faces when we returned the applause were huge. They deserved it far more than we did, for sure. While our guide assured me that the porters were happy to have this job, it is, without a doubt, a grueling occupation. The toll on their bodies can sometimes lead to serious knee or back problems later in life. And there’s no insurance for them during retirement. It is a harsh tradeoff. However, as our guide pointed out, if these men were not working as porters, they would be farming–neither is particularly gentle on the body. The fact remains; however, that the porters working the Inca Trail are an amazing group of people. We were so grateful for them!

Our amazing porters (somehow the only picture of our porters I managed to snap):

Our amazing porters after breaking down lunch camp on Day 3 (somehow the only decent picture of them I managed to snap)

Our amazing porters after breaking down lunch camp on Day 3 (somehow the only decent picture of them I managed to snap)

Biggest Shock

Two words: Squat toilets.

I expected to run into these in Asia. I’ve even seen one before in a train station in Italy (I practically ran back out because I was sure that I had accidentally wandered into the men’s room). Let’s just say I was a wee bit surprised when I walked into the first restroom on the trail and was greeted by a hole in the ground flanked by ceramic footprints.  No photos.  You’re welcome.

Best Show of Street Cred

Pouring one out for my homies the Pachamama.* Despite having been warned that alcohol should be avoided in the days leading up to the hike (because of the altitude), hot mulled wine was served after dinner the second night (and gratefully accepted!) Just before we partook of our treat, our guide stopped us, saying “Don’t forget to sprinkle some on the ground…” I almost burst out laughing because I initially thought that Cesar had watched one too gansta rap music videos! Thankfully, I held it together, because he elaborated, “… it is our tradition to offer our first sip to the Pachamama (the earth spirit/god) to show our appreciation.” From then on, we made sure to pour one out for the Pachamama.

*I have to admit that I am not winning any awards for street cred. I had to try three times before I settled on a spelling for “homies.” Such. a. dork.

Our homage to the Pachamama seemed to pay off, too… which brings me to:

Best Luck!

This one goes to everyone on the Inca Trail from Wednesday to Saturday.  We knew that we were taking a risk by booking at the beginning of the rainy season.  The refrain we kept hearing while preparing for the trek was “The weather is very changeable during the rainy season!”  We were told it could very well rain every day, maybe not all day, but there was certainly a good chance that it would be a soggy hike.  We were even warned by a couple who had done the hike a few weeks before us to be sure to bring heavy duty ponchos that would fit over us and our packs—they had worn theirs practically the entire hike.  So we were prepared for a wet few days.

Much to our delight, our hike was mostly dry!  It sprinkled a bit on the first and third days, but for the most part, the only rain came during the night.  Our good luck (and the cooperation of the Pachamama J) meant that we only had to spend a short time in these snazzy getups:

Slightly soggy wanderers (and no, we didn't grow humpbacks, our giant backpacks are under those ponchos!)

The sun was shining the entire day that we toured Machu Picchu, only beginning to rain in earnest as we were walking to catch our train back to Cusco.  As the train pulled out of the station, it started to pour.  We could only marvel at how incredibly lucky we had been to be able to enjoy nice weather for the entire hike with the rain holding off until our trek and day at Machu Picchu were done.  Thanks Pachamama!

Warm Fuzzies

Early on day three, we reached the second pass, Abra de Runkuracay.  After the intensity of the second day, it was nice to reach a summit after climbing for only a couple of hours (rather than day 2’s climb of five hours!).  We had some stellar views:

lagoon-near-abra-de-runkuracay-6-edited

Once the entire group arrived, Cesar announced that we were going to do a ceremony to the Pachamama.  He instructed us to bring our coca leaves (we had all purchased small bags of coca leaves to make tea and help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness) and follow him.  We climbed up a nearby hill to one of the highest points at that pass.  The only tricky part was that there wasn’t really a path to the site Cesar chose for the ceremony.  This posed a little bit of difficulty for some people in our group who weren’t so sure of their footing, but we all got there intact. 

At the site, Cesar told us to choose the three best coca leaves from our stashes.  As we went through our bags, he explained that the coca leaf was—and still is—extremely significant in the Quecha (Inca) society.  The leaves are used as offerings to the gods, have medicinal properties and have figured prominently in Quecha life for centuries.    Once we had selected our most perfect leaves, Cesar explained that the three leaves signified the three worlds recognized by the Quecha people.  We then placed our leaves on an altar-like stone, facing east (the direction of the sunrise) and thanked the Pachamama for everything we were experiencing. 

(Ceremony for Pachamama (2) and (3))

I have to admit, the ceremony really appealed to Adam’s and my inner hippie.  The hike was tremendously beautiful, and knowing that we were hiking along the same path that pilgrims had hiked so many centuries ago to get to Machu Picchu was just overwhelming.  Expressing our appreciation only seemed appropriate.

There were many other amazing moments, among them the excitement of waking up, without an alarm or wake-up of any kind, at 3:45 in the morning to get ready to (finally!) head to Machu Picchu

(Pic of us on third morning)

and getting a chance to really explore the rooms and details of Machu Picchu:

(Machu Picchu window revised; Machu Pichu Detail shots (20))

Overall, the hike and the visit to Machu Picchu were amazing.  I completely echo Adam’s sentiments that this is an experience I’ll never forget—it might not be for everyone, but if you’ve ever thought of doing it, do yourself a favor and get to Peru.  It’s well worth it.

~Meg

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1 month, 31 days, 2nd country

So we made our way to Copacabana, Bolivia today.  Strike over, no complications getting here, Puno, good riddance.

It´s hard to believe that we´re over a month into our journey.  It´s honestly a weird feeling.  One minute it seems like we just left, and the next it seems like we´ve been gone forever.  It´s even harder to believe that we´re going to be gone for another 11 months.

A few things about the first month and going forward. 

The first month was such a whirlwind of emotions.  It was great, obviously, but it was also really hard at times.  What we´re doing is a trip, and it´s way different than a vacation.  On vacations we don´t sleep in lumpy beds with bathrooms that sometimes flush and sometimes have hot water.  We don´t stay in places where the walls are paper thin and we get woken up at 4am by a screaming orgasm from a room down the hall (two out of three nights).  On vacations, we don´t generally go to a city and get woken up by dog fights and roosters crowing (IN A BIG CITY, WHO THE HELL HAS A ROOSTER???–besides my parents crazy neighbor).  We also typically know what we´re ordering when we go to a restaurant.  Here, it´s been a crapshoot at times.

But all this stuff has been part of the fun, and frankly, we´re getting used to it.  Our Spanish is vastly improving by the day.  We no longer get hives and panic when we don´t understand what someone is saying to us.  We don´t even ask anymore what it is we´re ordering.  We just order and take the chance. 

So this whole long term travel thing is getting easier by the day.  We still miss everyone and St. Louis A TON, and we talk all the time about the different things we miss.  We´re thrilled to be here and be doing this, and we´re thrilled to be in country number two.

We arrived in Copacabana, Bolivia this morning, and it´s beautiful.  We are staying here tonight and taking off for Isle del Sol tomorrow morning, which is an island on Lake Titicaca.  We will stay there tomorrow night, and then be back here for at least Monday and Tuesday, possibly longer.  Next up is La Paz.  There is no wireless anywhere here that we´ve found (not that we know whether our computer will actually work anyway), so pics on the blog will be fewer, but hopefully we´ll take a day next week and sit in an internet cafe and get a bunch of pictures uploaded.

So long for now…

Adam

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Roadblock

The Amazing Race is one of the (numerous) travel shows that was always set to record on our DVR before we left.  We watched it regularly and even considered sending in an application (before we decided to take this trip, that is).  I have wondered occasionally what it would be like to be doing our trip at breakneck speed, like they do on the Amazing Race.  I quickly concluded that I am definitely a fan of our slower pace; getting to know a place before moving on.  However, it appears that like it or not, we are getting a taste of one of the features of the game–the ROADBLOCK!

We applied for our Bolivian Visas today, planning on leaving for Copacabana tomorrow.  We had a basic idea of the best route to get across the Bolivian border, but set out to check our options.  At the first place we stopped, we were informed that there was a strike between here and the Bolivian border.  The roads are blocked, no way to get to Bolivia by land today or tomorrow.  Possibly on Saturday, but then again maybe not.  We´ll just have to wait until Saturday to find out. 

So, we´re going to check out some options for exploring the area around Puno and some the Peruvian islands on Lake Titicaca.  We were planning on doing our exploring from the Bolivian side of the lake, but we´re here, so we´re going to make the best out of it.

I still have a “best of” Inca Trail post coming, so keep an eye out for that, but we may be off to explore the area a bit while we wait out our version of the Roadblock!

–Meg

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It hasn’t been very often in my 30 years that I’ve woken up at 4am (even though I’ve still been awake many times from the previous night), but I actually woke up early the final morning. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, just knowing that in a matter of hours we would finally see Machu Picchu, which has been a cornerstone of the trip since we first started planning it over a year and a half ago.

After our final breakfast, we were off a little after 5am. We only walked a few minutes until we came to a gate, which didn’t open until 5:30. After that, Cesar told us that it would be about a two hour, up and down hike to get to the Sun Gate, where we would get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu from above. There were about 30 people or so in front of us at the gate, and when it opened, it became a mad dash.

checkpoint-line-to-enter-the-final-leg-of-the-inca-trail1

After we entered through the gate, we hiked at a fast and furious pace, with me leading the way. I have to say I’ve never been more impressed with my wife, and she knew how excited and eager I was to get there, and she kept up with me every step of the way, even though I was practically running. It would have been a fairly easy hike if we had taken our time, but the pace took a lot out of us. It was up and down, but nothing too severe until we neared the end.

There was an extremely steep staircase that we practically had to climb up, not walk. After that, it was up, up, up, until I saw a sign. It read “Inti Puku”—or Gate of the Sun. I knew we had arrived. A short walk through the gate, and we would see the ancient city of the Incas for the first time. Megan was a few steps behind me, and we were both out of breath. I looked at my watch. It read 6:25. The supposed two hour hike took us 55 minutes.

As we walked through the gate, we both frantically threw our bags down to the ground, looked at each other, and walked through the gate….

view-from-the-sun-gate-4

The above picture is the view that greeted us. Now we have both seen countless pictures, posters, postcards, t-shirts, etc. of Machu Picchu, and Cesar told us that none would compare to the real thing, and boy was he right. It was literally breathtaking. It left me speechless. And those of you who know me know that doesn’t happen very often. It was one of the most magical, mystical, moving, and profound few minutes of my entire life. I couldn’t move for a few minutes. All I could do was stare. Everything we had endured over the last 3+ days was worth it. We had arrived.

There wasn’t a whole lot of talk from all the people sitting at the Sun Gate. Most just sat and stared. When one of the girls in our group entered and saw Machu Picchu for the first time, she wept. She was so happy and moved that it literally brought her to tears. And everyone understood why. I’m really trying to do my best to describe the raw emotion I experienced at this time, but really, you have to experience it yourself to truly understand how powerful it was. I could have stayed there all day long and just looked at the amazing views all around me.

us-overlooking-machu-picchu-from-sun-gate

view-from-the-sun-gate-5

whole-group-overlooking-machu-picchu-from-sun-gate

view-from-the-sun-gate-10

view-from-the-sun-gate-19

After staying up top for a while, it was time to descend to Machu Picchu. It was a 45 minute walk down to the ruins, and as we got closer and closer, the views became better and better.

view-of-machu-picchu-from-above-8

sunrise-over-the-mountains-near-machu-picchu

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We finally got down the path (it took a while because we wanted to stop, snap a picture, and enjoy the scenery every corner we turned). When we got into the ruins, we checked our bags (thank God), sunscreened up, got our water, and went with Cesar for our guided tour of the ruins.

Instead of taking you through the entire two-hour tour, I’m going to upload a gallery of my 25 favorite pictures from walking around the Machu Picchu grounds and let the pictures tell the story. Besides, they are much better than my descriptions.


After taking the tour and having a few hours to explore the grounds ourselves, it was time to get on the bus to Aguas Calientes. I honestly felt like a kid having to leave the amusement park. I was not happy and thought about throwing a fit. But I composed myself, and Megan and I enjoyed our final 15 minutes at Machu Picchu sitting in a quiet spot taking in the views. After leaving, we went to Aguas Calientes for lunch with all the Peru Treks’ groups. It was a great end to a magical four days.

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If any of you have ever even thought about doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I strongly urge you to do it. Don’t make excuses, don’t say maybe in a few years, just get a plan together and do it. Sure, it’s not as relaxing as vacationing on the beach in Florida, but trust me, every ounce of sweat and hard work you put into it is rewarded at the end. These four days are something that I will truly never forget, and that first view when entering the Sun Gate is forever etched in my memory.

Until next time…

~Adam

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