Cusco, Peru: Elevation 11,152′

picchu.jpgLast April 2017, Anthony and I went head first into one of the greatest undertaking of our lives thus far. We flew into Peru to conquer the 4 night 5 day Salkantay trek in Cusco, Peru. It all started the year before when I was sitting in my office at work feeling like life had gotten a bit dull. I spent my cyber Monday lunch break browsing through websites and bought plane tickets to Peru. Did I consult my dearly beloved partner? Of course not. He was coming with me no matter what!

The flights ended up being about $400 per person to fly into Jorge Chávez International Airport located in Lima, Peru. You also have to buy plane tickets to take about an hour and a half flight into Cusco from Lima in order to partake in any of the treks that lead to Machu Picchu. Those additional tickets ended up being about $170 per person.

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Why Machu Picchu?……

I’ve always had an affinity for South America. I think their family oriented culture and ability to co-exist with nature; using it but respecting it, is very humbling and admirable. Cusco was of particular interest because of how much it remains such a beautiful relic of  the largest empire in pre-Colombian America. Machu Picchu, is not only beautiful to look at but it gives us the chance to study the agricultural techniques, time-telling techniques, and respectful use of the natural elements. The Incans emerged as a powerful state and built Cusco into their capitol. It is fascinating to see how the remains of the Incan times have been weaved into present day Peru despite the influences of Spanish, French, and Portuguese colonization.

Though the official language of Peru is Spanish, most Peruvians are still very proud of the indigenous Qechuan language. In fact, our guide for the Salkantay trek could speak fluently in Qechua and passionately lectured us on the correct pronunciation of ‘Machu Picchu’. It’s actually pronounced ‘Machu Pickchu’ with sharply accented consonants and means ‘Old Mountain’ in Quechua.

I bought two tickets for the Salkantay Trek from Eco Path Trek. I bought the tickets from their website, https://ecopathtrekperu.com. They charged $270 per person for their 4 night 5 day trek. I did more research once I got to Cusco and found that you can actually purchase tickets at the Plaza de Armas which is the central square in the old city. There are hundreds of little local travel agencies who are happy to take your money 🙂 I bought tickets in advance because I wanted to have control over the dates of the trek. Eco Path Trek got good reviews and they were super helpful during the purchasing process (I had a million questions and they were really patient and kind the whole time). I would highly recommend Eco Path Trek because they provide food, tents, porters, and experienced guides in their trek packages. You can also choose to do a shorter trek or even the most popular trek which is the Incan trail.

We stayed at a little Air Bnb a few miles from Plaza de Armas. I prefer staying at Air Bnb’s over hotels because I think it gives us a chance to see how other people live in the places that I visit. It makes for a richer more authentic learning experiences. The couple we stayed with were so incredibly nice and informative. I was already starting to get altitude sickness. They offered me Coca tea and biscuits to make it more bearable. Coca tea is the antidote to altitude sickness! (Peruvians drink the tea and also recommend chewing on the leaves during hikes for more stamina and energy). The wife was an archaeologist  and told us all about the ruins that we should make sure to visit while we were in Cusco. They recommended their favorite restaurant a few minutes from their home called the ‘Napalitano’. We thoroughly enjoyed our first meal (and drink) in Cusco 🙂

 

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There were so many highlights from this trip but here are my top five:

  1. Humantay Lake Salkantay- A gorgeous lake surrounded by snow topped mountains. What makes this lake so beautiful is that it reflects the beautiful colors of the mountains that surround it. Here is my dearly beloved posing for the camera 🙂

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Another angle of the beautiful lake…

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Below is a picture with most of our group. One of the best parts of this trip was traveling with complete strangers who came from all over the world to see Cusco!

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2. Staying in the tent villages- There are little campsite villages along the way of Salkantay. The porters carried all of our camp gear, sleeping bags, and kitchen supplies on their backs. They came with us on the trek but were always a few hours ahead so that they could set up our site by the time we got there.

The photo to the left was our campsite at Humantay Lake. The photo the right was our campsite at Chaullay:

 

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I will never forget all the meals we shared with travelers from all around the world. There were people from Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, France, Canada, and Germany. It sounds cliche, but in 5 days we became bonded in ways that I didn’t think were possible. We rallied with one another during the most difficult and exhausting points of the trek. No man would be left behind!

(One of the travelors was a photographer and is actually shooting our wedding for us on February 3, 2018 🙂 He is flying all the way from Belgium just to capture our special day.)

 

 

On day 2, we stayed at a little camp village that actually sold beer. I got to share a drink with these guys after nearly 6 hours of trekking through mud, rain and ice cold winds. Beer never tasted so good!

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Al Paca is served quite frequently as one of the main sources of protein. It tastes a little stronger than beef but is much less fatty. It is a leaner meat. I wasn’t a fan, but was glad I tried it.

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3. All of the dogs!- Most Americans would feel sorry for all of the stray dogs living in Peru. However, these dogs are actually well fed and taken care of by the community. I ran into so many little pups even during the trek. They are different from the dogs back home..more trusting, tenacious, and in a lot of ways, more gentle. I loved meeting each one.

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For the cat lovers, there were plenty of cats too! Look at this little ball of love!

 

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4. Zip-lining Right before the Urabamba River and near Hedroelectrica there is an opportunity to go zip-lining. Initially, I was very hesitant because of my fear of heights, but I am so glad that my better half convinced me to do it. The views are absolutely breathe-taking…even upside down 😉 It is a must do for thrill seekers!

 

 

5. Machu Picchu- Getting to the top on day 5 was almost a religious experience for me. It was dark and rainy. Knees basically busted, muscles trembling with exhaustion, we had to climb up more than 3000 narrow, steep, steps to rest our eyes on Machu Picchu. We were joined by at least a hundred other trekkers and climbed up the steps in a single file line. In the dark, quietly, we hiked the steps as the sun started to rise.

Here is a picture of the mountains before the clouds started to shift away:

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More pictures of the ruins:

 

 

As you can see in the pictures, the Incans used a lot of steps in their architecture. The step design is used in the Chakana, which is the Incan cross. It is a three tiered cross with a whole in the center. Hana Pacha is the first level of existence and it represents the upper world where the superior gods reside. Kay Pacha is the world of our every day existence and the third level, Ukhu or Urin Pacha is where the spirits of the ancestors, deities, and the dead reside. In the center, there is a hole, or the Axis that the shaman travels through to all three levels. Sometimes the Incan cross will have a symbol of mother earth, or ‘Pacha Mama’ in the center of it. Cuscans believe that Cusco is the navel, or the center of the world.

Each step of the cross has a meaning assigned to it. The three that resonated with me were, “Don’t lie, Don’t be lazy, Don’t steal”. I love how short and to the point their ethics are.

Final picture of Machu Picchu and all its majesty. Completing the Salkantay trek was one of the most spiritual and rewarding experiences that I have ever had. I can’t count the number of times that I felt my breathe being taken away as I felt like I was being engulfed by the beautifully majestic, bombastic mountains. The trek also solidified that my dearly beloved and I can conquer anything that life throws our way if we could survive Salkantay with nothing but smiles on our faces! 🙂 I would come back and do it all over again in a heartbeat. I am so grateful to Eco Path Trek and our guides who made this trip possible!

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