Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bucket List Checked: Peru (p.4)

We don't stop hiking because we grow old -
we grow old because we stop hiking.  
~ Finis Mitchell

Years ago, when I first learned about Machu Picchu, there were 2 ways in.  Either you were cool and hiked in along the original Inca Trail - a 3-4 day major expedition that involves camping, porters and a cook - OR you were lame and rode a train all the way there.  Back then, obviously, we were going to be cool and do the hike...  ;)

The downside to putting off your dreams for 30 years or so is that you aren't quite the same person that you were originally...  I checked with my body and the message I got back was, "No way am I carrying you on a 3-4 day hike!  Feel free to go without me..."  

Luckily, a new option became available sometime in the interim.  It is called the "Short Inca Trail" and you ride the train MOST of the way to Machu Picchu, but get off a bit early and hike in to Machu Picchu (with a certified guide) along the last 8 miles or so of the Inca Trail.  

(My body wasn't really optimistic about even this option, but I ignored it and signed us up anyways.)  

The train runs alongside the river at the bottom of the Sacred Valley.  We exited the train at the 104 km mark (it stopped for us - we didn't actually have to jump off a moving train) and hiked halfway up the mountain on your right side (below).  Then we followed the path along the side of that mountain for maybe 3 miles or so.  

Here is a couple hiking behind us (for a while, anyways - I wasn't exactly speedy) on the side of that first mountain:  

After a while, the trail descends that mountain and leads up another mountain, where hikers visit an Inca site called Wiñay Wayna - you can see it behind us in the picture below:  

On the way to this ruin, we passed a beautiful waterfall!  

There is a pretty steep grade to get to Wiñay Wayna (an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet!) and I was very happy to get there and be able to take a break!  

Here are a couple of shots, looking back down the Sacred Valley from this site:  

If you look closely at the picture below, you can see the waterfall on the other side of the ruins...  

Once we ate lunch, took a break and got a tour of the ruins, the hike continued, into a "cloud forest" - even higher than a rain forest!  We saw lots of beautiful flowers, like these delicate orchids:  

Most of this part of the hike was relatively flat - with just one last staircase (original to the Inca Trail!) to conquer...  

... before we arrived at the Sun Gate, above Machu Picchu.  

Our first view of Machu Picchu brought tears to our eyes (although I'll leave it to the reader to decide if those were tears of awe at the sight or tears of relief that the hike was over!)  

It took us seven hours, from the time that we left the train to the time we reached the Sun Gate, and another hour to walk down through Machu Picchu and get to the bus station for a ride to our hotel.  

I walked slowly and had to rest often - but I think it was mostly due to the altitude, not physical weakness.  I say this because I wasn't sore the next day.  Oh, I was a bit stiff - but it was easy to shake off and I didn't have any real muscle pain.  

I'm so glad we did the hike - it was beautiful and, for all that it tires my body, it refreshes my soul...  :)

Tomorrow I'll show you some pictures from Machu Picchu!  :)

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