Everyone that lands in the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, is an explorer, eager to witness the majestic place that rests above the Sacred Valley of Cusco, Peru. I had only dreamed of the pleasure to stand inside the walls of the infamous mountains that enclose Machu Picchu’s ruins and that elevate the small town of Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to the world wonder. When I received my deposit from the house that I rented and sort of abandoned in Austin, Texas, after spontaneously deciding to move to Brasil, the first thought that came to mind was, “I’m going to take a solo back packing trip”. It was a surprise, to have been replenished my deposit money, because I honestly thought I would never see it again after having subleased my room illegally for five months while I was in Brazil. Not to mention, there were two cats living in the house and we didn’t pay the pet deposit. Oops. As far as I was concerned, my deposit was history. Yet, I had been given the exact amount I needed for a round trip flight to Cusco, Peru, so I bought one.
About three months later, I arrived in Cusco, Peru and a part of me had come to life. I had never been completely alone in a country before, I had always traveled with family or friends, but this time it was just me. At first I was nervous excited, trying to make sure I wouldn’t lose anything or get ripped off (later I realized that these situations are inevitable). I took a VERY expensive taxi to my hostel after exiting the airport, but only realized it was expensive at the hostel when I told the receptionist how much I paid for it. See, ripped off within hours! when I got to my dorm and started putting my things away into my hostel locker, I stumbled into my first travel companion. Her name is Sonja, a pretty young German girl, who was apparently on my flight from Sao Paulo and immediately recognized me. She was also traveling alone and though she was shy, we chatted a while and decided to take a walk around the bussling city of Cusco while the sun was still warm and shining. We took photos, ate Peruvian food, walked the cobblestone roads, and booked a shuttle to Machu Picchu for the next morning. The first day was a win.
7:00am I woke up and met Sonja for breakfast in the hostel cafeteria before we headed out for our six hour van ride to the Hidroelectric (2.5hr walk from Aguas Calientes). Breakfast was some fluffy fresh bread and jelly, I remember wishing so hard for an avocado, but there was no time to buy one. We had to rush to our ride. The van was tight, hot, and the driver was a mad as all hell Peruvian guy. He drove too fast on the sharp turns, listened to the same CD on loop for the ENTIRE ride, and didn’t care when I tried to communicate that I was getting car sick. I thought I was going to die. Everyone in the car was struggling, but we all managed to smile because we knew that later, when we told the story to our friends and family, we would probably laugh about it. After six long hours and a surprisingly delicious lunch, the crazy driver dropped our group off at the Hidroelectric. We were beaming with excitement to be out of the van and on the walking portion of our expedition. Sonja, a few other German girls, a Peruvian couple, a French couple, and I started our walk about 3:00pm to Aguas Calientes. We were told to arrive by 6:00pm sharp in the main plaza of the small town and we did, but only after about three hours of hard walking on rocks alongside a train track. We were rained on, cold, incredibly tired, and hungry as hell by the time we arrived at the meet spot and organized into our hostels. No, we were STARVING. There was a meal included into our Machu Picchu package and we were anxious to devour it immediately after checking into the hostel. Unfortunately, the meal was, what Brazilians would say, pessimistic. The plate included a filet of chicken, a small portion of rice, and another even smaller portion of french fries. Needless to say, our group was super unsatisfied. So, naturally, we proceeded to a quaint pizza shop in the center of Aguas Calientes where we ate a gigantic Peruvian pizza with pork, beef, chicken, and various vegetables. It was delicious! That night, Sonja and I fell asleep in our private room at the hostel like lionesses after a hunt and feast. It was the most rewarding pizza I have ever tasted.
(Picture taken while walking to Aguas Calientes along the train tracks)
4:00am, it was Machu Picchu day. Sonja and I didn’t have any trouble waking up on the day that we were finally going to see the most famous ruins in the sacred valley, Machu Picchu. Although my clothes were still damp and I felt exhausted, I pushed myself out of the warm bed and we rushed over to the train that would take us up the mountain to the ruins for 12 US dollars (expensive!). There was a stretched line of what seemed like 200 people at 4:30 in the morning waiting for the buses to start running. People from all over the world eating their own preferences of breakfast while waiting in the chilly weather, some speaking languages that I was familiar with and a few groups chatting in languages that I had never heard before. After some time, we finally got on the bus where everyone was oooing and awwing at the scenery that passed through the bus windows as we drove up the steep mountain to the gate of Machu Picchu. When we descended from the bus and walked to the gates, some of the visitors were dripping in sweat from hiking the steep staircase trail up the mountain. Normally, I would push myself to hike, but after having walked along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes the day before, my legs were aching. Plus, I wanted to have energy when it came time to explore Machu Picchu mountain. We went with our tour guide (also included in the package) to the entrance of Machu Picchu and while we were gazing at the glorious ruins below us, he started by explaining the history of the terraces. It was absolutely magical, I was jumping for joy and shouting “OH MY GOD I’M ACTUALLY HERE!” while giggling and kicking my legs. Sonja just smiled at me and soaked up the view of the ruins and of course, asked for her picture to be taken. After the two hour guided tour through the ruins, we went exploring ourselves and met three other travelers who we went scouring with in order to find the perfect place for pictures. Each of us were traveling alone, which meant we all wanted a solo picture, but we also took one altogether, because we genuinely enjoyed each others company and of course, snacks. There were llamas and alpaca on the high hills overlooking the ruins, mountains surrounding us that made it look like we were in space, and wispy clouds that passed through the sky like spirits. We were standing in the Incan Heavens.
(From Left to Right: Monica (Slovakia) , Myself, Sonja (Germany), Kalray (Brazil/Australia) and Michael (the UK))