Posted by: Jena Davison | December 28, 2009

Jungle Trekkin´

I was sitting in a cab sandwiched between a drunk Brazilian guy and a Peruvian woman–two of the six other passengers accompanying me on the ride– including a chicken (yes, a chicken), when my first real thoughts of death surfaced. The wheels of the cab hugged the edge of a canyon as we zig-zagged through the mountainous Peruvian jungle, having to back up in order to let any other vehicle coming from the other direction pass. Yet, instead of absolute fear, all I could muster was a good laugh. I think I have become immune to bizzare situations since I´ve come to South America. Nothing really surprises me anymore.

This was during the afternoon of day one of my three-day Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu. We started that morning at 6am, when our guide Osgur greeted us in the lobby of our hostel in Cusco, Peru. In my group were three Aussie guys, one British guy, an Italian couple, and me. By 7am or so we were on the road, heading for the Sacred Valley, where we would stop for breakfast and bathrooms before ascending the mountain that we would bike down shortly after. The drive to the top of the mountain took about an hour, at which point we exchanged our car seats for bike seats, helmets and gloves. Without much further direction besides ¨follow the path,¨ we were on our way–beginning our three-hour biking excursion down the mountain and through the jungle.

Most of the biking was completely downhill so there was more braking than pedaling, yet it took a lot of diligence to negotiate the hairpin turns spiraling down the mountain. My brakes loudly squeaked each time I squeezed the lever. All was fun and well until the paved road abruptly became a rocky dirt road, complete with too many potholes to effectively dodge. At one point I was quickly speeding downhill and hit one, and my seat to completely broke off and sent me hurling into the gravel. I ripped the knees of my pants and scraped up my knees and elbows pretty badly. Then it started to rain. I was mumbling profanities under my breath and was on the verge of tears. The rest of my group was either considerably ahead or behind, so I had no choice but to wait. Luckily my guide came zooming down the mountain about ten minutes later and assisted me. I assured him that I wanted to continue biking and he switched the seat of another bicycle with mine. I was on my way. I continued through the jungle for about an hour longer until I arrived at the final village where we would hop into our van that would bring us to the restaurant where we would eat some lunch.

After some quinoa soup and arroz con pollo, Osgur shoved me into the cab toward Santa Teresa, where I would meet my new group and spend the night. I kindly asked the cab driver to drop me off at the thermal baths about fifteen minutes away and I nearly kissed Percy, my new guide, when I saw him solely from the excitement of having made it safely to my next destination. I quickly changed into my bathing suit and relaxed in the warm thermal baths for about a half hour before meeting my new group: four beefy Aussie guys in hiking boots and two British guys. Shortly after, we checked into our hostel in a small Peruvian village and had some dinner.

The next morning, we awoke at 7:30am, had some pancakes and coffee and Percy proposed the day´s potential plans. We could hike abour two hours to a nearby town, have lunch, and then hike an additional three hours along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, OR we could take the van to first town, hike the three hours along the train tracks, and then climb this steep mountain with an alternate view of Machu Picchu. The only thing to consider is that a good portion of the climb would just be vertical ladders. My heart dropped. My fears of height and falling began to take hold of me. But I rationalized that I was here in South America to step out of my comfort zone and this was one such opportunity. I agreed to join.

Our plan continued smoothly as suggested above, until lunchtime when the rainfall came without warning. It poured. And poured. I kept visualizing the soles of my shoes slipping off the ladder rungs sending me plunging to my death. Again, all I could do was laugh. Percy told us to relax for a bit and wait for the rain to calm. I hugged my bed in exhaustion, blissfully embracing the fact that I was in a horizontal position. My whole body was tight and throbbing, especially my butt from the bumpy bike ride. I popped two advils and watched the rain, secretly hoping it would come down harder. And it did. About an hour later, Percy knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to come. The four Aussies were in, but the two British guys decided against it. I decided against it too, and I do not regret my decision one bit.

The final morning was the most strenuous, but also most rewarding day. It was the climax of the whole journey: we would finally see Machu Picchu in all its glory. The whole group woke up at 3:45am and started hiking up Machu Picchu in hopes of arriving there by sunrise. The chilly, damp air stung our tired eyes, but adrenaline and excitement were buzzing within us. The climb was an hour-long steep vertical incline of stone stairs through the jungle. The altitude added another element, making it difficult to breathe easily. I never realized how much I took for granted breathing effortlessly. We huffed and puffed the whole way up, and our clothes were drenched in sweat and our cheeks flushed with heat by the time we finally made it to the top. Once we arrived, we had to wait about fifteen minutes before the gates opened and they let us inside, allowing us to catch the first glimpse of one of the world´s greatest natural wonders.

I thought I´d be numb to Machu Picchu after all the pictures I´ve seen of it and all the hype that had been amounting over my whole trip. Yet, it still made my jaw drop. This huge deserted Incan city cascaded down the mountain, surrounded by even higher peaks of mountains blanketed by thick jungle. The peaks poked into the clouds, and a thick film of fog hovered above, giving it a very mystical feel. Percy gave us a two-hour guided tour of the city, pointing out the most important areas and weaving in pieces of historical information along the way to provide some context. Afterwards, we all climbed Wayna Picchu, an even taller mountain, which offers beautiful overhead views of the city. It is the mountain that menacingly towers above Machu Picchu in all its photos. This climb was an additional hour up and was even harder. Instead of stone stairs, it was way more rugged and was simply uneven rocks. A chain lined the mountain´s edge, which we used to hoist ourselves up. Eventually, we reached the viewing platform and all I could do was smile. Machu Picchu smiled back at me in its beauty and grandeur. I could not believe its size, and to think, that it may have never been discovered due to its remote location in the jungle.

I continued even further up Wayna Picchu, crawled through a tunnel and slid down this diagonal roof-like platform on my butt to reach the other side. On this side, more Incan ruins awaited. Then I began my climb downward, which would take an additional hour. You would think coming down would be easier, but it wasn´t. Again, my fear of heights kicked in as I cautiously stepped from one narrow stone to the other down the mountain. I turned around, facing the mountain, and used my hands to assist me. I must have climbed over 5,000 stairs that day. I finally reached the bottom and breathed in a deep breath. I wandered through Machu Picchu city for a bit more before hopping on a bus back toward Agua Calientes, where my group would all meet to head back to Cusco together. Machu Picchu was a definite highlight of my backpacking trip. I reached new personal physical and mental dimensions and finally got to see a place I have learned about and been fascinated with my entire life.

Machu Picchu!

Me and Percy, our guide

It´s a Steep Way Down! Hiking down Wayna Picchu

Impeccable Incan Stonework

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