We’re sitting in a restaurant in Aguas Calientes. Around us are five couples, two solo travelers, and two tour guides. All fourteen of them are tired, dirty, and covered in dried sweat. They just finished the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and experienced a life changing experience, one that brought them together as a family to experience a once in a lifetime physical and mental challenge. As we watch them drinking celebratory beer, retelling stories, and soaking it all in, I’m reminded: this was supposed to be us. But instead of having a spiritual pilgrimage to Machu Picchu, we had an expensive failure on the Inca Trail.
Jeremy and I are less than a week away from the biggest challenge of our entire trip: hiking the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It’s not just the lack of Netflix and Instagram for four days that scares us (although … shudder) but the incredibly difficult high-altitude hike. This morning I walked down the street in Cusco and it felt like walking through sand… on the moon. Yikes. We’ve been searching high and low for tips about visiting Machu Picchu that will help us to feel less terrified and more excited. And one of my amazing friends went above and beyond! Angela is a brilliant lawyer who also happens to be Peruvian, and she’s been visiting Peru regularly for years. Who could be better to get Machu Picchu tips from??
There are fluffy Siamese cats. Old ginger cats. Feisty cats. Shy cats. Cats that love attention. Cats that just want to stretch out in the sun and nap. There is every variety of cat. We felt like Willa Wonka when he first walks into the chocolate factory: all around us were THE BEST THINGS and we wanted to touch them all, but we weren’t sure we were allowed to (this park is, after all, the property of the Kennedy Park cats). Plus, one time I went to a cat cafe in Oakland and the poor over-stimulated kitties lashed out at me. Literally – I got a claw through the hand just from walking too close to them. It’s the cat equivalent of turning into a giant blueberry and rolling away: the reward isn’t worth the risk.
If you’re going backpacking in Peru, chances are you’ll hear a lot about Macchu Picchu, something like “don’t spend any time in Lima” (we disagree), and some generic advice about acclimating in Cusco for a few days before doing anything athletic, like getting out of bed or walking up a flight of stairs (we agree). And that’s about it. We arrived in Peru with very little idea of what to expect. After a month of backpacking in Peru and figuring it out as we went, we’ve cobbled together some observations from our very gringo perspective, with varying levels of usefulness and in no particular order.
Laguna 69 sits at the base of a giant glacier in the Cordillera Blancas. Its elevation is at approximately 15,000 feet, which beats anywhere in the continental United States by a good 500 feet. Somehow, no one in Huaraz seemed to be impressed by this.To give you an idea of how incredibly high Laguna 69 is, once Lia and I jumped out of a plane to skydive from the highest altitude they were legally able to fly us, and it was STILL lower than Laguna 69. I knew this would would be no walk in the park, but I had no experience hiking at such a high altitude before. I was about to get a crash course.
Sometimes travel makes you miss things that you never knew you appreciated before. Like the immigration kiosk at the airport. You hop off a plane, hand them a slip of paper, answer a couple questions, then you’re off to enjoy a new country. Sure, you might wait in a long line, but at least you’re not scrunched in a van next to a rooster careening along a cliff at 80mph while the driver talks on his cell phone.