Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most well known ‘must see’ destinations. One seventh of the modern Seven Wonders of the World, if you haven’t heard of it… What’s wrong with you?! Located in the south of Peru, the iconic Machu shot (of which you’ll see below. Of course I got one, too…) is recognisable the world over, and a trip there warrants a spot on anyone’s bucket list.
So, arriving in Peru three months ago on the trip of a lifetime my BFF and I have been planning since we were mere 17 year old bebes, it’s fair to say that I was pretty excited to be finally heading there this summer. Planning our arrival to the forgotten land of the Incas way beforehand, it was very easy to fall into the trap of booking ahead of time. Obviously I’m no virgin traveller – I was very aware that this was the most expensive option, BUT, with the renowned Inca Trail sold out up to six months I advance, panic kind of set in that unless we booked something, we’d end up with nothing. Peru with no Machu was not an option.
This in mind, and with a budget that hadn’t been touched yet, we decided to part ways with a $250 deposit for the Lares Trek with the amazing Alpaca Expeditions. (This was most certainly a great decision, but not one of the cheapest. If money is tight, wait til you get to Cusco. It’s extraordinarily cheaper.)
The Lares Trek is one of the most popular alternatives to the Inca Trail, and, okay, I knew it was a trek… But in my naive little mind, a trek was merely a bit of a challenging stroll, and probably not unlike the hikes I’ve done back in England. Maybe a bit longer. Well, my naive mind was, of course, mistaken. A TREK – an actual trek across the mountains – is bloody hard work. Especially at altitudes climbing up to 5,000 meters. So, first and foremost, the trek was hard. BLOODY HARD.
After our questionable – almost laughable – experience trekking in Huaraz, you’d have thought we would be just a little bit more prepared for what entailed… And I guess in fairness, we were. Pockets full of the Andean cure to altitude sickness (coca leaves), appropriately dressed for once, and already acclimatized to Cuscos’ 3,000-ish meters, I
thought I was ready to go.
Day one was, mostly, beautiful. Fronted by our crazily enthusiastic guide, Reuben, his second in command, Americo, and a host of super-humanly fit porters, we took our sweet time scaling the mountains, starting at the crack of dawn with the first of many awesome meals, and stopping for lots of breaks and explanations of a host of cool stuff on the way. Reuben comes from a traditional Andean background, and grew up in the mountains, eating a lot of potatoes (there’s a shit load of potatoes in Peru, and apparently the mountain people exist on a diet consisting solely of aforementioned potatoes…), speaking Quechua and living a very humble existence far away from the comforts of the modern day world. So needless to say, he knew a lot about where we were and what we were seeing.
We stopped for lunch after a relatively challenging but overall okay few hours walking what seemed like miles, and then we carried on, the promise of camp and another meal only two or three more hours away. Full of spectacular views (a lot of which I missed due to constantly watching my stumbling feet) and general good times. GREAT.
Or so I thought. As we were approaching our camp for the night, the spectacular-ness waivered for me. Not because the views were no longer beautiful – hoh no. The waivering came from the dreaded onset of altitude sickness. BOO, HISS. All of a sudden it was no longer an easy feat to breathe properly. My pace slowed as the terrain steepened, my breathing almost halted, and as the rest of the group happily trundled further away from me, I started to panic. Cue self-induced panic attack, hyperventilation and big, fat, embarrassing tears and all. Joy.
Americo was pretty awesome, and immediately came to my aid, meaning the whole dramatic, terrifying experience lasted a grand total of about 90 seconds. Tears wiped away and replaced with embarrassed red cheeks, I was back en route to the first camp.
Upon arrival, the rest of the group were super nice and sympathetic towards my pathetic little ordeal… But in all honesty, it was very embarrassing at the time. Who wants to be the only one struggling and panting up a mountain? Never mind CRYING. CRYING?! Ugh. The shame. BUT WHATEVER. ALTITUDE SICKNESS CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE. SO WHATEVER. RAH.
Once I was over the ordeal (at least on the outside), we chucked our stuff into our already pitched tent as darkness fell, and stuffed ourselves with – honestly – the most incredible food I tried in the whole of Peru. Our chef had whipped up an absolutely amazing three course meal in the middle of a mountain to a standard that I couldn’t do in a fully equipped kitchen and an actual chef telling me what to do. It was that good.
Almost uncomfortably full and with nothing left to do 5,000 meters up the Andes in the freezing cold and pitch black, we settled in for an interesting first nights sleep… Surrounded by dogs and llamas and the sound of absolute silence.
There’s a lot to tell with the Lares Trek – so the rest will come soon! Ciao for now.