Climbing Machu Picchu y El Fin

By Caroline, current Cultural Embrace by API teacher in Chile

After some extensive thought on the matter, I have decided that it is impossible to say “I climbed a freaking mountain!” without appearing as though bragging. After even more extensive thought on the matter, I have also decided that I don’t care if it looks like I’m bragging, because I did in fact climb a freaking mountain and I’m pretty darn proud of myself. It was, without a doubt, the hardest physical thing I have ever done in my (rather sedentary) life.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart: it took us 4 days to hike about 28 miles up into the clouds. Some of the people in my group had run marathons before, and they said that this hike was in a lot of ways harder than a marathon (mostly because of the I-can’t-breathe-in-this-altitude thing). I even found out that Katie Couric tried to do this hike and failed, which makes me more awesome than Katie Couric.

The first day was definitely the easiest day; it was mostly rolling hills (which is called “Peruvian flat” by the locals). The only bad part about the first day was my brilliant idea to buckle the chest strap on my backpack (which was set to the tightest setting) right after I climbed a hill, in order to take some pressure off of my back. Turns out that doing this almost immediately cut off all the blood that was pumping to my head, causing me to come pretty darn close to passing out. In addition to seeing some really pretty white lights, I was wobbling worse than Lindsey Lohan leaving a bar. Luckily, there was a vacationing doctor in our group that just happened to be right by me when this all this went down, so I was well taken care of.

Dead Woman’s Pass. Those tiny dots in the middle are people.

The second day of the hike can only be described self-inflicted misery: 5 miles straight up to an altitude of 14,000 feet via the appropriately named “Dead Woman’s Pass” and 2 more miles straight down. I basically spent the entire first part of the day regretting every decision that got me to that point, while at the same time hoping that sweet death would spare me from having to take one more step up that bloody mountain. Miraculously, I eventually made it to the top of “Dead Woman’s Pass” (named for the mountain formation that looks like a very well-endowed lady taking a nap) without actually becoming a dead woman myself. The rest of the day was completely downhill to camp. I’m not sure if it’s because my body was just so happy to not be going uphill anymore, but this downhill business turned out to be my forte: I rock-hopped my way down that mountain like a mountain goat and was the first one in my group back to camp that night!

Day three wasn’t a bowl of giggles either; our guide Jose called it “The Gringo Killer” since the entire stinkin day was nothing but downhill on stupidly steep Incan steps. All my zeal for going downhill from the day before disappeared about 2 hours after we left camp that morning when my knees decided that they hated me. On top of everything else, there was some never-ending rain that made the whole day a broken ankle waiting to happen (luckily I had my trusty Gandalf walkin stick to keep that from happening). On the bright side, we saw some really excellent views and some Incan ruins. Even so, when this day was over my body hurt like I had been stabbed by a thousand spoons.

Yeah. It was amazing.

The fourth day began at the very un-Caroline hour of 3:30 am. This was the day when we hiked the final stretch of the trail to Machu Picchu. The first part of the hike wasn’t bad at all and was filled with some of the most amazing views of the sun rising over the mountains and the cloud forest. Eventually we stumbled upon the final “Gringo Killer” which was basically a rock wall with tiny steps straight up. Finally, we made it to the “Sun Gate” that faced Machu Picchu over a valley. I would be lying if I said that pure exhaustion and relief didn’t make me shed a few tears when I saw Machu Picchu for the first time. When we finally reached Machu Picchu, we took some time to do the obligatory photo shoot and then had a two hour tour of the city. There is no way that anything I could write would do the place justice, so just believe me when I say that you should go if you ever get the chance. Probably the only down side of my time at Machu Picchu was the overwhelming amount of tourists; it was like an ancient ruins version of Walt Disney World. I immediately resented the lot of them for being well dressed and showered while I was smellier and sweatier than a hobo.

A side-note on camping: I don’t like it. Give me a shower and a Holiday Inn and I’m a happy Caroline.

After I got back to Iquique I only had a week left before I would take a plane back to Santiago. My last week was spent saying goodbye to all of the friends I met, bonding with Mateo, and having the most awesome going away ceremony thrown for me at my school. They even gave me my own school uniform! The kids were really sweet and gave me lots of little goodbye notes; I can honestly say that I will miss them and am so glad that I was able to be there to help motivate them to learn some English.

Saying goodbye to my host family was especially difficult. I gave them all some little Texas gifts that my wonderful family sent me from home, and they were super excited (especially my host dad when he was introduced to a beer koozie for the first time). I even gave Mateo a festive holiday sweater to add to his closet, as well as an enormous doggie biscuit in the shape of Texas that said “Woof, y’all” on it. He seemed pleased. I will definitely miss my host family and my wonderful co-teacher Isabel; they welcomed me and cared for me like they had known me my entire life.

I caught my plane back to Santiago on the 24th to attend the closing ceremony of the English Opens Doors program at the United Nations headquarters. Now that the program has officially ended, I have moved into my buddy Melissa’s apartment in Santiago until December 7th, when I fly back to Texas. Melissa and I are planning on doing a little travelling to the towns surrounding Santiago as well as a 5 day trip to Mendoza, Argentina next week. I will be doing a final post after that to let you know how awesome it is 🙂

P.S. – To those of you feeling sorry for me for missing Thanksgiving, fear not: I brought the turkey-lovin’ down to Santiago! Melissa and I bought a 10 pound turkey (which was pretty difficult to find) and named him Juanito. We bought all the stuff to do my grandmother’s fantastic recipes of dressing, broccoli with olive butter, pan gravy, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Since neither pre-made pie crust nor canned pumpkins exist in Chile, the pie was really a labor of love. In the end, everything turned out delicious and I got to share my Thanksgiving traditions with 3 Mexicans, 1 Colombian, and a Chilean. They loved it!

Juanito gave his life so that I could have my Chilean Thanksgiving. Gracias Juanito!

 

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