Underestimating how much work was involved, my decision to undertake a fundraising challenge in my final year of university was certainly one I questioned throughout the year. I did it, though. I raised £3,095 for the Epilepsy Society and so THANK-YOU to every last person who supported me!
Stepping up onto the bus in Newport, the first leg of my journey to the other side of the world, I was excited and more than a little nervous. I was about to undertake the journey of a lifetime with people that I did not know and I did not feel completely prepared. Nerves soon passed, however, when I met with the rest of the group at Heathrow and we proceeded through to our gate.
When we finally arrived in Cusco, it was a brilliant feeling. We had arrived at last and it was a beautiful fresh morning. The early morning light was warm on the city and spirits were high. Our luggage had not quite got to Peru with us but even that could not dampen our happiness at having finally arrived. Cusco is at about 3,400m and so we needed to spend the day acclimatising to the altitude. Now, I have been at high altitude before but never have I felt as thoroughly ill as I did at midday that day and so if you are planning on visiting Peru or any area that is above 3000m I highly recommend getting there early to have plenty of time to get over any altitude sickness. Feeling ill is completely normal and nothing to be worried about so long as you are careful. We were recommended against taking altitude sickness pills because these only mask more serious symptoms, not cure them, and so please be careful if you happen to be reading this and are going to altitude. Dosed up on Coca tea (the best thing ever for altitude sickness!) we all spent the day resting and waiting for our briefing on what was going to happen regarding starting our trek to Machu Picchu.
Fortunately (for most) our luggage did arrive and we could set about preparing for what we needed to take walking. We needed to pack for a range of temperatures from hot to extreme cold. We had a limit of how much we could take and so packing in itself was a challenge. All done, we piled onto the bus that was to take us to the start of the walk. It was beautiful. The landscape was wild and ragged and completely different to anything that I have come across before. At least, it was on a whole other scale.
The first day was a thoroughly easy day of walking. Well, it would have been were we not at such a high altitude. I have never felt anything like the banging in my head and chest that walking a mere few steps could cause. I have always thought that I am a reasonably fit person but altitude does not care whether it hits the fittest or otherwise. We followed along or alongside an old Inca trail for the morning in wonderful sunshine and reached our camp, at the base of the Salkantay Pass, in time for lunch. Despite the sun there was a definite chill in the air due to being camped right by a glacier. Indeed, high above our camp there was a glacial lake that we trekked up to in the afternoon. At home this would have been an easy walk and yet the altitude was certainly having a massive impact upon us. A couple of hours later, however, we made it to the lake and it was truly one of the most beautiful sights you can imagine. The wildness of the landscape was awe inspiring; the isolation and serenity of the place truly humbling. It forces you to acknowledge the extent that we have impacted our landscape at home.
That night was one of the coldest nights I have ever experienced (and believe me, living in an old farm house with zero heating I have experienced some cold nights) but it did make our 4.30 wake up very easy since you did not want to hang around with getting dressed and ready. Today was the start of our longest day- a mere ten hour trek. We would reach the highest altitude today, too, at around 4,600m. Admittedly, I am a morning person and so found the start to the day very easy, especially with watching the sun rise over the mountains, which was simply stunning. We were far from the only ones to be attempting to go over the pass today. Lines of horses weighed down with baggage trudged their way up the narrow paths passing groups who were slowly making their way upwards.
The higher we went the harder it was to breath but by keeping a steady pace and controlling your breathing it was not too bad to keep moving. It was certainly a sense of achievement when we reached the top but it was far too cold to stay there for long and we were soon making our way down the other side towards lunch.
The landscape was truly something to behold in its wildness. It was a well trodden path and yet with massive boulders and condors soaring overhead you felt a long way from civilization. I loved it. The clouds were rolling in which gave a moodiness to the mountains and yet the rain held off allowing us to enjoy the view at our ease.
Let me tell you about my very least favourite thing in Peru: the roads. We were unable to walk directly to our campsite that evening and so we all piled into two mini buses and took to the roads. These roads were one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. A cliff wall to one side and a sheer drop down the other is not my idea of a comfortable drive. I think my heart was in my mouth for the entire hour and a half journey. We arrived safely with no incidences, which was so much a relief that I almost felt I had to do that clichéd thing of throwing yourself on the ground and kissing it because you are so glad to be back on it safely. However, I may be being slightly over dramatic as most people were actually fine with them. Anyhow, the campsite was lovely and quite a lot warmer than the last as we were now in the jungle. Dinner was eaten on long tables outside, as was breakfast the next morning with pancakes; a true luxury.
The walk on our third day was my favourite. We followed the trail up through the jungle and spirits were high. The sun was hot and beautiful in the trees. After resting at the top we were able to descend to a spot where we could see Machu Picchu, our final destination. That night, after many many more hours of walking we reached Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu. Tonight we would get to sleep in a proper bed. What a wonderful thought! And once dinner was eaten, it was the best feeling after a long three days of walking.
(Pointing to where we walked yesterday, with Machu Picchu behind us: Salkantay – one of the sacred mountains of the Incas)
(Spot Machu Picchu!! It’s built to blend into the surrounding landscape and it sure works!)
Another early start was met with great excitement. This was the day that we had all been waiting for. This was the day that we got to see Machu Picchu. Dawn was bright and fresh, telling us that we were in luck and that we would be having a day of sun to top the whole experience off. We lost count of the number of steps that we climbed to get up the top but it was in the region of fifteen hundred which was a work out for sure.
Upon reaching the top it was surprising just how many people there were but even the crowds could not dampen the animation and anticipation that we all felt. Walking through the gates, that pinnacle moment, was one that I will never forget. It was so much bigger than I had imagined with an identical view to what you see on the tourist boards. Walking around was spectacular. As it turns out, nobody is 100% sure what its history is, with many people having many different theories and stories. One was that it was a religious place as it was initially thought that the majority of the human remains were female but this was disproved. Another was that it was the home of the Inca royals, which tied in with the Inca’s history with the Spanish. It depends who takes you around or what book you read to what theory you get but they are all interesting and worth taking into consideration. One thing for sure, however, is that the Peruvian people are very much in touch with Mother Earth and that this would have had a major part to play in the history of the settlement. It is fantastic how it is built. Especially so when you consider that the Inca’s had a very short history of approximately five hundred years.
It was, without any doubt, the experience of a lifetime and I wholeheartedly recommend going to anybody who is thinking about it. You will not regret it, I promise.
So, once again, a massive thank-you to all those who supported me, in addition to my fellow Loughborough walkers! We raised a massive £85,000 between us which will go a long way towards helping the Epilepsy Society do their work.