Completing the tough road to Machu Picchu

by Kim on October 17, 2012 · 47 comments

Read part one about our trek to Machu Picchu.

On day three we awoke to gray skies and low clouds but our spirits were high because our hardest day was behind us. Day three was what our guide called “the most beautiful day” because we would be hiking through three different Incan ruins and would, if the weather worked in our favor, be awarded with our first glimpse of Machu Picchu Mountain.

The hiking was up and down, not terribly difficult but not exactly easy either.

Hiking on day three

We passed Incan ruins built high in the clouds, the mist and fog lending an eerie feel as we explored the stone buildings. I couldn’t help but consider that these structures were built so many hundreds of years ago, without modern technology, and yet they last and last, through earthquakes and wars and everyday strains. Why don’t we build like that today?

Incan ruins day three

The evening before, back at camp, we’d been told to select a small stone from the ground to carry with us up the mountain pass we’d be climbing today. At the top of the pass, our last hard push completed, we were encouraged to leave the stone as an offering to the sacred Pachamama (mother earth). “Ask Pachamama for what you want,” said our guide, “And then let the mountain speak to you, let her tell you where to place your stone.”

Brian and I and our assistant guide, Juan, were the first to arrive at the top of the pass. When I’d gathered my breath I climbed a small, rocky hill and walked to its edge where I could look out at the valley far below. I closed my eyes and placed the stone at my forehead, asked Pachamama for only one thing, the thing I want more than anything else. Please give me the tools I need to make my wish come true, I said aloud to Pacchamama. Then I put a handful of coca leaves on the ground, placed the stone on top of them, and marched back down the hill.

After we’d climbed the third pass we were free to walk at our own pace all the way to camp. The hike was long, and there were whole stretches where I walked alone with my thoughts, content, and thrilled as I sometimes find myself these days, with where I have managed to end up, my own windy road. Excited, finally, to watch as I unfold.

Other times Brian and I would walk together, just the two of us, like we used to do so often in Oregon, some of our best conversations springing to life in the forest. Brian is always at his happiest amongst the trees and I think that it is this shared love of being outdoors that has held us together through the hard times. In the mountains we have always been able to find a deeper way to be honest with each other. Though I never called her by this name before, Pachamama has served us well.

Towards the end of the day, as we neared our last camp, the sun came out and we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the Andes and the town of Aguas Calientes tucked into the valley below. When we reached the Incan terraces, the last ruin before Machu Picchu, Brian and I sat for a minute to take in the view. From my vantage point I could see hikers turning the corner and catching their first glimpse of the terraces. I watched as their moods lifted, cheers and smiles appearing on their lips. We could all feel the magic in those stone walls. We were excited for what was to come.

Incan terraces

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The next morning our wake up call came early, 3:30 a.m. Though the sun was not yet out it was clear that the day was not as we’d hoped, the clouds were low and a warm drizzle fell steady from the sky.

We walked in a half-awake state to a cue that had formed outside the final passport check. The park employees did not begin work until 5:30 a.m. so we sat, waiting, hoping that the skies would clear.

Waiting to begin hiking to Machu Picchu

Forty-five minutes after we’d been ushered through the gates of the passport check we reached the Sun Gate. On a clear day, Machu Picchu is visible below, but on this day visibility was poor, the fog so heavy around us.

Misty morning at the sun gate

My spirits were low. I was tired, dirty, and I’d walked all this way for the reward of seeing Machu Picchu as the Incan’s had intended it to be seen. I’d wanted to know the depth of its isolation and get a sense of its grandeur by walking to it. And I had. But at the end of that walk I wanted to see it, dammit.

During the final forty-five minutes of our trek I tried to recover from my disappointment. It was still a great experience, I told myself, even if Machu Picchu wasn’t visible in the way I’d hoped. I kept up the internal pep talk, but my ego wasn’t buying it. I wanted clear skies, I wanted the sun, and I! wanted! to! see! Machu! Picchu!

Look!, someone said, pointing towards the horizon, and through the dense gray I saw a patch of blue sky, a ghostly mountain peak floating in a haze of clouds. Against all odds, it was clearing up.

A mountain peeks through the clouds

We walked closer and closer to Machu Picchu and as we did the sun broke through, casting penlights of warmth down on us. Finally, after twenty-six tough miles, we arrived at a terrace above Machu Picchu. We made it. And as if Pachamama was rewarding our efforts, a small section of Machu Picchu revealed itself through the fog.

Our first little look at Machu Picchu

I dropped my backpack, removed my jacket and waited. Slowly, slowly, the clouds pushed away.

Clouds clear in front of Machu Picchu

I’d seen hundreds of photos and television programs on Machu Picchu over the years but nothing compared to seeing it with my own eyes. 

Machu Picchu

It was worth every step.

Scenes from Machu Picchu

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy October 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm

‘It was worth every step’ That’s exactly what I want to hear from you two :)

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:29 am

:) I am happy to say it.

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Ashley October 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm

We didn’t walk the trail but had a similar experience of getting up super early to watch the sunrise over the ruins…and then it was cloudy for two hours! We waited patiently though and eventually it cleared for us as well. You must have felt all the more elated for having walked all the way there, congrats on finishing the trek!

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

Thanks Ashley. Yes, it felt wonderful to walk there, like we really earned the view.

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Lauren October 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

I think this is your most beautifully written post yet. So happy for you and B!

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

Aww, thanks Lauren :)

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Rhonda October 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm

wow! Congratulations on completing the trek and accomplishing one of your goals. What a blessing that the skies opened up to reveal the magic of the city to you.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:31 am

We were so lucky that the skies cleared. I was really thinking all we’d see was gray…

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Anne and Noah October 17, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Great post, and wonderful pictures. Yes, the road is tough, but always rewarding. ¡Muchas gracias Pachamama!

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:31 am

Definitely: Muchas gracias Pachamama!

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Pamela October 17, 2012 at 11:22 pm

It was fogged in when I arrived too. Luckily the weather seems to clear up quickly once it starts. I’m glad you enjoyed your trek.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:32 am

Yeah, those clouds do move quickly- both in and out!

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Sunee October 17, 2012 at 11:41 pm

I think the fog actually enhanced the experience to be honest. Looking at those last few pictures it’s as if the city is shrouded in mystery and then suddenly a veil is lifted and you see it in all its glory. Spectacular! Really, reallly want to do this too!

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:32 am

It did make for some good pictures, didn’t it?

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Jojo October 18, 2012 at 12:51 am

You guys gonna love Angkor in Cambodia.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:32 am

Already excited about it!

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Agness (@Agnesstramp) October 18, 2012 at 1:01 am

Hi guys! Well done on an excellent hike! As you describe it, it was very tough but you made it! Congratulations. I’m going to Peru next year, hopefully to travel from South to North of South America countries and this post made me so happy and excited for my upcoming journey!! :-)

“What I can’t wait for the most is what you Kim mentioned:
I’d seen hundreds of photos and television programs on Machu Picchu over the years but nothing compared to seeing it with my own eyes”. – EPIC

Have a great time! x Safe travels x

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:33 am

Yes! Congrats on your upcoming adventure. I think that the MP trek will definitely live up to your expectations.

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TammyOnTheMove October 18, 2012 at 7:37 am

Like you Kim I have seen MP on photos and the TV hundred times before. Ever since my Spanish teacher at grade 11 told us about this ancient city I wanted to go. We wanted to go this year, but then my hubby got a job offer in Cambodia, which we couzldn’t decline. I am hoping that next year might be the year though, as seeing your photos just reminded me how spectacular MP is.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:34 am

Hey, Cambodia isn’t so bad! You will make it to MP and when you do it will be spectacular!

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Carmel October 18, 2012 at 8:06 am

I have a feeling your wish has already been granted.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:34 am

Sometimes I do feel as thought it is in the process of being granted. Other times it feels a million miles away…

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Bama October 18, 2012 at 8:29 am

Reading this reminds me of two things: my dream of visiting Machu Picchu and starting to workout more regularly as the hike is not definitely for the faint-hearted. But even though this place has long been abandoned, it still retains its magic and mystery – showing up before your eyes after previously covered in thick mist.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

No, the hike isn’t for the faint-hearted but I bet you could pull it off pretty easily. We are headed to Colca Canyon soon and rumor has it that that hike is MUCH harder than Machu Picchu. I’m scared!

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Sarah Somewhere October 18, 2012 at 8:46 am

Whatever your wish, I think it’s lovely you asked for the ‘tools’ to make it come true. So indicative of the dedicated, hard-working person you are, Kim. I have no doubt that your dream is already materializing, look how far you have come! And you and Brian have walked that path together, through mist, rain and sun. (but it’s nice when it shines hey?). Well done to both of you.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

Sure is nice when it shines :) Thanks for your kind words, Sarah.

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Tracey October 18, 2012 at 9:20 am

Awesome!! I am so glad you both got the view you worked so hard to see:)

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:36 am

Yay, me too!

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Tyrhone October 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

Wow, awesome view, it seems like a magical place. There have been so many occasions where we have waited for the view to show, and bam! Against all odds there she was. Glad it worked out for you too.

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:36 am

That actually happened to us when we climbed Mt. St. Helens too. Cloudy, cloudy, cloudy and then it cleared up at the top. The view into the crater was unreal.

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Eliza October 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Kim! You are so amazing and I am so proud of you for living your dreams!! I miss you and look forward to the next time we can hang, whenever that may be. Sending you & Brian love. Safe travels my friend!

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Kim October 19, 2012 at 6:38 am

Eliza!!! Where are you??? Portland? East Coast? Italy??? EMAIL ME!

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Dave Briggs October 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Congratulations for making it! It really is one of the most amazing places on the planet!

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Kim October 27, 2012 at 5:28 am

Thanks Dave. It was wonderful!

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Leon Fisk October 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm

The sun finally made a hole and came through for you!
Glad you got the full Machu picchu experience. Keep on keeping on.

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Kim October 27, 2012 at 5:29 am

Thanks Leon!! Where are you now?? Any chance we’ll cross paths again in SA?

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Jenny October 26, 2012 at 5:04 am

Wow! This looks amazing!

Your story is really inspiring.

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Kim October 27, 2012 at 5:42 am

Thanks Jenny :)

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Stephen S. October 27, 2012 at 10:55 am

Amazing! This has been on my bucket list for so long. I can’t wait to do it. I love the part were you pray to Pachamama. Very cool.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) November 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Oh wow .. wow … wow… I have to look into this. See if I can bring the wee canine along. I know someone that did with their cocker spaniel so it must be possible. I would LOVE to see this! Kudos and … lucky with that weather. Phew…

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Kim November 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm

If you knew someone who took their dog I bet you could bring yours too. We saw plenty of dogs on the trail that were owned by the people that lived in the small villages!

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Ali November 16, 2012 at 1:04 pm

This sounds like such an amazing experience! I’m so glad the clouds cleared up for you. Machu Picchu is really high on my list, although I have no desire or need to hike the Inca Trail. I get winded walking up too many flights of stairs, and I hate camping. But I’m so looking forward to going to Peru someday and seeing this for myself. Like you said, and like most places, nothing compares with seeing it for yourself in person. The best picture in the world can’t compare with actually being there.

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marisa May 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Awesome! Great story. I can not wait to go. Have a trip planned in September.

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Kim May 24, 2013 at 6:33 am

Enjoy it, it’s a wonderful trip!

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