Perú was honestly a wild ride from start to finish. Something I learned? That things won’t always match your expectations and that you should always be filled with grace and strength when things go wrong.
We flew out of Quito on Wednesday night, spent the night in the Lima airport, got to Cusco around 10am on Thursday, spent a few hours charging our phones in a café, took a van to Ollantaytambo, took a train to Aguas Calientes, and finally reached our hostel at about 10pm. Was that a run on sentence? Sorry not sorry- it was a run on day! 30 hours of travel with probably 4 hours of sleep. To be honest, an exhausting way to start the trip, but we were all excited to visit Machu Picchu the next day.
Friday started with a 4am wake up for us (just know from now on that we did not sleep on this trip) and we were hiking from Aguas Calientes to the park entrance by 5am. This hike was intense- 3,000 stairs with not much else. Views were good, but we were exhausted and I was just glad when we got to the entrance.
Machu Picchu is something I have been dreaming of since age 8 (thanks for that Children’s Atlas that inspired my love for exploring, Uncle Matt!). Seeing it in person was absolutely incredible- a dream come true, an item to check off my bucket list, a fully surreal experience. It was beautiful, and we spent hours there taking in the views, hiking to Sun Gate (a ruin up the mountain with amazing views), exploring the ruins, and exclaiming about how lucky we were to be there.
After Machu Picchu, we headed back to Cusco via train and then bus. Saturday, we hiked Rainbow Mountain aka Death Mountain because this hike was so hard. The trailhead is probably around 15,000 ft, whereas the peak is at 17,000 ft. It was beautiful, but we had to leave at 3am to drive 3 hours to the trailhead, were given a breakfast of only bread (which is like 300 calories for an entire day of hiking lol), and our guides made this hike seem like boot camp (complete with war cries from the movie 300 on the bus at 6am to get us ‘hype’. I was NOT hype and did not appreciate every time I saw them on the trail when they yelled, “¡CHICA! ¡Más rapido!” But I digress).
The sights were amazing and this can’t be argued. The mountains have stripes of different colors and it’s incredible. However, it took me a couple shots of oxygen (thanks, portable spray can) and a 15 minute horse ride to get to the top, which we could only stay at for about 30 minutes because the air is so thin. The hike down was so much easier, minus the headaches we all had from the altitude. Luckily, on the bus ride back to Cusco one of our guides rubbed our heads with Agua de Florida, which really helped with the headache. I’m all about those natural remedies! All in all, 16 km hiked. If you ever plan on going to Rainbow Mountain, here is my advice to you: take a horse all the way up and hike back down. Way easier and you won’t regret it.
On Sunday we traveled to sites throughout Sacred Valley, a holy place in the Incan Empire. We saw terraces, salt pools, Incan cities that are still inhabited by locals, storehouses, temples, Spanish churches, and so much more, and learned SO much about Incan culture. We got to see local indigenous people making textiles, from start to finish, which was amazing. For someone who loves to learn, this day was super fun. We visited the cities of Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Maras, and Urubamba, all of which were Incan cities where parts of the culture and architecture are still utilized. In fact, it is said that Maras is the city where the people are the descendants of the Incas with the purest blood. I think besides Machu Picchu, Sunday was my favorite day. It was so much more relaxing than the others and I learned an incredible amount. Plus, our guide Hugo was absolutely incredible, which always ensures a great experience!
Monday was our “Cusco day” in which we spent time resting in a café doing homework and overlooking marches for International Worker’s Day in Plaza del Armas. We left Cusco around 8pm, I was home in Quito by 3am, and it felt so good to be back.
However, this trip was honestly a really hard one. I’d be lying if I said it was all great and everything I hoped it would be. By the end of it, I was so ready to be done with Perú and be home in Ecuador. Why? On Friday night one of my friends had a medical emergency that ended up being extremely serious and keeping her hospitalized for the entire trip. It was absolutely terrifying- if we would have been in Quito, our host parents and the IES staff would have been right there to help. Instead, we were alone in Cusco where we knew absolutely no one. A strange country, a hard situation, a lot of complicated details, and a few naive 21 year olds who had to figure it out. Honestly one of the hardest things and something I hope to never repeat in my life. It was not something I expected to have to go through on our exciting trip to Perú, not something I expected to happen to a good friend. I won’t go into anymore details other than to say that my friend is now getting the care that she needs in the US and she handled everything with more positivity, strength, and grace than I can imagine.
So! While Perú is an incredibly beautiful country with a rich history and wonderful sites, it is somewhere that I was happy to leave because of the circumstances. It feels good to be back in Ecuador, where I know people, understand the culture, and feel at home.
2 weeks from right now, I will be in the airport waiting to get on my plane back to the US, and for the first time this semester, I’m actually excited to go home. I’m ready to see my family and friends, hang out in Detroit, drive my own car, eat American food, and get ready for the wedding of 2 of my closest friends! It’s weird to be in a place of being ready to go home, because I’ve really thrived here and love it here, but I think it’s a good place to be. Making the most of my last days in this beautiful place while looking in anticipation for May 18th when I set foot on American soil for the first time in 4.5 months!