Welcome to our #FlashbackFriday blog series, which will feature a collection of blogs and trip experiences from past Choose a Challenge staff members and participants.
This week's blog is from one of our former UK team members, Caitlin, who wrote about her experience trekking to Machu Picchu this past June. The trip itself is 10 days long, with 6 days of actual trekking, which she talks about in her post:
Trek Day 1: Cusco -Soryapampa
We were up bright and early at 7am with lots of anticipation, hustle and bustle, and packing the last few things in the bags we had been given the night before. I wasn't feeling too great, but grabbed some breakfast before setting off on the 4 hour bus journey. Taking in the beautiful sites of the mountains as we climbed higher and higher. Unfortunately, my sickness did not subside and the head guides, Xavier and Omar, made the decision that I was not to take part in the short trek to camp that afternoon. I was gutted! I hadn’t come all the way to Peru to not trek. But, I had to listen and respect the guides decision. After lunch, the group set off for a 3 hour trek to Soryapampa, taking in the aqueduct along the way whilst I was driven to the campsite. Upon arrival in camp, I headed straight to a tent, stealing someone else’s sleeping bag as I couldn’t locate my rented one and headed straight to sleep (sorry Max!). The guides came and checked on me every few hours and brought me a chicken broth to drink whilst I could hear the sound of the team singing Wonderwall in the mess tent. I fell asleep hoping I would be able to rejoin the group the next morning.
What I wore: Shorts & T-Shirt & Jumper
What I slept in: Trousers, T-Shirt, Jumper, Scarf & Hat
Trek Day 2: Soryapampa - Salkantaypampa
I awoke on the second day feeling much better and I was super excited to join the group on the morning trek to the Humantay Glacier. It was a steep walk and with very little energy I took on the technique of walking for 20 steps, stopping for 40 seconds, walking for 20 steps, stopping for 40 seconds until I arrived at the glacier, which was a little after 10am. The glacier was beautiful! Better than pictures had shown. With crystal clear waters and clouds surrounding the ice-capped Peaks. Some of the team went swimming, with others just dipping their toes in. For me, the glacier was a highlight of trip and I spent some time just admiring it’s natural beauty.
The walk back down was just over an hour and we arrived a little after 12 in time for lunch. This would be the first full meal I would eat on the trek and I was starving. Starting with vegetable soup, before having chicken with two types of potato (sweet and jungle). Peru is famous for having many different varieties of potato so it was great to sample them. We had some free time before setting off on the afternoon trek and most of us took the opportunity to sunbathe with some music playing from a wireless speaker, the only thing which would have made it better would have been an ice cold beer.
The afternoon trek was nice and easy as we walked towards the glacier, the most incredible view to ever have in front of you as you walk. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. We arrived into camp (Salkantaypampa at 4150m above seas level) just before 4pm as the temperature was beginning to drop. We were introduced to all our porters and cooks, the youngest of which was 16 years old! Before dinner we all changed into the clothes we were planning to wear the next day. Our guides had warned us that it was to be the coldest night and morning, and many of us didn’t fancying changing in the morning. That evening in the mess tent was one of my favourites as we played games of Uno, Never Have I Ever, Most Likely too as everyone got to know each other.
What I wore: Leggings, T-Shirt, Sports Thermal. (Woolly Hat in the morning, changed to cap by mid-morning)
What I slept in: Leggings x2, T-shirt, Thermal, Fleece & Jumper, Scarf & Woolly Hat
Trek Day 3: Salkantaypampa - Collpapampa
The third day of the trek was set to be one of the longest and toughest days as we would reach the highest point of the whole trek. The guides awoke us at 5am with a hot drink of green tea and we all stumbled into the mess tent for breakfast. I think the guides knew we needed cheering up after waking up so early and they gave us pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast. We set off walking at 6.30am. It was freezing and I kept all my layers on. But slowly as we worked our way up to the pass the sun came out and warmed everyone up. We took regular stops due to shortness of breathe as a result of being at such high altitude. The group and I made sure we drank plenty water and of course ate lots of sugary snacks (Harvey’s huge bag of Haribo Tangfastics where a winner!)
We climbed as a group towards the Salkantay Pass and at 9.30am reached 4600m! I have already said that some of the views were incredible but each view surpassed the next and being at the top of the pass was no exception. You could see for miles! We spent around 30 minutes at the pass getting photos, including one with our guides. The walk down the other side of the pass to our camp for lunch took us longer than it should have as we kept stopping for mini-photoshoots (the scenery is just that good!).
The afternoon’s trek was to be over another 10km to and it would be on a steep/rocky downhill path. It was time to get the speaker out and some #ThrowbackThursday music on as we began the long walk to camp for the night. We walked with the thick jungle on the right hand side of us. The walk was long and tough, especially for those who had sore knees, but we kept going and towards the end of the afternoon trek, a few of the girl and myself were running to the camp as we desperately need a wee and wanted to use the portable toilet!
What I wore: Leggings, T-shirt, Thermal, Fleece & Jumper. By the afternoon I was just in my t-shirt
What I slept in: Leggings, T-shirt, Jumper & Woolly Hat
Trek Day 4: Collpapampa - Lucmabamba
After a great night's sleep at warmer temperatures and bacon for breakfast we tipped and waved goodbye to some of our porters and mules as they wouldn’t be joining us on the rest of the trek, our bags would be transported by car from this point onwards. Today we entered the jungle, so I covered myself in repellent not wanting to be bitten. Walking along the river (which is a tributary of the Amazon) and up steep hills. Whilst there was no altitude the humidity still made it tough. We made regular stops at little huts where you could buy snacks and water. One of which had a football pitch, of course a match began with our guides Edward and Omar even getting involved! After a long 16km walk through the jungle we arrived at the car which would take us to our camp (Lucmabamba) for lunch.
That afternoon we had the opportunity to go to the hot springs. Everyone jumped at the chance, after all it was a chance to get clean after 4 days trekking! The hot springs (Colcamayo) were a short drive from the camp. There were 3 pools, nestled in the mountains, each varying slightly in temperature. I recommend going straight from the cold shower into the hot pools - it feels so refreshing!
On arrival back in camp for dinner, the porters had set up a TV and managed to get some signal to watch Peru vs Jamaica at football. It never surprises me that anywhere you go in the world football is always a priority. Whilst we cheered when Peru scored, the porters just sat quietly and watch.
What I wore: Shorts & T-shirt with a hat
What I slept in: Shorts and a sweatshirt
Trek Day 5: Lucmabamba - Aguas Calientes
Today was the second longest day on our trek and we were up early to try and beat the heat of the jungle, setting off at 6.45am after a 5.30am wake up call by the guides. Edward, one of our guides had warned us the night before that the first 4 hours of trekking would be steep uphill through the jungle. He wasn’t lying when he said it was steep. After 4 long days trekking up and downhill my calves were screaming at me to stop as we climbed higher and higher through the jungle. Being surrounded by the thickest jungle and trees the sweat was real and the clean feeling I had after leaving the hot springs was long gone. After just under 3 hours walking Edward turned to us and said we had reached the end of the uphill. We all stood looking around thinking we had at least another hour walking uphill. Turned out he had lied to us about how long it would take so we would be more motivated. I have to say it was a tactic that worked.
We stopped for a long break at Llactapata where we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Way in the distance you can just about make out some of the steps of Machu Picchu. Seeing these made Machu Picchu seem so much closer knowing that the next morning we would be there. Whilst we were taking a break Edward sat and told us some of the history to the Inca and Machu Picchu. It was fascinating to hear him talk about his history of his culture.
There is a saying that what goes up must come down and on this day, that couldn’t be more true. The downhill to lunch at the beginning of the train tracks was just as steep as the uphill. If you have walking poles they come in super useful here. After a long 17km that morning we arrived at lunch a little worse for wear and definitely ready for food. Today was the last time we would eat food cooked by our amazing team. What they produce in the middle of nowhere is nothing short of incredible. We gave them their tips and waved goodbye as we set off on the FLAT 12km along the train tracks to our hostel in Aguas Calientes. After seeing Machu Picchu earlier in the day, the team and I walked along the tracks as motivated as ever. Chatting with excitement, moving out the way for trains. We veered off the train tracks and walked a short distance along the main road into Aguas Calientes where we stopped at the station to pick up our bags before checking into our hostel and heading to shower before dinner.
What I wore - Shorts & T-shirt with a hat.
Trek Day 6: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco
Early starts were a normal thing by now, but 4am felt a little too early on this morning. We were all half asleep but filled with excitement as we ate a small breakfast before meeting the guides in the main square to begin the walk up the 3,000 steps to Machu Picchu at just after 5am.
It was darkness as we started walking with our head touches on. None of us wanted more uphill. The steepness of the steps made our legs ache but everyone put their heads down in determination and powered through arriving at the entrance of Machu Picchu just after 7am. We had arrived! There was a sense of relief amongst the group and anticipation as we waited for the mist and clouds to clear so that we could see Machu Picchu and all it’s history. As there was so many of us we split into 3 groups with each guide taking a group on a tour around Machu Picchu.
I went around with Omar and almost on cue as he spoke the mist began clearing and revealing the lost City of the Incas to us. It was fascinating to hear about Machu Picchu, and the theories surrounding its history. I particularly found the theory surrounding the Temple of the 3 windows, which some argue represent the three different worlds of the Inca. Outer world, this world and underworld. My main advice here is to ask your guides lots of questions, they are so knowledgeable and loved telling us about their culture and history. There is no one better to get the information from.
After a tour from the guides, there is time to head up to the classic viewing point to take lots of photos and explore Machu Picchu some more. I went on a little wander and then joined some of the team on a lookout point just watching other tourists taking their photos, we even saw one couple get engaged!
We made our way back down to Aguas Calientes for some lunch and last minute souvenir shopping at the markets, before our train journey back to Cusco. There were some tired legs and faces after an exhausting 6 days trekking, but what ensued on our train journey left me speechless. It is something I cannot describe so I will let this very poor quality video tell you….
Arriving back at our accommodation in the centre of Cusco at around 10pm it was time to celebrate our achievements. Not only had the group raised an incredible amount of money for charity over the past 9 months but they had just conquered Machu Picchu! We headed to Mamma Africa catching the end of happy hour and danced the night away on the bar top.
What I wore: Shorts & T-shirt.
For a full breakdown of the trek please refer to our Machu Picchu Challenge Pack here:
That'll do it for our first #FlashbackFriday blog post. Make sure to check back next week here on our website or by following us on social media for our next post!