Our final trekking day had us climbing up and over a steep, rainforested mountain, leaving the beautiful coffee valley behind. With a 4:30 am start, and fuelled by a good breakie and a cup of coca tea, we were determined to avoid hiking the hardest part in the heat of the day. We were excited, because even though our guide had said that this would be our hardest hiking day, today was the day that would bring us our first views of Machu Picchu.
With parrots making a raucous noise all around us, we hiked along the old Inca way, through small-plot coffee groves, in the relative coolness of the high altitude jungle morning. Their erratic and crashing flight patterns reminded us of the noisy toucans of Costa Rica: both birds have a knack for making the forests come alive! The way up and over the mountain was certainly tough, and it was our last significant obstacle to overcome to see the main reason most people come to Peru: to bask in the splendour of Machu Picchu.
Hiking the day before, we had passed a large group of young adults a number of times. I had been kicking myself for not stopping to ask them what they were all about as three of them were wearing Make A Wish T-shirts.
My curiosity was awakened… was someone on their trek chronically ill, but wanting to walk to Machu Picchu? Is that why they were using a support vehicle? No, that couldn’t be it because the trek was just too hard, too physically demanding, the conditions too rough. Were they fundraising? What was their story?
Let me tell you, this was one inspiring group! The smaller of two groups of 29 and 17 students from Warwick University, they were in Peru, doing a slightly different version of the Salkantay Trek to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They were bright, youthful, and enthusiastic: a terrifically positive group, energized by the task they’d taken on. Animated by their cause, they were seriously motivated by what they were doing.
As it turns out, this young man was the organizer of the entire event and had been on what he called, “a practicum of sorts,” for the past month in Cusco, setting up this trek for his fellow Warwick University students AND students from other Universities scattered throughout England. This day, he stepped in to take the place of a student who could not complete the trek, and he was so excited to be hiking the final leg into Machu Picchu.
He started out on this path, volunteering through an organization at Warwick University, called Raising And Giving. He loved his work there and was inspired and motivated to take on something even bigger. After volunteering with RAG for a year, he told us that he moved on to take on the orchestration, planning and organization of this incredible trek.
He was arranging some crazy logistics, as this particular fundraiser involved 283 people doing the 5 day the Salkantay Trek in small groups, staggered over a number of days. The amount of money they were raising was astounding! Each of the 283 people had to raise £3,000 to do the trek, £2,100 of which went directly to the charity. That’s £594,300 for Make-A-Wish… a tremendous sum!
I wrote to Warwick University and to the UK office of Make A Wish to find out more about this incredible group of kids and will update you when I find out more info on their fundraising project and efforts. Here is a blog post written by one of the Warwick trekkers.
Suffice it to say that I was inspired by this group, by the way they were trying to contribute to this world in a meaningful way and by the manner in which they were pushing the limit of what was soft & comfortable, familiar and known in their own lives, giving them far greater life experience and insight into the human condition in the process. It was brave on so many levels. It was inspiring.
After leaving behind this group of impassioned students, we worked our way up the trail to Llactapata, a historic site just over the top of the mountain we were hiking that day.
There we finally, FINALLY, caught our first glimpse of our ultimate destination: Machu Picchu lay across the valley, enshrouded by a misty haze. Set atop a beautiful mountain saddle, its iconic landscape was instantly recognizable.
It was such an impressive view. An incredible scene, it was a taste of what was to come… but we clearly still had a long way to hike!
Llactapata was a set of Inca ruins, brought to the attention of the world by Hiram Bingham, it was a stopping place of sorts for the Inca runners. The runners were a group of highly fit men who were like the Inca courier service. Able to travel great distances over tough terrain at tremendous speed, they carried messages, contained in their sets of quipu (a series of knots tied on coloured strings) across the realm. Stopping places like this, called tambos, were scattered across the Inca roads, usually about every 15-20km.
This particular place was a special place: it had double doors (see the inset bricks on the central, trapezoidal doorway?), indicating that there had been a temple here; it had the ever important food storage house on site; and interestingly, it had 8 pathways, 8 Inca trails, that led to and from it (one of which we had travelled on to reach this spot).
Once in town, we settled into our hotel, had a much-needed HOT shower and a nap and then met our guide at a restaurant for a briefing for the exciting conclusion to our trek: Machu Picchu! (Well, Machu Picchu or a hot shower and a bed… who could say which was truly more exciting at this point!?!)
FINALLY, I would be at the site I’d had on my life bucket list since reading about it as a child in my grandmother’s National Geographic magazines! It would be under my feet and before my eyes the next day! Little did I know, upon arriving at Aguas Calientes, that the next day would begin at 3:30am! Ugh.