After all these years of dreaming and making fantasy travel plans, I finally made it to Machu Picchu! Anyone close to me knows that that Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list of places to see for YEARS. I’ve always been so fascinated by this ancient incan civilisation and I just knew it was time to finally pay a visit! To make things even more perfect it just so happened to be my 20th birthday! What better way to leave teenager-hood behind than to hike 2340 metres above sea level?
Yep that’s me in that picture! Standing on top of the world, officially not a child anymore and about to embark on the next stage of my already incredible life, better make it count!
I’m not a big fan of my birthday, in fact most years I’d rather just not celebrate it at all. I hate the facebook messages from people who barely even know me, those meaningless ‘happy bday x’ messages which I then proceed to ‘like’ for no other reason than to be polite. People who care WILL say happy birthday one way or another: verbally, a private message, a text, a call or even a social media post that actually means something. That’s what matters to me. It’s quality not quantity; I’d rather be surrounded by a handful of my most favourite people than get 300 facebook posts from people I can’t hold a conversation with in real life, but maybe that’s just me? We’re all entitled to celebrate in different ways!
Also, despite being an only child who talks non stop, I hate the attention. Where do you even look when people are singing to you? Why are we being given presents and money just for existing? I know what you’re thinking: I need to liven up a bit and embrace the birthday spirit!
And you know what? I did. FINALLY, I wore my birthday badge with pride, got excited the night before and filled the day with positivity and thankfulness. Machu Picchu broke my ‘I hate birthdays’ curse! There’s nothing more satisfying than experiencing breathtaking 360 degree views, miles and miles away from wifi and text messaging. The only way to describe the feeling is to say that it was indescribable. I have never felt so happy and comfortable with the person that I am and the direction that I’m heading in than I do right now, and that might sound ridiculous but it’s true. I am far luckier than I deserve to be and I will never find the words to say thank you (to my parents, my friends and whatever force might be guiding me) for that.
Anyway, enough of the deep meaningful ramblings. I turned 20, so what?! Let’s get to the interesting stuff…
So, at 7am on Friday morning, we headed to the Plaza de Armas to begin our journey. After a pretty late/disorganised pick-up (welcome to Latin America) we were on our way. 6 hours in a van may seem a bit grim, and it was at times, but the incredible views totally made up for it. Although, the driver was driving one handed and speaking on his phone whilst navigating some of the most precarious looking mountain roads I have ever seen…
We arrived at the Hidroeléctrico and started to hike. Instantly, I began to feel the strain of carrying a backpack in the boiling hot sun along a very rocky railway path… It was an endurance test, but it was nothing compared to the difficulties to come! Mother dearest, if you’re reading this then I suggest you look away now, because the next part of my story involves a near-death experience and I know how you hate those…
We ended up getting lost and we were faced with a huge pitch black tunnel and a sign that says ‘Pedestrians must not walk this way’. Despite me insisting that we turn around and find an alternative route, Vicki said she couldn’t be bothered to go back and proceeded to walk on the train tracks through this pitch black tunnel: so I followed her. We made it out through the other side feeling accomplished but 10 seconds later we heard this SUPER loud horn and wheels getting closer. We turned around to see that the train was coming (shit… I know) I couldn’t help but think how lucky we were with our timing! We grabbed hands and slid down the verge onto the road below and I made Vicki promise to always trust my instinct from then onwards…
Have no fear though guys. We are safe and sound, and we definitely won’t be doing anything that stupid again any time soon… (Queue riding a 2 person motorbike with 3 other people without a helmet in Ecuador, I really am sorry Mom!) We settled into our hostel for the night and of course I claimed the double bed on the grounds of ‘it’s my birthday tomorrow’. Although, I probably would have found a way to bagsy this luxury regardless of the date, similar to how I love to shotgun front seat of cars. It’s an only child thing, you wouldn’t understand 😉
Machu Picchu pueblo is super duper cool. It’s this tiny little town up in the mountains and roughly a 1 1/2 hour treck from the entrance to Machu Picchu and the location of our hostel for the night. There’s some incredible 5* hotels in the pueblo but sadly our Hostel Chocqueria was more in the -5* range. But we had food included and we paid barely anything, so there was no point in complaining! You can grow to love damp beds and blaring salsa music….
The next day our alarms were set for 3.50am. I opened my birthday card and present that Vicki had so kindly carried all the way to Peru for me and then we packed our bags and began the uphill journey! We quickly realised that we were alone in complete darkness with 0 sense of direction and no light source. So what did we do? We befriended a french man called Ludovic who happened to have a torch. Perfect!
Looking back I don’t think there is any way we would have survived the ascent if it weren’t for his constant encouragement! It was HARD, potentially one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done! Every single step was a vertical lunge… now imagine doing that for a whole 1 1/2 hours! We made it to the top at 6.22am (I remember because 22 is my lucky number and it has been following me EVERYWHERE on my travels) which was actually an improvement on the ‘estimated time’! Go us!
We watched the sunrise over Machu Picchu, which was a once-in-a-lifetime kinda moment and after quickly ditching our terrible tour guide we proceeded to explore the ruins. Despite not having a single bite of cake, it was a very special birthday indeed topped off with a 3 course meal at the best restaurant in Machu Picchu pueblo: ‘Indiofeliz’. I don’t think I would have been able to get a cheaper/tastier birthday feast back in the UK and don’t even get me started on how cool the interior design was! The pictures I’ve taken just don’t do it justice:
On our final day we were given the option to catch the train back to the bus station, but for $25 it seemed absurd to spend valuable food money on transport when we could just embark on another 3 hour trek… My legs and back will never forgive me for this weekend, but I have no regrets!
Overall, it was an unreal, astounding, marvellous, fantastical weekend packed with amazing views and philosophical discussions about Marvel superheroes and Capri-suns. The altitude made us deliriously giggly as we began to find ourselves cry-laughing at terrible spanish puns like ‘Where’s the key? It’s aQUI’… Oh dear.
That said, it was hard at times, but that’s what I love most about travelling in Latin America. Even with a heavy backpack, aching limbs and a terrible night’s sleep it’s hard to be down. I’m always pretty chirpsy and I think life is too short to focus on the negative, but here it’s a whole new level of motivation to be happy. The Latin American way of life is just a test of patience: it teaches you not to crack under pressure because everything always works out okay in the end. It teaches you not to worry if things run late or if you lose material items because that’s not what matters in the long run. The people here have barely anything but they’re the happiest people I’ve ever met, and I think that says a lot. The simple life is the best kind of life.