On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 5 – Climbing Machu Picchu

Note: If you’re just interested in a particular day of the hike or only Machu Picchu, jump to that specific day here: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5 – Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu. The final destination. After 4 long days, over 32+ hours hiking, about 60 miles up and down mountains, we were about to make the final ascension up to Machu Picchu. The guides woke us up at 4am so we could be at the bridge to the base of the mountain by 5am. The gates open at that time to begin climbing and it’s a foot race to the top to be the first in line to pass through Machu Picchu. There was magic in the air. You could feel it. I felt a sense of excitement so great it was like a non-stop adrenaline rush — and we hadn’t even started walking to the bridge yet. This was going to be an amazing morning.

As we walked out of the hostel, the reason they ask you to bring a head-mounted flashlight became apparently obvious. It was pitch black in the direction of the bridge, no lighting had been put up there. Groups of travelers were walking together with flashlights and we made sure to simply stay in the glowing light around them to see.

After we had our entry passes to Machu Picchu checked(there’s a daily cap on the number of people allowed in every day) we approached the steps. They were basically half-crumbled rock steps that were very steep going directly up the mountain. If you can imagine being on a StepMaster with the highest setting, constantly using it for about an hour to an hour and a half, and without any lights — that was what it seemed like.

High stepping along the way: the excitement of what was ahead and the warmth of your body as it began to sweat made the experience feel like having an amazing workout combined with a heightened sense of accomplishment. In the midst of this rush, I felt no pain and simply kept going up the steps with no other thoughts besides how great this all felt, passing many people who had stopped for breaks. The dawn began casting a low blue light on the steps, allowing me to see them for the first time that morning without a flashlight. I looked up and could finally see the gate of the entrance to Machu Picchu.

At the top, 5:45am, I was joined by many travelers who, like me, had rushed to the top and left their groups behind. We were around the first 40 people in the line and you can see my silly excitement at that moment where I had a German guy next to me take this picture:

Soon the sun was beginning to rise and buses from Aguas Calientes(for those who didn’t want to climb) were arriving. The gates opened promptly at 6:30am and I went in waiting for everyone else with Young Miguel:

The sun starts shining over Machu Picchu around 7-7:30am as it rises above the mountain ranges in the distance and many people hurry to the highest point to get the best vantage point. You can easily get startled with amazement the moment you enter. It was truly surreal seeing Machu Picchu first hand as opposed to pictures. To think humans created such an intricate city on the edge of a mountain is remarkable. The entrance we came through had us right at the bottom of some terraced steps that were likely used for growing crops.

Typically you recognize Machu Picchu from an aerial angle or birds-eye view. When you’re on the ground, you get to touch, feel and walk through the actual passageways which provides a completely new perspective. For instance there were tiny aqua-ducts that irrigated the crops and distributed water:

Some small homes were collapsed, but you could peek in:

Just to get a feel for how stunning the passageways were:

One of the questions I had about Machu Picchu, and I figured it may simply have been a mystery, was where the rocks for the structures came from. Near the top of the terraces you can easily see that there was a massive rock quarry and even evidence of where the rock was cut:

This rock shows how they cut them by creating notches and then flattening it out after it was broken:

One of the gardens has been replanted with possible crops including a large tree with coca leaves:

Just like the architecture at the temple in Cuzco, Qorikancha, you can see the very accurate cuttings of each stone on these walls:

Whenever the stones were this precisely cut, you can tell the area was a sacred place like a temple.

The incas were very fond of the sun, so obviously there was a sun dial:

The entire grounds of Machu Picchu are actually very large when you walk and would take half a day to see everything. We said our goodbyes to each other after the guided tour and continued to walk around for many more hours through the different areas.

 

 

 

There were many more Incan ruins to see here including Huyana Picchu which is where many of the aerial views of Machu Picchu are taken from. There’s also the Sacred Valley and Incan Bridge, but after the trek and long morning, we decided to start getting ready to head back to Cuzco on our train.

While passing by on the train, we caught our last glimpse and allowed the moment to sink in: we had just experienced Machu Picchu.

 

I’ll never forget what Old Miguel told me the night before at dinner: “When you see it, close your eyes. Imagine your biggest aspirations and dreams. Then open them and realize you are looking at just that for an entire civilization.” Yes, it was a humble reminder of the amazing capabilities of humans and depths of our impact on this world. I’m so glad to have experienced it and would recommend it to anyone.



On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 4

Note: If you’re just interested in a particular day of the hike or only Machu Picchu, jump to that specific day here: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5 – Machu Picchu

I got a great night sleep and was up well before 6, right as the cooks passed by with the Coca tea. We had the latest start of the trek that morning which began around 8:30am. The guides asked numerous times to check if we had our passports ready because we were all passing a checkpoint up ahead. After we got there, had passport information taken, we were on the final march to Machu Picchu.

Most of this path is now along train tracks that have been built to bring tourists who weren’t as crazy as us to trek for many days to Machu Picchu. We basically walked on the edge of a jungle that was now opened by these train tracks. The scenery was still beautiful with tropical trees on both sides and an occasional stream. The bridges that were built on this path over the streams were very rickety. Some were also very high up with large gaps in the middle where you could have fallen a long way. It was wise to not look down while crossing many of these.

At one point we got to see the backside of the Machu Picchu mountain. From so far below you can hardly make out there is anything up there. It was interesting though because while we were at Machu Picchu the next day, it was clear as day to see where we were standing now looking up:

 

A few more miles and we were at a shaded break area. We sat on the benches there and rested while having our boxed lunches.

An example of one of the sketchy bridges which was just some larger wooden blocks for the train tracks:

There was another angle that we were apparently supposed to see Machu Picchu from again, but it wasn’t very visible:

Slowly but surely we could start to make out hotels and hostels in the distance and we knew we’ve arrived at Aguas Calientes.

The city is pretty interesting. Essentially a make-shift traveler’s community, it seemed to me what a tropical resort town might look like. There were hot springs, spas on every corner, restaurants lining the blocks, hotels/hostels on every street, and no shortage of tourists walking in all directions — some awaiting their turn to see Machu Picchu and others who had returned that day from seeing it.

We checked into our hostel and dropped our stuff off before setting out to explore what Aguas Calientes had to offer.

The first thing we did was walk as far away from the touristy-filled main streets as quickly as possible. We headed to a side of the town that looked to be completely residential and where the local peruvians who worked in Aguas Calientes mostly lived. You could tell how far you were getting from the touristy areas as the prices of restaurants were dropping from 30 Soles to 20 Soles to 15 Soles to eventually 8 Soles when we were at the opposite corner of the city. This part of town reminded us of how other Peruvian towns look and feel with narrow streets, mom and pop stores lining the blocks and small apartments or houses right next to one another.

While we were wandering this side of town, we stumbled upon probably the biggest gem of the entire city and possibly the best kept secret: an unbelievable, well-maintained, massive, soccer practice field. It was beautiful. Even by american standards, the way they kept this field maintained was stunning. There were groups of kids playing in different areas and it was free like a park for anyone to use. We saw many pickup games and couldn’t help but sit in the bleachers and watch in awe at this field in the middle of, by contrast, run-down houses all around it. The interesting part is how it’s almost purposefully placed dozens of streets away from the main touristy part of town as a deterrent to travelers.

After awhile, forgetting to eat because we were staring at this field, we got hungry and began searching for food along the street. We passed by a strange concoction being cooked and couldn’t help but stop and see what it was. It turned out to be Peruvian-style doughnuts. They tasted like those super-fresh doughnuts you get at Krispy Kreme without the glazed topping. It was a great appetizer while we walked around trying to find a restaurant to eat at.

Walking along the streets back in the direction of the touristy-area, we noticed we had wandered for quite awhile (or stared at the soccer field too long!) because the sun was getting ready to set. We were told earlier that everyone was gathering together for dinner, so it wasn’t worth eating now so we did the next best thing:

Ah, that cold Cerveza. We actually passed by the Floridian and New Yorker and decided to have a couple beers with them before dinner. It was right by the train and they were waiting on the next one which was bringing their extra bags they had placed on it somehow early that morning (we didn’t even know that was an option until that point). Conversations with other travelers are always fascinating because you reminisce about your short time and experiences shared together, but you also trade stories about your past and how they brought you to this moment. The Floridian and New Yorker mentioned that they planned the trip as a way to experience Machu Picchu before it would be too late for their legs to do a trek. They ventured down memory lane to the first time they met which happened to be 40 years prior in junior high. It was startling at first hearing this, because Nathan and I actually also met for the first time in junior high and we asked about how that bond stuck with them throughout all these years. I’ll never forget their response and the stories that followed about how no matter where each of them went with their lives — the New Yorker even living in Venezuela for many years, a simple phone call would bring them back together as if no time had ever passed. It seemed in that moment that the friends who you’ve known the longest will always be the easiest to reconnect with in the future despite any changes in your life.

After the train arrived, we were joined by the Frenchman, the Frenchwoman and Young Miguel just before we convened for dinner.

It was bitter-sweet at dinner. Many of us had bonded over the past 4 days and this was going to be our last meal together before hiking up over 2000+ steps at 4am the next morning. We clanged our glasses of Pisco Sour (the famous peruvian cocktail) and laughed together, happy to be in such a great place with great company.

A few of us headed to a pool bar afterwards for a couple more drinks before calling it a night. The next morning was going to be a moment to remember forever.

 

The final hike up Machu Picchu here! - On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 5 – Climbing Machu Picchu

 

 



On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 3

Note: If you’re just interested in a particular day of the hike or only Machu Picchu, jump to that specific day here: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5 – Machu Picchu

The rapping came early in the morning, “Coca tea Amigos! Coca tea!”, as the cooks and porters slapped our tent and unzipped it while pouring some tea. It was much more bearable that night, under layers and bounded in a sleeping bag. It was only slightly chilly, not the biting cold of the first night. We slowly drank our tea as everyone began packing things up outside their tents. Breakfast was pancakes with a peanut butter-like jam. The only others from the US in our group, two women from Florida (the Floridian) and New York (the New Yorker), were sitting by us. Humorously they commented on the fact that Peru apparently had no concept of syrups like Maple syrup — everything was marmalade or jam. After the pancakes, bread and cheese we started heading out on the trail along the mountain that approached the edge of the jungle.

 

This trail would be the most scenic one we would hike, and it started with crossing over a river on a rickety bridge that even the mule refused to go on. It felt like walking through a fruit plantation. Thousands of strawberry plants lined the path below on either side of us, many with small ripe berries. The Ecuadorian and his friends mentioned that the small, blood red ones were the tastiest and we would constantly seek them out while walking along. Above us were passion fruit trees, pineapple trees, and banana trees. Every now and then we would come across stray coffee plants as well with the red buds on them and coffee beans inside.

 

At our first rest stop, we even saw some turkeys wandering around.

We continued on over waterfalls and rapid fresh water rivers. Disappointingly, I wasn’t able to ever find any ripe bananas still on the trees, so when we reached our next stop I purchased some fresh ones for 0.50 Soles. Something about eating a banana while walking through dense fruit trees just seemed right.

I had a long conversation with the Ecuadorian professor while on this path. He mentioned he actually teaches at two different universities and has a strong affinity towards the American author Paul Austere. The vividness with which Austere described New York really drew him to want to visit. Apparently he had visited Miami and NYC on business, but never had a chance to roam around and see familiar spots from the books. He taught me two common spanish phrases, “Beuno Dias” and “Beueno Noches” meaning “Good day” and “Good night”. Life, he said, was tough in Ecuador, working two jobs, but he still loved everything about his country. The beach apparently is right by his home and warm all-year round. His true passion was writing and when he told me he had a single chapter written for a novel he was working on, I told him now was the time to finish creative works and get them out to the world. The internet provides so many opportunities for us to reach people who resonate with what we share, and the barrier of entry to get traction on a self-written/published book is ripe with possibilities at the moment. I provided additional encouragement to, at the very least, continue working on his passion as we approached a small town near our lunch camp ground. Many of the villagers in this town were coffee farmers as was evident by the drying of coffee beans in their lawns. Apparently they sold fresh coffee beans from their door as well if you wanted completely fresh un-roasted peruvian coffee.

The campsite for lunch was just around the corner, and the cooks had quite a feast waiting for us. Nathan and I grabbed an ice cold cerveza while we waited. As I wrote in an earlier post, I wasn’t fond of their Cusquena beer (Fort Collins has spoiled me with amazing craft beer — I’m sipping on an organic Maori King saison in a tulip glass from Funwerks Brewery as I write this), but there was just something about having a cold beer after the long walk that felt very refreshing. It was interesting that the closer we got to Machu Picchu, the more touristy the campsites got. This one had massages, a bathroom with a flushable toilet (and seat!), a pool, and the few restaurants here had hamburgers and shakes on their menu. We sat around a table the cooks had arranged, and watched in awe as plate after plate of different typical peruvian dishes came by.

 

Some type of small rice with veggies:

Soupy chicken curry:

Pasta with cheese:

Quinoa and boiled cauliflower and broccoli:

Quite delicious to say the least!

After our hearty lunch, we headed to our actual campsite which was very close-by. That’s when we got the exciting news we would be heading to a naturally made hot springs just down the street! A bus came by to pick us up and after an hour we were on our way there.

I had many ideas of hot springs before we got there: would it be like resting our feet in small cracks where boiling hot water was coming out of? Or like the ones in Japan depicted in the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, where it appeared like hot tub spas? It was actually neither — more like a large pool created by expanding the rocks near the edge of the mountain. They also filtered the water by having it pass through a few layers so it remained warm not boiling hot. It felt so nice being in the pool. We all stayed in for well over 40 minutes until our skin began wrinkling. Young Miguel was asked a couple times what the plans ahead were and I absolutely loved the repeated response he gave with a bright smile: “I know nothing. Just this moment right now. Enjoy this moment because it is all that matters right now.” And that we did — leaning back against the rocky wall and allowing the warm water to soothe our muscles.

After we got back to our campsite, we had around an hour before dinner and mingled for awhile at the table. While waiting, I saw one of the cooks wearing a NY Yankees hat and absolutely had to get a picture for my friend Lance who I knew would get a kick of out it:

 

I figured there was no way the cooks were going to top the feast we had at lunch… but I was wrong. We were in for another feast, this one even better than the last. Some macaroni-style noodles, a baked chicken, chinese-style chicken, fried rice, and pizza. Yum!

Afterwards we got a quick briefing on the hike to Aguas Calientes (the town just below Machu Picchu) and went to sleep.

On to Day 4 here: On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 4



On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 2

Note: If you’re just interested in a particular day of the hike or only Machu Picchu, jump to that specific day here: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5 – Machu Picchu

Being on the steppes of the snowy mountain, the night was very frigid. Even under layers of clothes, bundled tightly in a sleeping bag, zipped up in a tent, and surrounded by wind breakers, the cold of night seeped in keeping many of us from a good night’s rest. There was little time to complain as at 6am sharp the cooks and porters came rapping by all our tents, “Amigos! Senoritas! Coca tea! Coca tea!”, sliding our outer zipper open and pouring us some tea. In the freezing tent, gripping the piping hot tea, we all slowly got everything packed up, huddled around the table with arms crossed, extra layers on, and lightly shivering until breakfast was ready. The toll of the previous day and cold night was evident after breakfast as many people showed signs of agitation. It started when Young Miguel began weighing all our bags because we were allowed to have a mule carry up to 5 kilos of our bag if we wanted and were told this during our first briefing prior to the trek. It wasn’t an issue for Nathan, Keiko or I, but he started to notice as he went from bag to bag that most of the group had bags that were 9-12 kilos. Trying to be an arbitrator, Old Miguel came by and calmly told those of us with heavier bags that it could be possible to split one extra mule at 100 soles and carry all the extra weight. This didn’t seem to go down well, and while the rest of us went outside to get some of the fresh, bitter cold air, they remained inside trying to work something out. I never did find out what happened, but I wasn’t about to be perturbed by the smallest of things now, even as I was freezing without any gloves and continually looking to the east waiting for the sun to creep up over the mountain and provide some much needed warmth.

 

After all the issues were worked out with the bags, we split off into two groups: those who had wanted to ride a mule for the first half of the morning and those were going to walk up the 4600m high mountain which would be the highest point of our trek. There were those who considered this as a handicap, but I look at it as a full experience — how often are you going to get a chance to ride a mule up a South American mountain? So I hoisted myself up on the mule and grabbed the reins as we continued forward on the path in the direction of the snowy mountain.

It was everything I could do to keep my fingers warm at the time. I regretted not picking up any gloves in Cuzco before the trek as my fingers literally started to feel numb. I kept them wrapped in my sleeves, but what I really needed was the sun to rise and shine down on us. It took longer this morning for us to get in the sunlight because we now had high mountain ranges to the east and west of us. It wasn’t for another hour or 2 before we finally reached a clearing where the sun was brightly coming down and many groups had stopped to enjoy the warmth before continuing straight up the mountain in front of us where the sun hadn’t gotten to yet. Here are some shots of that clearing:

 

After a few minutes of rest and a short story from Young Miguel about how the Incas used this path, we continued up the mountain in front of us, known as Abra Salkantay. It was quite a sight at the top, you could see far in to the distance on either side and were literally feet away from this snow covered mountain. We were told the snow is typically present year-round because it rarely gets sunlight throughout the year. We stopped here for about 30 minutes while we caught our breaths and took some pictures before heading down the other side of the mountain to our lunch site.

This other side of the mountain was much easier, albeit slightly rocky as we walked down it. It was likely around a couple hours before Young Miguel staked out an open area to rest while waiting for others who were coming along slowly behind. The path was beautiful with brush-land and large natural rocks throughout, reminding me of the sceneries from American western movies.

Our lunch spot was 45 minutes from here in a large clearing next to a fresh water lake. It was a peaceful spot where the cooks laid out a large blanket for a big picnic, waiting as everyone slowly arrived at their own pace.

For the last 3-4 hours of the day, the path down was very steep and very rocky. In fact, some parts seemed like walking over a broken rock quarry. It was in this part where Nathan struck his foot on the sharp edge of a rock, slicing part of it open. He would only see the damage at the campsite. The image below gives the best example of some of the rocky paths we were walking on for a few hours:

We got to the campsite which was half living area for a family and half campground. It was from here we could see the tropical jungle ahead, and being at a much lower altitude, it was slightly warmer as well. We gathered our things in our tents, Nathan wrapped his injured foot, and some of the group showered under the ice cold water available. Dinner was short and sweet because we had to get up bright and early for the long hike the next morning through the jungle.

 

Continue on to Day 3 here:  On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 3



On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 1

Note: If you’re just interested in a particular day of the hike or only Machu Picchu, jump to that specific day here: Day 1, Day 2Day 3, Day 4, Day 5 – Machu Picchu

It was 4am. My alarm didn’t go off because I made the classic mistake of setting it to PM instead of AM. We were woken by banging on the door and voices telling us the bus was waiting outside to take us for our trek. It was a good thing we had showered the night before, because we had to quickly scramble out of bed and quickly scuttle down the stairs in blackness of the halls to the door outside which was chillingly cold. Our guide Miguel was there motioning us towards the corner where the bus was stopped and other tired faces from inside were looking out at us. We gave our bags to load in, plopped down on our seats and immediately fell asleep as the bus went on to pick up the other travelers and head to the first town.

Still feeling a little groggy from being woken up so early and restlessly vying for more hours on the bus ride, we emptied out of the bus in the plaza de armas of the small town. The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon as we stopped into a restaurant on the corner for breakfast. It was the first meal and opportunity to meet with all the other travelers who had signed up for the same trek we had. We gathered around a long rectangular table while the guides, cooks, and porters surrounded a square one of their own behind us. For ease, I will henceforth on these posts refer to everyone I met based on their country of origin — referenced in the parenthesis by their introductions. To my left for instance was a man from France (the Frenchman) and across from me was a doctor from Germany (the German doctor) with his girlfriend from Argentina (the Argentinian). After ordering some omelets, toasts, and tea we exchanged stories about our lives, reasons for traveling to Peru and deciding to trek out to Machu Picchu. The German doctor mentioned he had spent 2 months in Equador working at a hospital in hopes of grasping Spanish better before meeting his girlfriend here in Peru for this trek. The frenchman was accompanied by his friend (the Frenchwoman) and they were using travel time from their jobs in France to travel this region of South America.

 

After breakfast, we gathered in a small circle outside and the other guide of our trek introduced himself to us as Miguel. Yes, that’s right, we had two Miguels guiding us so we distinguished between them by referring to one as Young Miguel and the other as Old Miguel. Young Miguel was 19 and had been leading groups on treks for two years now while Old Miguel had been doing this for over a decade and was an engineer in his past life. Young Miguel had us all introduce ourselves before he explained the basics of the trek and the importance of bonding with each-other as we would have to be living together for the next 5 days. This was going to be a collective journey for everyone, sharing in everything encountered and experienced. With that, we set off down the dirt trail to our left as the sun was rising higher above us providing enough heat for us to start taking off the extra layers we had on during the bitter cold early morning. (In Peru, because it’s winter this time of year, the nights would be very cold — around 40s to 50s, but during the day, it could get up into the 80s and 90s and feel hot. We were told in the Summer it can actually be almost unbearably hot when the sun comes out). There were unbelievable, picturesque rolling hills lined with farms and a large backdrop of mountain ranges behind in the distance. Some views from the path:

After 30-40 minutes of walking we took our first break as we allowed a few mules to pass that were transporting goods between towns. While taking in the stunning view, we took this opportunity to drop our unneeded layers from the morning, apply sun-screen and bug spray and continue on.

After another hour or so we began to get a taste of how challenging this trek was going to be. We had what Young Miguel would call “shortcuts” along the path — essentially steep inclines through trees that would avoid having to go around a corner on the path (typically saving around 10-20 minutes per incline). These were exhausting, and for many of us if we hadn’t started breathing heavily or finding shortness of breathe earlier, we were now. After a few of these we took a small respite at the top of a large mound that was marked Cruz Pata. There was a small little shack that was selling water, gatorade, and other snacks for passerby’s of the trail.

The rest of path to where we would end up having lunch was about 2-3 hours out. Young Miguel pointed to some tall trees in the far off distance where there was a faint appearance of smoke rising from where the cooks were preparing our meal. We trudged along the path which was mostly the dirt road along the mountain. We encountered a few cows, bulls, and mules along the way which were going to be very common throughout the trek.

At last we arrived at our lunch spot where the cooks were waiting for us with some kind of strawberry punch which they poured as we took a seat around the two tables set up. The tables were covered in a hand-made peruvian tablecloth with utensils, sugar, pepper, salt, and a bowl of garlic bread in the middle. Sitting across from me this time was a professor from Ecuador (the Ecuadorian) and three of his friends (the Ecuadorian friends). After a 4-5 hour walk in the morning, nothing tasted better than fresh garlic bread at that moment. We’d soon find out these were not going to be simple meals, as a first course of soup was brought out. It was a creamy broth, and traditionally spiced with peruvian flavors. It absolutely whet our appetite for what came out next. It was a plate full of carbs — rice, fries, and a small fried chicken. I could have eaten anything at that point with my stomach grumbling and I savored every last bite until they brought out some Coca tea to help us digest everything (and I guess give us energy for the next 6 hours ahead of us?). After the meal, I couldn’t help but lie down on the small hill next to our tables and take a short nap. Young Miguel noticed at least 4-5 of us having the same idea and told us we had about 20 minutes before we had to start heading out so we could make it to our campsite before it got too dark.

 

After a short-lived nap, we all got up and began heading down the path again on our way to our first campsite. It was a stunning view ahead now as we could see a snow-covered mountain in the distance. Young Miguel informed us that near the base of that mountain was close to where we would be camping for the night.

 

Finally, after about 5 hours of walking, the sun was beginning to creep below the mountains as cold, crisp air came out on every breathe we took. Some of us began adding on layers again that we had from the morning for the final path to our campsite. It was just beyond a sign that marked the current elevation and distance to many places including Machu Picchu. This site was known as the steppes of the mountain — a cold, shrubbery filled grassland with few trees right near the edge of the snowcapped mountain.

The turquoise windbreakers marked our campsite where numerous tents were pitched and lined inside. Old Miguel guided us to our individual tents and had us relax while a small snack was being prepared. Of course, by small snack he meant 2 plates full of popcorn, 2 plates of crackers, some chocolate milk, and coca tea for everyone to share. We all gathered around and indulged in the enormous amount of snacks in front of us.

After mingling for awhile, Young Miguel said we had about 45 minutes until dinner and he had an interesting game for us to play, but to play, we had to help clean the table. We all chuckled, thinking this was the game but after the table was cleared, he had us all cross our hands over each-other. This wasn’t like some kumbaya sort of thing, although to an outside observer it would have looked like it with our hands together and candles lit in front of us (it’s too bad I didn’t get any pictures!).

He explained a simple group game that basically involved either tapping the table with your fist, palm, or double-tapping. Tapping your palm simply moved the actions down to your right where the next person would tap the table and so forth. Tapping your fist would skip the person to your right and double-tapping would reverse directions so the person to the left of you would need to tap. Using these three simple rules, the game was simply to keep the chain of taps going around like a wave and not messing it up. It seems silly, but after a few practice rounds, we were tapping with fluidity all around the table: reversing, skipping and trying to mess each other up!

More important than the game itself though, was that I noticed the same phenomenon Chris Vieville had demonstrated during a TedxFoco talk(video should hopefully be posted soon and I’ll link to it here) I had attended recently back in Fort Collins. Chris had the entire audience hold hands and engage in a massive thumb-war on each hand. After the game, simply having played something with others and having done so with the addition of touch had the effect of making you feel more comfortable with everyone around you. This is how it felt after we played this tapping game and you could feel the positive energy from everyone afterwards — feeling closer together, happier, and engaging in livelier conversations.

Dinner concluded and Young Miguel gave a short briefing on the next day. He said to be ready by 6:30am sharp for breakfast so we could start by 7. “Time is time though”, he said in reference to the often used expression in Peru known as “Peruvian Time”. Peruvian time is a humorous take on the lack of promptness of anything in Peru. Busses will never be on schedule, taxis will be overly optimistic, and typically times for events are general estimates in Peru — hence any schedule is subject to Peruvian Time or expected delays. With that, we were off to our tents for the night to conclude the first day of our trek.

 

Check out the second day here: On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 2