The Gift of Machu Picchu
by Sarah Calvert January 24, 2016
What I love most about working for Wild Women (besides the amazing food that we have on EVERY trip) is I get to be a part of helping to create life-long (often life-changing) memories and experiences for women. It’s pretty cool to be a part of a group of women, mostly comprised of women who don’t know each other, who are thrown together for a week, sharing tents, hotel rooms, and most importantly stories about ourselves. I feel like after only a week of sharing time and space, some of these women have become actual friends; people I stay in touch with and genuinely care about. Such a gift.
To start our Wild Women adventure to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, my sister guide Disnarda and I (now “sisters from other misters”) met the group at the office in Cusco to do our orientation and get to know our guests. To say that the gals were excited is an understatement; sometimes I forget just how enamored I first was with Peru when I made my first trip here 7 years ago. It is pure magic.
The girls had arrived at least a couple of days before the trip, so they’d had the chance to cruise around Cusco and get acclimatized. The next morning we did our tour in Ollatantambo and visited the ruins and of course the Choco Museum; I stocked up on the organic dark chocolate mixed with Maras local salt. The afternoon took us to Pisac where we had a delish buffet, passion fruit drink, and leisurely two-hour lunch in the garden of Dona Clorinda’s. In a food coma, we headed up to the Pisac ruins to cruise around one of the most famous sites in the valley.
In the morning, we had our bags weighed, stored our other luggage and headed up the valley past Ollatantambo to Piscacucho at Kilometer 82 to begin our walk. Now, when I say “walk”, I really mean trek: it is a serious trek indeed. It’s not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for those who simply want to leisurely stroll in the mountains.
How many times in life do we push ourselves to stick with our plan, even if that plan won’t really serve us? I know I’ve been there before. Again, lessons to be learned from our wise Wild Women all the time. So, at the end of Day 1 (Acclimatization day), we had a fantastic dinner, toasted the fact we’d gone 11.4 km in one day, then gazed at the Southern Cross, before hitting the hay. The hay we hit, was the land of an Andean family, on their terraces. The food we ate for dinner came from their land.
Day 2 of the trip is the most challenging; a lot of steep ups and downs, and the culmination at Warmiwausqa Pass at 4200m, otherwise known as, “Dead Woman’s Pass”. It’s called this because the formation of rock looks like a woman lying down on her back, not because anyone has actually died there, although some of the women felt like they might! Paula and I pushed forward a little ahead of the group to get to the pass first, only because there was the promise of chocolate at the top of the pass: a serious motivator. During the hike, we played leapfrog with a really cool family from Washington State, and cheered each other on.
They gave us a rousing hoorah greeting when we reached the top, and also some extra chocolate. We hung out munching chocolate covered espresso beans and cheered as Rachel and Stacy reached the summit; mouths full, and slightly delirious with sugar and altitude. We tried to take a pic of Rachel, who, slightly delirious with exhaustion, told us in no uncertain terms, “It’s really not necessary”. That became one of the token phrases for the rest of the trip.
At the end of the second day, you really realize what luxury is: arriving back to the campsite to find our tents fully assembled, our belongings inside the tent, and then provided with a basin of warm water to wash up. After we sorted our tents, we had time to do a stretch and meditation before our snack of Andean popcorn, tea and hot chocolate. This is definitely not what I’m used to; I (like most of us Wild Women campers) usually schlep everything around myself, set up all my own stuff, and then cook my own food. To be taken care of in every way: from people carrying our bags, creating culinary masterpieces, setting up and tearing down our tents, truly was a gift.
Day 3 felt like a walk in the park after the previous day, and we meandered through the lush cloud forest, seeing hawks swoop and dance in the air, and checked out all of the orchids and various plants. We climbed to reach our second pass at 3975m, and before lunch, checked out the ridge top ruins of Sayaqmarka. Throughout the trip, Disnarda had been referring to the ruins as “archeological sites”; but Paula thought she was saying “geological sites” and wondered why the translation was a bit off. Yet another joke for the remainder of the trip.
By late afternoon, we got to our last campsite (my fave by the way) of Phuyopatamarka, which means “City above the Clouds”. We checked out our messages from the Goddess Cards (yes, that’s what you get when you have a hippie yoga teacher co-guiding the trips), the Full Moon before heading to bed. Interestingly, the cards that everyone chose each night were relevant in everybody’s lives. I’ve been using the cards for a while, and feel like the magic of the Inca Trail, the mystery and mysticism that goes along with the place, guided us in choosing our cards.
The next morning we awoke at 5 to begin the day with our ritual morning cup of tea brought to the tent (there’s that luxury again!), and an amazing breakfast of French Toast with real maple syrup, organic coffee from the jungle, served with more maple syrup, and then some more maple syrup to wash it all down. Heaven. After breakfast we had our ceremony with the porters and the cook to present them with our gratitude of tips and gifts. As usual, this was one of the most touching parts of the trip. We met all the porters, found out how old they were, which village they lived in, how many kids they had, and for some how many grandkids they had.
It was unbelievable that these guys could run up and down the mountains in their 50s, as if they were in their 20s. We said goodbye to most of the porters and began our walk towards Machu Picchu; we wanted to arrive at the Sun Gate in good time before the sun went down. We reached our last lunch spot just before noon, visited the ruins of Winya Wayna (or “Forever Young” in English), then continued on our way through the “Eyebrow of the Jungle” towards Machu Picchu.
The weather was perfecto; we were in the sun early morning when it was cold, and in the afternoon shade when the sun got hot. Our climb up the “Gringo Killer” was a piece of cake after Day 2, and Rachel even let me take her picture. Arriving at Machu Picchu while the sun was still out was such a blessing so we took advantage of the light, snapped some shots, then headed down to the Sacred Rock to do a meditation.
It was pretty powerful to be with a group of strong women, chanting at a sacred space for world healing. Gandhi said it would be the women of the West to change the world, and I believe him.
Then next morning we all headed back up to Machu Picchu for our tour with Disnarda. Looking at how they built everything with such immaculate detail to the stars, cosmos, position of the sun, and how they moved those damn rocks was incredible. It made it a bit easier for me to not get overwhelmed when I think about building my yurt on my property in Nelson BC next year. Those guys moved huge rocks and carved them, and I’m essentially putting up a warm tent: puts it into perspective.
After the tour, we went our separate ways, some to town to browse, some stayed to explore, and I did some yoga on the terraces, then perfected my “Canada’s Got Talent” pitch called, “Andean Mountain High”, starring Paula as a backup singer, and Disnarda as our director. A fond farewell serenade to all the women on the trip who made each and every trip unique and special.
We arrived back in Cusco late that night and stayed at the Casa Andina in warm beds and bathrooms with bathtubs: heaven after camping! The next morning we met and had our bracelet exchange and sent each other off with warm wishes for one another.
I’d learned so much from so many of these women, who came from all over North America, and from all walks of life. What really stood out, was their fearlessness, even in the face of fear, if that makes sense. Several women were afraid of heights, yet they scaled mountain faces at over 4000 metres: incredible! Most women had told me that they decided to go on the trip because it had always been a dream, and they didn’t know what the future held. They expressed a huge “Seize the Day” or “Carpe Diem” feeling when they booked their trips.
Thank you Pachamama (Mother Earth) for the abundance of nutritious food, water, clean air to breathe. Thank you Machu Picchu for your lessons along the journey. Thank you Wild Women for encouraging and inspiring me to follow my dreams. You are all teachers, healers, creators, seekers, adventurers, and most of all: WILD!