A Return to South America (& Machu Picchu)

It’s been a strange couple of weeks, in the best way possible.

Back in South America, back to traveling, speaking Spanish – all in, more than a little change. But then these are just a few of the reasons I wanted to be back on the road again.

I landed in Lima and Phil had come to meet me at the airport. It made my life so easy as his now fluent Spanish just took control of organising a taxi and getting back to his new apartment meaning I had precious little to do except catch up with him on the past 4 years.

Yep, a full 4 years. (We’d seen each other briefly for an hour or two over Christmas 2013 but it would hardly be described as quality time).

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Having landed on the Friday, we spent the weekend together. The first thing Phil needed was a player for his football team’s match on Saturday night and I was more than happy to fill the void.

We spent the rest of the weekend together – I got the chance to meet Phil’s girlfriend Mayi for lunch (who, not only being absolutely lovely, was also the perfect person to practice my very average Spanish with) and she then invited us to a dinner party with some of her friends.

The dinner party was fantastic – the people, the food, the chat. Although to say I was out of my depth with some of the conversation that was happening around me would be an understatement.

Regardless, it was a great way to spend an evening in the company of a bunch of really nice locals.

Phil returned to work on Monday and I caught up on some work. I also decided to return to Machu Picchu which meant booking a flight to Cusco for a few days.

I’ve left Peru pretty unplanned, unsure whether I’d want to do the Machu Picchu trip again. As it turned out, the call from one of the most beautiful cities on the planet was too much for me.

I landed in Cusco and headed to my hostel. One of Phil’s mates from football works for the hostel chain so he’d organised a bed and booked me onto a jungle trek leaving the next day.

(Not how I usually travel but I hadn’t needed to do much myself so far).

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I attended the trip briefing that evening. We’d be downhill cycling and rafting on day one, trekking on day two, zip lining and more trekking on day three and day four was when we’d rise early to climb to Machu Picchu.

I also met the group I’d be traveling with and they all seemed pretty chilled out.

The first day was an early start and we drove to the highest point of our trip to begin the cycling – the only thing I was mildly concerned about was altitude sickness but, aside from being out of breath from the slightest exertion, I was otherwise fine.

The cycling, all downhill, was pure enjoyment in stunning scenery. There were 15 streams to cross, all of which I somehow managed to cross successfully – others in the group weren’t so lucky however.

I was behind all 3 of the people that came off their bikes at different points and I’d say they’d be pretty thankful of the full body armour we’d been made to put on.

After lunch we all opted to go white water rafting – there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity to head down a river in an inflatable in this scenery.

It was a pretty rough ride but amazingly good fun and an afternoon well spent.

The trekking on day two was through the low jungle. Our guide Alex is of Incan descent and is super passionate about the land, the fruits, the traditions, the people.

He talked us through the whole hike, and explained how the Incas used to live and thrive in the area. The trek ended at a hot springs which was exactly what my legs needed after a couple of days of punishment.

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We also met a new group of people that joined our trip – Tom, Laurence, Zac & Linda – who all turned out to be great additions to the journey.

Day three’s zip lining was pretty much what it says on the tin, only the scenery is absolutely spectacular. Wires stretched across the Urubamba river in the midst of the Peruvian Andes – zip lining I doubt I’ll top again.

We then hiked to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu’s base town) along a train line in exactly the same fashion as me, Phil and Jimmy had done 4 years earlier – glimpsing Machu Picchu way above us on occasion.

There was more nostalgia awaiting me at Aguas Calientes as the tour had booked us into the exact same hostel that I’d stayed in a few years before, purely by chance.

It was an early night as we had to leave the hostel by 4:15am to make it to the gates which opened at 5am.

The ‘gates’ being at the bottom of the mountain, the very bottom. 1,720 steps lay ahead of us.

We climbed the steps in the dark, covered in sweat, stopping occasionally for a breather.

It took us the best part of 45 minutes, just climbing steps.

I changed t-shirt at the top in front of all the people that had taken the bus to the top. While I climbed to the top for the sense of achievement, I would have given my right arm to be as fresh as those people looked having just stepped off what seemed to be air-conditioned heaven.

Either way, we were all there for the same purpose and it wasn’t long before we got our first glimpse.

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Machu Picchu is stunning and the fact that we had a guide this time around made the experience quite different.

Understanding the true importance and significance of specific structures and ideas was cool to learn.

Naturally we spent a large part of the day at the top – taking photos and exploring.

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We realised that because we’d got up so early, it hadn’t even passed midday by the time we decided to head back down to Aguas Calientes yet we’d been at the summit for hours.

The guys that had joined the trip made it incredibly enjoyable and our guide, Alex, was well worthy of his title.

The others left early in the afternoon while I waited for the night train to take me back to Cusco where I had another day to explore the city.

All in all, a highly successful trip and a pretty amazing way to kick off what is set to be a great trip.

Bonus: Tom, one of the guys I met on the trip creates amazing videos of his travels. Luckily for me, he made one of our jungle trek to Machu Picchu which is pretty incredible – take a look below.