Climb to Machu Picchu

The walk in the wee hours of darkness to the base of a mountain with my best friend was amazing!! We had vouchers for the hike up to Machu Picchu and were patiently waiting in line with our passports to cross the bridge. Upon arriving to the line there were several people waiting, which we did not expect. We should’ve assumed there be this many people since it’s such a popular spot in the world but we had no idea it would be like Disneyland. It was unreal. How many people were there at 4 AM getting ready to hike up several steps to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

The bridge over the river from Aguascalientes on the trail to Machu Picchu was very wide to appease the mini travelers, I am assuming. It was modern and well-built, and the signs at the end of the bridge to get up to Machu Picchu were very self-explanatory, which we appreciated. It was super dark so we decided we would take pictures of those signs on the way down, so they’ll be in a later blog. In this blog, I’ll talk to you about how dark it was, the need for headlamps, the mist coming over the mountains, and just the constant laughter of Chris and I while we hiked up trying to stay out of people‘s way who were hiking at a much faster pace.

Karen Hilliard Art | Tiny Painting | 4x6 | Watercolor | Original Art | Inca Trail Series

The hike was super dark, and Chris and I were very fortunate that we brought our headlamps with us, as we did forget our tent poles. We packed everything for this trip, including our tent, then we forgot to bring the polls and we’re thankful to stay at all the youth hostels along the way. Luckily, however, we did have our headlamps, which we didn’t need for hiking up to Machu Picchu. As we hiked, we thought about our tour guide and how he had gone up on this hike several times. We wondered if this was why he decided to meet us at the top by taking the bus because his “knees weren’t what they used to be.” We were trying to ponder how many times he climbed these steps to Machu Picchu because we were only on a ten day tour with him and there are 365 days a year. We were also his last tour because of his age so he had to have done this trail many, many times. As we got higher and higher, the sun started to come out, and we were able to see the mist over the mountains, but the mountain still was a shadow like silhouette, black. It was surreal, beautiful, just an amazing experience all around for both Chris and I.

I think my favorite part about the hike was the constant image of seeing llamas when we got to the top. I really wanted to get pictures of llamas and just sit on the grassy knoll of Machu Picchu painting the ruins, while being around llamas. I was really hopeful that this would happen. Chris and I were crawling up the steps and felt like they were so high, almost up to our knees. We had to high-step, and he is six foot four and I am six foot one so us high-stepping is saying something. He was excited to see a part of the ruins where the steps were on the side of a cliff. They are known to just be rocks coming out of the rock and it is a very deadly trail on Wayna Picchu. We did not know this at the time and did not go all the way up to the top. I guess we are going to have to go back someday soon. For now, I will write more about Machu Picchu next week!

Have a happy weekend and stay safe…be careful if you do the “Stairs of Death.”

-Karen Hilliard

Aguas Calientes…The Ice Shower

At the base of Machu Picchu, high in the mountains of Peru, there is a city named for it’s hot waters. The river flows through this beautiful place and hot springs abound. This being said, let me explain about the ice shower experience we all had. When Papi gave us the room assignments he gifted everyone rooms with two people a room. We got a place all to ourselves the whole trip because he called us the honeymooners. He was a super sweet and informative guide on his last tour, for those of you new to my blogs. You can read more about him in previous blogs such as, “Delicious Fruit,” “The Inca Trail Begins,” or “Biking Down the Andes.” He is in all of my previous Peru blogs. Back to the showers that will send chills down your spine. 

Chris and I arrived exhausted with tired everything!! All of our limbs ached and when we met Papi he mentioned dinner in an hour. We got the keys to our room and I immediately sat on the floor to stretch. I wanted to take the first shower since all the other places Chris had, because I always needed to stretch first, and when he did, the water was warm for him and cold for me. This time everything was different. He came out of the shower, not long, and I asked how the water was. He said, “my nipples are so hard they can cut glass!” I was not looking forward to my shower, let me tell you…and it was as if ice was coming out of a machine and freezing every part of my body. My hair even felt crispy like it had a frost…no, it didn’t…but in my imagination…it did. We just thought maybe the hotel was older and the pipes had cold water? We were unsure. Our room was in a different wing than the others so we finished up and got dressed, then headed to the hotel lobby to meet up with everyone.

As we sat down, three more travelers were shaking their heads. One person from our group asked us, “did you have hot water?” We replied no and they said, “man, did you feel that water? It was like ice!!” Yes sir, we felt it, and it was! Other people from other groups were all talking about it as well. I asked Chris if I should title this one, “The Ice Shower,” I should type it in under “Aguas Calientes.” Anyways, we all headed to dinner and walked the lovely streets of the city. Colors surrounded us with the rainbow flag. Aguas Calientes is in the Cusco Region and the flag represents the Inca culture and the pride of the people of Cusco. Along with the rainbows and colorful shops, we spied many weary travelers. All of us were chuckling in our heads that they would soon be more awake after taking a shower!!

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful Wednesday! On Friday we head to Machu Picchu…stay tuned! 

Here are the paintings in this Inca Trail Series so far…Number 1 is from Blog, “Trekking to Santa Teresa”. Number 2, is a work in progress. Number 3 is from Blog “Delicious Fruit.” Number 4 is from Blog “Hot Springs.”

-Karen Hilliard

Still Walking…Arrived!

The walk to the city of Aguas Calientes was a long one. A cool breeze and shade from the trees made the temperature bearable. Chris and I had long sleeve shirts and pants on to keep the bugs at bay. I wanted to tell you about the collage photos in my last blog, “The Walk to Aguas Calientes.” The photos show Chris walking on railroad tracks, which we both did to pass the time. He made up a game of how long we could stay on the tracks hopping from one section to the next. The rails were super slippery and I did not last long but we think he made it to 40 in a row. We had to jump off when a train was coming of course, so this hindered the game a bit, or made it more exciting. We did this for a long time so several of the miles. I love that we always invent new games to play depending on our surroundings and try to fully immerse ourselves in every situation we find ourselves in.

Train.Peru Series Number 3

It was fun watching for trains because our injured friend had to take the train into the city instead of walking the last 19 miles. She had hurt her leg and could not make the journey until it started to heal per the doctor’s orders. Stitches are nothing to mess with especially on a trip in another country. As we walked and had to hop off the rails, we would wave and wonder if she was in the train. After several hours passed we actually saw her in one of the train cars and waved. She did not see us but we saw her and were super excited!! I had taken a picture of this exact train as it was coming and then she was on it! What are those odds, we thought? So when I got home, back to the States, I did a little watercolor of the painting to always remember the moment. I later created a watercolor of that same picture for the world to enjoy and I hope it brings much enjoyment. Trains are a wonderful form of transportation and bring to mind so many happy memories for me of the winter season. I often drift off to think about the Polar Express or the Hogwarts Express. It was cute watching Chris wave and hearing, “Do you think she saw us?”

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

Another thing Chris did that was super sweet was to carry my wet clothes. He tied them to his backpack so they could dry in the sun. He said he would be my clothesline. So sweet! I had taken a shower before we left for ziplining and put my clothes in a plastic bag to dry them later. My sarong acted as my towel for everything this trip. I always carry a sarong after a trip taken in Barcelona, Spain with my cousin before I met Chris. Maybe I will blog about that one sometime as it was just as interesting. Back to the moment of wet clothes…Basically, he got several looks and heads were shaken, to all of this he just smiled and carried on. He is full of wonder and great ideas. My clothes dried by the time we reached Aguas Calientes which was good because it was getting dark. We arrived at dinner time and met up with Papi for room assignments. I will share more about this on Wednesday and the ice shower. 

Happy Monday and have a great start to your week. Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

The Inca Trail Begins

Lunch was amazing and each dish had flavors abound just by incorporating different vegetables. We were fascinated that no spices were used, just the natural palette of a garden variety. As we ate our meal, we were told about the hike to the hostel in the mountains for our overnight stay. This hostel was such a lovely experience. We had our own room and a community shower beneath us. We slept high in the mountain range and woke up staring at the most amazing view of the clouds rolling over the mountain. The people at this Eco Hostel were super friendly and had us help make dinner. I got to peel the potatoes while the guinea pigs ran around my feet collecting scraps. Such pleasant sounds were coming out of these tiny creatures while we were making supper. They are also wonderful little garbage disposals. Luckily, there was no guinea pigs on their menu even though it is a delicacy in Peru.

Chris and I were served llama so I scraped mine on to his plate while no one was looking. I made sure to do this in segments so it looked like I was eating it. Did not want to be rude. These people walked all this food up the mountain to their hostel just to feed us. The garden items were grown on site. They also made us fresh coffee in the morning from beans they roasted and ground themselves. It was delicious. While we had our morning coffee, our tour guide wanted to decorate our faces with pollen from a local flower. He said it also would deter any biting bugs. I would have been the first in the chair if I had heard him first. Bugs bite me all the time and I did not want any mosquito bites in South America while hiking through the rainforest. I put pictures of my and Chris’s “face paint” here in the blog. After we both got these drawn on us, we were shown some lovely handmade jewelry.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

The owners brought out their handmade items on boards and explained they made these to help them be able to afford food for their guests. We bought two friendship bracelets and two necklaces we wore the entire trip. Peru happened in the summer of 2017 and I just wiggled my bracelet off in April of 2023. This bracelet still had not fallen off even when my dog ate one of the connecting strings. I did not bring my wedding ring so this bracelet symbolized my and Chris’s bond for me. I am so glad I let the woman tie the bracelet on because I did not want it to fall off, and it never did! After we purchased these very sentimental items, it was time to depart. We reluctantly left the slice of heaven, high in the sky on the Inca Trail, to walk on to Machu Picchu with the understanding there would be more cities and stops on the way.

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

-Karen Hilliard