By Mikey Beats
San Diego DJ Mikey Beats, and his nurse wife Jenny, decided to take a vacation to Machu Picchu, Peru. For the next few days San Diego Free Press will publish their daily adventures. Read parts I & II, part III, parts IV & IV.5, part V and part VI.
Saturday 6/8/13 Day 7
My alarm went off at 4:30am. We had to pack our bags before we left while getting ready for a monstrous day of hiking. We planned on hiking to The Sun Gate, which was on the far northeastern side of Mach Picchu, and then trek across the whole city to Huayna Pichu.
We got to the restaurant at 5:35am for breakfast and right at 5:40am, the first of many busses started to drop people off. We jumped in line at 5:50am and were off to the races again by 6:00am. We immediately ditched the rest of the pack as we took a left, opposite the ruins and began our ascent to The Sun Gate.
The paths at Machu Picchu are made of busted up granite rocks each varying in length and width. I called it cobblestone for a lack of a better word but cobblestone gives the impression of small pebbles. This particular path had a consistent grade heading towards The Sun Gate and often there were steps involved. The steps were never more than five in a row, so the incline was steady, but not steps all the way to the top.
A Canadian passed by us who was what I called a “wakier” which was a person walking with two poles, like ski poles. These people tended to be the people who were on the Inca trail. I was surprised to see someone walking the opposite direction when Jenny reminded me that The Sun Gate was the entrance for the people hiking from Cuzco.
As we got closer to the top, more and more people passed us and once we got to The Sun Gate, it was like a United Nations meeting and it smelled like a European hostel after a World Cup game. There were about 40 people hanging out, all taking pictures and discussing their trek from Cuzco. None had showered in days.
Jenny and I walked to the top, did a jumping jack and made our way back down towards Machu Picchu. It took us 35 minutes to get from the entrance of Machu Picchu to The Sun Gate and then 25 minutes to get down to the Guard House.
It was 7:00am and that was the time we were supposed to line up to hike up Huayna Picchu, but our guide the day before told us we could get there at 8:00am, so we took our time getting over there.
Machu Picchu filled in with tourists very quickly and just having been open for one hour, there were at least 1,000 people there and more coming. At Huayna Picchu, they only allowed 400 people up and down per day, 200 at 7:00am and 200 at 11:00am.
Jenny and I were still soaking wet with sweat from the trek up to The Sun Gate and getting through the ruins was no cakewalk. We were constantly going up steps and down steps, dodging tourists and their guides weaving in and out of rooms, doors and chambers.
We turned one corner and Jenny noticed our guide Edgar, was giving a tour to a much larger group than our group of three the day before. I didn’t think he’d recognize us, but in the middle of his tour he stopped, waived us over and asked if we were going to hike up Huayna Picchu. We said yes and he asked if we had a coca leaf, we said no and he dug into his satchel and pulled out a big handful of leaves. We were super stoked and handed him high fives. We threw a few leaves in our mouths and went on our way.
The coca leaf isn’t a crazy high like one would think but there is definitely a buzz. I would describe it as a matte tea buzz mixed with a little clarity of the mind and body. It also gives a jolt to the stomach if it was empty and ours were running a little low. Never the less, it was a great gesture from Edgar and more than welcomed for our journey ahead.
Once we got to Huayna Picchu’s entrance gate, we sat back for a quick rest and our muscles immediately began to get tight from the cold air and wet clothing. I laid back and closed my eyes as we sat in a resting area that the Inca built specifically for that.
There were two three walled huts with the open wall facing each other covered by what looked like straw but was long skinny tree leaves for the roof. The guide had told us the day before that the granite in the walls had special minerals in them that gave energy to touch. He also said the Inca would rest there before their trek up Huayna Picchu so I followed their lead. Jenny jumped in line and I remained in the huts with my eyes closed and sucking on the coca leaves for another much needed 5 minutes of rest.
We stood in line for a while and finally got in at about 9:00am. We met a newlywed couple from New York named Adam and Maria who were on their honeymoon. We went through the entrance at the same time and were at the same pace, so we just fell in line with them most of the way up and all the way down Huayna Picchu.
I wasn’t in the best shape of my life, but I was driven and determined to get to my goal at the top of the goliath monolith. We were surprised that at first we had to walk down quite a few steps making the already huge rock seem even bigger. Once we got to the base of it, we got our first taste of what the next 50 minutes was going to be like: steps for as far as the eye could see, zig zagging all the way up to the top. It was about 10 minutes into the hike when steel cables drilled into the rock started showing up on the trail to aid in going up. Also at that time my thighs began to ache. By 20 minutes into it, I felt like my patella tendon was going to pop out my kneecap and by 25 minutes into it I questioned my stamina and endurance. Some steps were so small that you had to be careful to get your full footing to safely get to the next step and some were so big that they took almost a full stride to get up.
Jenny and I were huffing and puffing while Adam and Maria fell back a little. Then we came to an opening and saw Machu Picchu from a new angle. We were once again energized to press on and reach the top. 35 minutes into the trek we got our first eyeful of the ruins at the top and then we walked onto a run of steps about 80 yards almost straight to the top. At that point, I was almost at the breaking point of physical exhaustion, but I pushed on at a slow pace.
We reached the top of the steps and got onto the first terrace that jutted out towards Machu Picchu. You could see the path we had hiked all the way east to the Sun Gate down through the ruins and to the base of Huayna Picchu. We couldn’t believe we had made it that far, but it wasn’t over. We still had many more terraces until we reached the very top and then we still had to go back down.
As we pressed on, we approached a very small and skinny cave that we had to crawl through in order to get to the other side. I was shocked my large mammalian American body got through there, but it did and we kept going.
Shortly after exiting the cave, we had to climb up these steps that were like no other in order to reach another superb vantage point. Three unconnected steps spiked out of the side of the wall of an Inca made plateau. One slip and you would fall about 1,000 feet before hitting the side of the rock and then another 1,000 feet to the river below.
Jenny and I made it safely up the first level, then the second, then the third and we stopped at the top and had a view better than any we had seen. I was nervous but excited. I had never been so high without guardrails or windows to prevent me from plunging to my death. The feelings rushing through me were so contradictory and yet so purifying that I felt enlightened.
My body ached from the strain of climbing for almost 50 straight minutes but it was so energized from the adrenaline coursing through my veins. My mind felt exhausted from concentrating on not slipping and falling to my death but it also felt a huge relief from accomplishing such an epic journey. If I ever had a doubt if my soul existed, that thought was crushed by my feelings of omnipresence on that rock, through those mountains and in that valley at that very moment.
Again we pressed on. Further up the rock we went until we could go no further and sat with many others, some taking pictures, some conversing with one another and some sitting there silent and taking it all in.
Jenny and I looked out for one another, shared many wonderful moments and shared many endearing feelings on that trip. There is no one on that Earth that I would have wanted to share that experience with, other than my soulmate.
We started our decent towards Machu Picchu and stopped at many terrace levels to snap photos and record video, but once again, it wasn’t over. Going back down Huayna Picchu proved to be almost as difficult as the way up. The small steps proved to be harder to navigate on the way down and usage of the steel cables was also more difficult.
We linked back up with Adam and Maria, where we shared stories of travel, leisure and experience. They too seemed to have an enlightening experience or at least a very unique honeymoon. Once we reached the bottom together, both couples took photos and then parted ways with plans to meet back up in Cuzco and Lima.
Jenny and I eagerly passed through Machu Picchu to get back to the Sanctuary Lodge for a hot shower and then the hot tub. We had plenty of time to waste until our train left Aguas Calientes at 5:00pm.
Once we rinsed off, we spent an hour at the hot tub that over looked Huayna Picchu and some of the ruins. We then went to eat lunch and eventually grabbed our bags and got on the bus back down the hill.
The bus rides up and down the hill were both filled with anxiety and paranoia. Leaving your life in someone else’s hands is always cause for alarm, but experiencing a ride more wild than any rollercoaster known to man outside of a theme park will age you, quickly. Needless to type, we made it down safely and were once again in Aguas Calientes.
The first time through there I was exhausted and sick, this time I was just exhausted, but the town really made an impression on me. I had never been in a town where a river flowed directly through the middle of it and footbridges were needed to cross to the other side.
This town had me captivated with the loud roar of the rushing Urambaba River echoing through those streets and out and up the valley walls. We sat on one concrete ledge above the river for about thirty minutes going through our photos and reliving the great experience we shared together.
As we walked to the train station, we passed many vendors and I stopped to buy some tourmaline and amber off of one. We got to the station, boarded the train and off we went back to Cuzco.
We arrived in Cuzco on a bus from the train station, half dead asleep. We were exhausted and all we wanted to do was get to our beds in the hotel Arqueologo. That was one more mission we completed.
Mikey Beats Beltran is a native San Diegan and veteran of the local music scene. He started off as a teenager working at Soma Live in Bay Park and he’s currently the co-owner and Vice President of Sleeping Giant Music. He has over ten years of DJing experience that has taken him all over the US. He lives in Pacific Beach, with his wife Jenny, where he was recently elected to the PB Planning Group. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeyBeats.