Trekking through Peru's history
THAT boulder on the left.
Now the boulder on the right.
See those rocks, they're next.
We finally got to the top of the 4600m pass on the Lares Trek in Peru but it truly was step by step.
I had already done a hike through Cajas National Park in Ecuador at 4000m.
And I had travelled by van over 5000m to the Colca Canyon near Arequipa.
But I thought my lungs were going to explode climbing that last few hundred metres to the highest pass.
Getting to the top and looking down on a gorgeous lagoon below us was worth every pained breath.
I completed the Lares Trek with two other girls, Stephanie and Tracey, our guide Santiago, our cook and two horsemen who guided their steeds through the trek with all our tents, bags and other equipment.
After a day travelling through the stunning Sacred Valley, a night at the gorgeous Ollantaytambo, meandering through the Inca streets and archaeological sites, we began our trek near Lares.
We watched as people in traditional costume scurried around the local market buying their breakfast or groceries for the day.
Then we set off for three days in the mountains beyond.
After donning raincoats and ponchos thanks to a rainy start, we spotted locals everywhere herding sheep, llamas and alpacas.
There were pigs, chooks, goats and children wandering the same paths.
Each showed the community they belonged to and their marital status through their special bright colours or style of dress.
Our guide, who also spoke the local Quechua language, stopped to chat to people along the way.
We interacted with many children, who we gave pencils or hair bobbies, and their parents.
I even picked up a handwoven alpaca rug made by an 80-year-old woman sitting near the track for about $30.
In Cusco, the same piece would have cost a few hundred dollars.
The Lares Trek provided a truly cultural experience I could never have anticipated.
The scenery was divine and the trek was quite a challenge.
We completed 12km on the first day and camped at 4100m.
It's hard to express just how cold it is at night in a tent four kilometers above sea level.
The next day we hiked over the 4600m pass, finishing eight hours after we began with a few stops in the middle.
About 18km in total but mostly downhill on terribly slippery, rolling stones.
Thank goodness I had hired two walking poles which prevented me from many a banana-splits moment.
On the third day we made our way down the final 5km where we had our final dinner at a chicheria.
These places are always easily recognised in the many country towns by the red plastic bag on a pole out the front indicating they make corn beer.
We headed to Aguas Calientes (literally hot waters in Spanish) and hit the hot thermal springs.
We jumped in and out of the hot and cold pools to relax our muscles.
Then, once supple, we had a sports massage before a few drinks out on the town.
We rose at 4am the next day and waited in line in the rain for two hours for a bus to Machu Picchu.
We had planned to climb the hundreds of steps up the mountain to make up for missing the Inca Trail.
But my tour guide convinced me it would be more of an achievement to climb Machu Picchu mountain, twice the height of Wayna Picchu mountain, once we got there for amazing views over the archaeological site and the surrounding valleys.
We were thankful not to be running up those steps in the rain but once we arrived, the whole site was shrouded in fog and it was pointless climbing the mountain on a three-hour round trip when we might see nothing so we missed that too.
We saw our friends arrive from the Inca trail, exhausted, relieved and elated.
I was so happy for them finishing their 42km trek.
It was only later when they all went out to buy their 'I survived the Inca trail' t-shirts that the jealousy and hurt set in.
I am still mad at Intrepid for ruining my dream of completing the Inca Trail, especially when a man who booked in February was able to do it.
It had been a dream to trek that trail since I was a child, to take in the history and to make that final descent into Machu Picchu.
I booked a year in advance to ensure I got my permit. My new friend Stephanie also missed out after they told her she should be able to get a permit booking in November.
That aside, finally seeing Machu Picchu was amazing.
On our first walk through, we learned about how they used the terraces on the steep mountain slopes for agriculture, how they used a sun dial as a calendar and a rock used as a compass.
The sophistication and perfection of the structures, used mostly by the nobility, was astounding.
The stones have preserved so well, predominantly because the site remained undiscovered by foreigners until early last century.
The Spaniards had ransacked almost all other Inca ruins in search of gold and other valuables during their inquisitions.
The enormity of the city, perched so high on a mountain, was not revealed until almost lunch time.
We had no idea about the deep valleys below, nor the magnitude of the 'lost city' until the fog lifted.
We then had to run around the site again to get the postcard shots.
Built in the 1400s, it remains a mystery how the Incas pulled the rocks from the valleys to the top of the mountain. But it is widely believed hundreds of 'servants' to the Inca empire hauled the rocks up the slopes.
There are still knobs on some of the stones which could back up this theory, that they forgot to polish them off after dragging them up the hill.
There are about 140 structures including houses, water fountains and meeting areas.
They had an impressive irrigation system, something Incas were well known for, with channels connecting the houses and the agriculture terraces.
Llamas act as lawn mowers at the site now to keep the lawn areas trimmed.
Despite having high expectations for this Inca icon, I walked away impressed and further in awe of the Inca civilisation.
Machu Picchu is eerily magical.
A Latin Affair is a travel column written by Rae Wilson.