A Trip through Hell to Reach Heaven

I wanted my last travel experience in South America to end with a bang, which, for me, meant visiting Machu Picchu. When plans fell through with the other IES students, I immediately looked to my sister Christen to accompany me on what I knew would be a trip of a lifetime. To be honest, other than it being incredible, I had no idea what to expect of Cuzco, Machu Picchu, or even Peru, but I knew it would be an experience I would never forget. As it turned out, this trip was definitely the perfect way to end my semester. It challenged me and forced me to grow and become a better person in ways I didn’t think were possible.

Horseback Riding at Teleferico


Christen arrived November 20th and we did a whirlwind trip of Quito, including trips to Teleferico with horseback riding and Centro Historico during the day and night. IES arranged a potluck Thanksgiving dinner which turned out to be a troublesome as we tried to find “normal” cheese for Mac and Cheese in a country of Queso Fresco (yuck!). We did all of this while we attempted to pack for our trip to Peru.


Thanksgiving IES Dinner


We arrived in Cuzco Friday afternoon, but unfortunately our bags did not.

Apparently the airline thinks that it is acceptable to let the airplane depart without any of the passengers’ baggage. Slightly panicked that our bags would not arrive before our 6am departure for the Inca Trail, we checked into our hotel and sipped some cocoa tea to calm our nerves and prepare our bodies for the altitude. We explored Cuzco but quickly realized that I had left my debit card in Quito, and we would soon be running out of cash (the only way to pay for anything in South America). Our Inca Trails hiking guides were absolutely no use to us during any of this, so we decided to explore the beautiful and historic city of Cuzco and seek out the kindness of strangers. Unfortunately, the women we met in Peru were not the friendliest, and it took hours upon hours of going into stores until one nice lady allowed us to use our credit card to purchase some of her jewelry, from which she agreed to give us cash back. I don’t know what we would have done without her compassion.

Lunch above Plaza de Armas








Cuzco Shops







We arrived back at the hostel, tired from all the events, and were relieved to find that, somehow, our bags found their way it to our little hotel.

The following day, we woke up at the crack of dawn both excited and groggy but ready to embark on our 4 day/3 night hike through the Andes Mountains to the infamous Machu Picchu Ruins. Most people do not go on the Inca Trail unless they are searching for a challenge, as the grueling uphill full day hikes are known for leaving the body sore. However, the actual hiking seemed to be the easiest part of this trip for my sister and me. We flew uphill and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery and ruins, then crawled cautiously downhill trying not to fall.








We grew close with our group of travelers, gaining a unique bond with people we had known only for a few days. Playing Mafia and card games together during our down time at our campsite, we cheered for each other every time we reached a milestone on our hike.

Unfortunately, on the third day of our hike, my sister got extremely sick from something she ate and vomited all through the night. The guides did not know what to do and told us that there was no way to get her off the mountain other than having her hike. We consulted the doctors and nurses who happened to be in the travel group to see if anything could be done to make her feel better. After barfing around 40 times in one night, the guides still insisted that she had no other option other than to walk. So at 4am we began our trip down, stopping every five minutes for my sister to rest and vomit. One of the guides attempted to give her a piggyback ride but it proved too difficult. I then put my foot down and declared that she was not going to move another muscle and that they had to find a way to get her off the hill, even if it meant I had to run all the way to Machu Picchu to fetch a doctor to treat her in the mountains. After that, the guide left in search of an answer to the problem while Christen and I waited in the silent Andes, praying for a better solution. Two hours later the guides returned with a stretcher and our group members, who had already reached the sun’s gates, returned to help carry her. Even though it meant changing all of their own schedules and hiking the trail three times that day, our little “family” in the Andes Mountains showed the truest form of kindness and determination and did not leave us behind.

Our “family”

They carried her on the stretcher for over 6km, including up the famous monkey stairs and through the Machu Picchu ruins where she finally received medical attention. Too sick to tour the ruins that day we headed to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu. We checked into a hotel and I attempted to change all of our flights, train tickets, bus tickets, and entrance tickets, but again, the bulk of the Peruvians I met were very unsympathetic toward our situation. It took my sister, sick as a dog, calling and demanding that Inca Trails help us, before they did what they always had the capability of doing.


On the fifth day, in the midst of misfortune, we made it to Machu Picchu. But along the way, we had unearthed some of the world’s greatest treasures. Nothing ever happens the way it’s supposed to happen in South America. People are often late, service is often atrocious, and businesses seem to have no problem inconveniencing their clients. But within this hodgepodge of chaos and neglect, there are rich and jaw dropping views and body tingling experience to be had. Amongst the incompetence and indifference there are many lessons to be learned that teach us to be patient, to go with the flow, and how to handle adversity. In spite of some inconsiderate people, we also met people who were kind and considerate and who bent over backward to help us in our times of need.

Reaching Heaven

The ruins themselves are breathtaking and much larger than I had imagined.

We stood at the top city and looked over at the sight we had fought so hard to see. The two of us smiled as we enjoyed the fruits of our labor, realizing that on our trip from hell we had reached heaven.