Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale: I Ended Up In a Wheelchair (and NOT for the Reason You’d Think!)

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Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale: I Ended Up In a Wheelchair (and NOT for the Reason You’d Think!)

Joseph HostetlerMachu Picchu Cautionary Tale: I Ended Up In a Wheelchair (and NOT for the Reason You’d Think!)Million Mile Secrets Team

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Joseph:   Last year, team member Meghan stirred me to conquer the 4-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.  It was one of the hardest things this doughboy has ever done.  And probably the most beautiful and fulfilling, too.

After the hike, my knees were shot, my feet were blistered, and my arms were chafing.  But eating a casual lunch in the town of Aguas Calientes after the hike ended up being harder on my body than traversing the Andes.

Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale I Ended Up In A Wheelchair And NOT For The Reason Youd Think
The Salkantay Trek Was One of the Hardest Things I’ve Experienced. And Eating in Aguas Calientes Was One of the Most Painful!

I spent weeks in torment after that meal.  Here’s why!

Visiting Aguas Calientes?  Douse Yourself in Bug Spray

Aguas Calientes is an adorable town at the foot of Machu Picchu.  The streets are lively and bustling with roaring trains, squeaky wheelbarrows, and assorted vendors.

Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale I Ended Up In A Wheelchair And NOT For The Reason Youd Think
The Train From Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes Lasts ~1.5 Hours

The town is fun to look at, but there is much less to do than what it appears.  It seemed like half of the structures were restaurants, and the other half were Peruvian trinket and Machu Picchu souvenir shops.

It was weird to see a town so dependent on tourism.  It exists because Machu Picchu exists.  And if ever Machu Picchu were to close for some reason, the town would probably immediately fold.

Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale I Ended Up In A Wheelchair And NOT For The Reason Youd Think
Aguas Calientes Is Imbued With Natural Beauty

It was at one of these restaurants that I was blitzed by sand flies.  The tiniest, most unassuming little gnats that made the journey direct from Satan’s throne room to bite me.  I ignored my friends’ advice about using bug spray (or at least wearing long sleeves and pants), because I’m not normally prone to bug bites, and it was such a beautiful day.

However, sitting down to a meal at an outdoor patio, I found tiny flies all over my exposed arms and legs.  They were annoying, but completely painless.

It was a matter of hours before I could barely walk.  The bites manifested all over my arms and legs, and began to swell.  Every step was agonizing; it felt like blood was going to burst out of each bite from the pressure.

Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale I Ended Up In A Wheelchair And NOT For The Reason Youd Think
The Pressure I Felt Pulsing Through My Veins Was Overwhelming

My friends and I caught a train and a bus to Cusco, where we stayed 1 night at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco (for 40,000 Marriott points).  During the ride I contracted a fever, and by the time we arrived at the hotel, I couldn’t walk.  The hotel brought a wheelchair for me, and I spent the next 15 hours off my feet.

While my friends explored the city, I slept in the hotel courtyard in the 80 degree sunlight…wrapped in a jacket, underneath a patio heater.

One of the Marriott employees called the in-house medic to try and help me.  She was an absolute sweetheart, and applied antihistamine cream to me while I made hallucinatory conversation with her.

Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale I Ended Up In A Wheelchair And NOT For The Reason Youd Think
Ankles Beginning to Swell

Fortunately, I had used 30,000 American Airlines miles to fly Business Class from Lima to Miami the next day.  And was able to elevate my feet in the angled lie-flat seats to help alleviate some of the pressure.

Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale I Ended Up In A Wheelchair And NOT For The Reason Youd Think
Haha! The Swelling Finally Stopped During My Flight Home

From reading the experiences of others, I think I had an abnormally bad reaction to these bites.  Thankfully, the swelling was gone in less than 1 week.  But the intolerable itching lingered for a few weeks more.

It’s so frustrating to be sidelined by a bunch of city slicker gnats after hiking through snowy peaks and down into the balmy Amazon.

Bottom Line

I overcame the Andes Mountains during a 4-day hike to Machu Picchu!  But as soon as I let my guard down, the Andes exacted revenge with a swarm of sand flies in Aguas Calientes.

If ever I return to that tiny town, I’ll be sure to baptize myself in bug spray before hitting the streets.

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Exploring Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas feels like going back in time. Centuries-old Inca terraces spill down green, misty hillsides. Women in traditional Andean dress stroll along the cobblestone streets of colonial towns, long black braids trailing down their backs. Colorful village markets display soft alpaca sweaters, hats, and ponchos woven by hand.

https://www.tierrasvivas.com/en/classic-inca-trail-to-machu-picchu

Light Inca Trail

There are options for light hikes to Machu Picchu, and very good restaurants in Aguas Calientes (Indio Feliz). You can find a lot of information about Machu Picchu on this link http://bit.ly/2dn0qND

Inca Trail One Day

There are many ways to visit Machu Picchu, and many days. We are working for a tour of one day hiking to Machu Picchu in one day. We are using the Inca Trail, and if you don´t like the bugs, maybe this is the way for a minor contact.
Regards and visit us:

https://www.kenkoadventures.com/inca-trail-machu-picchu/one-day

When we were there many years ago we did a 10 day hike through the andes mountains to the ruins and then spent the night at a hotel right next to them, I believe it was the Sanctuary Lodge, but not sure as it was over 10 years ago.

Will be there in 2 months with the Fam. Any other tips or items to watch out for?

See my comment on the hot springs at Aguas Calientes. Kids will love that. Actually a great way to relax for anyone after several hours at the ruins.

try spending the night in Aguascalientes to get to MP on the 6am shift. some tours organizers sleep the visitors on Cusco and start their trip at 3am, only to be actually in MP by 8 or later.

On the return leg from MP to Cusco, the vistadome train has a great sight, although the price difference may make a difference when traveling with whole family.

also, for all of Peru: the souvenirs are almost the same in almost any shop, no matter how simple or humble it is, almost everybody sells almost the same for almost the same price, except for very few stuff done with local materials on Titicaca lake and Maras Salt mines.

Near Cusco there is a place called Chinchero, where you can buy real Alpaca and baby alpaca stuff. Vicuna (the finest) is exorbitantly expensive.

Author
Joseph Hostetler

Not a lot of tips for the town of Aguas Calientes, I found no real reason to stay there after seeing Machu Picchu.

Probably the most important tip (to me) for visiting Machu Picchu is to buy your bus fare the day before, and line up at the bus station around 3am. The buses won’t depart until 5:30am, but the line gets REALLY long, REALLY early.

If you want to snap photos of Machu Picchu without 3,000 tourists in the picture, it’s the way to go. It’s a little foggy in the morning, but I think it adds to the mystery of the ruins:D

Aguas Calientes means “hot waters” and there are hot springs at the edge of town, with several pools of varying temperatures. I got one of my favorite pictures with our group relaxing in a pool, with Huayna Picchu (that mountain which is in all the Machu Picchu pictures) standing tall behind us. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk from the center of town.

Author
Joseph Hostetler

Gah! I should have gone, but I let TripAdvisor discourage me. There were tons of comments about how filthy the pools were, and how crowded it gets. Did you find that to be true?

It’s Peru, not Palm Springs, but it seemed appropriately clean and well attended to me. Maybe it gets crowded at times, I really don’t know, but it wasn’t bad at all when we were there.