Most people dream of seeing Machu Picchu at some point in their lives and I was no exception. I just never imagined that the day I finally did see the lost city of the Incas, I would have a fractured foot and hike to the top of Machu Picchu mountain.
I haven’t told many people that I fractured my foot just over half way through my travels. I fractured it when I was in Sydney, Australia on May 17th. Like all stupid “I fractured my ___” stories, mine starts with “I was very drunk”. Here’s where my story is different: it wasn’t my fault at all. I was at an Irish pub with a good friend and we were about 7 drinks into our night. Suddenly, a girl, whom I did not know and was wearing 5″ stilettos, stepped on my foot (with her spike heel). She did not realize she was standing on my foot, so she was standing on my poor foot with her full weight… for a good 45 seconds. It sounds painful, I know. Trust me, it was. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion and I was too drunk to push her off. My eyes instantly filled with tears and I was thinking “oh man, this chick is standing on my foot… that hurts… really bad… I should probably push her off… but how?” Yeah. Not one of my top 5 brightest moments.
The next morning, it was swollen and black and blue. And in a lot of pain. All I could think about was the fact that I was going to hike Machu Picchu in one month’s time and my injured foot better not ruin that for me. I went to my friend’s mother-in-law who is a head nurse and she looked at it and said “it is likely fractured” but she advised me exactly what I was thinking: nothing can be done for it. It’s a small bone in the center of the foot. They’ll simply do an expensive X-Ray (I had travel insurance, but still, there is no guarantee I’d be refunded), possibly put me in a cast and boot and tell me to rest it for a minimum of 6 weeks. I never went to the hospital or the doctor to have my foot looked at. I don’t know if this was a smart decision, but it’s the decision I made and I am (mostly) happy with my decision. My friend’s mother-in-law-who-is-a-nurse advised me to rest it as much as possible. So, in true Chelsea fashion, I rested it for a whole half day and walked on it every day after that. I did a lot of walking and hiking on my fractured foot. I even went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef with flippers on (very very painful). But the craziest thing I did was hike to the top of Machu Picchu mountain. Again, was this smart? Probably not. But this is exactly what I did.
I decided to do 2 days at Machu Picchu, which is certainly something most people do not do. Most people do a half day or 1 day but I knew I wanted to dedicate more time to this wonder of the world. I figured, I was there and do not know if or when I will return, so why not? I took the train with Inca Rail from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and was so happy to have this experience. What a beautiful train ride it was. Without this train ride, I would have never met someone who is now a good friend and I wouldn’t have had someone to share the experience of seeing Machu Picchu for the first time with. I stayed in Aguas Calientes (the town nearest to Machu Picchu, approximately a 25 minute bus ride away) for 3 nights. Again, this is something almost no one does. Three nights in Aguas Calientes was a bit much because it is a tourist town and it is annoying to walk around because you constantly have restaurant workers desperately trying to get you to come eat at their restaurant and men and women trying to get you to come to their spa to get a massage. However, I am glad I stayed for 3 nights because it allowed me to relax and enjoy Machu Picchu for two whole days.
The first day, June 18th, I woke up at 4:15 a.m. to catch the first bus (5:30 a.m.) because I wanted to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. My new friend Z hired a private guide and kindly let me tag along her two hour tour. If you go to MP, I highly recommend hiring a guide otherwise you will probably have no idea what you’re looking at. Our guide, Paquas, was informative and entertaining and Z and I could not believe we were actually there. It was really nice to share this experience with a friend instead of being there alone. I stayed at the site for 7 hours the first day, mostly just wandering around and enjoying being there. I met an Irish couple and hiked to the Inca Bridge with them which made for a highly entertaining experience. Even if you don’t hike up Huayna Picchu (the mountain that is most photographed and is nearest to the ruins) or Machu Picchu (the higher of the 2 mountains), just hiking around to get to different photograph spots is not an easy feat, especially for someone with a fractured foot. At the end of day one, I was exhausted and I still had my biggest challenge to look forward to the following day: hiking to the top of “Machu Picchu Montaña”, elevation: 10,111 feet/ 3,082 meters. This mountain is much higher than the more often photographed Huayna Picchu.
Day 2, I checked in at the bottom of the mountain at 8:15 a.m. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. This hike was extremely difficult. Granted, I am not particularly in shape but I am also not completely out of shape either. It was a very steep hike and it got more steep as I went along. I took many breaks, which was fine with me because this is all I was doing that day and I wanted to enjoy the views on the way up as well as chat to the other hikers. My breaks had to be more frequent than the average person’s because of my foot. When I was about 25 minutes from the top, I stopped and absolutely did not think I could go on any further. This is when I met a 69 year old man. If he could do it, so could I – plus, hiking is mostly mental. I knew if I did not make it all the way to the top, I would never forgive myself. I am not exaggerating when I say that was the most difficult 25 minutes of my life. But I DID IT. I made it to the very top of Machu Picchu with a fractured foot. We won’t discuss how the 69 year old man beat me. All that matters to me is that I did it. I reached the top at 11:20 a.m., so it took me 3 hours and 5 minutes. This is a bit of a shame considering it takes most people 1 1/2 hours, but I am proud of my accomplishment. I stayed at the top enjoying the magnificent 360 degree views for 1 hour. I didn’t realize going down the mountain would be a lot more painful for my foot than going up.
I am not sure what size people the steps of Machu Picchu were designed for, but they must have been oddly sized persons. The width of each stair was extremely narrow and the stairs were set far apart from each other. These people must have had tiny feet and very long legs. Luckily, I have long legs… but not small feet! This is why going down was so painful for me, I had to carefully place my feet sideways on each stair. It was a bit of a nightmare and I was really wishing I could just paraglide off the side of the mountain to the bottom, but I made it. It took me 1 hour and 35 minutes to get to the bottom of the mountain, and when I did, I was so dehydrated (I had recently run out of water) and had the worst headache and my body felt like it was utterly falling apart, so I laid in the grass, put my hat over my face and passed out.
I stayed at Machu Picchu for a total of 9 hours on my second day. It was such a magical experience and I loved feeling the energy while I was there. I would highly recommend spending two days at MP like I did – it didn’t feel rushed at all.
Side note: When I returned to the U.S. in July, I went to see my primary physician and told her about my foot. She looked at it and felt it and said she thinks it was fractured but it is too late to do anything about it now. She also said she doesn’t blame me for not getting it checked out when it happened because I likely would have been put in a boot and it would have ruined my trip. However, now I have to give it about 1 year to fuse and I have to be careful to not get a stress fracture on top of the fracture. It is still in a bit of pain but it is bearable.