Whilst we were out on the trails for a long time, it didn’t mean there wasn’t luxury along the way. Having made it into the town of Santa Teresa and checked into the cheapest hostel we could find it was time for some tucker. Little did we know that the local little restaurant around the corner would become our haven for the next few days. With $4 plates of nachos that literally contained so much guacamole (3 big avo’s per plate) that you would run out of chips before even making a dent in the pile. It was a hard place to walk away from but eventually we made the move and headed to the local hotsprings for a night.
Because we had a set date to visit Machu Picchu and we were ahead of schedule we had a day to kill and explored down river. Having wandered through a long tunnel our path abruptly stopped on the edge of a cliff high above a raging river. There were a couple of flying foxes across and so we decided to chance that they could take our weight and started zipping across the river. Scott was the last to cross and as he was getting in the basket a local man, Juan-Carlo, jumped in with him and they took off.
Without skipping a beat Carlo jumped off on the other side and told us to follow him. He took us 10mins downstream and then lead us up a tiny track climbing the hillside. This was some dense bush but scattered throughout the hills was an absoulute abundance of mango trees, avocado trees, banana trees, lemons, limes, oranges and passionfuit trees too, just to name a few.
Soon after we arrived at his place, an incredible eco hostel he had spent the last two years building and is almost ready to open to guests. He told us to rest up in the bar area while he ducked off into the forest. 10 minutes later he returned with an absolute buffet of bananas and avocados for us to dig into. It was an idyllic place to be and we spent a good few hours hanging out with Carlo. He even cooked us one of the most delicious lunches accompanied with jugs full of passionfruit juice. It was an astounding display of generosity and we were genuinely touched by his kindness.
We carried a few logs up from the river for him as a small thank you but as we have experienced many times, his generosity came from a place of genuine kindness and he expected absolutely nothing in return. The day prior we met an amazing woman named Megan who moved from the US into the region and she said the local culture is based around everyone in the world being one big family. We might be foreigners but in their eyes we are all human and its natural to treat everyone as a family member. It’s a great ethos and we would highly recommend a stay with Juan-Carlo if you are ever visiting this region.
With d-day approaching it was time to get moving and we did a big 20km day to Aguas Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. The first 10km was simple road bashing but the second half followed the train line as it weaved through the dense, beautiful valleys.
Aguas Caliente was like walking into another world, there was more glitz and glam than anywhere else we’ve seen in South America and it was crazy being surrounded by thousands of tourists for the first time this year.
The sheer amount of people was intimidating and we expected Machu Picchu to be overcrowded and hence not so special. With our legs strong from all the hiking, we almost flew up the trail to Machu Picchu having been liberated from the weight of our packs. We were pleasantly surprised when we reached the top and Machu Picchu felt no-where near as crowded as we expected. Its pretty remarkable what the Inca’s achieved and despite my initial scepticism, Machu Picchu certainly was worth the visit.
And like ‘that’ we were off again, on what was to be our last section of the hike, the Salkantay Trail. Heading off early we picked up a new furry friend and had the entire train line walk to ourselves. Far more pleasant that the hundreds of people walking it on the way in. Eventually we hooked left up a valley, but before we could shoot 1000m up into the sky to one of the most epic campsites of the trip, Scott had to clean up after shooting a load of solid fart into his pants. Turns out that while our stomachs are pretty strong now from not having treated the water the whole trip they still aren’t immune to regular periods of diarrhea. Perched on the edge of a mountain we gazed off into the hills all around us and looked down on Machu Picchu from a distance.
The next day didn’t sound bad on paper, 20km, 800m descent and 800m ascent, pretty doable. But this turned out to be one of the most taxing days of the trip. The day included far more climbing and descent than the map suggested and it just knocked it out of us, we basically collapsed into camp. The local porters along the way were very supportive and kept saying ‘lets go’, ‘well done guys’ and would then laugh at us for doing the track the wrong way. The regular direction means that you do a total of 1600m climbing and 4000m descent, with an optional car ride. But our direction meant the opposite, lots of climbing and not much downhill.
Our last day of walking took care of much of the uphill where we knocked 2000m of climbing out before the afternoon. Our bodies were weary from the day before and our progress felt very slow. But as we reached the 4600m pass and looked at the time, we were amazed at how we had done it so fast while feeling like we had no energy the entire climb. It was a struggle but shows how well our bodies had adapted to walking after 23 days on the trail.
To finish off the trip we did a sunrise dash to a Laguna perched high above our camp. The cloud rolled in as we arrived but having the whole place to ourselves was a tranquil way to finish the journey. We got a car back to Cusco and gave the biggest, stinkiest pile of washing to the washers that I think they had ever seen. And while we were waiting for the washing to come back we started planning our next big hike, the Huayhuash.
More on that soon,