[currently bummin’ it at the hostel]
Arriving to Cusco – the jumping off point for Machu Picchu, we were quickly bombarded with options of tours to the magnificent Inka village. I spent hours researching the cheapest option (naturally) and I figured out it’d take just short of $100/per person for a two day trip. Five to six hours on cheap vans to hideroelectrica, a 2-3 hour walk to Aguas Calientes, check in to a cheap hostel, tacke the 2,000 something steps up to MP before the sun makes it out, and then a trek back to hideroelectrica and collectives back to Cusco. To humor ourselves, Ryan and I decided to sit down with an agency and check out other options. There are heaps of ways to get to MP, some expensive, some not, depending on who you book with and how good you can haggle. Near the Plaza de Armas, you’ll pay almost double for tours, but if you wander 10mins away you’ll find a much better deal. The four day Inca trek is the famous hike that sells out in advance and will cost you between $400-600. I’ve met travelers who have chosen this path and although they love it, it’s extremely challenging and as I stated fucking expensive. We heard great things about the four day Jungle trek and after discussing with the tour company, we learned it was around $200/per person and included loads of adventure on the way. After checking out the unpredictable weather we decided to book five days later. Loving Cusco immediately, we knew we’d stay at least two weeks [today marks 16 days here] so hanging out in this city for a few days was not a problem.
We returned from the difficult Lares Trek the day before the jungle trek began. The night before I attempted to get sleep, but a Saturday night in the hostel calls for beer pong, flip cup, and more drinking games creating a loud environment. After barely sleeping our van picked us up around 7:45am and after a slow check-out we hopped on (little did we know it was full of the tour and everyone was waiting on us. Oops). We smashed in the front two seats and took off for the mountains. After about four hours of driving we arrived at the starting point of our mountain biking ride. Of course it was pissing down rain. Everyone covered themselves in plastic and crappy elbow/knee pads. Vicente, our guide, recommended staying behind him. That didn’t last long. The cold rain pelting down on us, Ryan and I took off. Drenched in seconds, we laughed as we cruised along the mountain side. As we descended, the heavy humid jungle heat slowly warmed us up. Ryan and I raced each other down until my bike’s chain decided to stop working. I’d hop off fix it and five minutes later I’d have to repeat. Regardless flying down the mountain for 1000m was incredible. At the bottom everyone peeled off their soaking layers and switched to dry clothing. Thankfully the van followed us down the mountain carrying our dry backpacks and if you wanted to quit biking, you had the option. From there we drove to Santa Maria, our home for the night. We sat down for lunch, our first opportunity to meet the rest of our crew. We were a Dutch couple, three Argentinian brothers, two from Espana, two American girls, and a Belgium couple. Ryan brought a bottle of rum on the trek and we finished it by lunchtime passing it around with our new friends. That afternoon the group split depending if you added rafting to your tour so Ryan and I took off with a few locals and headed to the river. Our guides made it aware a few tourists had died on the river not too long before, but they chose to go in without a guide and this river is not one to mess with. Our journey down was pretty tame with a few big waves, but the entire time there were stunning views of the luscious green mountains surrounding us. That night after dinner we stayed up drinking getting to know our group.
The next morning our things were still wet and it started raining again as soon as we were ready to start the hike. Fine. Ponchos, raincoats on, we took off for a long day of hiking. At some point it cleared up and the hot jungle humidity hit us hard. The guides showed us the Inka war paint from a flower and enjoyed covering each other’s faces. We slowly climbed higher and higher stopping at rests to learn about the jungle. Coca leaves, cacao, avocados, mandarins, passionfruit, aloe vera, lemon/orange mix, limes, and much more fed us along our route for 8 hours. We stopped by a few monkey houses where the adorable Mona Lisa monkey (pictured below) hopped from one shoulder to another, we dressed in Inka traditional clothes, we tried Inka power tequila which was infused with a snake (actually not bad), and we ascended higher and higher along the narrow Inca trail. With one slip you’d unfortunately not survive. Ryan and I were one of the few to venture out to steep skinny cliffs to capture the crazy climb we accomplished.
At lunch we made friends with a litter of seven puppies. We were stuck there for at least 30 minutes thinking how we could sneak one into our packs. After sad g’byes we trekked on. Later that afternoon we had to cross the valley via cable car. A somewhat small, open box that only holds two as a man on the other side reels you in. The drop was significant below and naturally Ryan and I hopped on first. As soon as we sailed in to the opposite side, two kids with coolers starting screaming “cerveza, coca-cola, cerveza, agua, cerveza”, Sold. We had to wait for the rest of the crew to cross anyway. Almost every person bought something from these kids and after paying 10soles/per person a ride we realized they rack in the quickest cash in the area. Moving on we only had a tad farther until we reached the heavenly hot springs. In my past hot springs have always been disappointing.But as we climbed down the stairs we were presented with a 5 star resort style spa. Three different pools (each at a different temp), incredibly powerful showers, and lounge chairs all around. After 8 hours of trekking this is exactly what we deserved. We hung out for hours and honestly I could hang out there for days. The sun went down and the stars came out. The jungle mountains darkened around us and we watched owls and bats fly above us. Truly amazing. I did not care my toes and fingers were shriveling up by the second, I did not want to leave.
Our next town Santa Theresa, was just a short bus ride away and after checking in to our hostel/guest house we headed off for dinner. Once again we decided to put a dog on it aka take down some happy hour specials and head to the local discoteca for the night. Most went to bed, but myself, Ryan, and a small crew including the Argentinans walked in to an empty bar and started the party. I had the brothers teaching me salsa, tango, and more dance moves and we laughed for hours before heading back to bed. It was a wonderful two days and only got better in the morning.
Part Dos on zip-lining, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu, and more soonish 🙂