After a lot of back and forth we decided to book the 4 day Inca Jungle Trek that goes from Cusco to Machu Picchu. We were scared about the altitude and the difficulty, and shopped around for a tour operator that didn’t have huge groups and didn’t make you wear yellow bandanas and scream “woooo”. We were supposed to be 5 but 2 cancelled last minute. This disappointed me a little bit but we ended up having an awesome guide and a cool VIP experience that eased our way into the trekkers world.
The first part of the journey was on mountain bikes. We started at the top of a snow-peaked mountain and rode down for 3 hours. They made us wear so much protection gear that I felt like Robocop. The mountains in the beginning were brown and we rode from the arid part of Peru to the jungle. Slowly the brown mountains gave way to green ones until we were surrounded by them. The road goes around the mountains and every once in a while there would be a river or waterfall that became part of the road. About 5 minutes before the end, I slowed down before a river, and then pedaled and tried to manage the sharp turn but the bike lost traction and I fell. Really hard. I felt my ear smash against the helmet and next thing I know, I am lying on my back with the guys from the safety van around me. I was covered in mud and these were the clothes I was supposed to wear for at least one more day.
The second day was spent walking. We knew it was about 8 hours but what we didn’t know was that a huge chunk of it was uphill, climbing a mountain. There were a few stops along the way, the most memorable one with a cute monkey called Mona Lisa where we tasted freshly made cocoa paste and what they call “Inca Tequila”, an alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane and bottled with a snake inside. Yes, a snake. That one I didn’t try. Our guide painted our faces like Inca warriors with the orange pigment of a plant. He knew stuff about the trees and the animals and would stop every once in a while to share a random fact and give us a chance to catch our breath. It was a very hard day and Avri struggled a bit which made me feel very guilty since I was the one who really wanted to do it and he would have been happy without. Hopefully the endless mountains and stunning views made up for the difficulty.
THE THERMAL BATHS
After 8:30 hours walking, and completely exhausted, we made it to these amazing thermal baths in the middle of nowhere. I just sat there letting my body soak up the warmth. Avri got devoured by small and vicious mosquitoes.
I had never zip-lined, partly because it scares me shitless. But I thought, ok, I’m on this trek, third day, might as well. The guy who gave us the brief said they had 5 zip-lines and one suspension bridge, and I planned on doing one and that’s it. Turns out, to get from point A to point B you have to go through all 5 zip-lines AND the suspension bridge. I freaked out a bit but I did it and it was super fun. In the last zip-line, they turned the harness around so that we could go as Condors, or Superman. It was insane, and the closest I have ever felt to flying.
THE TRAIN TRACKS
The last leg was to walk for 3 hours along the train tracks to get from Hidroelectrica (that’s the name of town with the power plant) to Aguas Calientes. Although it was a flat walk next to the river with really nice views, we just wanted to get to a room. Along the walk we ran into every other person we had seen at one point or another during the last couple of days, as well as people walking back after having finished this adventure. Aguas Calientes surprised us as a full on tourist town which we didn’t see much of because after dinner, and before 9, we fell asleep.
First of all, I learned that you are supposed to say the first “c” in Picchu. So, it sounds like Pi-h/c-chu. This was new to me. Second, the site (or part of it) has been privatized so everything is optimized for tourism, somewhat like a Peruvian Disneyland. It is well kept and very expensive, and the one thing that pissed me off was that you had to pay to use the bathroom. Oh, and the bathrooms are outside, and your ticket gives you 3 entrances in the same day. So you can only go twice. Once inside, each guide gives a slightly different version of what Machu Picchu actually was, or why it was built, since noone knows for sure. Our guide was convincing enough that I will forever go with his explanation that it was built as a summer home for important Incas. The amazing part is that because the Spanish never found it, it is untouched and immediately transports you 500 years back. The only things missing are the rooftops, but they did recreate some to illustrate how it looked. They also added some llamas for us tourists. Avri and I were the only ones asking the guide questions, like a pair of 5 year olds 🙂 But we were so very curious! We wanted to know everything and the guide was awesome about it and super knowledgeable. After the tour we napped (we had woken up at 4:30) and then continued exploring on our own, just like Indiana Jones. Huge highlight of this trip.
BACK TO CUSCO
We took the train and then a van back to Cusco and prepared our bag of laundry to be washed the next morning. Without a doubt, the worst smelling laundry I have ever smelled in my life. That’s the price, I guess. A very cheap one indeed.