Already 6 days in Peru. After Cusco, Pisac and the Sacred Valley, after 3 days walking on the Salkantay Trek, after the plateaux, the passage at 15,100 ft, facing the altitude, the wind and the ice, after walking down intro the jungle, fighting mosquitoes and wild beasts (OK, this is not true, we haven’t been really bothered by them…), we are now at the beginning of our fourth day in the Río Urubamba valley, 24 hours away from the Machu Picchu, final destination of our trek.
A day that will start in Santa Teresa, walking along a dusty road and a railway by the river, and we’ll arrive in Aguas Calientes, the city at the bottom of the famous citadel. On the fifth day, we’ll walk the last steps to the top, and a few more, just because we like walking, to climb at the top of the Huayna Picchu. This fifth and last day will be the last one of our trip in Peru.
Salkantay Trek, day 4. From Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes, by Hidroelectrica
Walked distance: 15.5 miles
Differences in altitude of the day: 3,478 ft / 2,970 ft
Altitudes: 4,774 ft (Santa Teresa) » 6,876 ft (Aguas Calientes)
The night in Santa Teresa was good. Calm and nice. So good that I’m the first to be up, at 6.30 a.m., half an hour before our cook wakes up everyone with his morning tea.
Quick breakfast, and we start walking at 8.30 a.m. We walk in the city, going through the small streets to get to a little path going down to the Río Urubamba, the river of the valley. Daniel explains us that the city was located by the river before, and has been moved 150 ft higher after being flooded many times and being completely destroyed after a terrible landslide in 1998. There’s nothing left of the old Santa Teresa.
We cross the river using a little suspension bridge, swaying a lot, and climb up to the road. Here starts a 6 miles walk.
Almost flat. I walk with Lisa, Julien and JB, and we start a little game to fill the time, as our legs do their job.
“- Fictitious character?
OK. This one is a private joke. “Bruce Wayne” or “Amerigo Vespucci” were not as easy than that to find out .
On the way, not that much things to see. Mountain on the left, mountain on the right, river in the middle, and our road, going from one side to the other. Sometimes, a little factory by the water, sometimes an amazing waterfall coming out straight from the mountain’s face.
11 a.m., we arrive at Hidroelectrica, an… hydroelectric plant, first checkpoint of the day. This is also here that starts the railway to Cusco.
Just where the rails start, there are a lot of little shops, really close to the tracks. We stop in a little restaurant (well, more an open-air place serving food) on the other side, in the palm grove.
We got a lunch box from the cook, who left this morning to go back to Mollepata.
Lunch, and the girls get ice creams for desert. Me too .
11:45 a.m., we’re back on our way. We walk through the palm grove to get to another track, upper, which must be less used. And we start again, for 7,5 miles!
We follow the tracks, always by the river, crossing it sometimes by some bridge to get to the other side.
The place is really amazing: at the bottom of the valley, the sound of the water always present, the abundant and luxuriant vegetation. Even if there’s nothing special here, the walk is more than nice.
We see the train that runs from Cusco to Hidroelectrica twice, without being in danger: it honks every 10 seconds and goes on really… really… slowly on the tracks.
Later, we meet a nice dog, who seems happy to find some company, and who will follow us until the end of the day.
We finally reach the train station at the bottom of the Machu Picchu, after three hours walking, and a bit more than a mile away from Aguas Calientes, where we will spend the night.
The bed will wait. We start our time in Aguas Calientes by going to the hot springs (pools in which you can order cocktails and have a nice moment), and then by eating our last dinner together, followed by another drink and a pizza (huuuungry! ) .
We go to bed quite early, we’ll have to wake up earlier than the other days!
Salkantay Trek, day 5. Grand Finale: Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu
Walked distance: 7.1 miles
Differences in altitude of the day: 3,372 ft / 3,425 ft
Altitudes: 6,876 ft (Aguas Calientes) » 7,972 ft (Machu Picchu) » 8,572 ft (Huayna Picchu) » 6,876 ft (Aguas Calientes)
3.45 a.m. The alarm buzzes.
Hard to wake up. For the first time since we left Cusco, we sleep in beds, with pillows. Wow. I really want to stay longer in that little comfortable place, but we have to be ready soon, because today is THE Day!
No time for breakfast. Daniel meets us at the hotel at 4.15 a.m., with cakes, bananas and fruit juices. We keep that for later, we now need to walk the long mile to get to the first entrance, to be the first ones to wait in line. There is a control booth down in the valley, to check that you have your ticket (that you need to get before coming here. Only 2,500 people are allowed to enter everyday, to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage site).
Once there, we wait for the gates to open, eating our snacks.
5 a.m., the first checkpoint lets us go through. Ticket, passport, and we’re ready to climb to the main entrance, 1,300 ft higher. Two options: by bus (for the lazy ones), or through the stairs. There are stairs that go up, almost in a straight line.
Stairs! Go! This is the last day, no time to be cold feet! It’s still night outside, we climb in the dark with our headlamps…
One mile, 1,300 ft to climb up, 1,700 steps (not little steps, thanks again for that the Incas)… done in 40 minutes, with JB. A bit sportive, it’s said that it usually takes 60-90 minutes to walk up.
20 minutes to rest, the Machu Picchu opens at 6 a.m.
We walk in, and Daniel leads us to some spot from where we can see… almost nothing, it’s really cloudy now. There, our guide talks to us about the history of the city and its discovery in 1911 by Hiram Bingham (it’s really recent).
We walk then to the “keeper’s house”, the highest spot with a full view on the hereabouts (the keeper had to see everything at every moment). The “hereabouts” are very close to us, the clouds are still hiding the site. We can’t see a thing, but knowing what lays below, this layer gives the site a particularly mystical aura.
We wait here for dawn.
The sun finally rises, and with some Inca magic, the clouds disappear as soon as they are touched by the light beams. The site gets clearer second after second. Magical. Fabulous. Magilous. I miss superlatives, the scene is too mind-beautiwing to be described.
We walk down for a guided visit of the houses, constructions, awesome creations of the Incas. These Incas, they were really awesome!
9 a.m., our tour ends. Daniel gathers us to say goodbye. After 5 days living together, almost 24/24, I feel like leaving a good friend. The group splits here too. Each of us will finish discovering the site and then will leave for its next adventure. We sit and talk a bit with Amie, Jenny, Emily and Oliver, and we kiss goodbye. It’s just a goodbye! We still have an hour before our next big thing…
At 10 a.m., we are waiting in line to climb the Huayna Picchu (“young mountain” in Quechua), the summit over the Machu Picchu. Here, no more than 400 persons a day, in two groups (at 8 and 10 a.m.).
I laugh looking at the sign at the entrance, saying that the hike is for “fit and healthy only”. Looks nice!
And it’s true, climbing is hard. Steps, high steps (thanks again the Incas), sometimes slippery, and always with a big slope. But here again, the view worths the effort: little path, going up between trees on the mountain’s side, and always by the precipice, with a point of view on the valley and the Río Urubamba, 2,300 ft below.
Just before arriving at the top, a little moment of pure pleasure: a cave you have to go through, in the dark, crawling on the ground, on flat first, and then on a 60° slope. A bit difficult, really narrow, and with the bag-pack and the camera, you need do be really careful. I go through and walk the last steps to get to the highest rock, over everything. Intense sensation. Being over everything. The top. The top of the top.
Not easy to get here for everyone: this peak is really pointed, and the view can go almost vertically to the bottom of the valley, 2,300 ft below. Julien gets a little vertigo, but beats it and meets us.
We need to walk down, and here too, the heights trick on the view. Little stairs, with steps half wide as your foot. Try to miss one, slip, and wait to hit the bottom of the valley. “Fit and healthy”, here’s why!
Once we’re back on flat terrain, I start running with JB. Left, down, right, down, up… it’s fun to run here! We get back to the Machu Picchu, and leave quickly after a last tour, and run down to the valley, by the same stairs we took this morning. Back to Aguas Calientes. Quick shower at the hostal, we get our bags back. We go out for late lunch, pizza with fruits and milk, delicious, and a last drink. And it’s time to go to the train station.
I make a quick stop at the main market, to get a little accessory (ha!), and we board the train to Poroy at 4.32 p.m. 56 miles running in the bottom of the valley, just by the river. A little more than 4 hour ride.
Last hours in Peru, on the way to Bolivia
Distance: 58 miles (Aguas Calientes > Poroy – by train) » 252 miles (Poroy > Cusco > Puno)
Altitudes: 6,876 ft (Aguas Calientes) » 11,390 ft (Cusco) » 12,700 ft (Puno)
A driver was supposed to meed us in Poroy, but because the train got late, he probably left without us. We need to act fast: we have to get to Cusco, 6 miles away, get our bags at the hostel (we left some stuff there before starting the trek) and reach the main bus station before 10 p.m.. And we have less than an hour to do that.
OK, it will be our “The Amazing Race” moment. The train stopped, we are at the doors with our bags, ready to run. We jump off, run through the platform, through the station and get to the main gate (closed, the taxi drivers have to wait outside). We quickly choose our guy, explain to him the situation while running to his car. He’s OK to help us. We throw our bags in the trunk, get into the car and leave the station quickly. He passes everyone on the road, and after 20 minutes, we are at our first destination. Hostel, bags, running back to the taxi, and again in the streets of Cusco. We get to the bus station in time.
Just a few minutes before our bus leaves. Next stop: Puno. And Puno will be the only thing I’ll see. The day has been long, rich and exhausting, I fall asleep really quickly.
We reach Puno at 5 a.m..
Cold. Puno, by the Lake Titicaca, is 12,700 ft above sea level. With the temperature and the humidity, my left knee hurts. An old ligaments injury is back. It’s intense, I cannot bend my leg.
Luckily, the little stores in the bus station are open. I get a hot chocolate, to warm my mood up. Hot drink and sunrise at 6 a.m. on the lake, through the windows. Amazing. I know that it is just a first taste of what is going to happen next.
Out bus leaves at 8 a.m. for our next destination: Copacabana, Bolivia.