18.01.2016 - 29.01.2016
Our last day in Cusco before heading off on our hike was largely administrative, although we managed to fit in a fair bit of card games too.
The next morning we were ready to go at 5am for the Salcantay trek, which is an alternative to the traditional Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We drove to a nice spot for what we expected to be our last decent meal before the 5 day hike. Our group was 9 people, consisting of the 5 of us plus four others who didn't know each other. It was a bit of a stranger dynamic, but it worked. Our guide was really nice and spoke good English. We decided that he has been our best guide of the entire trip as he wasn't blatantly sexist and waited patiently for people at the back. The first walk was along a beautiful valley, following an aqueduct which supplies water to the nearby towns. There had been a good storm the night before so we had to make a detour for one of our river crossings.
We arrived at our campsite just in time for lunch and were ridiculously impressed. Our tents had already been set up, and lunch was a 3 course meal!!! After lunch we headed on a side trip to see a beautiful lake. Unfortunately we only had intermittent views of the mountain behind but it was beautiful. A few of the guys went swimming in the freezing lake and one guy in a different group slipped and cut his foot so deeply that David had to help carry him back down to camp on the rain and he couldn't finish the walk (although we did see him later at Machu Picchu on crutches)!!!
That night we had an amazing dinner and played some cards. We were totally spent after our early start and active day so were all asleep just after 9!!
The next morning we were woken at 5:30 with a hot cup of coca tea, which is supposed to help with altitude sickness. Our walk that day took us over a pass which was 4,600m high. No one had any major issues with the altitude although we were quite short of breath at times. We were really lucky and the clouds mostly cleared while we were at the top of the pass which gave us some stunning views of the mountain.
That afternoon the rain came in and we slugged it out, descending over 1,600m to reach our next nights' accommodation. We had walked over 22km and the bravest (or stupidest) of us including yours truly took an ice cold "inca shower".
The next day we had to detour along a road rather than a path as there had apparently been a few landslides due to the rain. This road was a nice easy walk and we had reached our lunch spot by 11 the next day.
I think this was the best lunch yet, with quinoa and potato soup, then an amazing spread including avocados in a delicious sauce, cheese and sausages, a roast vegetable salad, chicken drumsticks, tuna, potato and rice. After stuffing myself stupid we got a bus to a tiny town nearby. That afternoon we opted to go to the natural hot pools which were amazing! 5 crystal clear natural pools set into a beautiful valley, and about $2 to enter. Thoroughly relaxed we had a nice night sitting around the fire trying to dry some of our clothes.
The next morning we had elected to skip the trek along the road and go ziplining instead! It was heaps of fun and the scenery was fantastic.
We had lunch at hidroelectrica and then walked the last 11km along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the hill where Machu Picchu is located. As we walked we had a view of the backside of Machu Picchu mountain, towering above the river gorge which the train tracks followed.
The next morning we got up at 4am to walk to Machu Picchu. We walked a few kms along the road and then waited outside the bridge for them to open the gates. Just after 5 the gates opened and we smashed the climb to the top in about 45 mins, arriving just before the first bus. We were among the first 10-20 people in when the park opened at 6am and raced to a viewpoint. Our first view of the ruins took the little breath we had left away.
About 5 minutes later the clouds rolled back in so Rolando took us through the ruins, explaining the history, construction techniques and astrological side of Machu Picchu. The 2 hour tour flew by, and just after 8 we decided we needed to have a rest, and some food and drinks. We explored a bit more of the ruins, including the amazing Inca bridge but unfortunately David and I missed out on climbing Wynapicchu, a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu which we had booked and paid for but we had left our tickets in Morgan and Michael's bag. Luckily Peter scaled it for us and showed us pictures of what we missed.
We walked back down (slower than we ascended) and had a lazy afternoon waiting for our train. The train ride was quite cool, it is the most expensive train in the world (per km) as no roads go to Aguas Calientes so they have a monopoly unless you walk. We arrived back in Cusco at about 11 and were relieved to shower and change into some fresh clothes.
The next day was another admin day, returning our hired gear, getting our clothes washed etc. We went to Jack's cafe for a third time (the food is really amazing) and said a sad goodbye to Michael and Morgan who have been amazing, fun travel companions for the past few weeks.
The next morning the three of us remaining took a 9 hour bus to Puno, a town in lake Titicaca in the south of Peru for our final Peruvian adventure before we move on to Bolivia - Lake Titicaca. We booked a 2 day tour of the lake which started at the Uros floating islands. The villagers gave us a demonstration about how the reed islands are constructed and we were shown inside the villagers houses. After that we were shown their merchandise, much of which was exactly the same as the wares on offer at the markets in town.
Then we had a 3 hour boat ride to the island of Amantani - the boat was only doing around 6km/hr so it was a really slow ride. When we arrived we were introduced to a local family, who we were staying with for the night. The food they cooked was very simple, with minimal processed ingredients and no meat but extremely tasty. The lifestyle of the villagers is very simple, with most of their income coming from tourism, with some farming and fishing also carried out on the islands. There are 10 villages on the island and they take turns to host the tourists so that the income is shared fairly between them. It is a really interesting idea which I can't imagine happening in many parts of the world.
That afternoon we hiked to the two temples up on the top of the islands which had spectacular views. That night our families lent us traditional clothes and we went to a 'traditional' dance. The next morning we were up early to head to the next island, Taquila. This island was largely underwhelming but we had a nice lunch of trout with a beautiful view of the lake.
That night we headed back to Puno, where we ended up staying for two nights as David managed to catch something. Peter and I climbed the hill in Puno which had a fantastic view of the town and explored the market but there wasn't really a whole lot to do in Puno.
Tomorrow we are off to the "original" Copocabana in Bolivia.