August 3, 2007
Choquequirao-Machu Picchu Trek Day 6
First thing this morning, I crossed the treacherous bridge near the campsite and jumped in the hot springs. The water was so hot, it was like a jacuzzi as it massaged my back and shoulders. I could have stayed there all day. I couldn't have asked for a better treat after trekking so far.
As Chantelle and I were eating breakfast, the tour groups started coming down from their camp. As the groups passed us, they stopped at the hot springs, but nobody went in. Their guides just pointed them out and explained that there wasn't enough time to visit them. I went into a fit of crazed laughter when the tourists took pictures of the perfect water they could never enjoy.
After several days of seeing almost nobody, we were now on the Salkantay trek, one of the main Inca Trails to Machu Picchu. Every ten minutes, we passed a food stand or restaurant that some villager had set up. The trail became relatively flat for the first time since our first day. There were at least fifty other trekkers in our vicinity, but at least they were friendly. I had some nice conversations with several of them during our frequent breaks. We moved at a more relaxed pace than previous days, but still made it to the end in three hours, despite being told that it would take five.
The trek ended at La Playa, which was the first place with road access. Getting out wouldn't be easy because all of the vans leaving the area were already chartered to tour groups. While waiting for a van that had room for Chantelle and I, we met a German named Philip and a Peruvian named Marcela, who had just finished the Salkantay trek without a guide and were also waiting for a ride. Marcela mentioned that she was a member of Couchsurfing, and before I knew it, I was being invited to Lima. They were both very nice people, so I think I'll take her up on her offer, despite not being fond of Lima.
Eventually we got a van to Santa Teresa, a little backwater town that also happens to be a back door entrance to Aguas Calientes, which is the gateway to Machu Picchu. While we were waiting, three Israelis showed up, making our group seven strong. We all hopped into another van to the hydroelectric plant that marked the end of the PeruRail train line and the closest any roads came to Machu Picchu. From there, we walked two hours along the train tracks and arrived in Aguas Calientes after dark.
We were all exhausted and filthy from trekking, so we just wanted to find a hotel and go to sleep. However, Aguas Calientes only exists to service the tourists going to Machu Picchu, so everything's really expensive there. Eventually the Israelis were able to use their expert bargaining techniques to get us a cheap place to stay. We wanted to get to Machu Picchu before the hordes of tourists, so we planned to get up at 3:30 AM and went to bed relatively early.
The photo album for this entry is here.