Santa Theresa, PeruJuly 9, 2017 in Peru ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C
The road to Machu Picchu.
From the outset, Cat and I were unsure about Machu Picchu (MP). We didn't fancy the crowds and our previous experiences of ruins have left us with little more than a mild sense of intrigue. However, almost everybody we spoke to in the weeks prior to Cusco insisted that we shouldn't miss it. That, combined with the fact that it's recently been named the seventh wonder of the world (and a small fear of missing out) was reason enough to spend a ridiculous amount of money on the experience (US $45 just for the ticket).
MP was the final day activity on a three day 'Inka Jungle' tour. We booked this tour largely because MP is miles away from anything and inaccessible by road. We would have done the Inca Trail but you have to book that months in advance, or the Salkantay Trek but we didn't have enough time. I'd be lying if I said we weren't a little disorganised on this one, which was a shame. The other option was to catch the train but we were deterred by a ridiculous US $150 per person ticket - absurd, I'm sure you'll agree.
I don't regret doing this tour but the tour company did a fantastic job of trying to ensure we did. They forgot to pick us up on the first morning, only showing up in a taxi after we called them. After we joined the group, it took us a full two hours to leave Cusco, most of which was spent in the van, parked on the side of various roads with no idea why we were waiting. After we got out of Cusco, we had to stop for fuel and then had another 40 minute stop at a cafe for no apparent reason. It was the classic take-the-cash-and-treat-you-like-trash tour we've come to despise. We survived that journey thanks only to the interesting (and quite horrific) life story of a Peruvian ex-guide in our van who grew up in a cocaine factory deep in the Amazon Jungle. He was just a boy at the height of Pablo Escobar's reign and he himself had worked with cocaine and witnessed several very public murders. Crazy!
We got around to our first activity just after midday, five hours after we were meant to be picked up. We'd arrived at the top of a mountain range at an elevation of about 4200m. It was sunny, cool and clear and we suited up for another downhill bike. Our actual tour guide left the ex-tour guide to lead us and we spent the next two hours or more bombing the smooth asphalt road. Almost non-stop. It was awesome fun with next to no uphill and the continuity left us exhausted and starving! It was after 3pm when we finally stopped in a small town at around 1100m and we hadn't eaten since our bread and jam breakfast at 7am. We packed up and drove another half hour to lunch which was promptly wolfed down.
We were supposed to go rafting that afternoon but we'd booked the express tour, cutting out a day and several of the activities. Quite happy to skip what looked like timid rafting (it's the dry season) and the extra day of faff, we were shoved in a taxi with nothing but the name of our new guide and dispatched along the bumpy gravel road to Santa Theresa.
Lucky for us, Santa Theresa is a small town. I say that because neither us nor our driver had any idea where we were supposed to go. Our only tool for navigation (the guide's name) proved about as useful as a steak knife in a vegan restaurant. After a few laps in the car holarring 'Nerio' at numerous Cholitas we eventually got out and followed one to our accommodation. Nobody seemed to have a clue who we were or what we were doing but we were shown a basic room which we swiftly took before passing the remainder of the evening at a bar, waiting for our new group. Turns out they too, were behind schedule, information which took some effort to extract from the lovely lady who had kindly adopted us for the privilege of our drinks orders at happy hour.
Finally we met our group who made us feel a bit like kids on a family holiday but the motley lot were all very friendly and chatty unlike our previous group, much to our relief.
The next day we went ziplining across the valley which leads to MP. Despite an enormous conglomerate of groups, the cables were high, long and fast and we had a blast. The sketchy swing bridge over the river was a nice touch (although Cat will disagree) and all we had to do from there was battle the most persistent mosquitos whilst we waited for our van. On the subject of mosquitos - if you're in the area bring heaps of really high deet repellent. There are swarms and swarms of the pesky buggers which seem to get through your clothes (especially leggings) causing grievous bodily harm. You were warned!
Lunch was had at Hydroelectrica, an almost non-existent village which serves only to feed tourists on their way to MP - oh and to provide power... obviously. We then had a two hour hike along the railway tracks which was pleasant largely because of the limited grade - certainly a change from hiking in Colca Canyon. We arrived in Aguas Calientes in the mid-afternoon (on time and having barely even seen the guide we had paid for since breakfast) where we were handed over to an 'official' MP guide.Read more