Arriving in Cusco, after a horrific bus ride that involved a small crash with an oncoming vehicle, we were in need of another rest day. It is definitely easier to ride the bike rather than take these stupid busses but time restraints often dictate the need. Maybe we should just get faster?!
Cusco came as somewhat of a culture shock, for the whole two and a half months we have been in Peru we have rarely strayed into a major tourist hub other then Huaraz, Cusco was a different ball game though, there were so many white people it was unnerving. I was constantly shocked to hear English been spoken, and often forgot that the locals had a pretty good grasp of the language as well. With our fill of good food, and a day to get over the bus ride, it was time to get down to the main event, being in Cusco meant that we were close to Machu Picchu, something you can’t come to Peru and not see. Not wanting to just take the normal route, or the hugely overpriced Inca Trail, we opted for what I thought was going to be a quieter option and attempted the Salkantay trek. I had heard amazing things about this trek before we even arrived in South America and it is something I have been looking forward to doing.
We opted to go self guided and trawled the internet to find information on how to get to the start of the trek, the tourist information companies here were adamant that we couldn’t get there without going on one of their tours.
A little more research showed that we could get a collectivo easily enough; the only problem was that we would have to be getting up at 4am to catch it; this didn’t bode well as Jess doesn’t do well with early mornings!!
We managed to get to the start of the trek with little fuss except for the fact that as soon as we locked the door behind us I realised I had forgotten my wallet. Jess was less than impressed!
With Jess paying my way we began the trek, not before paying an extortionate amount for 4 egg sandwiches from one of what I presume is a camp for the guided groups, looks like they don’t like self guided trekkers either! Luckily for me my wallet was tucked up in the hostel, or so I hoped anyway…
Our plan due to time restraints was to go big, 20km a day for 3 days would take us to Machu Picchu for the 4th day, perfect. Perfect until we started. It quickly became apparent that our bodies are not hiking fit, especially for carrying a heavy pack. By the time we hit the 10km marker we were struggling, already I could feel the bruises developing on my hips and shoulders. What didn’t help were the hundreds of people on a guided trek ambling by with their tiny daypacks.
Our second problem became camping. On the bike we rarely have a problem finding a secluded area to pitch our tent and get a good nights sleep but here any flat spot had been designated an official campsite and with it came fees that we weren’t willing to pay! In the end we walked all the way into Challay, a small hovel that only exists for guided groups, thinking we were going to have to bite the bullet and pay to camp we asked around for the owner so that we could set up and get some much needed food into us. Seeing our bedraggled state, and Jess’ look of pure pain he took pity on us, waving to a spot of grass he said we could camp for free, he must have been making a killing from the 8 tents that were pitched on his veranda to worry about a little more from us!
We awoke the next morning to hear the trail was not passable due to the heavy rain and that everyone must walk down the road, some trek this is!!! With sore shoulders and hips and the prospect of walking down a road we were far from motivated to get going, again I think the owner of the camp must have picked up on our vibes and came over to offer us a lift with a few of the guided group to the bottom of the road. Done!
We felt no regrets as we passed the light weight hikers tramping down a dirt road, hell, we had ridden roads worse than this, walking it would have mentally killed me. We were dropped of at Santa Teresa, a small town at the end of the trail and discovered that we now had another road stretch to get us to Hydroelectrica, the only way into Machu Picchu. I was struggling to see how this trek had been rated so highly when all you seem to do is walk on roads?! Again having no desire to dodge taxis and collectivos we took a lift to the end of the road, all that was left now was a 10km hike up a railway track and Machu Picchu would be in touching distance.
With our bodies aching from the previous day’s effort we managed to stumble the 10km and found ourselves a campsite at the base of the path to the Incan village. With plans for a rest day to allow my body to recover before making the trek to Machu Picchu we explored the local town, and quickly retreated due to the crazy prices they were charging for anything and everything. Our day was spent relaxing in the tent and doing not much at all but hoping the weather would be clear for the following day.
I awoke at 4am to the sound of rain. Brilliant! I have been in Peru for two and a half months and have woken up to gray skies a total of three times, this being the third. Not to be deterred I was up and dressed and with head torch trained on the road and water on my back I was off ready to beat the crowds to the top. I made it roughly 100m before I was in a queue. Turns out they lock the gates at the bottom of the hill until 5, I think this is to encourage more people to pay for the crazily priced busses rather than attempt the trek up the hill side. The first buss leaves town at 5.30 giving the walkers very little chance of being the first to the top. This still didn’t deter a huge number of tourists, even with my early start I was probably over 100 people from the front, still this gave me a good number to beat even if the bus was a long shot.
The gate opened and the crowd surged through to tackle the climb ahead. Our advantage over the buses was that we went straight up for 1745 steps (I was informed of this by a welsh couple we met in the campsite the night before) while they drove backwards and forewords along the switchbacks. Slowly the numbers on the trail dwindled and before I knew it I was cresting the top of the hill, to my shock there was only one other person there, both of us had managed to beat even the staff bus and for a few minutes were stood slightly at a loss of what to do.
My cycling fitness had obviously paid off and as the main gates were opened I was the first through and up to the view point, unfortunately I didn’t really know where I was going so I didn’t make it to the best spot until later in the day but still, having the whole place to yourself, even for just a minute was a pretty special experience and luckily the clouds parted just as I got in.
I spent the rest of the morning trying my best to avoid the crowds while trying to eaves drop on the guided groups I couldn’t get away from. After 3 hours of aimless wandering I was done. Time to get back to camp, pack and make the 10km trek back out. There are no buses from Machu Picchu, you either take the crazy priced train or hike the 10km back the way you came in and get a bus from there. All in all this made for a crazily long day with way too many steps but at least we had made it and not been stranded as some of the tour operators told us would happen if we tried to get a bus on the day.
Machu Picchu marked the end of our time in Peru, from here it was yet another bus to the Bolivian Border where we would once again mount our noble steeds and ride some more. We have had an amazing time in Peru and ridden some of the best trails of the trip, our bikes have been put through their paces and come out smiling almost as much as we have. We did treat them to a service in Cusco with some new fatter shoes as well as a spruce and a clean. We are excited for Bolivia but sad to be leaving Peru behind. This place has so much to offer, from the unbelievable mountains to be climbed to the endless back roads to be explored. I can confidently say we will be back at some point. But now we have a bus to Bolivia that will once again hopefully take four bicycles and be somewhat comfier than the last bus we took. Let’s hope the adventure gods and mother nature are kind to us and the rains hold off for just one more month!
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.