Salkantay Part 2: Welcome to the Jungle

Rolling out of bed on day 3 of the hike took all of the willpower I posessed. Everything hurt- my legs, my arms, my back; and to top it off there had been a heavy rain overnight so my tent fly and ground sheet were soaked. Luckily the tent itself didn’t leak, but the wet gear was going to add some very unneeded weight to my pack. Asking around, I found out that the next two stops were actually in villages so there would be food available to purchase. With that I ditched the last of my pasta and sauce and just kept a few granola bars and trail mix for the rest of the trip. 

A view of the trail to Colcapampa camp that I finished in the dark. Yes the hill is as steep as it looks.
One of the many streams feeding into the river I was following.
One of the many streams feeding into the river I was following.

The hike brought me further down in elevation, toward the river valley and eventually alongside it. The vegetation transitioned into full-on rainforest- a small offshoot of the Peruvian Amazon region. My pack felt just as heavy as yesterday, despite ditching much of my food, and my legs felt like wet noodles. I reached a small settlement and found they sold gatorade, of all things. I downed a 710mL bottle in one sitting and kept going.

Eventually I came upon a couple of men working in a smoldering field (the most efficient way to clear out vegetation for spring planting is to burn it out). I asked one of the men how far it was to La Playa, the nearest town. He told me 3 hours and then asked about the sleeping bag I had strapped to my pack- did I want to sell it? I thought about it for a few moments- I was now at an elevation where the temperature would likely stay pretty warm at night and the final night of my trek would be spent in the town of Aguas Calientes beneath Machu Picchu, so I was unlikely to need it in the near future. The downside was it was a quite nice North Face bag rated to -9, and there is no way I would get the amount it was worth. In the end I agreed, if only to give my poor legs some relief; we negotiated for a while and I ended up selling it for the equivalent of $40. 

Precarious bridge with a sheer drop? All in a day's work on the Salkantay trek.
Precarious bridge with a sheer drop? All in a day’s work on the Salkantay trek.

With my load considerably lightened, I continued toward La Playa, a rough little town in the middle of the jungle, but also an oasis of civilization after the washed out path and sheer wet slopes of the the day. From La Playa I was able to stow away on my friend Lucy’s tourist bus to get to the final destination of the day, Santa Theresa. It is generally agreed that walking to Santa Theresa along the road is both boring and sketchy as hell, owing to the narrow winding road clinging to the mountainside and the speeding traffic. My original plan had been to bypass Santa Theresa and take an alternate route called Llactapampa which would give me an amazing view of Machu Picchu as I approached over a low mountain. As it was I just couldn’t bring myself to tackle another 800m up and down. I would see Machu Picchu close up soon enough.

Arriving in Santa Theresa, I found out that the tour group was heading to some hot springs down the road. The bus driver graciously allowed me to join in for a small fee. The hot water was AMAZING. After 3 days of exhaustion and rain and dirt, I could have stayed in that pool for days. As it was, I Iasted about 90 minutes before I started to look like an overcooked perogie. The one tragedy was that I left my much beloved hat at the pool. Alas!

For the night I borrowed Lucy’s coat as a backup blanket and wrapped it, along with most of my clothes around my body. The rain kicked in full force overnight, but I was surprisingly comfortable. Not my most restful sleep but not bad considering I was sleeping in a tent in the rain in the Peruvian jungle. 

Walking along the river.
Walking along the river.
Freedom train!
Freedom train!

In the morning I packed up my wet tent, gave Lucy her coat back and walked into town. My feet were in a horrid state by this point and I decided to end the hike a little early. Traditionally the trek ends with a walk along the railway tracks to Aguas Calientes, but I decided to splurge the $20 (from my sleeping bag proceeds) and catch the train. I am now sitting in a hotel room that costs twice my daily budget ($100) with hot water and white towels. My tent and gear are hung up all over the room to dry and I am watching Big Bang Theory with Spanish subtitles. A small part of me is sad that I didn’t finish the whole hike, but if my feet had gotten infected, that would have put a damper on the next several weeks of my trip and that was not a risk I was willing to take. Tomorrow: MACHU PICCHU!

Author: Amy D. Nelson

Wanderer, hack writer, aspirational hobo, part time aerial surveyor, geologist, forester and whatever else I can do to pay for a plane ticket. Is that sentence fragmental enough?

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