Day 4 of hiking is allegedly the hardest. So last night, Alex said we had options to take the train and bus instead of hiking. I was really torn because on Day 4, we’d actually go along a part of the “official” Inca Trail and see some ruins. But, that would be preceded by more than three hours of uphill hiking. And my body literally hurt everywhere. I could barely move.
So when Alex woke us up at 4 am and said it seemed really cloudy, and visibility of the ruins might be shoddy, that was all the excuse I needed to bow out of that morning’s hike. I couldn’t risk hiking for more than five hours before lunch and maybe not even see the ruins. Daniela and I decided to sleep in while the boys hit the trail.
Daniela and I woke up a couple hours later to take a terrifying bus ride with our cook, Jorge, to the lunch site. Terrifying because we were speeding along tiny dirt roads along steep, cliffside drops. But we survived and saw a cool, super-powerful waterfall along the way.
Our lunch site was the hydroelectric power plant, which is a fairly popular pit stop along the trail. The day actually ended up to be quite beautiful – warm and sunny – so I felt bad about missing the Inca Trail. But then again, there’s only so much my body can take and we had plenty more hours of walking ahead of us after lunch. And let’s not forget that the main event is Machu Picchu tomorrow. I want to have the energy to really enjoy that experience.
When the boys finally arrived at the hydroelectric plant, we had lunch. In the end, I’m glad we skipped the morning hike. The boys were hiking for almost 7 hours and it sounded really hard. And while I’m sure it was really pretty, it didn’t sound so exceptional that I felt too bad missing it. Plus, we had committed to walking from the plant to Aguas Calientes so I definitely needed to save my energy for that.
I LOVED that walk to Aguas Calientes. The entire time, we hiked along the railroad tracks, through the jungle, near a river. Oddly, even though there was actually evidence of civilization (the tracks), the path often seemed even more deserted and isolated than the dirt path we had been taking earlier.
For the most part, there were few others hikers we encountered, and the quite, empty tracks, surrounded by wilderness, were almost eerie. Especially towards the beginning, when we were really surrounded by the jungle and came across a deserted train car and a poor, thin, hungry, wild dog.
But overall, the tropical scenery was beautiful – it was pretty much paradise. We saw tons of plants and flowers, including Birds of Paradise. WE even saw a flock of colorful, green and red, parakeets flying by and landing in this tree full of vibrant orange flowers. It was amazing. I mean, c’mon, a flock of parakeets???
It’s hard to describe the trek in words or even to capture it in photos. There always seems to be too much context missing. You just have to experience it all firsthand. The amazing views of the lush jungle, with the train tracks running through it. The river running along the tracks, and the mountains surrounding you at all times. Occasional clouds or mist drifting through. The rest of the time, the sun out, beating down on you and adding to your physical exhaustion, as you walk, sweating and hurting but kind of loving it a little, too. Then, the occasional peek at Inca ruins high up in the mountains, or the seemingly ever-present Inca walls and terraces.
Then, the sounds – the quiet of the jungle except for rustling leaves or insects buzzing or birds calling. Or the running of the river water. Or the horn as a blue and yellow Peru Rail train rolls by.
As we neared Aguas Calientes, Alex had a surprise in store for us. To get to town, we had to cross through two railroad tunnels. Which meant we had to pretty much run through the short but almost pitch black tunnels before a train came. And is a train suddenly showed up? Just drop your bag and press up against the tunnel wall. Yep, that was the plan. It was a little crazy and a little fun to approach a tunnel as a group and gather at the entrance, then start running through, just praying that we wouldn’t hear that horn or see that headlight or feel that rumble on the tracks.
The whole situation was kind of funny, us hiking along the tracks with all our stuff, looking like hobos (some more than others). But, we made it alive to Aguas Calientes! Yep, we didn’t get flattened by a train.
Then, sadly, we had to say goodbye to our cocinero, Jorge, who effing rocked. He cooked up amazing meals no matter where we were or what the conditions were. He served us trout, alpaca, chicken, lomo, veggies, desserts – always beautifully presented! He even baked us a cake one morning for breakfast, using only a pot! And when me or D couldn’t walk, he was there with the horse. During that excrutiatingly long Day 2, he and the horse walked with me and Daniela the entire second half of the day, lightening our loads when we’d start struggling a little under the weight of our packs.
On a happy note, our hostel in Aguas Calientes was amazing. There was a real, clean bathroom with hot water! After four days of hiking, I can’t even put into words how it felt to shower and be able to wash my hair. I used an entire little bottle of shampoo and conditioner. I never wanted to get out. But I had to because a certain someone was impatiently yelling at me to get out so she could shower.