I got a great night sleep and was up well before 6, right as the cooks passed by with the Coca tea. We had the latest start of the trek that morning which began around 8:30am. The guides asked numerous times to check if we had our passports ready because we were all passing a checkpoint up ahead. After we got there, had passport information taken, we were on the final march to Machu Picchu.
Most of this path is now along train tracks that have been built to bring tourists who weren’t as crazy as us to trek for many days to Machu Picchu. We basically walked on the edge of a jungle that was now opened by these train tracks. The scenery was still beautiful with tropical trees on both sides and an occasional stream. The bridges that were built on this path over the streams were very rickety. Some were also very high up with large gaps in the middle where you could have fallen a long way. It was wise to not look down while crossing many of these.
At one point we got to see the backside of the Machu Picchu mountain. From so far below you can hardly make out there is anything up there. It was interesting though because while we were at Machu Picchu the next day, it was clear as day to see where we were standing now looking up:
A few more miles and we were at a shaded break area. We sat on the benches there and rested while having our boxed lunches.
An example of one of the sketchy bridges which was just some larger wooden blocks for the train tracks:
There was another angle that we were apparently supposed to see Machu Picchu from again, but it wasn’t very visible:
Slowly but surely we could start to make out hotels and hostels in the distance and we knew we’ve arrived at Aguas Calientes.
The city is pretty interesting. Essentially a make-shift traveler’s community, it seemed to me what a tropical resort town might look like. There were hot springs, spas on every corner, restaurants lining the blocks, hotels/hostels on every street, and no shortage of tourists walking in all directions — some awaiting their turn to see Machu Picchu and others who had returned that day from seeing it.
We checked into our hostel and dropped our stuff off before setting out to explore what Aguas Calientes had to offer.
The first thing we did was walk as far away from the touristy-filled main streets as quickly as possible. We headed to a side of the town that looked to be completely residential and where the local peruvians who worked in Aguas Calientes mostly lived. You could tell how far you were getting from the touristy areas as the prices of restaurants were dropping from 30 Soles to 20 Soles to 15 Soles to eventually 8 Soles when we were at the opposite corner of the city. This part of town reminded us of how other Peruvian towns look and feel with narrow streets, mom and pop stores lining the blocks and small apartments or houses right next to one another.
While we were wandering this side of town, we stumbled upon probably the biggest gem of the entire city and possibly the best kept secret: an unbelievable, well-maintained, massive, soccer practice field. It was beautiful. Even by american standards, the way they kept this field maintained was stunning. There were groups of kids playing in different areas and it was free like a park for anyone to use. We saw many pickup games and couldn’t help but sit in the bleachers and watch in awe at this field in the middle of, by contrast, run-down houses all around it. The interesting part is how it’s almost purposefully placed dozens of streets away from the main touristy part of town as a deterrent to travelers.
After awhile, forgetting to eat because we were staring at this field, we got hungry and began searching for food along the street. We passed by a strange concoction being cooked and couldn’t help but stop and see what it was. It turned out to be Peruvian-style doughnuts. They tasted like those super-fresh doughnuts you get at Krispy Kreme without the glazed topping. It was a great appetizer while we walked around trying to find a restaurant to eat at.
Walking along the streets back in the direction of the touristy-area, we noticed we had wandered for quite awhile (or stared at the soccer field too long!) because the sun was getting ready to set. We were told earlier that everyone was gathering together for dinner, so it wasn’t worth eating now so we did the next best thing:
Ah, that cold Cerveza. We actually passed by the Floridian and New Yorker and decided to have a couple beers with them before dinner. It was right by the train and they were waiting on the next one which was bringing their extra bags they had placed on it somehow early that morning (we didn’t even know that was an option until that point). Conversations with other travelers are always fascinating because you reminisce about your short time and experiences shared together, but you also trade stories about your past and how they brought you to this moment. The Floridian and New Yorker mentioned that they planned the trip as a way to experience Machu Picchu before it would be too late for their legs to do a trek. They ventured down memory lane to the first time they met which happened to be 40 years prior in junior high. It was startling at first hearing this, because Nathan and I actually also met for the first time in junior high and we asked about how that bond stuck with them throughout all these years. I’ll never forget their response and the stories that followed about how no matter where each of them went with their lives — the New Yorker even living in Venezuela for many years, a simple phone call would bring them back together as if no time had ever passed. It seemed in that moment that the friends who you’ve known the longest will always be the easiest to reconnect with in the future despite any changes in your life.
After the train arrived, we were joined by the Frenchman, the Frenchwoman and Young Miguel just before we convened for dinner.
It was bitter-sweet at dinner. Many of us had bonded over the past 4 days and this was going to be our last meal together before hiking up over 2000+ steps at 4am the next morning. We clanged our glasses of Pisco Sour (the famous peruvian cocktail) and laughed together, happy to be in such a great place with great company.
A few of us headed to a pool bar afterwards for a couple more drinks before calling it a night. The next morning was going to be a moment to remember forever.
The final hike up Machu Picchu here! - On the Road: Trekking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 5 – Climbing Machu Picchu