The night before we passed out in our tent in the middle of what sounded like a keg party classics reggae marathon the plan was to wake up early for another 7 hours of trekking on the Royal Inca Trail that is used as an alternative route to Machu Picchu. I had the best of intentions of slogging my backpack through more of this amazing terrain, but – alas – another round of heavy rains dashed those plans. My knees, quads and back let out a sigh; partly of disappointment and partly of relief.
Instead, we lounged around for a while drinking coffee waiting for the caffeine fire to get the day going. As soon as we were walking away from camp with our full packs back on I knew not trekking had been a kinder decision for my body. Apparently there is a really good reason they generally pack your gear around on mules and horses here.
Getting back to Cusco from Playa turned into a day’s long adventure in and of itself. We waited around Playa for one of the colectivo vans that was taking trekkers on to the next section of trail and hitched a ride to the tiny town of Santa Theresa. Our drive down the winding dirt mountain road was literally right through a coffee and banana plantation before following a river canyon. For over an hour we had nothing but amazing views of more plants I’d never dreamt existed and views of the de-clouded mountains around us. When the van let us out we had a short walk through dirt roads lined with avocado, orange, mango, papaya, and passion fruit trees; and thick tangles of vines pouring over everything even thicker than the trail the day before. Once again it was difficult to take 2 steps without snapping a picture.
A landslide took out the road between Santa Theresa and Santa Maria last year, so we had to take a taxi up the pass as far as it would go before we were let out to cross the slide area that’s now a construction zone on foot. Sometimes in order to do these things I have to pretend it’s completely natural for me to walk along a drop off of several hundred feet with a small burm of soil marking the side to warn you of impending doom. I just have to remind myself to breathe from time to time.
When we got a taxi waiting on the other side of the slide area we had a fast and furious ride down to Santa Maria, bumping along in a mini-van being driven by a guy who would brake as an afterthought as we approached hairpin turns. Thank goodness the Bob Marley classics library was back in rotation on the stereo…
I’ll make the bus story short: it took a lot longer than we thought to get from Santa Maria to Cusco. A lot longer.
For 15 soles you can buy a ticket from Santa Maria back to Cusco on the local bus. A fantastic deal money-wise for a 4ish hour trip. Unfortunately, you pay for your frugality with your time. The bus that was scheduled to leave Santa Maria at 2 eventually arrived for us close to 4. It didn’t take very far into the trip to realize that was due to more extensive road work being done for several more miles…and that is was going to be a very slow several miles, indeed. The saving grace was that the road out of the lush valley climbs up a very, very tall mountain to allow for amazing panoramic views of the winder silver river snaking through endless miles of thick tangled green. The scenery on the ride back was almost as amazing as what we passed through on foot during the past two days of trekking.
When we were back in Cusco I had to shoulder the backpack for one more all-out effort to climb the stairs to San Blas and my apartment. Days later my legs still feel (proud and) tired, and I’m still amazed