The view back to Santa MariaWe were awoken by heavy footsteps pounding away on the floor above us at 5am. Together with everything Rach mentioned last night, this would have to be our worst accommodation so far this trip. We didn’t sleep too bad considering except I woke up a bit stuffed up and with a sore throat. Think the Canadians have kindly given me their cold.

We met for breakie at 630am, cold pancakes with banana and bread rolls with jam. It was ok and we carbo-loaded for our big day of trekking.
We jumped onto a waiting minibus that drove us down to the river and through the ‘old town’ of Santa Maria. The old town was deviated by a flash flood in 1999 which completely wiped the town off the map. They have since built a new village higher up the mountain where our hostel is located.

We drove for about 20 mins along the river until finally the inevitable happened; we got to the start of our jungle trail. We piled out of the bus, the sun already blazing down from us without a cloud in the sky. We out our backpacks on and starting climbing. We would’ve have been going all of 15 mins when we got to a clearing where we could see all the way down the valley where we were trekking today. Off the distance we could see the peaks of 2 massive mountains, standing over 6000m tall. Our guide said it was rare to see both as they are mostly covered in cloud most of the year. It was an amazing view (the first of many today) and hard to believe we could see snow as we were sweating in the morning heat.

We stopped off at a local family house where they sold bunches of bananas for 1 soles (30c). They also had a pet monkey which was tied beautiful clear morningto a pole and jumping around all excitedly as he had visitors.

We continued onwards and upwards, climbing up through banana and coffee plantations. Our local guide Wilbert stopped by a coca plant which is used for many purposes including making coca tea and sweets to assist treat altitude sickness. However, it’s most (in)famous use is for the production of cocaine, with 100kg of dried coca leaves being able to produce 1kg of the illegal drug. Although illegal in Peru, it still is a major producer of cocaine supplying Columbia, Peru and Bolivia. The funny thing is if I got drug tested at the moment, I’d probably get a positive reading for cocaine as I’ve been drinking the tea; which has no harmful effects like its illegal brother.

We got to another local house 45 mins later, thankful for the rest stop. P1050306They poured us chicha, a local drink made from this purple corn. It tasted sort of like blackberry juice but not as sweet. We then bizarrely were dressed up in some traditional dress and grabbed some photos. The other guys in our group also got their faces painted with that fruit stuff we had done in the Amazon. Rach and I passed as we know how much it attracts bees and is super hard to clean off.

We set off again and climbed upwards further, joining another trail which was an ancient Inca trail. It snaked its way around the cliff’s edge, no more than 1m wide and a pretty hefty drop of a couple hundred metres on the other. It was pretty nerve racking but as long as you we kept our wits about us and watched every step, it was fine. We got to a lookout point and looking back we could see the river flowing far down below us, and further on our little village of Santa Maria P1050306where we started earlier today. The view was simply amazing, especially when we faced the way we were going and again could see the snowy mountains off in the distance; it was just such a perfect day.

We continued along this Inca trail along the cliff face for about 15mins and got to a resting point where the mountain sort of went out to a little peninsula. We sat down to rest, rehydrate and listen to Wilbert tell us some stories of the early Incas. We tried to listen the best we could however most of the time we were in awe of the view.

It was about 11am and Wilbert told us the worst was behind us, with the next couple of hours flat and downhill to lunch.<br P1050307style=”color: font-family: ‘Helvetica Neue’, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal;” />

We made it to Cocamayo, the little village right down by the rivers edge around 12.45pm. The downhill trekking working completely different leg muscles than the ones going up. We crashed at the little restaurant, finding hammocks, seats and bare concrete to lie down and rest. Lunch was served shortly after, another 4 course meal that left us absolutely stuffed and in no state to continue hiking for 2.5 hours. Thankfully Wilbert told us we had 30mins break until we had to leave so we rested, Rach even falling asleep in the hammock.

The afternoon trek saw us walking along the banks of the river. There were a few log bridges we needed to cross over as these little waterfalls made there way down to join the big rapids of the river. We reached the point at which there was a suspension bridge to take us across the other side of the raging river. The Monkey on a leashbridge was built in 1999 following the massive flash flooding that devastated the area. There used to be a railway line running along the banks of the river however this was completely washed away with the flood, the only remnants being a few railway girders lying twisted of the side of the trail and an abandoned tunnel carved through one of the mountains.

We crossed the rickardy suspension bridge, carefully does it as the platform was swinging from side to side. Thinking the worst was behind us, we trooped onwards for another 20mins, before noticing the cable running across the valley above us, some 100m in air with this pathetic looking wooden box being hoisted across from one side to the other. We started climbing towards the platform where the cable was connected to the mountain; and discovered what the Peruvians call a cable car. 3 people went at a time, each sitting as to balance the weight of the ‘car’. We were the second of our group to jump aboard. P1050316To say I was a little nervy is an understatement. I was at the front, my legs dangling over the edge of the car, my hands hanging onto the railings for dear life! We were pushed off, the first half of the journey moving via gravity, gently floating across the valley via the pulley system, the white water rushing some 100m below. I was holding up ok, however demanding Rach to hold on tight as she fluttered about with the camera. At the half way point, gravity makes way for manpower, and the native guy and Sam from our group took it in turns pulling the rope that our car was connected to; slowly but surely making it to the other side. I was thankful when we made it back to terra-firma, exceptionally happy to pay our 2 soles for the safe arrival on the other side of the valley.

We all made it across the valley safely in 3 carloads. The group ahead of us had this poor guy who Our guide Hilbertwas literally terrified of heights. He flat out refused to go on the cable car, deciding instead to try and wade across the white water river. We could see from the cliff top that this was a stupid idea, more dangerous than the aerial route. He made it about 1m in when thankfully common sense told him that any further and he’d be swept down river. We later learned that from his tour group that he decided to walk back to the lunch village some 2.5 hours back and catch a taxi to the village we were all staying in!! Mind you, he walked back on his own and it was starting to get late in the afternoon by this point. At dinner, our guide informed us that he talked to the other guide and he had arrived safely. Thank goodness; now that is a serious case of vertigo!!

After the cable car, we wondered on for a short period to these thermal pools. We were all tired and sore at P1050322this point, having walked about 16km up and down bloody mountains so were thankful to change into togs and freshen up. The pools were so clean and really relaxing; ranging in temperatures as you swapped pools. We relaxed here for about 1.5 hours until the sun went down and our skin turned all wrinkly.

Our guide thankfully had organised a minivan to take us into town, 15mins out of the valley and to our hotel. And I must say, it’s a vast improvement on last nights accommodation. Double bed, hot water, toilet paper!! This place is like 5-star!! And the pillows are really comfy (I.e not lumpy) so we are going to sleep soundly tonight.

We walked all of 30m to a restaurant for dinner. The usual 4 courses were served up to us again, consisting on soup and again meat, rice P1050326and veggies. It was fine and we’re not to complain given its all including in our tour. The restaurant was offering 4-for 1 cocktails to finish our night off so we all obliged and had Mojitos and Piña Coladas, in case our bodies needed any further inspiration to send us to sleep tonight!!

Well, it’s now 10pm and I’m stuffed. Another big day tomorrow but thankfully not as much hiking. We start nice and early with ziplining in the morning followed by our hike to Aguascalientes, the ‘base camp’ of Machu Picchu!!

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