Colin and I lucked out with our Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. The weather forecast had threatened rain the entire time, but we had only a little the first day as we summited the Salkantay pass (4800m) between glacier peaks. From there it was all downhill. Literally. The first two days were by far the longest and most strenuous with 7-8 hours of walking each. We were rewarded at the end of day two with a visit to some nearby hot springs. The third day was short and flat with just 3 hours of walking to the town of Aguas Calientes, the launching point for Machu Picchu, where we’d have the most of the afternoon and evening to rest.
During the first 2 days, I had persuaded our guide, Herbert, of my tireless spirit and legs, and elicited from him information about a bonus hike that’s free and possible from town. He promised it to be difficult with ladders covering parts of the mountain that are too steep for trails, but I’d be rewarded with a unique view of Machu Picchu. After a quick stop at the hostel, I set off on my own for a couple of hours. I was a little nervous about the ladder being not so fond of heights, but Herbert assured me it wasn’t very long. I soon learned that there wasn’t just one ladder but five, and the longest one was around 100 feet. Once I was on my way, I certainly wasn’t turning back. In just under an hour, up I went to the top of Putucusi (Quechua for “Happy Mountain” according to Herbert and “Squash Mountain” according to an elderly man in town. We agreed on a compromise of “Happy Squash.”), climbing endless stairs and willing myself not to think about the trip down with each ladder I climbed up. The workout was great and I think I actually yelped aloud with glee as I came to the top and saw Machu Picchu for the first time. I enjoyed the view for a bit and made a fairly quick descent, making an effort to look down as little as possible. It was definitely worth it, especially having only seen a handful of people during the whole trip.
The next morning was an especially early wakeup at 4am to hike up the stairs to Machu Picchu. Turns out the site doesn’t open until 6 anyway, so it wasn’t entirely worth it (though another good workout). Once inside we enjoyed a tour of the site from Herbert and then were set loose to explore on our own. Having not signed up early enough to get tickets for Huayna Picchu, Colin and I hiked up to the Sun Gate for that view and then over to the Inca Bridge. After getting our fill, we went for a leisurely lunch back in Agua Calientes and learned how terrible we both are at chess. A few modes of transport later that evening, and we were back in Cuzco for a couple days of relaxation (and just in time for the rain!).
Our next mini adventure was to the town of Chinchero in the Sacred Valley, which was fairly uneventful. The town is small with not a whole lot going on. We stayed at a nice hostel called La Casa de Borro Lodge and Restaurant (where the cutest puppy, Maracino, also lived), visited ruins, ate empanadas, saw traditional weaving, explored a market, ate more empanadas, and bought some alpaca goods.
We made a quick trip of it and were back in Cuzco the next day, this time to greet our next visitors: mom & dad!