After our killer first day of trekking, the roosters that woke me at 4:30 the next morning were in no way charming or exotic. I could hear them in the distance and wondered where they must be, having only seen outlines of mountains as I’d stumbled into camp the night before (read No Pain…). Just as my brain was clearing, Pancho tapped on our tent and called out: “Good morning Amigos; it’s time to wake up.” Arrgh. He put our coca tea at the entrance to the tent, softening the wake up blow a bit, and left to go wake our kids. We all had 30 minutes to drink our tea, get dressed and empty the tents, then meet at the breakfast table.
As I stepped out of my tent, it was something akin to the moment when Dorothy steps out of her Kansas clapboard house, and finds herself in Oz. The whole world exploded in green, then rosy haze, and then the colors of the amazing little homestead we were camped at. A small house had a smoke curling up from its chimney. In the yard there were chickens strutting, a black rooster, pigs, and several dogs playing in the yard. A small girl in pink skipped across the grass and looked my way curiously. The mountains: oh the mountains were amazing! The jungle wrapped hills rose all in all directions, as the rosy early morning sun beams shot across and between the crests of the peaks around us. I heard the river, ever
constant, and realized it was not far away but off in the jungle, and behind us falling from a water fall and again in the distance. Water all around. Mountains all around. Flowering trees and green, green, green. I stood, sore and stiff, taking it all in and sipping the last of my coca tea.
At breakfast we all agreed to some stiff and tired muscles; I was not alone. We learned that our horse would be leaving us and a brief panic set in again. My horse! What if I needed another ride? I thanked the caballero and patted my sweet girl one last time as I resolved to the fact that it would be all walking for the final two days. After breakfast my little friend, six year old Marisol, and I practiced English and Spanish together: Dientes-teeth, ojos-eyes, me llamo-my name is… She showed me her pink bike and how fast she could ride. The bike had no wheels, so she pedaled furiously as the little bike sat still
in the dirt beside the house. She showed me the guinea pig (cuy) house and we all realized that was another source of income. Cuy is a popular dinner in Peru. I showed her Sun Salutions and practiced some yoga before we set out. She wanted her picture taken and smiled shyly for my Nikon. When it was time to leave, she waved as we marched off.
As we came around the first bend in the road, we found the smallest towns! We crossed a swinging suspension bridge and watched as young kids passed us, headed to school in the direction we’d come from. Only later did we see the school, tucked away in the jungle. It was a long hike down at first, a gnarly piece of trail that had been washed away and barely hug the side of the steep hillside and a river crossing. All before the sun was high in the sky. The initial track was muddy, in the jungle with areas where the river had come up and gone back
down. The mosquitoes finally came out and Edgard warned us to put on our bug spray, and I was silently thankful for the anti-malaria medicine we were all taking. I skipped it in India and Africa, but was grateful I had it in Peru as I heard reports of malaria outbreaks, the more we traveled.
It was an up and down trek all day. It was an 8 hour day. The scenery was beautiful! We stopped at two different homesteads to rest and hydrate. Edgard picked or bought a couple of different local fruits for us to try, each a delicious treat. Puppies, dogs, were everywhere. They played with us and waited for petting. Children called “hola” from hidden villages and small houses, tucked in the jungle. And we walked on. It was steamy and hot, not the chill and cold of the mountains. A small boy named Juanito (Johnny) and I played in the dirt outside his house. He had Downs Syndrome and we drew shapes with our sticks: his a branch that
worked as a horse, a sword and a pencil, mine a hiking stick that kept me moving. He was thrilled when I drew a star, and his very pregnant mother smiled to see him playing with us. It was hard not to imagine how difficult their lives must be, so far from modern conveniences, growing most of their food and living in a small house without electricity. And on we marched. While nothing was as challenging as the day before, it was
hard nonetheless. For the record, Principessa and Middle Man were ahead of us the whole day, but I kicked Smart Guy’s ass. That is me bragging, and boy did it feel good! So much for me being the weak link, the lame duck, the whimpy mom… My knee was in agony the entire way, but no one waited for me. I waited for Smart Guy. And waited. It was a surprise to everyone, including myself!
Eventually we came to a small town with more houses and small stores. Kids in plaid uniforms passed us on their way home from school. The sun was strong and we were all grateful to be coming to our stop for the day. A small store and restaurant was the place where all the groups stopped to eat, or camp, or catch their rides on to Santa Theresa. Initially, the plan had been to camp at the site and hike to Agua Calientes the next day: a brutal hike similar to our first day without the altitude issues, but a lot of uphill, and long hours. The night before, ready to die from our first day, but before the second, we had unanimously voted to get a ride from the small town where
we’d stop, to Santa Theresa and skip the extra hiking. Again, I was so grateful when others voted for this option, rather than leaving it to me. While I had no intention of doing that hike, I didn’t have to be the one to say it.
So we hung out at this tiny oasis, listening to loud American pop music (Katy Perry, Gaga, Rhiana are all doing well in the mountains and jungles of Peru), eating a delicious meal and getting our feet out of our
boots. We sat and waited for the tiny van that would eventually arrive and take all of us and several others to Santa Theresa. I’ve never been so happy to be crammed into a hot, tiny van with no seat belts, people stacked on people, to be driven up a zig zagging switch back road, on a waiting-to-slid-away-steeper-than-steep mountain road! I paid to do it, and felt zero guilt. We arrived at Santa Theresa, the most developed and modern town we’d seen in days, close to sunset. With our long summer days at home, it was hard to adjust to the 5 PM sunsets, but we rolled out of the van to the sounds of our favorite: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (by “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole. We got our tents set up, made sure everything was zipped tight (having been warned of the tarantulas, that prefer warm dark places) and got back in the same van, with the same group, to visit the local hot springs.
The hot springs were nestled beside the raging Urubamba river that we’d followed much of the day. The current is deadly, and in 2010 this same river rose up so high that it buried the hot springs in tons of rock and debris, took out the oldest and sturdiest metal bridge and left anyone who’d lived by the river homeless. The hot springs are fed by the river itself as well has boiling hot water that rises up in the pools. I’ve never been so happy to see hot water in my life! In the small waterfall-showers that we rinsed in, required to enter the pools, the water ran brown off my body. Despite long pants and socks, the dust from two days of trekking was in every follicle and pour of my body! Under the pools, the view of the mountains around us, the endless sea of gray boulders and gravel, and the setting sun, was spectacular. It felt like bathing on the surface of the moon. We soaked and played and let go of every ounce of tension that we’d felt, hiking for two (feels like four) days.
We’d met a really fun family (father and 3 kids) from Tazmania along the trail. Dad had stumbled down the trail with us the first night, and we’d met them again at the rest spot earlier in the day. They’d crammed into the van with us and an hour or so later we were all happy to be splashing together at the hot springs. Now we all introduced ourselves properly and shared the usual ice breakers. As pruned as we all got, it was hard to leave even after two hours. Back at Santa Theresa our wonderful crew had made another delicious dinner, and we all sat and laughed about how hard the hiking had been thus far and how well we’d all done despite that. The owners of the camp grounds set up a huge bon fire, and as soon as dinner was over, the pisco sours were flowing and Principessa and Middle Man had joined the mostly young thangs around the fire. A group of wild and hilarious frenchmen got us all going to I’m Sexy and I Know It. It is always funny to me how guys think they’re terribly sexy and hip when they dance to that song. These guys were the life of the party… until my kids got involved.
Before anyone could say baila, baila, baila (dance!) my two oldest children had our entire team of guides, cooks and many of the other hikers off to Santa Theresa to drink more pisco sour and dance the night away. I joined the Aussie dad and one of his daughters, as well as their guide and we sat up talking about for far too long. Smart Guy was out cold long before I got back to our tent and after checking for tarantulas, I settled in and hoped our tow oldest would make it back in fair enough shape to make the 6:30 wake up and start o our third day of trekking. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to predict where that was headed…. (actually I gave it away at the end of the last post). When Pancho tapped on our tent at 6:30 with our coca tea, there were audible moans from certain young people’s tents. Wake up was not an easy undertaking for certain members of our group… ahem.
I don’t know what Santa Teresa is responsible for, but in our case she brought great food, good company, strong pisco sours, music to lose yourself in, and memories for a life time. We each found something to sooth our tired bodies and make us laugh and celebrate. The next morning, that may have looked a little different, but none of us will forget Santa Teresa.
Hung over and feeling a wee bit worse for wear, a few members of our team made it out of their tents to take on day three, the final day of trekking before Machu Picchu. Check out the next post to see how it all goes…
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