This is part 4 of our Trip to Peru. If you missed the previous two post, go back now and read them… Go ahead, this will wait.
When we left off, we had two hung-over “kids,” two parents who’d found things a wee bit harder than anticipated and a guide who was days away from his wedding, and feeling a little “off” from his night out with said kids. And, a cake. There was a cake… for breakfast. So it’s not that unpredictable that when our faithful and apparently super fly dancing guide explained that we had more “options,” before heading out on our final day of formal trekking, we were all
grateful curious. I had asked, What does today look like? Didn’t you say that this was one of the hard days, lots of up and down trekking? It might have been my imagination, but it seemed like Edgard’s face looked a teeny bit greener than the usual mocha skin tones he’d had before a night out. Rumor had it that certain dancing fools members of our team had come in well after 2 AM, had consumed quite a few pisco sours, and were hung-over. Middle Man was not looking fit for the road, Principessa was a bit paler than usual and then there was Edgard. Our leader.
He smiled wanly and answered me. “Amigos, it’s true; the first part of our day will be very difficult. We will follow the road down from Santa Theresa.” (Down! Down! That road goes down for flipping ever, and my knee is killing me! Down! I thought) I nodded and poured some coca tea. Edgard continued. “This will take about an hour to an hour and half. We will cross to the other side of the river and we will follow the road back up for about two hours. We will be in the sun, and it will be dusty.” (UP! Up again! That road goes up forever! Dusty? Every time a car passes there’s a dust tsunami! We’re going to be climbing up and down these roads for 3 flipping hours! Hell no! I thought) I took a bite of my breakfast cake. “When we finish that, we will follow the railroad and the river from Hydroelectrico. That is a nice trail, that goes through the jungle. We will stop for our boxed lunches later.” (What! Boxed lunches after all that?! Seriously! And what the hell time are we eating those lunches? Sounds like a long time on this death march before we eat! I thought). I poured some more coca tea and smiled. “We will follow this trail up (Up! Did he say up again?) to the town of Aguas Calientes, where we will sleep tonight. We will leave for Machu Picchu from there in the morning.” We all watched Edgard’s face. Where were the options? “If you prefer amigos, we could skip the first part and hire a car to drive us to hydroelectrico, and then hike from there.” (What! Hell yeah!)
I was silent as I glanced around the table. I was weighing my responses, nursing my third coca tea. If I jumped in and admitted that I
needed wanted the car, I would prove everyone right and be the official weak link in our group. I’d be hearing it for years: “We were suppose to trek for three full days but it was too hard for mom…” My knee was killing me and going down hill was like being stabbed, over and over. I’d pushed through it for a day and half of our trek, but the idea of hiking down a dusty road, was beyond what I could bear. Before I could say Let’s take the car, that’s my final answer, Middle Man spoke up. “Uh, I really would prefer to take the car. I don’t feel like hiking up and down the road part.” “Me too,” added Principessa. (What! Take the car! Suuuure, when you’re hung-over it all changes.) Edgard looked my way. Well, if everyone else would prefer to take the car… that’s fine with me too. That’s right folks, I squeaked right out of that bitch of an option, and right into a van.
The relief on Edgard’s face was clear. He smiled, “Well familia, I will find us a car. We will be saying goodbye to our wonderful cooks Samwel and Pancho today, so let’s enjoy this fantastic breakfast and then get our things ready.” Oh how the mood lifted. We all ate cake for breakfast, with relief on the side. For the record, the ever important record, it is not lost on me that my 20 year old son is able to simply ask for what he wants or needs and could care less what the rest of us thought of him. Something for mom to keep working on. For the record.
We said our sad goodbyes to our wonderful cooks. They were truly good men and had fed us well and fed us generously for three full days. I hadn’t seen the boxed lunch yet, but it was sure to be good. The meals they’d provided three times each day, had kept us going even when the trekking was kicking my butt. It was sad saying goodbye, and sad knowing that our trip was nearing its end. I was just coming to like this stuff.
Within an hour our things were packed on a van and we were all getting ready to ride to Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters). A British fellow that all the other hikers were talking about hitched a ride with us. He’d gotten blisters ALL over his feet… literally covering the entire surface of each of his feet. I’d seen him doing a hilarious drunk limp-stagger-dragged-by-others from the bonfire to his tent the night before. No doubt in my mind, he was even more grateful for this ride than me! Middle Man decided he really liked the bright yellow Inca Cola hat that the 11 yr old son of the driver was wearing and set out to buy it from him. Somewhere in the mountains of Peru, there is a small boy wearing Smart Guy’s Pebble Beach hat, and Middle Man is the proud owner of a yellow Inca Cola hat. For the rest of our trip, Middle Man was easy to find in a crowd.
It’s hard to tell you how good it felt to drive by all the other hikers that morning. It was blazing hot and the trail just went on forever down one side and up the other. They each had bandanas across their faces to keep out the intense dust that blew in their faces with each car. They all looked sweaty and miserable. One young woman flagged us down and jumped on board. “It’s horrible out there!” She exclaimed as she climbed aboard. Second only to the horse, it was one of the truly wise things we did on our vacation. I am certain that no one in our family regrets missing that part of the trek.
At Hydroelectrico- just what it sounds like: a huge hydro-electric project that goes right through the mountain and brings water to the region- we all climbed out and and put our packs back on. It was really hot and the trail had little shade for the first bit. It left the railroad bed briefly and went up steeply into the jungle. Just when I was thinking this might be what we would be doing all day, we came out of the trees and back to the tracks. The flat, easy tracks. Yeehaw! The rest of our trek was truly sublime. In and out of the trees, the raging river beside us and then quiet sections of water, beautiful flowers and local people collecting hearts of palm, fruits and other things along the trail. Locals passed us or we passed them as they brought their items to Aguas Calientes, the one trail used by hikers and farmers alike.
We stopped at about 11:30 on Middle Man’s insistence (again, oh the freedom to just say what you want) to eat our boxed lunches. We sat down on an old stone wall, in the shade, beside the river and if I’d doubted for a moment that it would be more than a simple boxed lunch, I was a fool. Hallelujah! Samwel and Pancho came through one last time. Fried rice and chicken never, never, tasted so good in my life! Beat the hell out of the cheddar and apples we hike with at home!
And this my friends is where we met Machu the Inca dog. The dog came trotting down the trail, in the opposite direction, just ahead of another hiker. The big brown, shaggy dog stopped to check out the amazing lunch smells; so we called out to the hiker that his dog seemed like he was set on eating with us. “That’s not my dog,” he answered. “He just started following me this morning.” I shared some of the meat and rice from my lunch; he seemed hungry. Principessa gave me a hard time, again, for petting and coaxing stray dogs. Heartless. Admittedly, almost all of the dogs we saw were quite matted, scratched a lot and did not smell clean. However, they all seemed to be so grateful for a scratch on the head and a “pobrecito!” (Poor thing!) None of them spoke English. My kids were tired of hearing that; Principessa found the entire thing disgusting. Machu had beautiful eyes, graying whiskers, and he was very grateful for the rice and the kindness.
When we got up to continue our trek he followed along. “Come on boy,” Middle Man began to coax, as
our the dog marched along. We didn’t name him at first; we didn’t know he was ours yet. And he stayed with us for two hours, trotting along beside us and stopping for pats when there was a chance. In short order, we began calling him Machu; Picchu didn’t sound right. Each time a train came along, Machu dashed at the wheels,
barking and chasing the trains until they disappeared. That crazy dog would come within inches of the huge machines, as we yelled for him to stop. After a couple times, we gave up. It seemed incredible to all of us, for a dog who clearly had been around for a while. He stuck with us all the way to where the trail left the tracks and headed up (yes, up again!) to the town of Aguas Calientes.
Middle Man was disappointed when we turned and realized Machu was gone. He’d been a good companion for a while and we’d all become a bit attached. I know, it seems like a short bit of time… but when you’re trekking for days, and you’re just walking and walking, a friendly dog seems a little more special than other times. We had begun to think he might just stick with us, that he’d picked us out of all the other hikers… He’d followed us for two hours; he must be ours. Alas, he disappeared and we staggered into town, tired, smelly and very dirty again.
Funny how different tired and dirty looks when you arrive back in civilization! On the trail, the sweat stains, the brown smudges of trail dirt (often mixed with horse dung), the lack of make-up or any effort to fix hair, the clothes you’ve worn for three days straight (yes, I did)- Well, it all looks and smells a little different when there are other people, clean people, around you. Passing some of the very nice hotels, on the way into town, was an eye opener. We looked filthy, and now we had people to notice we looked filthy.
Aguas Calientes is an amazing little town nestled between the peaks of Machu Picchu and surrounding mountains. The river: a fast rushing glacier melt, rushes through town and you can hear it from every point in town. Everything centers around a small square and a market place, and everything kind of stacks up from the river. Yep, that’s right, more UP. When I saw the endless steps in front of us, that Edgard thought lead to our hotel, I came pretty close to just sitting down and crying. I guess I figured that if I hiked all the way to Aguas Calientes, I was done. I hadn’t thought about getting around town. Two amused men told us that our hotel was several streets further up and without skipping a beat, I replied, in English: If you are lying, I will find you. They doubled over laughing, as I began the hike up to Gringo Bill’s, our hotel.
So laugh if you must. I am keenly aware that a name like Gringo Bill’s calls for some chiding, but let me tell you: Gringo Bill (a real person) built a mighty fine hotel, and when I saw those white linens, thick duvet, and pillows, I don’t recall loving a gringo more! The hotel was right off the square and our spectacular room had a charming balcony and the softest bed in Peru. The shower was beyond heaven and while we left a wet pile of very brown towels, something tells me it wasn’t
the first time the staff had seen that. Each room had a mural and ours was a tad erotic. When our kids came in to say hi, Little Man exclaimed “Gross!” His siblings found it terribly funny, and made lots of jokes, until we warned them that we might be influenced by said mural. “Gross!”
We all showered and lounged on our super soft beds for a while. We washed our clothes in the sink and hung things all over the balcony. We gave each other foot rubs and were just lazy for a while. The water in the hotel was THE best water I found anywhere in Peru, and trust me that’s saying something. I drank and drank and drank, catching up on hydration and safe water. After nearly two weeks of gut issues, it was so nice to drink clean, cold*, tasty water and not worry about it. When we’d all had enough and wanted to go explore the market for a while before dinner, we headed down to the square, new clean people… and there was Machu! He was strolling across the square and when I called out his name, he came loping over, clearly excited to see us. Other tourists wrinkled their noses and gave me looks, but that dog was so happy to be pet and loved again. He was a puppy for a few minutes. Pobrecito!
The streets of Aguas Calientes at dusk were magical, old worldly. It reminded me of scenes from the old Western movies of my youth. Dirty streets, no cars, and people walking down the center with their wares. The Quechua women with their long braids, skirts and hats were everywhere. The men pushing carts and coming from work in the stone quarry, smiled and nodded as I took it all in. The train came and went, up along the river and we moved out of the way, as we walked to dinner. The entire scene was exotic and magical.
(Quechua woman at the market, Main square statue, and (below) train at dusk- no flash and lots of dust on the road. You can see Middle Man’s yellow hat)
At dinner, we all met for the first time clean and civilized and it all felt a little off. Edgard was no longer wearing his leggings and hikers; I was in something other than my (borrowed) blue athletic shirt and hiking pants, and we all smelled good. Cocktails all around and a fabulous dinner of local foods was a real treat, a celebration of having made it so far together, through so many personal and physical challenges… There were a lot of warm smiles between Edgard and I. We had shared a lot of talks about the future and life, and he had played such an important, and caring, role in helping me accomplish this trek. The kids had their own (private) memories with him, and we all felt like the family he called us. I will be grateful to him for a very long time. As we all finished our drinks and got ready to go back to our rooms, the excitement of knowing we’d finally see Machu Picchu the next morning was foremost in our thoughts.
“Well amigos, we did it. Tomorrow at 6:30 AM we will ride a bus up to the gates of Machu Picchu (oh, such sweet words: ride a bus!) and I will show you the Inca city for two hours. When I am done, you are free to explore on your own (No! It won’t be the same without you!). We will meet for lunch at 12:30 and then we will each catch our trains, and we will say goodbye.” All that waiting for Machu Picchu, something I’d wanted to see for my entire life, and suddenly the idea that we would be saying good bye to our dear friend, our family, mi hijo, seemed a little bigger and harder to accept, than the fact that I had finished a trek that I was sure I couldn’t do! We walked back across the square, where we saw Machu settled in for the night by the fountain, and went back to get a good night’s sleep. As I drifted off under my warm alpaca blanket, with my soft, clean sheets, I imagined what the next day would feel like… and how we could possibly say goodbye to Edgard.
Tune in for the next post, when we finally see Machu Picchu, decide what to do about Machu the Inca dog, and say farewell to our dear friend.
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