Friday, April 3, 2009

A Walk Through the Andes: Part 3

We awoke in Santa Teresa, itchy and fatigued from the previous days walk, to rain. Again.

After a meager breakfast of chocolate crepes and bananas, the handful of us that decided to continue by foot took off through the drizzle protected by our dirty clothes, raincoats and thin, brightly colored plastic ponchos. The others played cards underneath the restaurant's tin roof waiting for the bus.

The third day of walking was an easy one in comparison: six hours dragging our soggy feet along the Urabamba River on wide paths and through the clouds that sat at eye level. The day went by pretty simply, when not avoiding bites from the local blood sucking insects and uneven loose rocks beneath our feet.

The slow incline and sound of the river racing next to us was a relief as we made our way to lunch some four hours from our start point in Santa Teresa. Lunch was at a railroad side bungalow with a straw roof and a dirt floor kitchen across from a hydroelectric plant that strangely doubled as a pool. The Peru Rail leading up to Aquas Calientes and then to Machu Picchu sat parked a quarter mile down the tracks quietly asking us why we were walking and not riding her.

We ate lunch with the those who opted out of the walk then geared up and all of us began the final leg of the walk together. Two more hours through the, now dry, forest. The way the train rolls, we moved over rapids stepping only on the ties to avoid falling in. We followed the train tracks through the forest laboring with what little energy we had left to lug our stuff down the tracks until we reached our destination Aquas Calientes.

This bottom-of-mountain town rang of a wild west tone. A small, yet modern pueblo that has been obviously grown from and towards tourism, Alguas Calientes huddled around the train track that ran through the town center. Small restaurants, visibly more cleaner appealing to the more monetarily capable travelers, line every road. The road into town had semi-high rise hotels, partially still under construction. The scent of new, unused streets escaped out the windows and was a relief from the stench of our sweat and bug repellent. On one side of a tributary leading into the Urabamba River sat a strip mall made of collapsible shops and tarp and tin roofs. They sold tea shirts, authentic purses and pan flutes. Everything was subject to bargain. We bought shirts with our least favorite beer and soda... for cheap.
After short dinner and shorter drinks, we nestled into the freshest sheets in four days and prepared to wake up at 4 am for our final hike to Machu Picchu.

With our new shirts to replace the ones reeking of the smell of woods, human and defeat and now, we stepped through the darkness towards the ancient Incan City. Small beams of LED flashlights emitted from cell phones and headlamps, along with the stars partially obscured by the high mountains, led the way up the dirt road to the steps. Again, switchbacks found their way up the side of the mountain that would lead us to the grounds of Machu Picchu. This time the stairs seemed to move back and forth in a tighter pattern. The darkness made it easy for feet to get lost and fumble up the stones. Hands grabbed for things they thought were there only to find more darkness. The stomach was at ease with the repercussions of falling off the near swallowed by the oblivion of a dark night.

It seemed that the sun was chasing us up the side of mountain since the higher we got the higher the sun seemed to be. As we reached the top, the light around us was like sun being shoved through a dark blue filter. We sat at our destination, tired, sore and excited about our entrance into Machu Picchu, and anticipated a brilliant sunrise.

Our fresh clothes now joined our dirty and sweaty ones.

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