A few years ago my husband Dan and I took a trip to Peru. We spent a couple days in Lima and then on to a few days in Cusco–the departure point for Dan’s 4-day hike to Machu Pichu. It is recommend that hikers spend a couple days in Cusco to get acclimated to the altitude; the hike reaches a summit of 13,800 feet at one point. I like hiking, but this overextends my abilities.
The plan was– Dan would hike the Inca Trail and I would spend that time in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, then we would meet-up on the 4th day at the Sanctuary Lodge at Machu Pichu. On the morning that we parted Dan’s last words to me were, “Be careful and do not wander off from the public places.”
I stayed one more night in Cusco, spending the day at museums and exploring the local grocery stores, where I found the butcher counter stocked with pig/cow snouts, intestines, and guinea pigs (cuy, a Peruvian delicacy). I spotted a bulk bin of dog food and filled a small brown bag to feed the strays as I walked around town. Funny thing, the dogs had no interest, sniffed it and walked on.
On day two, as per the itinerary, I was picked up by a private guide and driver to take me to my next hotel in Urubamba. After a full day of fantastic sightseeing along the way, I was deposited at the Sol y Luna Hotel. Heaven on earth, an oasis full of flowering bushes, hummingbirds, lots of bees, and individual casitas spread throughout the garden landscape. I finished my day with a dinner of Alpaca steak and quinoa risotto.
Day three: after studying my travel guide I decided to search out the Machacancha Hot Springs somewhere outside the little village of Calca. I walked down to the highway and picked up a (very crowded) local bus. In Calca I wandered around inquiring in my not-so-good Spanish about a taxi to Machacancha. I was eventually pointed to a small Toyota station wagon parked next to the tienda that was full of people. I told the driver where I wanted to go and he opened up the back end of the vehicle and pointed to get in. I had to scrunch up in a ball, because—wow– it was tight. I counted 9 adults and 3 children, including purses, backpacks, and bags of groceries. It was probably a good 20 min ride up into the hills, but it seemed a lot longer and no one spoke English. About 1/2 way into the ride a couple got out and I was able to move to the back seat. The whole time I was praying this wasn’t a mistake, thinking who knows where I’m going to end up. Of course there was that little voice in my head saying “Dan is going to kill me”.
I arrived safely and enjoyed a swim with about 40 small school children. They would alternate: boys first and then girls. No swimsuits, they just stripped down to their underwear and jumped in. This place was so out in the middle of nowhere. I started to worry about how I’d get back to town, but there happened to be a taxi hanging out at the entrance when I was leaving. Word must have gotten out that there was a stranger in the place, because I did stick out like a sore thumb.
On day 4 of my solo adventure a taxi picked me up from Sol y Luna and took me to the train station in Ollantaytambo. It’s a beautiful, tropical ride to Aguas Calientes. I then took a bus up a very steep and winding road to Machu Pichu, where it was pouring rain. We had a reservations at the Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on the mountain next to the ruins. This hotel is pricey, but worth it. You can sit out the rain (from what I understand is often) and wait for it to clear before visiting the park. In the late afternoon the tour buses and shuttles from town leave and you have Machu Pichu to yourself. It’s the same in the mornings.
About an hour after I checked in, there was a knock at the door; there stood Dan dirty, dripping-wet, and 4 days of whiskers. 26 miles and 3 nights in a tent–he looked exhausted. I couldn’t wait to hear about his hike and I was a little apprehensive in telling him about my wandering adventure.