Days 1-3 of this 5-day trek to Machu Picchu via the Salkantay trail have been covered in previous posts so this final part of the trilogy begins on the morning of day four; a day that would lead us down into a valley, along the train tracks and, eventually, to Machu Picchu village, a hot shower and the crisp, cool linen of a fresh hotel bed: a luxurious treat before our final ascent to MP (I got lazy typing). The hotel motivation was a strong draw and we set off from our campsite after breakfast at a lively pace.
The recurring theme of the morning was bridges; first a rickety rope bridge over a deep gorge and then, several kilometers further on, and further down, a railway bridge. Our guide seemed suitably sure there would not be another train for several hours so we walked along the tracks, trying not to think about some of the particularly large gaps between sleepers through which the river below was all to visible.
Further down the line providence was waiting. We stopped for a packed lunch in a clearing with a few lean-to sheds and noticed a football lying in the long grass. Having eaten, some basked in hammocks, others digested in deck chairs but a small quorum were not idle. They had spotted an overgrown patch of grass with goalposts at either end. The grass was so dense as to make passing all but impossible. But it was worth a shot, wasn’t it? A rematch to avenge the bitter defeat that had been suffered on day one?
A call to arms arose, hammocks and deck chairs were vacated. The garrisons of war formed on either side of the pitch. Battle was joined.
The teams remained the same although a third team, Mosquitos United, joined in incessant attacks against both teams, scoring with unerring accuracy and alarming frequency.
In the human match, deft touches and some clinical finishing by Dave, Jamie and Michael had put England + Eric into a commanding 2-0 lead. Galvanised into action by conceding the second goal, team US + Peru came charging back, first pulling one back then equalizing to leave English self-confidence teetering on the brink of the abyss. Several US + Peru shots blazed just wide of the uprights before a speedy counterattack saw Dave squeeze the winner past keeper Casey at the other end. We had restored our dignity, the three lions (plus a dragon) had roared once again.
Dripping with sweat and perforated with mosquito bites, we resumed or trek. We reached the hotel without incident (although the heavens opened as we entered the town, making our arrival a damp one) and enjoyed a hugely well-deserved shower (separately, of course).
As it was to be our final night together, Wilson, our guide, had organised a group dinner so, clean and reinvigorated, we regrouped at the appointed restaurant. After a sumptuous meal, it was deemed too early to retire to bed, despite a 4am start the following day, so we headed to a place where Wilson swore he could get 4 for 1. 4 for 1!!!! We followed, only half believing his claim but, he delivered. Granted we were the bar’s only patrons, granted, the spirits seemed to be home-distilled but 4 for 1 is 4 for 1.
We were seated on the first floor, close to the balcony. The ordering system in the bar consisted of shouting at a young guy with a clipboard leaning nonchalantly against the wall on the street below. “Number 1! 8 beers and 8 pisco sours!” He would then hurry off, seemingly to someone’s garage, and return shortly with a tray of drinks of dubious origins. Why he was called Number 1 I never quite worked out but, once I had witnessed the first order, I needed no second invitation and began shouting orders from the balcony as required.
Keen to unite the group in one activity rather than have splinter groups of conversation, someone suggested a drinking game. We decided upon Fuzzy Duck. For those unfamiliar with the game, here is a link to explain. Suffice to say, as drinks were consumed, much hilarity ensued. Wilson coined the new phrase “Fizzy duck”, Na stuck stoically to “Does he?” and Dave had to go to the toilet to have a word with himself after three consecutive blunders.
With cheeks aching with laughter we eventually bid each other good night, vowing to make it to the bus queue at 4am to be shuttled up the hill to Machu Picchu.
A few, short hours later, with slightly fuzzy/fizzy heads, we congregated at the bus stop. And not a moment too soon. The queue started to snake up the hill behind us soon after our arrival. Bus ride up, ticket stamped, turnstile, IN.
One has to tramp up a host of steps to reach the iconic viewpoint of Machu Picchu, but nothing, not even a five day trek, quite prepares you for the sight that spreads itself before you. It was breathtaking. It was beautiful. Even the llamas were impressed!
A multitude of group photos and selfies later and Wilson began his tour of the site, explaining which were farming terraces and which supporting terraces, the placement of the sundial, the methods of cutting and moving the rocks. His stories brought the place to life.
After several hours of exploration of this unique place, we returned to the town below and loaded our dusty bags and weary selves onto the train to Olayatumbo, from whence we would be driven by minibus to Cusco.
I shall sign off here as the goodbyes are more personal and won’t mean a huge amount to an objective readership, however, I can honestly say that the people with whom I had this experience were responsible for making it unforgettable and for that I shall always be thankful to them.