Before leaving for South America I had heard mixed reviews about whether I should be booking a Machu Picchu trip or not. Some were saying you have to book before you go otherwise you’ll miss out and others were claiming that’s its fine to book once you’re there. I bit the bullet and left it to chance (read: was too lazy to book anything) hoping I would be able to book once I got to Cusco.
The stars were aligned in my skies, as it turns out it easy to book a trip once you’re there, but there are a few catches. The first one is that the Inca Trail is closed in February for maintenance. The second is that the Inca Trail is also by far the most expensive. I really only had my heart set on seeing Machu Picchu so I wasn’t too fussed about how I got there. There were two other trek options – the Jungle Trek and the Salkantay Trek, which were at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Salktantay Trek is a four-day hike through mountains, notoriously the most difficult way to get there. The Jungle Trek however, consists of not only hiking on the Inca Tail, but mountain biking, white water rafting and ziplining. Its marketed as the fun way to get to Machu Picchu. Not one to pass up on fun, I booked the Jungle Trek with my three housemates for the following weekend.
Early Friday morning we met our tour group in Plaza De Armas. Having gone out the night before, we were a little worse for wear and potentially still a little intoxicated. It was fine for my housemate C and I, who passed out on the bus straight away. My other housemate L wasn’t so lucky and was carsick on the journey up the windy mountain. We had our first stop at a general store about an hour and a half out of Cusco. Sobered up, I downed a coffee and was ready to face the world and meet others from our trip. There were 18 of us on the trek, mostly all doing the same volunteer program as me.
We got back in the van and chattered to each other for another hour and a bit until we reached the mountain biking start. This really was just the side of the road, but the crew unloaded the bikes and we got dressed up in our protective gear, ready to ride down the mountain. I hadn’t ridden a bike in awhile and was a little nervous to jump on the rusty old bikes. After a quick briefing we set off down the mountain, ensuring to keep out of the way of passing trucks. After a few minutes I got back into the swing of riding a bike and started to enjoy the magnificent scenery around me. Huge mountains loomed around us and fluffy white clouds floated mid-air. Rain fell sporadically, creating waterfalls every hundred metres or so. One thing our tour leaders forgot to mention was the fact we would get soaked during the ride. Due to the mass of rain, there were huge puddles over the road that we had to cross, getting drenched in the process. It was hilarious, except for having soaking wet hiking boots which we would need the following day!
After about three hours we reached the stopping point and met up with the van. I was glad to be done because my butt was aching and my clothes were soaked. It had been an awesome ride down, but I was ready to get off the bike! We stocked up on Gatorade and snacks at the little shops in the town and jumped into the van ready to be taken to our next destination. Driving for about half an hour we reached the tiny village of Santa Maria, this is where we would be staying for the night. We were dropped off at a place on the outskirts of town called ‘The Last Bar’ where we would be having lunch. The bar was an eclectic mix of a western saloon and a backpacker bar. There was memorabilia everywhere and funny paintings on the wall. We had a lunch of soup and meat and rice followed by dessert of chocolate cake – nothing like the Peruvians to fill you up!
After lunch we were taken to our hostel to quickly change for the next activity –white water rafting. Judging by the rivers I’d seen so far, the water wasn’t exactly white but I had my hopes! Driving about half hour out of town we reached the point where we would start the rafting and as expected, the water was the colour and consistency of chocolate milk. Suiting up in the attractive yellow wet-shirts, helmets and life jackets, we were ready to raft. The river ranged between a level 2 and 4, which wasn’t that difficult – thankfully, because I had no intention of falling into the muddy water! We were briefed by our guide and then let off into the fast moving rapids. Within the first minute we hit a huge rapid and had to crouch inside the raft, the brown water dumping over us. Between laughing and trying to sit up we realised we had lost our guide in the process! He had fallen out when the rapid hit and we were now floating alone! Luckily he was a strong swimmer and quickly pulled himself back into the raft. By then I had completely lost it into a fit of giggles and couldn’t paddle properly. We paddled on (well, laughed on in my case) tackling each rapid as they came. While it wasn’t the most intense of rides, it was a very scenic raft; the huge mountains surrounding us captured the low-hanging clouds and the blue sky shone brightly against the afternoon sun.
After about an hour of rapids, our guide told us to stop paddling and get out of the raft. Confused by the language barrier, we stared at him blankly until he repeated it and indicated to jump into the muddy water. Still not sure whether he was joking or not, we slid into the cold, chocolaty water, shrieking at the frigidness and the fact we might get swept away. Clutching onto the side of the raft I fell into a fit of giggles again and was absolutely no use when our guide tried to pull me back into the boat. Hands down worst white rafter ever! We rafted for a bit longer until we reached the end point where we had celebratory (or survival) cervezas by the riverbank.
The bus ride back to Santa Maria took about an hour and it was a race to the showers once we got back to the hostel. However the showers were ice cold, so the only difference between rafting and showering was the colour of the water. We headed for dinner at ‘The Last Bar’ and had a similar meal to lunch. Heading back to the hostel, we prepared for the next day and hit the sack early, knackered from a long day.
Tomorrow we doing some hiking along a little trail known as the Inca Trail and relax in hot springs! Sounds tough!