Continued from here
Of course all good things must come to an end, and it was time to get out of the wonderful hot springs, get dressed back into our cold wet clothes, and get to our accommodation for the night and dinner. The accommodation was very basic – one bathroom between about 20-something people, and my room was crammed full with 7 beds and barely enough room to walk between them.
Santa Teresa, our town for this night, while small still had a lot more going on than had Santa Helena. There were bars and discos to enjoy after dinner, but most of us were too tired to contemplate this and so we chatted with each other when we got back to our hostel before going to bed. Some people did go out however, and I don’t think they enjoyed the next early start one bit!
At dinner we had been given a presentation by a representative from a zipline activity centre. So for Day 3 of the trek we had the option to trek for a full day, or to go ziplining – including a 1000m zipline, claimed to be the longest in the world – then just trek for a couple of hours in the afternoon.
|Grace and me all geared-up at the start|
Although an extra expense, it wasn’t too much (equivalent to £20 or US$30) and so I opted for this easier option. There was some steep uphill walking involved in getting to the high point to start ziplining, but not hours of it by any means.
We whizzed down several ziplines, and although they involved being suspended by a single cable above the ground far below, they seemed much more enjoyable than the plywood crate of the previous day! I can sometimes be pretty scared of heights – earlier in the trip I’d got really anxious just climbing up the tower of a church in Quito – but on this occasion I was feeling pretty brave and took it all in my stride.
|The first zipline - about 400m long|
One of the ziplines was said to be the longest in South America, and I've even seen some claims that it's the longest in the World! At 1000m (1km) long, you can barely even see the person on it as they near the end. You need to tuck-in as you zip along to keep enough speed to make it to the end. I managed to zip all the way to the end of the line, but several people - either because they were enjoying the ride and taking photos, or simply because they couldn't hold the 'tuck' position the whole way - had to haul themselves up the final bit. Although the ziplines are taut and on a slight decline, there is still enough weight in the cable that they have a curve in them, meaning the last bit is slightly uphill. Of course you could make the cable downhill all the way, but this would be really dangerous as you would go so fast!
|The kilometre-long zipline|
|The kilometre-long zipline - less than half-way and see how small she looks already?|
The final zipline had a platform attached to it before you reached the end, from where you transferred from the zipline itself to a rope dropping to the ground, down which you abseiled back to the start point. A very neat finish!
|The final zipline - you can't really see the platform but it is there!|
From here the plan was to get a minibus to meet the rest of the group – those who had chosen to hike all morning – and go for lunch at a spot near the railway line at Hidroelectrica, the hydroelectric plant. This plan came unstuck as the rainy season causes the rivers to swell, and meant that the road we needed to take was impassable for the minibus as the bridge had gone down. We therefore had a short hike before lunch, over a makeshift bridge and on to Hidroelectrica for lunch.
|Crossing the makeshift bridge, you can see the diggers and things in the background clearing away the damage ready to rebuild.|
As we hiked towards the lunch stop we had views of Machu Picchu Mountain, and it was heart-flutteringly amazing to know that nestled up there, the other side of that mountain peak, was the fabled site of Machu Picchu.
|Pointing to Machu Picchu Mountain. And looking chubby thanks to lack of exercise in the previous 10 months!|
As we ate our lunch we were told that we had the option afterwards of either hiking 2 hours to the town of Aguas Calientes, or taking the train. No-one else opted for the train, and so my competitive spirit dictated that I didn’t either. I wasn’t too worried as the following day I could take the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. So after lunch we set off to trek along the railway line to its termination at Aguas Calientes.
This was a long trudge, but 2 hours didn’t seem like too much. Of course 2 hours was actually more like 4, and I was getting pretty tired. This was NOT helped by finding out, at the point that it was too late to do anything about it, that landslides on the road up to Machu Picchu meant that in actual fact, I would not be able to get the bus the following morning. This kind of annoyed me, and I was pretty anxious about how my hip (and fitness levels) would hold up. Luckily, being South America there was plenty to keep me interested and distracted along the way. Flocks of parrots in the trees (silhouetted with the branches so I still couldn’t get photos), colourful butterflies everywhere.
Grace is a geology graduate and was pointing out interesting rock formations, and I even spotted some leaf-cutter ants carrying out their work. They cut the leaves and carry them back to their colony as sustenance for the nutritious funghi that they cultivate for food. You don’t think of ants carrying out agriculture do you? We had only ever seen them on TV before, so we stopped to watch them for a while as they carried their heavy loads.
We eventually reached the point where we could leave the railway track, pass the bridge we would cross tomorrow on our way to Machu Picchu, and follow the river into the town. Here, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the mountains, as though it was rewarding us for the long slog we had just endured.
A massage, a dinner, and a beer with Grace later, and I was more than ready to hit the sack for a few hours of sleep - before our hideous-sounding 4am wake-up call the next day.