Enjoying Inca Jungle, A Different Route to Machu Picchu
By Hebert Edgardo Huamaní Jara and Walter Coraza Morveli (translation by David Knowlton)
One sunny afternoon, after a lot of running around and waiting, we finally began the trip we had proposed to Inca Jungle. At four in the afternoon we left from the STAREX terminal where buses depart for the lowlands, though we had hoped to leave earlier.
We got on a nine-seated mini van for the four hour trip between Cuzco and Santa Maria in Quillabamba which cost 30/S (about twelve US dollars.) It was not very comfortable. Though the time passed slowly, the changing scenery, from upland valleys to high mountains and then slowly increasing jungle comforted us and made us excited to reach our goal.
Indeed, the trip to Santa Maria is splendid, if one is not in a hurry to get somewhere. You go through the Sacred Valley of the Inca with its meandering river and terraced fields and massive hills. The diverse scenery, especially the majestic and snow-clad Salcantaythat got closer and closer kept our attention. In every zigzag of the road as we rose up to it you could feel the temperature drop.
On arrival at the very high Málaga Pass, just below the snowy peaks of Salcantay, we felt how the weather had changed. It became cold. Often there it is very foggy.
But after passing through the gap and starting our descent into what is called the montaña zone, a beautiful evening awaited us. The moon shone in the sky above dark mountains and shadows of trees, lots of trees.
At eight pm we arrived at Santa Maria where the weather was warm and humid. Cicadas buzzed as if singing us a welcome.
My friends and I posed the question of whether to stay the night in Santa Maria or leave immediately for Santa Teresa if we could find transportation. We stood at the public transport stop and there met Mario. He is a young taxi driver who regularly does the Santa Maria Santa Teresa route through the thick jungle along a dirt road.
As Mario drove us along the road in moonlight, we told stories and jokes as if to make the way go faster in laughter. When silence descended, Mario told us that fruit trees along the way were filling with ripening fruit. He said it was the time to pick mandarins, bananas, and oranges.
In Santa Teresa we found a humble place to stay, called an hospedaje, and decided to get up early to go and enjoy the crystalline waters of Cocalmayo.
When we got up a beautiful view was awaiting us. We looked out on an immense mountain wall covered in vegetation with a deep blue sky above it. The view made us pause and we all were impressed.
After breakfast, we chose to walk to Cocalmayo along the dirt road. As much as we enjoyed the walk, every time a car would pass it would raise clouds of dust that soon got annoying. As a result, Walter and I decided to run and enjoy ourselves in sport, while Fernando and Eric continued slowly conversing and taking pictures, despite the dust.
We waited for them on a huge rock at the edge of the river under an intense sun. We felt hot and mosquitoes soon found us.
While we were on the road, we saw above us people who looked like they were flying. They were crossing the mountains on a zip line, also called monkey’s tail here (cola de mono). The line was built in 2008 and is very popular among visitors.
The river flowed strongly and we looked for a place to cross it. Finally we found one. There was a line that crossed it with a basket, called an “oroya”. By pulling a rope we could advance across the river on the line. Once on the other side we took pictures and we decided to walk along the edge of the jungle to avoid all the dust from passing vehicles.
We seemed lost and were very thirsty as we looked for the next river crossing. Luckily, we found citrus trees laden with fruit, both tangerines and limas, a fruit the size of an orange but with a very mild flavor. We picked some and slaked our thirst with them.
Once satisfied we continued our path finding another river crossing. Then our energies picked up. We saw we were close to the Cocalmayo hot springs.
As we arrived, walking along the forest’s edge, Fernando exclaimed: “Cocalmayo is a paradise. It must have been the hidden paradise of the Incas.
The name Cocalmayo means the river of the coca field. Coca is and was a very important leaf for ceremonial purposes and everyday life.
Once we arrived at the baths we felt ourselves free. We were in the midst of a canyon, surrounded by majestic, green mountains. The air was hot and we were at the side of a flowing river. We were excited.
The swimming pools were filled with crystalline water. We could see clean rocks in the water it was so clear. But in the pools we could still hear the roar of the passing river.
We stayed in the hot springs until five in the afternoon. Then we grabbed a car back to Santa Teresa and from there we took a taxi to the hydroelectric plant at the foot of Machu Picchu. Once we got there we walked along the train tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes, the staging area for the site of Machu Picchu.
As we walked, night overtook us. The trees seemed to whiten in the light of the moon. Fireflies showed us the way. The wind brushed past our ears. We enjoyed ourselves while walking telling jokes and teasing each other. Our laughter filled the silence of the night.
As we crossed the bridges we were tired from our day of activity but happy knowing we were about to arrive in the town of Aguas Calientes.
Once there, we found inexpensive lodging and decided to go look for fun. We walked around the town and soon found the Aguas Calientes municipal stadium. We played three games of soccer (futbol) and then, tired from our walk and the water as well as the games, we went to our rooms and slept.
The next day we got up early to buy train tickets for a two pm departure to Ollantaytambo and then Cuzco. But all the tickets were already sold. So we had to buy ones for nine pm.
Once we had our tickets we decided to climb up to the fortress site of Machu Picchu. The climb was really spectacular and we felt a strong connection with nature.
When we arrived at the entrance to the site, they checked our documents and let us enter without problems to the Inca sanctuary. All the photographs of Machu Picchu as well as all the paintings inspired by it are beautiful, but being there, feeling its energy, its air blowing against your face, was different. It filled us with joy and felt unique.
At three pm we came off the mountain and went to eat in the market of Aguas Calientes. We passed by the artisanal market, the little plaza, the bridges, and almost the whole town.
We arrived at the train station an hour before our scheduled departure in order to have no problems. The train took us to Ollantaytambo. We slept the whole way, about an hour and a half.
At eleven pm we got off the train. We were tired as we boarded our bus for the final stretch of our trip. We slept and arrived in Cuzco at one am. Though exhausted, we looked at each other with a smile. Content with our adventure we said good bye to each other.
Because of the companionship of friends this was not a difficult trip. But it was also more than an adventure. It was a pilgrimage. It is worth making. Machu PIcchuis an experience all should have, but traveling there through the jungle with stops to bathe in the hot springs makes it all the more memorable.
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