October 8, 2017. It’s fair to say Rob and I slept very well after the exertion and adrenaline rush of the day before. Waking up and realizing you have accomplished something you had worked so hard for is a great feeling, and we were now looking forward even more to the rest of the trek, not least of which was finally reaching Machu Picchu.
Our jackets and boots had dried out overnight, and in any case this fourth day dawned sunny and beautiful. We were able to have a bit more leisurely breakfast, as it would be just a 4 hour hike to our next lodge. Today’s hike was marked as “easy/moderate” on our itinerary, as it was all a pretty gentle downhill through the cloud forest. Even so, we would be descending from 12,812 to 9,414 ft. elevation.
One of the unique things about this trek, and certainly one of the things that had drawn us to it, was that we would be hiking through 15 different microclimates. All along the way Leo had been pointing out plants of interest, but today is where he really had a lot to show us as we descended through a lush valley full of vegetation.
This part of trail was also much more inhabited than the part before Salkantay, and we passed various homes and farms along the way, guarded by the occasional dog. Overall this was probably one of the most enjoyable and relaxing days.
Upon our arrival at Colpa Lodge, we were greeted with glasses of chicha morada, a sweet Peruvian juice made from purple corn, and then gathered around a firepit where the cooks were setting up a Pachamanca, a traditional meal cooked in an earth oven with hot stones. Because of some deft stone throwing along the hike–a challenge offered by Leo–Rob earned the honorary job of placing the cross atop the completed Pachamanca oven.
The Pachamanca typically includes various types of meat as well as the ever-popular potato. Did you know there are 4000 varieties of potatoes in Peru? We had quite a few at our lunch. If you haven’t already guessed, this was the meal we also tried cuy, or guinea pig.
While some may balk at eating something kept as a pet in America, guinea pigs are considered a delicacy in Peru. It’s higher in protein and lower in cholesterol than chicken, pork or beef, and has been eaten since Incan times. It was delicious, incredibly tender and flavorful, very similar to dark meat chicken but much better. I wish there had been more.
The afternoon was very relaxing, with everyone doing their own thing, whether napping, sitting outside, or getting massages (that was our plan). Later, after an educational tasting of pisco (the national spirit), we all watched a couple of short videos about Peru. Dinner was a simple cold buffet of the leftovers from our late lunch.
We stayed up for a bit afterward, talking travel over wine with Duncan and Jacqueline, the couple we probably became closest to on the trek. They were in the midst of an around-the-world tour, and told us about a coast-to-coast hike in England that is definitely going on our future-trip wishlist.
We went to bed looking forward to the next day’s hike through the beautiful Santa Teresa river valley. Little did we know, this would turn out to be our most challenging day yet.