Two years ago, Julia and I took a summer trip to Peru, where we got to visit Cusco before setting out on the Salkantay and Ausangate treks. On the second day of the Salkantay Trek, we camped at a spot called Sahuayaco La Playa. The walk into Sahuayaco took us past a few residential dwellings before we set up camp in on a huge grassy lawn in front of a cantina market. In the morning, we woke to the sound of voices, sunlight, and the butting sniffs of a dog. As I exited the tent, I realized there were a few. Not quite a pack, as there seemed to be no coordination, but a hungry group of canines who appeared to have grown accustomed to grabbing a few scraps from many a trekking groups breakfast.
Having seen a countless number of dogs roaming the streets of Cusco, I thought nothing of the number congregating in Sahuayaco. In fact our guide, Ephraim, mentioned that there were more dogs in Cusco than humans! After eating breakfast at the covered tables next to the outdoor market, we made our way back to the tents to prep our things for the hike to Llaqtapata. Not surprisingly, the dogs followed us.
The first few miles of hiking on day three followed a road through an organic coffee farm. It was amazing to see all of the coffee beans laying out to dry. This is also the first part of the Salkantay Trek that incorporates the Inca Trail. As I started to catch my stride for the 1000 ft climb ahead, I realized a dog from Sahuayaco La Playa had followed along. He was a handsome boy, with some of the features of a Doberman. He had a shiny black coat, with a very professional mix of brown markings, and white front legs as if he had dipped them in paint. I quickly gave him the name, Blue, after a dog my uncle befriended and brought home during his days in the Peace Corps in Guatemala.
I’m not sure why, but part of me just assumed at some point Blue would turn around and head back to Sahuayaco La Playa. After a few miles of hiking, I realized he was going to be with us for some time. There are few things more special than the bond that develops between man and “man’s best friend”, and the 5 other hikers in our group were also quickly developing a deep affinity for our new Peruvian friend.
About halfway though the days hike, Julia and I had put about 2 miles between ourselves and the rest of the group. Blue stayed with us, and seemed to know the way. Just before reaching our campsite destination of Llaqtapata, he went slightly ahead to break trail as though he was our guide. When we caught up, we were standing at the opening door of an Inca Ruin site, with Blue in the doorway.
We explored the Inca ruins a bit and then took our packs off to wait for the rest of the group. As if he was our long time pet, Blue rolled around before bedding down for a nap, and then hopped back up as the rest of our group arrived some 45 minutes later.
We made our way to our campsite at Llaqtapata and took in the views of Machu Picchu and the valley below, with Blue at our feet. We spent the afternoon on that beautiful emerald hill soaking up the beauty of the region, and made sure to share our lunch and dinner rations with big Blue.
For day four of the Salkantay Trek, we were going to be hiking downhill to Aguas Calientes, the support town to Machu Picchu. It came as a painful shock, when our guide told us that many dogs had followed his groups up to Llaqtapata, but none were able to cross the suspension bridge on the way to Aguas Calientes. It had only been 24 hours, but I felt like I had known Blue for years. The thought of him being stuck behind and refusing to cross the bridge seemed to suffocate all of the excitement of getting to see Machu Picchu. We reached the bridge at about 10 am that morning and stepped out in hopes that Blue would follow. He looked very anxious after placing his first steps, but to our great relief continued on and made it across.
Just after conquering the bridge, we came to Hydroelectrica, which is the checkpoint that requires trekkers to wait and receive clearance while staff check passports. I’m not sure why, but our group was held up for quite some time. I’m not sure if he was just anxious to get to Machu Picchu, but as we were waiting, Blue decided to follow a new group and we couldn’t pass through in time to get him. It was demoralizing, but we were happy that he was heading to Aguas Calientes. We just hoped that his new group would feed him the same way we did!
After checking into our hotel in Auguas Calientes, I took a shower, after going for four days without. I’m not sure why, but with my towel still wrapped around me, I walked to the window to take a peak outside. To my absolute surprise, I saw Blue walking around in the street below. Julia and I put on our clothes and sprinted downstairs to find him. He had disappeared.
After searching for a few minutes, we began to ask around. I found a guy who had just seen him, and I bolted in the direction he was pointing. After half a day of separation, we were back together. Julia and I bought Blue some food, and we sat outside our hotel spending some time together. I was so happy that we’d be able to give Blue a proper goodbye.
We spent a little more time with Blue the morning of our Machu Picchu visit, and thanked him for his company. The night before, we frantically searched online for ways to bring him home with us, but we couldn’t find any options that would work. With that, we boarded the bus to enter the park gates of Machu Picchu, but the thoughts of our Inca dog never left our minds.
We enjoyed four hours in the park, before making our way to Huayna Picchu for a nice little peak climb. At the summit of Huayna Picchu, the skies opened up with rain in an unexpected attack. We quickly made our way down the mountain and to the safety of coverage just outside the park gates. To our surprise, guess who was waiting there for us? Blue! It was incredible to see him one last time. The Inca gods were smiling on us that day. This was our gift from Pachamama.
Since returning from this trip, I put together a video that you can watch on YouTube. There is a lot of great footage of Blue! I realize that after two years the chances of finding Blue are incredibly slim, but it’s still important to me to share this story. With all of the stray dogs in Cusco and in large cities around the world, it can be easy to view them as somewhat of a nuisance. The next time you come across a stray dog, I hope you remember the story of Blue, and take to heart what an incredible friend and companion you can find in even the mangiest of stray dogs. It’s also an important lesson when looking for a pet at home. Make sure to visit your local shelters and give a new life to the rescue animals in your area.
Please use the buttons below to share this story with anyone who has visited Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, or anyone who is planning to visit. I would love to hear if anyone has seen Blue!