On the morning of day 3 on the Salkantay trek, 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 La Playa. 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. Our guide told us that a lot of the beans go to waste on certain farms, as it can be more expensive to process the bean than what they can sell it for. Much like day 2, we would be heading through a few more micro-climates on this day. One of the incredible things I learned about Peru early on day 3 is that there are thousands of potato types that grow in the country. It was really cool that Mario had been incorporated various types of Peruvian potatoes into all of our meals.
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 to Llactapata, 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.
At the ruins, Effrain told us the stories of the Inca that inhabited the site many years ago. He also prepared us for the beautiful views we would have at Llactapata. He told us that we would have views of Machu Picchu and the valley below. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, as it seemed like I’d be seeing the bride before the wedding. As we approached the campsite, with Blue at our feet, I was blown away by the beauty. It was such a spectacular vantage point. We spent the afternoon on that beautiful emerald hill soaking up the beauty of the region, and made sure to share our lunch rations with big Blue.
After lunch, we had the rest of the day to hang out and enjoy ourselves. It was really nice to have some time to relax. A storm was forming right in the area of day one and Salkantay, so it appeared that our timing had worked out perfectly. Llactapata is a hill with a solitary structure containing a few tables and a kitchen. We got to meet the gentleman who lived there along with his children. It was incredible to see that life they had, it was so simple and perfect. There were also 4 or 5 other dogs running around, and Blue made friends quickly.
Night came to Llactapata just as clouds brought a little bit of moisture to the area. We all hung out in the enclosed structure and got an earlier start on dinner with a popcorn appetizer with tea. Mario made another great meal with chicken, vegetables, rice, and a delicious cake for dessert. After dinner, we made our way to our tents and readied ourselves for day 4, where we would be walking to Aguas Calientes, the doorstep to Machu Picchu.