We woke to a gorgeous sunrise on day number 4 of the Salkantay trek. Sparkling sheets of clouds moved quickly overhead, allowing beams of light to shine in our direction over the heads of mountain peaks in the distance. We had our final breakfast with Mario, and of all the things I was really enjoying about this trek, it was his cooking I might miss the most. Over coffee and tea, our guide told us about the plan for the day, where we were going to be hiking downhill for a while before making our way to Aguas Calientes, the support town for Machu Picchu. We grabbed some extra bread at the breakfast table and made sure to give Blue, our Inca guide dog, a nice meal to start the day.
It came as a painful shock when our guide, Effrain, 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!
Shortly after conquering the bridge, we made it 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 passing the checkpoint, we made it to the railroad that leads into Aguas Calientes and saw the small market and dwellings that paralleled the tracks. There were a few restaurants and shops in the area, so we bought some drinks and relaxed while Mario made us some lunch. This was the first time on the entire trek that we saw other tourists and trekkers. It was easy to feel the energy and excitement, as we were all heading towards Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
The final stretch of hiking parallels the train tracks of PeruRail. We made quick work of it, as we were all excited to heading towards warm beds and warm showers.
After checking into our hotel in Auguas Calientes, we walked outside and explored the multitude of souvenir shops and markets before finding a restaurant for dinner. After returning from dinner, 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.
The descent from Llactapata down to the hydroelectric plant and Aguas Calientes was very steep and a bit muddy in places. There is a long suspension bridge at the bottom, and from that point on it was more or less level. The final six miles of the hike follow a the train tracks that lead in and out of Aguas Calientes, the lone support town to Machu Picchu. It’s a point of conflict that the rail is owned by British and Chilean interests, and not Peruvian. It was really nice to arrive in Aguas Calientes, where we were treated to our first shower in 4 days!