Day two, again, started early. By 6am we were out, ready to tackle the jungle bit of the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu, layered in multiple coats of bugspray and sunscreen. The group split between those who had opted for rafting and those who “weren’t on the list” (we weren’t on the list) and would be doing additional trekking. The rafters headed out downstream while we began our journey upstream to where we would later meet them on the original Inca Trail. (Something to keep in mind- when we had signed up, there had been a little asterisk warning us that overall this was a moderate trek, but one day would include 8 hours of walking. This was that day…)

 

My Experience Trekking to Machu Picchu Day 2

 

It was significantly hotter than the day before, but I was grateful for our jungle climate as I remembered the alternate of the other treks who were hiking along snowy mountain peaks today. I saw the beating sun as an opportunity for a tan, and the dense flora as a chance to see some adorable jungle animals. The promise of monkeys had been a major selling point for me. We walked through dusty abandoned towns and muddy jungle paths as our guide began teaching us about the plants growing around us and the people’s relationship with them. We trekked under giant sprawling mango trees, through coca bushes, and saw wild pineapples growing on the side of the trails (how did you think they grow? I thought trees for sure, but it turns out they sprout on top of little bushes…quirky little surprise there).

 

Pineapples Along the Way The Borderless Project

 

We walked along the river and ducked onto a lower terrace of the hillside for our break on what looked like a farm. Our guide let us sit in the shade and storytime began (he seemed much more agreeable with our small group today- bonus of not being on the list!). We were sitting in the midst of a coca farm as he told us the long history of the coca leaf. The sacred leaves have long been used as Incas, in tea or simply chewed on while hiking. The leaves are a natural remedy for altitude sickness, they help open your lungs to ease breathing while trekking, and like their famous by-product, the Incas found they gave them the boost of energy they needed for long journeys. Incan beliefs revolved around an appreciation of and connection to nature, and chewing the coca leaves while walking alone in nature helped them enhance this connection (to be honest, they were probably getting a litttle high…).

Once foreignors discovered the plant in more recent generations, Coca-Cola began using the leaves in it’s formula, and it didn’t take long before cocaine production kicked into full force and the little coca farmers learned that they could make actual money off of their crops. Our guide candidly talked to us about the drug business and production and smuggling that occurs in South America and we were shamelessly curious about it. He told us how they build landing strips on mountaintops, how they stuff the cocaine into backpacks and pretend to be trekkers to transport it by foot…he even told us how to make it (the stuff they throw in there…much gnarlier than I expected). As the number one cocaine producer in the world, we were honestly just amazed at how such a tiny country like Peru was managing to (sort of) hide these operations. Henry shared a joke with us that people often make in Peru that summed it up for me- Police make an arrest and find 500 tons of cocaine! They call the next station, “We just found 400 tons of cocaine!”, who then calls their supervisor, “We just busted some guys with 300 tons of cocaine!”…and so on…

Sadly for the Peruvians who truly love the coca leaves the traditional way, it’s hardly economical for the poor farmers to continue selling the unprocessed leaves when there are much more…financially attractive options. We wandered through fields of a government-stipended and regulated farm that’s still going strong though, and there are beginning to be more and more of these so buy some coca leaves or coca de mate tea in Peru and support the good guys and consume like an Inca!

 

Coca Leaves Plantation Inca Jungle Day 2

 

After our coca info session, we broke out of the shade and continued to meet the rest of the group. Just as we were waiting, the person trekking behind me sounded abnormally horrified and warned me that I needed bugspray…What I saw was not for the weak. The back of my short-clad legs were covered in at least 50 bug bites, each with blood running down. No exaggeration. As I reapplied and reapplied, it became clear that bug spray is a lie and the world’s smallest flying vampires can be found on the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu.

The rest of the group was dropped off to rejoin us just as I scrambled to cover my legs with the first pants I could find (thank you Thailand backpacker pants). Our guide said it was just a short journey up to the first “Monkey House” (no explanation, and there are multiple?), and so we began up the first inclination of the day. These always began surprisingly quickly with everyone Chinese telephoning back and forth to find out how long we had to walk up for. Our guide had learned quickly about the athleticism of the group and the value of lying to us.

 

Read more: My Experience Trekking to Machu Picchu: Day 1

Read more: Before You Go: Things You Need To Know About Machu Picchu Weather

 

Luckily, no more than ten minutes later, we reached a tiny house on the hillside selling waters. As we walked in further, we saw there was indeed a monkey. A bothered, leashed little monkey with a stuffed animal bear he bigger than him that he had in a death clutch. It didn’t take long to realize he had some issues, he wasn’t very happy, and he liked to steal. Before we learned these things, we walked up, pleased to see him so friendly, literally jumping into our arms. I was the first victim, as he began by stealing my camera case, refusing to let go of my torso, and trying to bite me as I backed away. Will, our beloved British group member who carried half of his belongings in a small backpack and the other half in a grocery bag, set his grocery bag down and attempted to befriend the monkey. A similar situation arose, however the monkey went straight to his short pockets, dug his entire arms in, and actually searched each one like a little policeman before noticing the treasure chest of the bag. After wrestling everything back and realizing this whole setup was not really okay, we backed away from the little guy after Will recovered his Ray Bans and we left the monkey to snuggle his teddy bear, bummed out and happy to leave. So heads up on that false advertising of “there are monkeys along the trail!” It was thankfully a short experience but we weren’t very excited to see Monkey House #2…

Luckily, Cesar our guide knew how to distract us really quickly- by telling us that the next stop at a house was just a little bit further when in reality it was at least a 30 minute hike entirely up the steep hillside. We had seen the rest of the hill, but assumed we would be going sideways, not directly up. We were wrong. I’ve never thought of myself as horribly unfit until this. The pain and wheezing and bright red faces that all of us were sporting were evidence of true suffering. This is what we had all tried to avoid by not signing up for Salkantay. It went on like this for far too long, as we saw our line of trekkers stretch out and slow down. Holding up the rear, Henry and I gladly stayed at the back, wondering why we had ever signed up to trek. Just when it seemed too much, we stopped for a break and looked up and realized…we were now on the original Inca Trail. And then it became incredible again, and I felt lucking to be sweating and panting on the sam trail that the Incas had (but they were probably in better shape). We pushed through and made it to Monkey House 2, and this one was a mini mid-trek paradise.

 

Getting tired of Inca Jungle Already Day 2

 

Doubling as a hostel, this hippie refuge right on the Inca Trail has the amazing cool breeze that comes with mountaintops, happy exotic animals roaming free, cold juices and a million little colorful things to look at and play with. We sat taking in the view and catching our breath as our guide passed around fresh maracuya juice (passionfruit) and cold glasses of chicha morada
(a sweet purple corn drink) and played pan flutes for us. It was a wonderful trippy daydream of a resting spot. It was moments like this that made the steep hikes in the heat worth it, and like goldfish with no longterm memory we forgot what we had just gone through and sunk into the beauty and calmness of being in the jungle and were once again grateful to have chosen to trek.

 

Our Guide Playing The Peruvian Flute

 

Our new friend in the Jungle Comes from the family of Guinea Pig Inca Jungle Day 2

 

Because it was clear that none of us were ready to go anywhere anytime soon, Cesar let us have our time with the animals and refreshments, and then seized his moment. Since the rest of the group hadn’t heard all about the coca leaves, he pulled some out and gave them a briefing. This version, however, was brief until he reached the part about the Incas using it to connect with nature, and then things took a turn. He delved into some of his personal beliefs about nature, and how we’re all connected. Beautiful, I’ll chew a coca leaf to that. He mentioned the mystery and arcitechtural feats that Machu Picchu is known for. And then out of nowhere, as he rolled up another coca leave and placed it in his mouth, he told us that he knows how Machu Picchu was built even though nobody else does.

Aliens. Just kidding. Wait, nope, not kidding at all. He went on to give us a speech about aliens. About how it’s clear that the Incas had more advanced technology than in modern times, and it’s because of their relationships with the aliens. They had spaceships and rockets and that’s how they had the technology for Machu Picchu. This story went on, he named us The Children of the Sun, he shared his experiences with Ayahuasca and told us that he knows all this to be true because it’s proved in a YouTube video (but it’s in Spanish so we might not understand it like he does, of course). I think we were all a few too many coca leaves short to really get on board, but I was delirious enough to pretend to be following him until I looked over and saw Stella, one of the Germans who was always kind and sweet but never expended energy on our guide’s nonsense. Sleeping sitting up, it was the perfect “I don’t have time for your aliens” response wonderfully characteristic of our Germans. The rest of us sat awkwardly swatting mosquitos and avoiding eye contact, minus Will who maintained a constant smile, unhidden laugh, and look around the room like, “Is anybody else hearing this?”.

 

Read more: Day 4: Machu Picchu!

 

I think it was Zoe who finally saw that beyond anything else, this storytime was destined to lead to us having to walk abnormally fast uphill to counter for lost time discussing aliens, and got our guide back on track. As we began gathering our things, we looked over to the sounds of music and chanting and saw that another group had changed into full traditional costumes and was dancing in a circle. If you go, I hope you can be delusioned at the top of this hill and be stuffed into a ceremonial Incan dress, because then I think your experience will be officially weirder than ours, and the image you’ll give other travelers is priceless. Before we left though, we decided to go semi-native and took advantage of the berries that Incas used to facepaint.

We carried on with our trek and thankfully only had to cut across the hills and walk down the rest of the way. We were rewarded with amazing views as we followed the trail hugging the mountainside, and then cool shaded jungle as we approached the “town” (four houses) for lunch. This little spot in Santa Teresa was everything we needed- lunch, hammocks, adorable kittens, homemade popsicles, unlimited water refills for 25 cents, and the world’s best guacamole (Cusco is avocado paradise, I would trek to Machu Picchu regularly to eat the ones we bought along the way…definitely recommend as trekking snacks!).

 

Sacred Mountains Along the Way Inca Jungle Day 2

 

Devastated After 6 Hours of Hiking Inca Jungle Day 2

 

The trek concluded with yet another form of transportation that we had not been informed of and had to pay for…this (see below).I don’t know what you call this, but these locals made it and it’s genius and fun (minus feeling like a package or animal delivery or some other non-human cargo being dragged over the river). As we reached the other side, we were greeted with the world’s greatest feeling- discovering that we had reached the famous hot springs. We soaked everything that had been walking for 8 hours (10 for us non-rafters) and once again, found heaven in the simplest of things. Sneaky Seldy, Car, Jeff and I did a little reconnaissance and discovered the absolute hottest corner of the hottest pool (you can find it by the older overweight Peruvian men who stay in one place for hours guarding it) and our tired bodies started to feel new again. We had finally, at very long last, survived day two.

 

Crossing the Urubamba River by Carriage

 

Our night wrapped with there only being room in the hotel for half of us, the other half going somewhere quite random (again, we were in that group), and us all rejoining for drinks to watch Cesar become the drunkest girl at the party and star in many, many, many embarassing videos we snapped on our phones. The stories won’t be entertaining for most people, but one that sums it up well is when a woman on our trek (a little older than wanting to drink cheap rum with us) came out to say we were being too loud and she couldn’t sleep, and Cesar, hammered, turned, snapped back asking if she had earplugs, and continued with his penguin dance and offering Jeff to sleep with his six sisters.

There’s something about these treks, the guides are always such wild card and somehow, despite doing tours 80 percent of the time, they often love to drink with the trekkers but have an incredibly low tolerance and are the first of the group to get way too drunk. Or the only one. I mean, is it that we’re just bad influences or does this happen to everyone?

Either way, the 10 hours were worth watching our guide stand on a bench and try to rap 50 Cent, everything was worth that. We had completed the infamous 8-hour day two and were rewarded greatly.

 

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