So, before we went anywhere, we needed a bike ride. Seriously— needed. After a week and half of walking around we were itching for a change in activity. And, as it turns out, there’s a ride that could get us on our way to Macchu Pichu. So, in a cold downpour at a 15,000’ pass we donned waterproof jackets and pants, or in Josh’s case his high-water pants— it’s hard to dress a guy taller than 6’ tall inSouth America.
From that elevation there was only one direction we were physically capable of traveling — down. We coasted through Andean cloud forest, sailing past raging water falls which occasionally created spill-offs across the road. Even though it obscured our view, the rain just added to the lush, tropical atmosphere.
It was almost enough to distract us from the fact that we were on a steep, slick road with no shoulder, getting smoked by exhaust. We could barely see cars coming around us, with our peripheral vision obscured by ski goggles. That’s right, our friendly guide outfitted us with ski goggles to alleviate the rain and spray. It was a little dorky at first but we came to appreciate them— despite the ill-fitting rain wear we got drenched.
Josh also got a little jipped with his bike— our little hatchback sag wagon wasn’t wide enough to squeeze in the right size so his ride felt more like a tricycle than a mountain bike.
Late in the afternoon we rolled into the tiny town of Santa Mariaanxious to get the rest of our day over. The next leg of our journey required a taxi ride down a single lane dirt road, built a few hundred feet above the ragingUrubambaRiver. Yes, it was still raining. No, there was no guardrail. Did the taxi have 4WD or even AWD? Ha. It was another little hatchback with bald tires with a driver for whom slow = lost money. And for whom yielding seemed to be a loss of masculinity. The system for encountering another car appeared to us like a game of “chicken”, where both drivers sped up until one of them couldn’t go any further and had to back up and let the other car go by.
Made for a good, authentic South American experience. Or at least we thought until we were corrected and informed that actually, we’re just wimpy, paranoid Americans. “This is completely normal driving and terrain, where we’re from”, stated the young, energetic German med student we shared a cab with the next morning. He had convinced to ride along with him, his girlfriend and two locals. That left Aminda sitting on Josh’s lap, with a view right over the driver’s head. Her whimpering and pleas to slow down encouraging him to get us to our destination and out of his car.
We all came tumbling out of the car at an obscure power station in the forest, knowing only that if we kept walking along the train tracks, we’d eventually get where we wanted. Fortunately our Spanish-speaking German friend was there to help navigate through the one tricky turn, ensuring we had a pleasant stroll into Aguas Calientes, a hillside tourist town with pedestrian-only streets.
It was a good warm-up for the next day when we set off before dawn to secure our place atop Wayna Picchu, the iconic peak overlooking the ancient city. It was a race to the top, with dozens of hikers competing for a place to sit on the summit and wait for the clouds to clear and a view to be seen. We were happy to enjoy the scene from the one place where the city was far away enough that we weren’t distracted by a thousand multi-colored ponchos worn by the tourists.
The steep hike definitely drained some energy, and may have helped keep us from getting arrested. We weren’t as tempted to climb around on all the piles of stone at the monument—which is kinda frowned upon. We still had plenty of fun exploring nooks and crannies and soaking in the views. As we stood and gazed out over the striking landscape, we reminisced about the past two weeks, thankful for this perfect finale to our adventure.