We had some time to kill so we decided to stop by the Coca Museum (Museo de la Coca) in downtown Puno, Peru. Once through the front door, we made our way up a flight of stairs and into the museum. There were three rooms, one like a gift shop where you paid the 5 Sole entrance fee, one full of pictures and information on the history of coca and how it has affected the culture of the surrounding areas, and the third dedicated to traditional dancing and dress. We started in the third room, surrounded by crazy and colorful dancing costumes. They played a short documentary for us, in English, explaining the different dances and what they mean. After the movie, we got to try on some costumes!
Well worth the 5 Soles (under $2) just to play dress up, the Coca Museum was informative and interesting. Did you know that coca leaves have more protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin A than corn, wheat, rice, barley, quinuoa, or yucca? It’s too bad people have to go and do bad things with an amazing plant. To close, here’s a quote displayed at the museum that proved chillingly prophetic:
Day three started with bad news. Our final campsite and last 5km of the trail were closed due to landslides. This meant we would have to hike an extra 8.5km (5 miles) and enter Machu Picchu though the front entrance with all the lazy people that took the train. There were two options: hike to the river, camp, then walk to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and take the first bus up to the ruins from there or hike all the way to Aguas Calientes (22km=14 miles), spend the night in a hostel and hike from town up to Machu Picchu in the morning, completing the trek on foot. Finishing the adventure on a bus sounded terrible so the group voted to hike all the way to Aguas. That decision changed Day Three from a relatively easy day into something brutal. We had never walked 14miles in a day, let alone hiked up and down hills and mountains at high altitude. To top it off we were super sore from yesterday’s uphill battle. I heard the question “Why didn’t we take the train?” so many times!
So after our usual awesome breakfast, we left camp in the rain. It had snowed above our camp the night before, covering the Dead Woman’s Pass that we had crossed the previous afternoon. The first hour was uphill and our legs were proving very tired already. We passed a few more ruins and reached the second pass where there was supposed to be the best view of the whole hike. Unfortunately it was still raining and cloudy. Our guide Percy, who was Quechua, had us bring stones from the river that we stacked at the top of the mountain in a spiritual ritual for good luck, then we began the decent.
The trail was nice in this section, gradual downhill most of the time. The trail wound through several tunnels and the vegetation was thick and almost jungle-like. After what seemed like forever, we made it to our lunch stop. It was still cloudy but the rain had slowed, thankfully. Not that it mattered since we were already soaked to the bone. From here the trail was down steep steps all the way to the river (8 km/5mi). At first it was not so bad, different muscles than we used up yesterday going uphill. But soon our knees started to quiver and our toes started to push into the tip of our boots, blistering. We relied heavily on our walking sticks and soon even our arms were tired. About halfway down the clouds cleared and we could see the town of Aguas Calientes. It was still SO FAR AWAY!
We finally made it to the bottom and sat down in the grass waiting for the rest of the group. Some of the other groups were camping there but we had decided to walk along the train tracks two more hours to town. After sitting, our legs were super stiff and everything was hurting. At least the trail was flat from here and we focused on putting one foot after the other, trying not to trip and hurt ourselves when so close to the finish.
Right as the light faded we saw the town. Dawn ’til dusk, what a day. Our Day Three definitely did not go as planned, and many of us agreed that it was actually harder than Day Two due to the long detour. Our cook fed us our last dinner, including a tasty cake, then we showered and quickly fell asleep in our hostel rooms. Wake up time: 4am to hike up to one of the most famous sites in the world.
Otavalo, Ecuador, was my absolute FAVORITE place on our trip so far. It was just indescribably cool. The main attraction is the Otavalo Market. It is a massive Saturday crafts market – supposedly the biggest in South America! Tons of traditionally-attired Quechua locals take over the streets of the whole town center, selling beautiful artwork, handicrafts, livestock, clothing, anything you can imagine! We also LOVED the food market, and all the great but cheap restaurants around town. In general, Otavalo struck me as a excellent place to chill and enjoy a small-town atmosphere, while simultaneously soaking up indigenous Ecuadorian culture in a beautiful environment! I wish we could have stayed longer. Really though, the pictures have to do the talking!