Waking up in Santa Maria, we felt refreshed and ready to take on the day with 22 kilometers of hiking. We started out walking across a bridge to old Santa Maria, a skeleton of buildings that were abandoned when the river flooded in 1998. We hiked up into the hillside and met a lady at a coffee farm who explained to us how her cooperative works. Since the global financial crisis, she has received less and less per sack of beans she produces. However, because of the workings of the cooperative, she still must produce a certain amount even though her coca crop accounts for the majority of her profits. A little ways up the hillside we met a jungle healer who served us a powerful, anise infused “Inca Tequila” from jars that looked like they belonged in an Indian Jones movie. From her, Brent bought a jungle potato that severely weighed down his pack but was a must-have for a potato lover. As a group, we all tried twirling coca leaves and chewing on them for a natural stimulant. All of the locals chew leaves on a regular basis, it is as much tradition as routine and they don’t associate this with cocaine, although 99% of exported coca leaves are used for cocaine production.
At yet another rest point, now on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, we learned more about the Quechua language which was only spoken, not written and all of the sounds used onomatopoeia. Our guide Rene used the example of palta (avocado, the word used in Chile and Argentina). Pal is the sound of the avocado when it snaps off the tree and ta is the sound it makes when it hits the ground – a very artistic way to build a language if you ask me.(coca plants)
Through the hot sun and humidity we continued walking from hillside into jungle, then down to sandy beach along the river. At one point Brent spotted a tarantula, the first I’ve ever seen without a glass box separating us.
We arrived at the end of the river path and had to cross a river on a manual pulley cart high up above the water. I was pretty sure Hagar and Noam (our Israeli group members) weren’t going to have the guts to cross in the unsafe conditions but seeing as that was the only option, we all safely made it across. Brent and I were the first to go and the man on the other side immediately enlisted Brent as his wingman, so after our grueling hike Brent got in a little extra crossfit workout.
Soon after the bridge crossing we arrived at our final destination: luxurious hot springs. Contrary to the thermal baths in Baños, which were a bit filthy and crowded, these were clean, calm and relaxing. We continued to feel pampered that night in town with more Inca Tequila and the Peruvian way of cheers-ing: más pan! Our only minor hiccup was waking up in the middle of the night in our janky hospedaje to rain water flooding the floors of our room. 2 days until Machu Picchu!