Peru: Trekking “lite”
Next mission, Machu Picchu. For me, this was it – the big shebang, the grand finale, and something I`ve been wanting to see for ages. Cusco, a town that is the starting point for getting to MP, was the destination from Lake Titicaca. It`s a great city and handles the plethora of tourists who flock here very well. We arrived and set off to book our trek the first night. Once we had that taken care of, we had some time to kill and were able to just enjoy the city and psych ourselves up for our first multi-day hiking experience.
We decided to do the 5 day Salkantay trek. The Inca Trail is the traditional route, but you have to be organized and book that months in advance as there are daily limits on the number of people who are allowed on that one. The Salkantay is harder, so it generally has younger people on it, smaller group sizes and covers 60 kms.
Day 1: Not sure what to expect?
Departure was 4:30am on Saturday, or at least it was supposed to be. Things got off to a rocky start as we didn`t get picked up until 5:30 which made us miss our bus and then we were piled into a random taxi with four others who had been left behind and we hurried off to Mollepata, the starting point for the trek. So, we were a bit nervous that we`d chosen a crap agency, but once we got there, everything worked itself out and we ended up with a great group: 2 Belgians, 2 Dutch, 1 Greek, 3 Aussies and us. After breakfast we started our hike along a river canyon and very green pastures and mountains. In addition to our guide Juan, we had 2 horsemen along with all the gear and 2 cooks….And boy could those guys cook!! For our first lunch we had avocado salad, soup, chicken curry, tea and cookies. Whoa. The meals continued to be equally elaborate the entire trek. We had about a 4 hour afternoon walk to our first campsite in Soraypampa. This was at the base of the majestic Salkantay peak. Right before we got to the campsite, we had to cross a river. Clumsy me, I fell into the river and was soaked from the knees down. Great. Fortunately two of the guys caught me, so my whole body didn`t go in, but because we were up so high and it was cold, they didn`t really dry for the next 2 days. Nothing like wet pants, socks and shoes. That, along with my Indian looking ear-band, earned me the name “little wet one” for the remainder of the trip!
Day 2: Mama said there`d be days like this…
I`m not going to lie, day 2 was a bitch. Our campsite was at 3700 meters (sorry Jenny, you`re going to have to do some more conversions with this posting! 😉 ) and we had to ascend to 4800 meters. My lungs were screaming, I was wet and cold and I couldn`t take more than a few steps without having to stop for a breather. But, alas, I made it. This was the highest point of our trek and we had a clear view of Salkantay peak. As soon as we snapped a few shots, the sleet started so we started to scramble down the other side. For about an hour it was ok – just lightly raining – but after lunch we ended up in mud, slop, cow pies and fresh horse poo….lovely. To top it off, it was straight downhill as we had to get down to 2800 meters for our next campsite. We hopped from rock to rock, slipping in the mud, taking a few tumbles, and lots of expletives were heard from the group. Slowly but surely though, we made it just as it was starting to get dark. It continued to rain all night so it was soggy camping, but I was just happy to be horizontal and sleeping. We were camping in somebody`s backyard and they had cows, pigs, chickens, dogs and a rooster….all of which were just right outside the tent and making all kinds of noise, so it was a bit hard to get some shut eye but my physical exhaustion helped.
Day 3: My kind of hiking
Thankfully, we woke up to clear skies and some beautiful mountain scenery. Recharged, we headed out with gusto for a leisurely day of hiking. We didn`t have much ground to cover this day so we went pretty slowly, with lots of pit stops and resting along the way. This is more like it! In the afternoon we entered the jungle, so the scenery changed yet again and it quickly changed to HOT!! This was fine by me because my socks and shoes finally had a chance to dry and the mud was hard. Our campsite was in the town of La Playa and again we were sleeping right along side the roosters, so no rest for the weary, but we were able to have some beers at the local watering hole and play with some of the kids that were very curious with the gringos.
Day 4: Green means Go!
It`s official, I stink and my shoes smell like a dead animal!! On the fourth day we veered from the programmed course as we all decided to go up and over another mountain so that we could get a long-distance glimpse of MP and walk through more of the jungle, instead of by road. The climb was steady and long, but not too steep, so I was able to enjoy myself and look around, instead of gasping for air. It was green, green, green everywhere. Lush jungle with lots of banana trees and avocado trees and coffee plants. When we reached the top, as promised, we had a great view across the valley to the backside of MP! From there it was back down along the river and into the town of Aguas Calientes, land of hostels, restaurants, 4 for 1 Happy Hour and little else. Some of the crew headed off to the thermal baths but Laurie and I just wandered around, had a few drinks, and tried our best to ignore our aching muscles.
Day 5: Respect for the Incas
Another 4am wake up call as the goal was to hike up to the MP entrance and be some of the first to enter the sanctuary so that we could appreciate the site before the masses started arriving. By hike up the MP entrance, I mean UP!!! We took the original Incan stairway and it was HARD. Laurie and I honestly didn`t think we were going to make it. It was dark when we started so we made our way with my headlamp, but the stairs are all unlevel and some extremely deep and let me reiterate, they were straight up. This for me was by far the most challenging part of the entire hike, but with such a great prize at the top, we kept on a trucking. It was worth it!! It was a really priceless experience to enter the nearly empty MP and sit on the stone walls and watch the sunrise up over the mountains. I`ve seen many pictures of MP, but nothing compares to seeing it for the first time. It is really amazing to walk in and see this massive city built between 1400 and 1530. The site is really well preserved and they have designed it so that it has kept it´s authenticity. There are no bathrooms inside, no food allowed in, and it`s immaculately clean. MP was glorious in every way I imagined. It`s really hard to imagine the Incas hauling all the building materials up to the top of this mountain and walking up those damn stairs on a regular basis, but it was easy to see why they chose such a place. It is surrounded by waterfalls, gorgeous green mountains, jungle and canyons. Truely a magical place!!
From there we had to walk (as if my feet weren`t bruised enough) back down to Aguas Calientes to take the afternoon train back to Cusco. I couldn`t have been happier to settle down into the train and reflect on the past 5 days. The trek for me was a challenge, but worth doing in everyway!
We met up with Lani again later that night as she has returned from her 3 week hiatus and somehow found the energy to go out dancing until the roosters started to cockadoodledo….funny what a few well deserved beers will enable you to do!!! Sigh. It`s over.