Apu Salkantay from the field
We had set up our trek from home with a company called Wayki Trekking (www.waykitrek.net) who was highly recommended by the South American Explorers club and they ended up being fantastic. We were really lucky and it ended up being Cindy and I and only one other really nice couple, Michael and Verena from Germany (and perhaps Argentina…) On Saturday night, the four of us met with our guide Americo and he went over the route, food, etc. and all seemed well. Everyone was excited to head out the next Monday morning.
After three days of acclimatizing to Peru, we figured we would be ready to start the trek to Machu Picchu early Monday morning via an alternative route around Salkantay Mountain.
Of course, this did not prove to be the case, not because of altitude sickness, but because of food poisoning that left Cindy laid out in misery most of Sunday. Rewind to dinner on Saturday night at the little dive that I thought looked fun and I guess I should have listened to the idea in the back of my brain that having Papaya juice with her dinner was not a great idea for her. You all know that I am easily distracted, so by the time my brain got back around to verbalizing that thought, she was already downing the ill-fated juice. Well at that point I figured there was no point in mentioning it lest it result in psychosomatic illness so I just put the thought out of my mind. Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and things are not going well for my better half. She spent a sleepless night being sick but somehow rallied for the 4:30am call to get ready for the trek. I meanwhile managed to discover a great chicken place for dinner (and safely drank beer rather than juice, always a smart idea J)
Cindy in front of Apu Salkantay
Day One - Cusco to Salkantaypamp We all piled into a mini-van and headed out to the village of Mollepata where the road to Salkantay starts.
We stopped along the way for breakfast on the side of the road with a great view of the terraces and Apu Salkantay in the distance before picking up our porters who all crammed into the back of the van. Americo told us that since the rain had stopped, we could drive a bit further on the “bad” road and bypass some of the boring, dusty part of hiking up the road. As we were winding our way up the hill, I figured it was a good thing that we weren’t in the wet season and could drive this part because it looked hot and dusty. I later realized that this was still the “good” road to Mollepata which we drove straight through, bypassing some other, large trekking groups. Now we were on the “bad” road which was indeed harrowing, bumpy, dusty and treacherous. Cindy was doing remarkably well, all things considered. A couple of hours later, we bounced our way into our lunch spot at Soraypampa (the field in the first photo in this entry) and had lunch before starting the trek.
Apu Salkantay through the gate
We actually only hiked for three or four hours that first day, first up through a pretty valley where we crossed several streams and saw lots of horses and pony men, then up a series of switchbacks to our campsite at Salkantaypampa at about 4500 meters. Because we were such a small group, we were able to stay at nicer, smaller sites and the camp here was very pretty with direct views of Salkantay and Humantay as well as a little pond (see the picture with the reflection of Salkantay in the water..)
The porters set up camp and made snacks and later dinner which was surprisingly good. Cindy was still feeling none to well but at least was happy to be in camp (although not thrilled with the bathroom tent…) We went to bed early as the temperature rapidly dropped. I rarely get cold. Cindy on the other hand easily does (I still don’t believe she lived in Chicago…) and early in the morning, I woke up realizing that she was wrapped in virtually every piece of clothing she had including alpaca mitten and hats and was uncontrollably shivering.
This was not good - food poisoning and no sleep now two nights in a row…
Lake Reflection of Apu Salkantay
Day Two - Salkantaypampa to Collpapampa It was to cold to stay in the tent so we got up pretty much at dawn and huddled around the kitchen tent while breakfast was prepared. Americo had told us that it wasn’t to long a hike to the summit, so we figured we would get started early and finish the “tough” part of the day. Cindy decided that it was only one miserable night and she could survive and seemed in good spirits, ready to tackle the summit at 4850 meters (that is about 16,000 feet for Americans ;-) I was feeling really good too, no hint of altitude sickness and not really even getting winded on the switch-backs. I should have realized that something was lulling me into a false sense of security…
After a few hours of fairly steep terrain, we made it to the summit with incredible views of the glacier and Salkantay and piles and piles of rocks that locals and trekkers assemble when reaching the summit.
This is to thank the mountain gods for a safe journey (of course, the locals carry their offering rocks up the pass, some of which were not to small, the tourists generally don’t). From the summit, we peered down into the valley into which we would be heading and were amazed at the dramatic scenery and how quickly it would change from glacial mountain to cloud forest and jungle. We headed down into the beautiful valley and were resting on the lush grass a couple hours later when we saw the porters running by with huge packs, bags, propane tanks, etc. strapped onto their backs. Anyone interested can see the video Cindy took of them running down the hill, it is crazy.
Apu Salkantay Summit
We stopped for lunch at a little hut which was just about when my knees were really starting to act up. The trail was starting to seriously head down hill and was uneven and slippery, all things which my knees were not very happy with.
Michael and Verena who are both very experienced hikers were patient and helpful (Cindy has no choice…) but eventually, I felt like I was going to plummet head over heals and Americo luckily resourcefully cut me down my new best friend, a bamboo hiking stick. For anyone really interested, I have a picture of the stick, figuring it kinda saved my ass…
Eventually, we made it to (and luckily past) the normal second night camp which was quite a big affair with lots of trekking groups, opting to hike one more hour or so to a really nice, small campground in someone’s backyard across the river. Here, the porters had already arrived and set up camp and were busy playing soccer. These are the same guys who were running down the mountain with 50 lb packs two hours ago, now playing soccer at over 10,000 feet - unbelievable! I on the other hand downed four Advil and treated Americo, Michael, Verena and the porters to big bottles of Cuscena beer for being patient with me as I hobbled down the mountain.
The picture of the boy in the orange hat was the kid who lived there and he was thrilled to have company. The next morning, he engaged me in a game of one on one beer bottle cap soccer, laughing at how lame at soccer I am.
Day Three - Collpapampa to Lucmabamba After breakfast and another round of bottle cap futbol, we headed down a very steep trail (my knees already complaining…) for 45 minutes or so before arriving at the base of the canyon where some industrious locals had built a pool made of stones capturing the local hot springs. A Jacuzzi on the Inka Trail - this was great! We hiked over a narrow, rickety mud and stick bridge to the emerald green pool and hopped in, relaxing in the warm water for an hour or so. The picture of Verena in the blue water is at the hot springs.
The whole thing was somewhat marred by a loud, obnoxious group of young Israeli guys who took over the pool and then, after lounging in it for 30 minutes, refused to pay the locals the whopping sum of two soles each (about sixty cents).
Peruvian Boy at Camp Two
After leaving the hot springs, we headed up for a bit (I like ascents, Cindy doesn’t) and then started following the river as it meanders through the cloud forest and later the jungle. This was a really pretty part of the trek with incredible foliage and flowers including lots of orchids and begonias as well as bromeliads covering the trees and wild strawberries. Eventually we arrived at the “disco” campsite at Lucmabamba where four more Advil and dinner ensured a good nights sleep, at least for Cindy and I. The rain started pouring and Michael and Verena’s tent was leaking so they ended up having to pull out a tarp and get industrious.
Verena at Salkantay Hot Springs
Day Four - Lucmabamba to Hidroelectrica to Puente Ruinas Another early morning wake up and breakfast before heading off for the last full day of hiking to Puente Ruinas just outside the town of Aquas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. The day started off with several hours of climbing up through the jungle and coffee plantations which my knees thoroughly enjoyed. Eventually we made it to a really nice plateau where we had a snack and great view of Machu Picchu looming in the distance. Unfortunately, this was followed by a couple of hours of slippery, steep, muddy downhill switchbacks which I only survived by relying on my handy bamboo pole and cranking tunes on my MP3 player.
The picture of Michael and Verena in the field of red plants was the start of that pretty but tortuous decent.
Michael and Verena in Red Fields
Eventually we made it to the bottom of the canyon where you can see the incredible waterfalls on the other side of the hydroelectric station at Machu Picchu and we hiked past the local train station and had a quick lunch before finishing the day with a fairly long and boring three hours walking on the railroad tracks to Puente Ruinas - all in all about a twelve hour day of hiking, break out the Advil!
We stayed in a small little campsite at Puente Ruinas that actually had bathrooms and ice cold showers which actually felt pretty damn awesome after four days of trekking. The cook made us a special cake for actually making it all the way to Machu Picchu and we all headed off to an early nights sleep after dinner since, once again, we were getting up at 4:00am.
Day Five - Puente Ruinas to Aquas Calientes and Machu Picchu
We awoke bleary-eyed around 4:00am and were served “breakfast in bed” because the porters wanted to pack up camp and once again run the 25 minutes to the train station at Aquas Calientes so that they could catch the morning train and not have to wait until late afternoon. We packed up camp and, for the first time, actually strapped on all of our own packs and headed off in the dark to Aquas Calientes, the village at the base of Machu Picchu. From there, we took the thirty minute bus up to the entrance at Machu Picchu (at that point, we had enough of hiking.
Machu Picchu from the distance