Before First Light
I was awake before dawn since it was so hard to sleep. The best solution was to pull the cover of the sleeping bag over my head, but when I found out later that the temperature was somewhere in the teens that night (minus 10 in Celsius), it was obvious why sleep was so difficult. Still, the frost on the ground and the gradual breaking light and the sight of Mt. Salkantay so near was worth getting up for. Our cook tapped on each tent and offered us a hot mate de coca which was just the thing that was needed. We slowly got up and made our way to the breakfast tent where we enjoyed a very nice omelette, bread and jam, and hot cocoa and coffee. Juan introduced the porter and cooks to us and then we went around in a circle introducing ourselves, to the accompaniment of much laughter.
Looking Back Where We Walked
I already liked everyone in the group a lot, especially the Germans and the Austrians. When you are walking on the trail you have the opportunity to spend some time talking with everyone and it’s part of the reason I enjoy trekking so much.
We spent about an hour getting to near the base of Mt. Salkantay at which point we began to ascend more rapidly through the narrow valley. There was a series of steep switchbacks and I was surprised at how easily I was walking. I was able to take a small break at each switchback and then go on to the next one without too much problem and after a half hour or so I was looking way down at some of the rest of our group. Djana had paid extra for a mule to carry her this day but it turned out that the mule was being used.
A Welcome Mate De Coca
She and Mark weren’t happy at all about that and were determined to get their money back when they got back to Cuzco. She had had trouble on a previous trek somewhere and wasn’t sure that she could make the pass, but as it turned out she surprised herself and did fine. We kept going up until we came to a meadow and it seemed like the perfect place to stop for a snack. About another hour remained to make it to the pass. I sprang on ahead again, full of energy and not suffering at all from the altitude, arriving well before the others at the pass. The other group had already made it there and were posing for a group picture so I volunteered to take it so that they all could be in it. All of the sudden I had 17 cameras thrust at me and it was a comical sight as I took them one by one and took the picture.
Saddling The Mules
Haven’t we heard of posting one picture to a website and sharing the link? But it was fun to do it and they were very grateful. I even got offers of a hug and a kiss and some beer when we got into the camp but I asked if they hugs and kisses could be exchanged for a long massage! For parts of the rest of the afternoon I walked with some of the other group and got to know them, even though in trekking culture you are supposed to stick to your own group. Anyone that knows me realizes how impossible that is for me, as I’m such a socializer and mediator. I didn’t mind jokingly being called a “traitor” by my own group because I got to meet some great people, including a girl from England who had just finished several months of volunteering for young pregnant girls in Trujillo
Juan & Mark
Megan was joined by her brother Rupert for a few weeks to see some of Peru and Bolivia before returning home and we spent an hour walking and talking about all sorts of things. It didn’t hurt that she was very pretty too!
At the pass we also took a break for pictures before starting down. I was amazed at all the rock piles which are offerings to the “apus”, the mountain spirits or mountain gods. A thought ran through my head, that how many atheists scoff at those who believe in a God that created the universe, yet I’m sure many of them brought a stone up to the pass to place it in the pile as an offering. What irony! So many are quick to laugh at Christians for their beliefs but they themselves will follow any new age fad or any other religious belief that doesn’t include Christianity.
In a more mundane note, I had to follow the call of nature and it so happened that there was a big boulder that concealed me from the group behind us. Juan lightly lectured me for my abuse of the apus but I told him that I had to go and that I didn’t believe in that stuff. The funny thing was that anything that went wrong on the rest of the trek was blamed on me for insulting the mountain spirits. It was all in good fun though. The path down yielded spectacular views and we paused to rest at the edge of a precipice with the valley floor far below. It appeared that storm clouds were gathering further down in the valley and it made for some stunning pictures. Another hour or so and we finally came to the lunch camp.
Kasia & Jan
Our cooks were busy putting together a very nice lunch of cream of mushroom soup, alpaca steaks, rice and vegetables. Some of the girls didn’t want their steaks and the guys in the group happily obliged so as not to waste them. A pathetic emaciated dog appeared and wolfed down the bones we threw to him. After a brief siesta in the sun next to a rushing stream we got up and kept going down deeper into the valley. By now the vegetation had started to change and so had the air. It was getting warmer and the mountainsides were greener and more luxuriant in their foliage and flora. The sight of Salkantay far above us, framed by the cloud forest, was a brilliant picture. I put on my headphones and listened to some music to help ease the thought of how tired I was, and to make the walking go more quickly.
Porter & Cooks
At one point, further down the trail, Karen and Sarah stood to the side of the pass and then looked over to me behind them and quickly motioned to move to the side. I did and almost instantly a train of mules rushed headlong past me. I would have been crushed if they had not been there since I didn’t hear anything with the headphones on. My heart rate slightly elevated we continued until another rest stop with some of the guides there joking and waiting for us. Another hour remained but it seemed like we should have been at camp already. In the last hour the path narrowed and was dusty and slippery in parts. I was talking with Megan when I stumbled and went off the path, saving myself by grabbing some of the abundant vegetation, bushes or small trees that grew alongside.
Djana, Karen & Sarah
My head was even with the path and Rupert reached down to give me a hand up. It was a slightly scary moment but I don’t think I could have hurt myself because of the ease of grabbing something. Still, everyone was a bit startled, not least myself!
Finally we made it to camp and the others were celebrating with some beer. I had a headache and didn’t feel like drinking but we enjoyed a nice dinner again and lots of fun conversation, including a round of “tell something unique about where you are from.” We learned some interesting things about the different countries and cities represented…some things you wouldn’t find in guidebooks! After such an extremely tiring day we didn’t want to stay up late so we put the layers on and crawled into our tents.
Jan, Kasia & Carolina
Thankfully we had descended several hundred meters and the air was warmer than the previous night. Juan assured us we’d sleep better and warmer tonight and it turned out that he was right.