9/28 up at 3:00 for pickup at “3:30” actually 3:40 bus to Mollepata Salkantay trek to the gap 20k
We awoke at the ungodly hour of 3:00 and were down at the lobby at 3:30 with our bags packed and left in the hostel locker room. We had a backpack full of stuff for the mules and smaller backpacks for each of us. Our guide got there at 3:40 and took us by foot to where we were going to meet everyone else. It took awhile for the guide to pick up everyone and get everything organized, but Jorge, the guide, had us all packed, on the bus, and off by 4:30. The trip used to meet an hour later, but there is a big construction zone on the way there and they only let traffic through it for 4 hours per day, so they bumped up the meeting time to get through it. We were on the bus for about 2-2.5 hours on the ride there. Most of us missed tons of beautiful scenery because we were exhausted and asleep. Oh well. Upon arrival to Mollepata, we unpacked and went in to get a breakfast of bread and butter. We could have gotten a different breakfast, but it was much more expensive and we were ready to go.
It felt good to finally have made it to Mollepata to start the Salkantay Trek, the main reason we came to Peru. The trek goes from Mollepata to Macchu Picchu over the course of 5 days/4 nights. The first day of hiking was along dirt roads for the first 10 km and then made its way onto small foot paths up high in the mountains. We were stopping every 30 minutes or so for breaks and enjoying the scenery. Cara and I were in better shape than pretty much everyone else there, so we were off enjoying the scenery while others were huffing and puffing just trying to make it up the mountain. The first day was pretty much uphill the entire day. Almost every stop had little huts on it that were selling bottled water and snacks/beverages. We didn’t waste our money on this and drank water from the glaciers or boiled water most of the time. At lunch time we were about 12 km into the day and many were feeling the effects of the walking. The food was amazing, with a 3 course meal for lunch. It started with a guacamole plate, then some kind of hearty soup, and then main course that always consisted of a lot of rice and some meat. This was pretty much the format for every lunch and dinner of the entire trip. We were super impressed with the quality of the food. The cook brought in all the food and cooking equipment with him via the mules, though the first day it was possible to drive it to the destination.
After lunch we continued to hike for another 8 km to the final camp. We weren’t sure at the time, but we could pretty much see the camp from where we ate lunch. It was up the valley we were hiking along, way off in the distance. The hiking in the afternoon was real nice, since it wasn’t steep anymore and the views were spectacular. We got the chance to look down on a rainbow next to a mountain across the valley from us. It tried raining a little bit, but it stayed away for the most part on day 1 of the trek. Right before we got to the camp, we passed a really fancy resort lodge that had about 10 huge bottles of supplemental oxygen piped into the house to keep it at sea level oxygen levels for those weenies that can’t deal with the elevation, but want to see the scenery. It was grand up there when the clouds parted and we were able to look up to the peaks of some glacier covered mountains. We debated which way we would be going in the morning, but no one was sure. The camp was real nice, since at 3900m above sea level you are above the treeline, there was a lot of wind. The camp had a tin roof and tarps around it to keep the wind out, and the tents were pitched by the trekking staff inside of there. It felt strange not to put up my own tent, but it worked out. We had the chance to take some photos before popcorn came out as snack along with tea. Then an hour later, dinner came out with soup and main course. More great food as always from our group cook. Each group hiking was about 12 people and had their own guide, cook, and horsemen. After dinner we all went straight to bed since we had gotten up super early and wake up time the next day was 5:00 hiking by 6:00.
9/29 up at 5:00 for breakfast with pancakes hike 24k over 4629m Salkantay pass, snow, rain, hurt foot
Day 2 of the Salkantay Trek started with the cook coming around at 5:00 and saying “Coca Tea?” to everyone. He was offering coca tea to everyone as a wakeup drink. The coca tea is the local remedy for altitude sickness. I have no idea if it works or not, but it tastes alright with some sugar added to it. We packed and had a breakfast of bread, butter, jam, cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, and pancakes with dulce de leche. We were on the trail by 6:15 and on our way. Luckily Jorge had us going before the other groups, so it was nice to hike not too much in a line of people. The hike up was pretty hard starting at 3900m and peaking out at 4629m at the Salkantay pass. The hike up to the pass was beautiful hiking through the rockfalls and enjoying the clear skies and views of Humtay and Salkantay the 2 big peaks we were hiking through. I was wearing my new sweater for part of it, since it was pretty cold up there, ~5C. When it got warmer or I heated up from hiking, I took it off and hung it over my back. I lost it part way up somewhere, but didn’t realize it until we were almost to the top. Luckily, one of the Austrians from our group grabbed it and brought it up to me, so I didn’t have to go down too far to retrieve it. We arrived to the top of Salkantay Pass as a group and got our picture taken with signs. Jorge, the guide, was supposed to explain to us about the history of the pass, but the snow was picking up, so we just started down to stay warm. The descent was steep and on loose gravel/boulders along with being wet from the snow. As we descended the precipitation changed from snow to rain and it got worse to hike through as it got more and more muddy and slippery. Cara and I donned the rain jackets, which were nice, but didn’t cover our legs and it got real cold. We made it down to a hut that looked like lunch after almost 2 hours of this descent, but it didn’t end up being lunch. There was still another 20 minutes of hiking past that. We waited there for 30 minutes for others to arrive, but our group was still not all down, so we continued to lunch with directions from Jorge, and arrived to lunch. We all took off our wet jackets and packs and donned the down jackets. As we hung out in the lunch shelter, much like the camping shelter from the previous night, we warmed up and the rain stopped. The view across the valley was amazing with 10+ waterfalls rushing down the wall from the rain and the glaciers melting. We were starting to enter the Cloud Forest on our descent. We were approximately 14 km into the hike for the day and enjoying finally warming up.
After lunch the hiking was better since it wasn’t raining, but the trail was soaked and muddy, but the forest was very interesting to watch go by. The trail was also steep and hurt the knees and feet on the descent. Cara was having a really hard time with the descent because her shoes were killing her feet and her knee was bothering her. The descent from the gap started at 4629 m and ended on the day at about 2800 m, so we had come down a really long ways. We were looking down the valley towards shelters we could see and counting down the distance until we arrived. Luckily, we rounded a corner and we arrived, much to our surprise, to the camp we were to stay at. This was the strangest camp I have ever been at, since the guides had pitched our tents on the second floor of this hut. This was to keep the rain and wetness off of our tents. Cara and I had nice air matreses that we had brought from home, so it wasn’t a big deal to sleep on the wooden floors. We took our shoes off upon arrival and went and stuck our feet in a little stream by the camp. I had my feet in it for about 10 minutes straight to lower the swelling, but Cara put her feet in and screamed from the cold. She eventually put them in there for 3 minutes and had enough. I walked around barefoot all night to let my feet air out and recover from another long day in shoes. Dinner was another good feast starting out with popcorn and then moving on to soup and main course. We talked with our hiking group for a little after dinner before turning in again pretty early. We slept well that night, though others did not because of loud drunk guides below them.
9/30 Salkantay Trek Day 3 – to Santa Teresa
Awaking at 6:00 felt like a luxury after getting up so early the past 2 days. The cook had tea for us in the morning and prepared another wonderful breakfast. After breakfast we headed out for the hike for the day. This was the first day of hiking that was not straight up or straight down, but was nice rolling terrain. We hiked down to the river along the road and then got on a trail that paralleled the river. The hike was nice, rolling along the riverside with lots of stream crossings on sketchy bridges. The bridges were made by placing 2 large logs across the stream and then taking little sticks and going between the logs. Most of the sticks were not nailed or secured in place and made it extremely unstable to walk along. I enjoyed the novelty of these while Cara was not really a fan. They made for an adventure. We also crossed one sketchy landslide which had a path about 1 foot wide before it dropped off to oblivion to the river below. We made it through the hiking today without much issue and arrived into La Playa, where we would break for lunch and say goodbye to some of the members of our tour group who bought a 4 day trek instead of a 5 day. Luckily, Jorge, the guide, stayed with us and sent the others on their way. Cara and I were ready to hike after lunch, but were told we were getting on a bus for the ride to Santa Teresa. IT ended up being the right move to make, since the roads were super sketchy and there weren’t any trails to follow down to the town. The bus was a good ride with the dirt road barely wide enough for one bus, let alone 2 trying to pass each other. It was crazy when they tried, because it certainly was not an optimal situation.
We arrived into Santa Teresa about an hour after we had left on the bus ride and got set in camp. We promptly left and took another bus down to the hot springs where we would hang out for 2 hours. To get into the hot springs, you had to take a “shower” in a very cold stream coming down the mountain. This was so cold, you couldn’t do much more than touch it before you were chilled to the bone. Cara’s face was priceless when she stepped in the shower. We got in the first pool which was supposedly 25C. Staying in there for about 2 minutes, we moved over to the 30C pool. The 30C pool was really crowded with people for whatever reason, so we moved right on to the 35C pool. It was pretty warm, but the entire pool was not 35C. There was naturally heated water that rolled into the pool and heated it up. This water was super hot, but felt nice to relax in. Cara and I stayed in this pool for about 90 minutes, remaining long after our other group members left to dry off. One reason for staying in the pool was the mosquitoes were really bad outside the pool. It felt really nice to relax in the pool and it got us ready for the hiking to come the next day. Upon return to the camp, our cook had dinner ready which was a fancy show for sure. Since it was the last day he would cook for us, we had a cucumber penguin and flambéed bananas as part of the dinner menu. The bond fire party that night was pretty cool, but Cara and I retired for the night at an early 22:00 compared to many others.
10/1 Salkantay Trek Day 4 – to Aguas Calientes
We did not have to rise until 7:00 in the morning. The plan was for most of the group to go ziplining, but that included skipping a significant section of hiking. The hiking was along the road and wouldn’t be that exciting, however, Cara and I had come for the hiking, so we were set on hiking. Plus we had to pay extra if we wanted to go ziplining. We were going to be the only ones hiking, and we were okay with that, but when Jorge offered us discounted ziplining, Cara convinced me that we should do it, since it would never be cheaper or more affordable that right now. She was right. We paid S./80 per person to go ziplining on 6 ziplines that spanned 800+ meters. The ziplines ran from one mountain to another way above the valley floor and the views were amazing, but it was really about the adrenaline rush of soaring above the valley. I wanted to take pictures on the way across, but couldn’t really figure out a safe way to do it, since you were trying to keep yourself from twisting and hitting the wire while sliding along. After an exhilarating couple of hours on the ziplines, we headed on down to Hidroelectrica via bus. This was another nice sketchy ride, but I enjoyed it once again.
Lunch was served in Hidroelectrica, before Jorge and what remained of our group made our way up to the train tracks and hiked along them over to Aguas Calientes. This was quite an adventure, even though hiking along train tracks sounds like it should be really boring. This hike included our first views of the Lost City of the Incas (Macchu Picchu). We were 1000m below the city and it was crazy to think about how they built it up on top like that. This was the nice part of the hike before the storm came over the Macchu Picchu and slammed into us with full force. We could see the rain sheets coming in the distance and it started out light, but quickly turned to downpour and then to hail. Jorge, Cara, and I made it to a shelter to wait out the worst of the rain, but several others were out huddled under a tree, one of them without a rain jacket. When the rain let up, we started hiking again, but the rain started to pick up once again. It didn’t matter, we had to make the hike and our shoes were already soaked, so we just sucked it up and enjoyed the novelty of hiking and singing in the rain. At least it wasn’t very cold. We arrived to Aguas Calientes in light rain and were shown up to our hostel room, where Cara and I both had nice hot showers to warm up after getting chilled from the rain. We weren’t really getting very wet from it, but it was enough to chill us on through. After warming up, we went to dinner as a group and had an okay final meal together. It was nothing to write home about after the superb food prepared for us during the trek. We walked around town a little bit before heading to bed. We had to push and shove our way through the political rallies that were going on. These rallies would go on through the night until we were supposed to get up at 4:00.
10/2 Salkantay Trek Day 5 – Macchu Picchu
Today was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, and it was certainly one of the most memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. I was up from 23:30 all the way through the night with some kind of intestinal bug. Cara then got up around 2:00 with the same crap bug. There is not telling if it was food poisoning from dinner or a bug from the water, but our guide caught it as well. We skipped the meeting of our guide at 4:30 and hiking up to the top. We were supposed to arrive at the top by 6:00, but we got out of bed at 7:15 and then bought bus tickets to the top. We were so out of energy that even walking to the bus was difficult. We made it to the bus, and got our ride to the top and were able to enter Macchu Picchu. Macchu Picchu is a truly amazing place and you can tell how it was a spiritual center from all the views around. I could definitely live in a place like that. We walked around the ruins for 4 hours taking very frequent and long breaks. We got a chance to see it all, but the enjoyment just wasn’t there so much because of how drained we were from the sickness. There were some token llamas there that were pretty cool and inquisitive animals. I don’t think I have ever been somewhere, though, with as many tourists and cameras flashing away. I definitely was a part of the tourist stream, but so many seemed to storm along with their cameras and not stop to appreciate the enormity and sanctity of the culture that Macchu Picchu represents. Cara and I eventually made it to the highest point in the ruins where we laid down and took a short nap before heading down, again via bus. We had paid to hike up Macchu Picchu mountain, behind Macchu Picchu, but we were in no state to do the hike. The pictures and views from the top of that looked amazing as we looked through our tour mates pics, but it was not to be. When we got back to Aguas Calientes around 13:00 we met up with our tour mates and hung out at a French café. We were both starting to feel better and sitting down definitely helped it. We had 5 hours to waste before we would start the journey back to Cuzco via train and bus. We enjoyed the café for a long time and then strolled through the markets. We made it back to Cuzco late, around 22:30 and got into our new hostel, VIP Hostel, which was a big improvement over Intro Hostel in price and amenities.