Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu, by Baz
We had always been keen to do a trek on our way to the lost city of Maccu Picchu and, as the Inka Trail was booked up, there were 2 options: The Lares Trek took 4 days and 3 nights and was of moderate intensity, the Salkantay Trek took 5 days and 4 nights and we were told it too was not a massive challange. We went for the Salkantay option but found that it was alot tougher than originally billed.
We set off from Cusco on Monday morning at 4.00am. The sun broke as our bus precariously weaved up the steep mountain towards our starting point, the village of Mollepata and as I admired the view I was mindful of the fact that I had 3 pairs of trousers, no underwear and a bout of diarrhea - it was going to be a long 5 days.
The first mornings walking was ok. 5 hours up the edge of the Apurimac Valley. It was very warm but we felt fresh and it was good to get a chat to the other people on the trek. Our guide was a rugged and carismatic adverturer with plenty of stories to tell, his name was Gonzales, but I called him Glen, only because he looked a bit like a Peruvian Glen Simpson. We stopped briefly for lunch before heading on again. As we got higher the weather turned dramatically and got very cold. When we finally reached camp at 6.00pm (after 10 hrs of walking) the sun was going down and it was very cold. We had a meal with the rest of our group in the tent and most were very friendly, apart from one overweight English girl who couldnt help but be miserable.
We went to bed straight after dinner and both Seonaid and I had an uncomfortable sleep as the temperature dropped well below freezing. I was releaved to be awoken at 5.30 with a cup of coca tea. Unable to get washed or warm up properly we continued our trek upwards towards the massive snow capped Salkantay mountain while it was still dark. An hour into our treck the sun broke over the mountain and immediately warmed us. The layers of clothes had to come off and be carried as it got warmer and warmer.
It got very hot and very tough all the way up to the pass. The rude English girl who I had now nicknamed Verucca Salt lagged, behaind by some 30 minutes. Seonaid was struggling too but still led all the girls in the group and was an absolute star. We reached the summit of the Huamantay Pass at about 1.30 and it was beautiful, but at 4500m we couldnt stay for long as the altitude would start to have an effect. It certainly did effect me and I had a headache and felt like I was going to be sick.
We started down the Santa Teresa Valley and I was amazed at how quickly the climate changed. We had gone from freezing to tropical weather in a mater of hours. We walked 15 miles in total on that second day. I struggled with the altitude but Seonaid kept me going.
On day 3 we continued down the valley and this time Seonaid really struggled as her knee gave way and she had to rely on sticks to support her decent. I was sympathetic of Seonaids condition and obvious pain, but was disgusted that Verucca Salt was now well in front of us (Im still convinced she was using some sort of artificial stimulant - she was medical student so there was opportunity, as well as motive). We finished the days trek at the foot of the valley and awaited the bus to take us to the campsite. I was surprised to see as our transport, not a bus, but an open top truck with bars over the top. It was an exciting and hairraising 60 minute drive around the small valley roads with drop of around 100 feet on one side. Very exciting.
We were rewarded with a trip to the hot Springs near our campsite and a chance to finally get a proper wash. I had a great nights sleep after that.
The next day we walked the 3 hours along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes Town, from where we would visit Machu Picchu.
Another early start 4.30am and we were on the bus up to Machu Picchu before the sun had some up. We were one of the first into the Inka City and it was just amazing. An entire city constructed in the in most unlikely but breathtaking location on the top of a steep mountain, and surrounded by a multitude of massive mountains that encapsulated the city,as if protecting a diamond. We watched the sun come up over the mountains and illuminate the city.
We waited in line for an hour to make our final trek up Huayna Picchu (the mountain that overlooks the site). Only 400 are allowed up it every day and we were lucky enough to make in up. It was a tough 45 minute climb, but worth it. So peaceful on the summitt with panoramic views of the Sacred Valley. Again Seonaid struggled to get down with her knee but we took it slow and got down to enjoy a brief tour of the site by our guide, Glen. We both would have liked to have stayed longer to soak up the atmosphere but we were exhausted from the 5 days was got the bus back to Aguas Calientes to get some well earned food and beer and wait for our train.
In the end we got the train back with Verucca Salt who I had discovered was called Megan. With a few drinks in them both she and her boyfriend were charming and we enjoyed their company on the way home. I tried to check her over for signs of artificial stimulants but found none.
For those of you who are interested I never did soil my pants and in fact suffered from constipation for 4 days - when I finally went it was just spectacular.
All in all a tough but absolutely wonderful 5 days. We are now back in Cusco and intend to relax over the weekend before getting the bus to Puno and lake titicacca on Monday morning.