5 day trek through Salcantay to Machu Picchu for Christmas!
Aguas Calientes, Peru
Saturday 21st December was a day of planning and wondering around the town. In the spur of the moment I booked the Salcantay Trek with Golden Peru for $220 for the next day! I wasn't expecting to go so soon but the agency offered such a good price and told me there was a good group of people going, so my decision was made without much to think about. The evening just involved skyping parents, napping, meeting my guide for the following day, eating in the famous 'Jack's Cafe' (which I think is hyped up a little too much especially when I see a huge queue outside).
Day 1 - Sunday 22nd December
After answering the door to let 4 different drunk Israeli guys into the hostel, my guide was the 5th to knock on the door. This was at 5.20am! After 2 hours we arrived in Mallepata where we had breakfast and introduced ourselves. At this point I was a little apprehensive and concerned because the people in the group where not as I was told...rather it consisted of an American couple who were 60 years old, a German couple, 40 years old, and a young guy from Korea who couldn't really speak any English, or Spanish. Yes, just slightly different to the "young" group I was told about!
After breakfast we started our hike up the mountain. It was a glorious day but I was quick to realise that it was going to be a long day primarily spent waiting for the elders to catch up. I was beginning to dread the trek if it was going to be like this day for the next 4 days! I didn't mind walking ahead alone on the first day, I was able to go into my own little world and listen to my music and enjoy the views alone, I felt very much at peace. But I couldn't do this for 4 days straight! Anyway, moving on - after walking through the luxurious green mountains with a beautiful snow-top mountain standing in the distance, we crossed some waterfalls and rivers until we arrived at our campsite at 5.30pm. Our tents were already up and our afternoon tea (popcorn, crackers and hot beverages) was being prepared. I wasn't quite expecting such an easy ride - we left the porter to deliver our main rucksacks on horses, had a cooked lunch of rice and vegetables and then we arrived at camp to find that we don't even have to set up our own tents. I think the elders liked this, however, call me crazy but I would have preferred to experience everything from having to carry all our stuff with us, cook dinner with a little gas-cooker, clean the dishes in the river, set up our town tents, prepare dinner as a group...and so on. Maybe I should set up a company to start this for the most adventurous!
Our guide told us that it was a great time of year to do the Salcantay trek because you see the mountains at their best, full of greenery (and it really was stunning) and we were lucky not to see any other groups on the track, because in the summer there are about 20 other groups, each with about 15-20 people...a very 'touristy' feeling, so we were lucky to feel like we were doing a very unique trek (even though I think it is the second most popular trek to Macchu Pichu!)
DAY 2: In the morning I felt like Royalty as we were woken up by the cook at 5.45am with a cup of warm coca tea! We were then served omelette, porridge and bread for breakfast. YUMMY. Just as we were about to start our hike, 3 young girls (a Canadian, American & Swedish) arrived at our camp with their luggage. It turned out that they were meant to start the Salcantay Trek on this day but the company contacted them the night before to say that the rest of their group were delayed and could not start the trek in time. So the girls were forced to miss out on the first day in order to join our group for the rest of the trip. It is times like these when I feel so incredibly lucky, as not only were the girls fast walkers like me, but they were also great fun too! We all got on really well and had a laugh getting to the summit of the Salcantay which took 4 hours. I say the summit, but we can't actually climb to the summit of Salcantay as it is renowned for avalanches, and in fact, we heard about 3 on our way up. Instead we walked to the glacier which was between the Salcantay mountain and another mountain. The weather was not on our side this day, but there were times when the clouds moved across for us to be able to see the top of the Salcantay. After asking 'Pachamama' to keep us safe on the trip by offering 3 coca leaves each, we headed down the other side of the mountain. We had a little rain, but it wasn't anything we couldn't handle. We walked for another 5 and a half hours to our second camp in the small little village of Chaullay. After almost falling asleep in our food, we headed to bed at about 9pm- it had been a long day of walking! I was able to share a tent with Frida (24 year old girl from Sweden) this time, which was much more relaxing than sharing a tent with 'Pa', the Korean guy, the previous night.
DAY 3: We were woken up at 6am with another cup of coca tea and had some maize-type porridge and pancakes for breakfast. This day was much more chilled as we only had to walk downhill for 4 hours before we jumped in a van to our next camp. We chilled by the river before lunch and then went to chill in some natural hot pools in Santa Terresa. I can see why this trek is so famous, because the landscape is so interesting! You pass through green mountains and then climb a mountain surrounded by snow (yes a little colder here) and then you walk down through the hot jungle and get attacked by mosquitoes. It is wonderful to experience all these places in the space of just 4 days. And what a great way to spend Christmas Eve, or 'Christmas Day' for the Germans and Sweedish!
DAY 4 - CHRISTMAS DAY! How very strange to say that I spent Christmas eve in natural hot pools in the mountains, slept in a tent and then spent Christmas day walking 6 hours to Aguas Caliente which is a village that stands at the bottom of Machu Picchu. The morning was gloriously sunny with stunning views and the walk along the train line in the afternoon was charming, especially in the pouring rain, surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers and the magical Machu Picchu mountain towered above us on our right. It was such a great feeling, so free, so vibrant, so fulfilled...and the rain just made it feel more special. It sounds silly, but it's so true! Maybe you are laughing, but you had to be there. It is something very hard to describe and as you know, I am not the best at expressing myself in words! The town of Aguas Caliente is cute. Ok it's touristy, but I liked it. Full of restaurants with the river running through the middle and a huge market selling jewellery and the standard SA-style purses, llama/alpaca winter hats and gloves. This was the day we were meant to carry all our belongings with us...but I was the only one to do this, so when we arrived at our hostel (which felt like a hotel with private bathroom, 2 beds per room) I was able to jump straight in the warm shower, dry myself with a clean fluffy towel and collapse on the bed....whilst the others had to sit there in dirty clothes, cold and wet, and wait for their luggage to arrive (they paid 10 soles to have their luggage delivered). I knew I would be rewarded by carrying my stuff! We treated ourselves to a coffee and cake before meeting our guide for dinner. It was rather strange not tucking into a big old Christmas turkey with roast potatoes, but the Perivian Pisco Sour drink kinda made up for it. It was an early night on Christmas Day as we had to start walking up Machu Picchu at 4.30am...
DAY 5 - BOIXING DAY! Day 5, and we are so satisfied with our 4 day trek, we could have all returned home and been extremely happy with our experience. But day 5 was the icing on the cake! It took Tania (American girl) and I 40 minutes to hike up the everlasting steps to the entrance of Machu Picchu. With tomato-coloured faces and covered in sweat we entered into the magical Machu - and wow, it really was magical. I wasn't expecting to be so impressed as this. I know it is said to be magnificent, but I have always found that the real 'tourst sites' that you should see and experience, have never impressed me as much as other places I have stumbled upon. But maybe the 'magical' aspect of Machu Picchu was because it had taken me 4 days of trekking to finally see it. But oh my, the morning clouds were floating low below the mountains, it had such a mystical feeling, and then the sun rose just over the mountain and lit up the ruins as if they began to glow. Such a breathtaking site. We had a guided tour for 2 hours, which was probably very good and interesting, but I must confess that for most part of the tour, I was in my own little world staring at this jaw-dropping construction. After the tour, Tania, Colleen and I took an hour to climb to the Sun Gate viewing point which was one of the free viewing areas. This gave us a great view looking down onto Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the backdrop. We chilled there, listened to music, chatted and enjoyed looking out at this place that is spoken about so much, a place that we had seen so many times in photos, postcards and books... but now this was our moment to enjoy actually being there ourselves! It is a very special place and we I am very lucky to have been able to see this. We were blessed with good weather too. The girls decided they couldn't face seeing any more steps so jumped on the $9 bus back to town. So off I went to tackle to the steps back down with my music on full blast looking out at the mountains that surrounded me (of course that was in-between looking down at the steps!!) I got into a jogging rhythm so it wasn't so hard on my knees coming down, but I did get caught in the rain jogging back to the village, so I jumped straight in the shower to warm up. We met Frida for dinner (as she wasn't able to join us in Machu Picchu on the same day, as her company had bought it for the following day), and then the majority of my group got on the 6.45pm bus back to Ollytantambu. As my ticket was much cheaper than theirs, I had to wait until the 9pm train which was cheaper for the agency to buy. I was a little annoyed we couldn't go all together, but I ended up meeting everyone the next day anyway.