Salkantay Trek

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

We woke up nice and early to start our 5 day Salkantay trek that would eventually take us to Machu Pichu.

We didn't book the actual Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in time (it sold out 6 months in advance!) but the Salkantay trek looked amazing. We talked to people about both treks and they had positives and negatives about both so we were happy with our forced choice!

Day 1

We were ready in the reception of our hostel at 5.40am as requested, and then waited 30 minutes to get picked up and when they did we had to walk. We waited on the bus for another 30 minutes before they realised they'd forgot to get someone!

We drove for 3 hours before stopping at a town for breakfast and a chance to get some supplies. Not wanting to pay $20 for trekking poles we decided to pay 8 Soles (Peru currency, about £2) for wooden ones which did the same job! We also bought some cocoa leaves which apparently helps with the altitude because at 4650 metres there's going to be about 50% less oxygen! Its meant to help your headache, make you more alert, curb your appetite and make your cheek go numb!

We started walking while the contents of the bus were transported to a truck. The scenery was really good and the truck eventually caught us up. The truck was full already with some locals and another group so we were very surprised when we were told to cram in. We got the worst spots, hanging on to a thick pole above us with little room to put out feet whilst leaning at an angle. For five minutes it would have been fine, but for 50 minutes it was ridiculous. All 30 people got off the small truck 50 minutes later with pulled muscles and aching bones, feeling like we had already completed the 5 day trek. So that really wasn't a good start and we were left wondering if this was a sign of things to come.

We walked for about 2 hours in the drizzle before the clouds cleared and we could see snow capped mountains and glaciers surrounding us. It was a pretty impressive vista.

We had lunch which was pretty good before starting our final ascent for the day. It was a fairly steep hill and we started to feel the effects of the altitude as we were getting out of breath very quickly! We had a mild but thumping headache so we decided to have some cocoa leaves. We took a few, rolled them together and put in our gum whilst getting the juice from them. Within about 10 minutes our headaches had cleared! Whether it was the cocoa leaves or it was a placebo effect didn't matter as it worked! We struggled on up the hill and we started to get dizzy, Karen even fell over into her camera! Luckily it only slightly dented the filter lens, no severe damage to sister or camera. We thought it was the surroundings and a bit of vertigo but Aldo our guide said we needed more water and cocoa leaves!

The last push for camp was hard, with what seemed like endless steep switchbacks. It wasn't so much that it was tiring but difficult because of breathing at the high altitude. We would walk 20 metres then stop for a minute! Kris got near the top when a bull decided to run towards him which prompted a sprint downhill and uphill to get away! I guess all you need is a bit of gentle encouragement! Realising just how cold it was going to be Emma bought a second pair of gloves off a local man who was apparently going to camp out in the open under the glacier (see photo). Feeling sorry for him Emma also offered him some of our Coca leaves, of which he took a fist full and began to chow down on!

It was cold and getting dark when we reached our camp. We were at the foot of the glacier covered Salkantay. Camp wasn't ready so we froze while waiting for the porters to put up the tents. Dinner was meant to be at 6 but it came at 8, the time we were meant to goto bed. Dinner however was excellent with popcorn, biscuits and hot drinks while we waited for dinner. We then had hot soup and nice bread, followed by various meat and vegetarian options which were all very good. This just about made up for there slow preparation. Karen and Rachael (a canadian girl in our group) were really feeling the effects of the altitude so went to bed early. Just after dinner we heard a loud crack from the glacier and a thunderous sound as the snow and ice avalanched down the mountain. It was far enough away not to hit our camp but still slightly worrying! We went to bed in all of our clothes, Emma had 6 layers on and was still cold!

Day 2

Aldo (tour guide) woke us up at 5.30am with hot cocoa tea which was a great wake up call. We had a long day ahead as we had to walk 17km.

We sat around the table for breakfast and were very happy to see hot porridge, pancakes and toast! Not bad for 4100 metres! Most of the people who felt ill the night before were feeling better (including Karen) and up and ready.

We all felt pretty good as we hiked up to the highest point in the trek. Salkantay moutain was on the right and it looked great on such a clear day. It was cold but we had lots of layers on. There was a sense of relief as we made it to the top as we were told the climb on this day was the hardest, but Aldo later told us that as we were all doing so well on the first day he made us walk further. Otherwise all those switchbacks would have been part of the day 2 hike and we wouldn't quite have been camping at the bottom of the Salkantay glacier. The air was fresh but almost 50% thinner as we were at 4650 metres above sea level.

No-one has ever reach the summit of Salkantay which is nearly 7000metres. Aldo our guide said that a group of Japanese mountaineers camped for a month and made several attempts but all ended in failure.

We took some photos at the highest point in our trek before going to see a glacier lake. It was bright blue and looked great with the snow-capped mountains in the background.

It was then time for our long trek downhill. It was a gentle descent but still took its toll on our knees! But we kept ourselves entertained with stupid games ans stupid conversations! Kris invent a whole a new game that I don't think will really catch on! We stopped for lunch after 3 hours before starting again for another 3ish hours. The scenary had changed a lot from the night before, as we camped just above a bend in the river surrounded by greenery and snow capped mountains.

We all got a beer to celebrate the longest day before having an argument wether the dead animal skin was a deer, bat or goat...all very similar animals! Saying hi to the guy from day one that sold Emma the gloves and clearly didn't sleep under the stars! And finally having another great dinner and early night.

Day 3

The day started with the American and Canadians deciding how much to tip the horsemen. They were deciding how much we should all put in which we weren't entirely happy with. It was the tour guide that said about tips and this would be the first of 4 times we were expected to tip. We told them the night before about how the British don't tip which they seemed a bit disgusted by! They couldn't believe we don't tip bartenders at all. We also said its not good for them to tip outside of their own country if it's not the norm there, to which some agreed and some didn't. We ended up agreeing to put in what you wanted which worked for us. When the tip was presented to the horsemen it was the first time we'd seen them during the trip!

We started walking downhill which was really painful as our legs were sore from the day before! Thankfully this would be only a half day walk. On our way we passed coffee, avocado, banana and passion fruit plantations the latter of which we ate. We also came across a rope bridge that consisted of a cage hanging on a wire which allowed people to pull themselves or be pulled from one side of the river to the other. We all had ago, and it was definitely an spectacular view over the river. Once we'd finished Karen told us that she had asked the assistant guide, 'Kaiser', whether there had ever been any accidents on the bridge. She expected a reassuring "no, never" but the ever honest guide in training said "yes, once the wire snapped and cut across the guys face throwing him into the river. We eventually found him 2km down stream dead". Thanks Kaiser! We all safely carried on with our hike though.

The campsite for the 3rd night was again in a great setting overlooking the river.

For the afternoon we were given the option to either chill out at the camp or goto a natural hot springs for a bit extra. We all decided that the springs sounded great. Aldo drove us down a very bumpy single track road for about 45 minutes before arriving at the hot springs. We weren't expecting much but we were pleasantly surprised! There were 3 large pools right next to the river. As we got in the water we all had big smiles and made 'ahhhhh' noises as the water was so warm. It was also the first chance to have a wash in 3 days (we did shower before getting in though!). We were driving back a slightly different way when we encountered a blockade! Luckily a few locals were playing volleyball. They took down the net they had put up across the road and let us pass, as soon as we'd driven through they put the net back up and carried on playing. In the back of the minibus Emma noticed that Kaiser had crossed his fingers when we drove over a bridge close to camp. After we crossed he said the bridge is not safe! We were glad he didn't say anything before!

The evening meal was accompanied with a guinea pig that had been hand picked by some of the group earlier in the day. We went to an old ladies house and she had loads of guinea pigs running around. One was then picked out (and named Jimmy) and we had it later with our dinner! It was the first time we'd knowingly tried it and it didn't taste of much.

Also that evening it was American Karen's birthday from our group so we had a few beers round the campfire and birthday cake!

Day 4

Aldo let us have a lie in til 6am and again woke us up with Coca Tea. It would be our last day of trekking which would take about 5-6 hours. There was another group with us that were doing the same route but with a different guide and whilst we were having out breakfast found out that they left 1 hour before us! They had been slow on previous days but we didn't think that slow! That meant we needed to be quick to catch our train to the bottom of Machu Picchu.

The walk up was part of an original Inca trail and was definitely tough!! It was the only time the three of us all walked separately, as we were all too exhausted to talk anyway and needed to go at our own pace. It would have been a tough climb at anytime, but after 3 days of hiking up and down we were definitely feeling the burn! We had been walking for 1 and a half hours when we caught up the other group! We were surprised to see them as they were us! It was a relief to get to the top as we had been walking uphill in the heat for 2.5 hours. We stopped for a rest by an Inca ruin that had breathtaking views of the west side of Machu Picchu. We continued our trek down which was equally as painful as going up before crossing a bouncy suspension bridge and then resting by the river. The water was straight from the glaciers so freezing cold! We walked for about 30 minutes more before stopping for lunch which also marked the end of our trek.

We caught a train up to Aguas Calientes (the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu) where we'd spend the night. The whole group went out for cocktails before having dinner and getting another early night!

Day 5

There were 2 options to get to Machu Picchu, walk or bus. It opens as 6am and that is the best time of day to visit. It takes 1.5 hours to walk or 20 minutes to get the bus which all of us did! That still unfortunately meant getting in the queue at 5.10am to be on one of the first buses.

We got into the Machu Picchu complex just after 6am when it was just getting light and got some amazing views and pictures with very few people in the background. Machu Picchu is in a great setting surrounded by mountains and overlooked by Wayinapicchu. The Spanish never found Machu Picchu as the Inca deserted it as soon as the Spanish began invading, and destroyed parts of the trail leading to it to ensure it could not be found, which is why it's in good condition today.

Aldo gave us a good tour and showed us things we wouldn't have seen or even understood. He also showed us one of the most sacred monuments in Machu Picchu and where a lighting rig had fallen and chipped a section of the rock whilst they were filming a beer advert. No adverts have been filmed there since! The whole complex was very picturesque and interesting.

We, for some reason, bought a ticket to climb Wayinapicchu - which is the tall steep hill behind the city. It seemed a good idea at the time but little did we know how much we'd ache!

The walk itself was ridiculous. We were scrambling on our hands and feet in sections as it was so steep. We wondered how many people die a year attempting the climb, we were later told 2! Considering only 400 people a day are aloud up that's quite a few. That doesn't include the injuries and broken bones either!

The view from the top were fantastic and Machu Picchu looked tiny from there. When we looked over the edge, we couldn't see the bottom which gives you an indication of how steep it was! While we were up there an Australian guy took his fathers ashes, asked for a moment of silence, and threw them over the mountain.

Going down was very dodgy. At times we had to turn around and use the steps like a ladder! We also passed a few Inca structures and were left puzzled as to why they built houses on such a steep mountain! Also, the paths up and down were all Inca built.

By the time we got down Machu Picchu was pretty busy with people. Emma and Karen therefore felt that this would be the perfect time to have their photo taken in their Peruvian balaclavas bought on our Sacred Valley trip. Tourists stopped to laugh, we have no idea why?! By the time it came to leaving, we had been there for 7 hours which we couldn't believe! We got the bus back down and had our last supper (lunch) with the group. The hike had definitely been difficult but we had a really good group where everyone got on, and had an amazing time! Day 5 also marked our very first wedding anniversary, so happy anniversary to us and thank you for the messages! Macchu Picchu was a great place to celebrate it!

We said goodbye to Aldo, who was a great tour guide, as he left on an earlier train. We bought some tat from the market before catching the train for the 4 hour journey back to Cusco. The train was quite lively as everyone was having a few beers to celebrate what had been a fantastic 5 days. The trek was great, despite it being difficult at times, with varied scenery. We were fed really well and the camping equipment was really comfortable. The whole group got on really well and we decided to set up a facebook group where we can post pictures and videos. We got back to Cusco, were exhausted so went to bed.

The next day we got a taxi to an Inca ruin called Saqsaywaman (pronounced Sexy woman!) which according to the lonely planet was a 'must see'. There wasn't much left to see of it so we weren't sure what we were meant to see! We walked over to the giant Jesus which overlooks the city and sat there for a while whilst a local man played a small guitar and sang which went very well with the setting. We ate dinner and then went to get a Pisco sour which is a local cocktail that contains egg white and is pretty nice.

We then got a taxi to the bus station to catch our night bus to Copacabana in Bolivia.



Paul D
Glad to see you remembered your anniversary. What a way to celebrate it. It looks really good there and the photos are great, but I doubt if they do justice to the reality of it all.
Emma, a dead dear looks nothing like a dead bat! Oh and Kris, thanks again for letting us know that the shrivelled up snake squashed up on the road was dead, good that at least one of you is a wildlife expert :-) It was amazing trekking with you guys! The joking, banter and Kris's inappropriate games all made it easier and fun x

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