Current city: Cusco, Peru
Current state: PAIN!
We just returned from a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu yesterday. Some 70 or 80 kilometers on the Salkantay trail plus the last day of hiking around Machu Picchu.
Day 1: Woke up early to catch our group’s minibus to a small village Mollepata, a few hours away in the mountains. Met the gang – 15 people in total plus 2 guides. People from England, Australia, Belgium, France/now Venezuela, Argentina, Canada, and of course the US of A! First day was probably the most difficult considering we had to break our bodies in to hiking mode. Started out sunny and beautiful and quickly changed to cold and rainy! Started making our way into the mountains, crossed rivers, took very steep shortcuts, and eventually made it to our campsite in between the mountains after some 9 hours of hiking
Day 2: Another early day starting around 5am. Kept up with drinking coca tea to help with the altitude, and we started off on another rainy day. This would supposedly be the most difficult day, climbing over the mountain Salkantay, the highest peak in the region around 4600 meters. Amandine and I rented a horse just in case our bodies wouldn’t be able to handle the climb/altitude but it turns out that we both were determined enough to not end up using it! But still okay to have as the extra security. The climb was definitely rough, but not as bad as I expected… just moved very slowly. Eventually we made it up to the peak where there were stone offerings. The Incas viewed mountains as sacred locations and Salkantay specifically connected to weather and fertility. The rest of the day was much easier – heading down the mountain. Only challenger was the rain, rain, and more rain! Wet shoes and socks are not fun at all! The weather cleared up for the last hour or so of hiking, had a brief broken camera scare, and then we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our campsite when we though we still had an hour or 2 left. Day 2 total was around 10-11 hours.
Day 3: No more rain! Next destination – La Playa and Santa Teresa. Definitely an easier day. 5 hours of hiking in the morning to La Playa, a village on one street next to a river. While walking through the jungle, we passed plants of all types of produce – oranges, avocados, bananas, coffee…. At La Playa, we said our thank you’s and goodbye’s to 2 of our porters – a father and son who helped to pack and walk with the horses and carry our tents, some gear and food. Then we piled into a 13 passenger van. Which did not allow the 15 people in our group + guides to fit. Solution? 3 people ride on top! Unreal driving through basically the jungle. Absolutely amazing views going along the mountainside and in the forest. Arrived in Santa Teresa, another village in the mountains and had the later afternoon and night to relax!!! Surprise presence of a pet monkey named Poncho, strolls through the town which resulted in a soccer game with some 20 Peruvian children. Team tourists of maybe 5 of us versus 20 kids and Ian, the tourist they chose for their team. So much fun but probably not the best decision to play after 3 days of hiking with 2 remaining! Extra muscle soreness followed the next day haha.
Day 4: The cook and last 2 of our porters left this morning with all of our tents, mats and sleeping bags. We were to carry the rest of our gear to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. Took the minibus again, this time I got to ride on the top!!! Unfortunately the ride was shorter than the day before, but amazing nonetheless…. When and where else would I ever have the opportunity to do such a thing?? Arrived at a cable car crossing which consistently of a manually pulled 3 foot box to cross a river. Pretty fun but time consuming since only 2-3 people could cross at a time, and then the cable car would have to be dragged all the way back for the next trip! Walked through a very sunny and hot valley to the Hydroelectric project, then along railroad tracks to arrive in Aguas Calientes. Not sure on the timing of this day, but somewhere around 7 or 8 hours. So exciting to arrive in Aguas Calientes and have a ROOM with BEDS and a HOT SHOWER!!!
Day 5: MACHU PICCHU!!! Left the hostel at 4 in the morning to start the climb up the mountain. 1 hour up very very steep stairs in the dark with a headlamp. INSTENSE! We needed to arrive early to make sure we could get one of the 400 entrance stamps to Wayna Picchu, another peak within the park with limited admission. So exciting when we made it to the top!!! Tour of Machu Picchu ruins…. incredible. Luckily Mark and I both have enough spanish to be able to go in the spanish tour group… just seems better to learn about the culture in the native language. Well, Quechua would be the actual native language, but the next noe would be spanish! Wayna Picchu was another hour climb, plus we took an extra route around the mountain to see caverns and Temple of the Moon with a bonus of beautiful views. Continued through the ruins and had time for one last trail out to the Inca bridge before the park closed at 5pm. Walked down the mountain as dusk set in for a total of 15 hours of hiking on the 5 day of the trek. No idea how I managed to do that. Machu Picchu is such an incredible place, unbelievable what the Incas were able to build so long ago AND remain hidden for so long. So amazing to be there… you can FEEL the energy of the place…. seriously magical. Hands down worth seeing in one’s lifetime. Vale la pena!!!
Made it back around 2:30 in the morning between Tuesday and Wednesday. Spent yesterday recovering, getting a $5 hour-long massage, and meeting up with the last of the trek group that was in Cusco, along with running into more people I met in Pisco!! Cusco is also beautiful so we decided to stay another day, along with the benefit of doing laundry, relaxing and not getting on a bus. I could easily spend a lot more time here. I would really like to see some of the other sites, unfortunately the tourist overload and price-bargaining gets a little exhausting. However last night was quite entertaining when we arrived at the plaza and were MOBBED by 10-15 promoters giving us flyers and free drink tickets for the area bars and discos. Easily can have a night out here in Cusco without spending ANY money!!! Crazy.
Next up is a trip to Arequipa and going to Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. Supposed to be lovely!!! Pictures from Machu Picchu will be up today too!