5 day/5 night Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu
Trip Start Apr 21, 2010
18Trip End Jun 29, 2010
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Anyways, this meant that we either hang out--stranded--in cusco for three days, when most restaurants and stores would be closed, or try to leave the night of the 16th, before the strike begun (this trek normally starts off at 5 in the morning). We opted for the latter and set off at 10 PM that night
Bright and early the next morning, we awoke to an over-priced breakfast at the same restaurant that we had slept in (this meal was not included because as I mentioned it normally starts in the morning, not the night before and naturally, since the restaurant owners knew we had no options, they took full advantage)
The next day was the biggest challenge of the hike—an elevation gain of 1000 meters in 4 hours to reach Salkantay pass. Salkantay is a snow-capped mountain believed by the Andean peoples to be the guardian to the Peruvian jungle. After a 4:45 AM wake-up call and a meager breakfast, we were off. Now, a 1000 meter gain in 4 hours is nothing to sneeze at in normal circumstances. Throw in tired muscles from a 9 hour uphill trek the day before, high altitude (our highest point was at 4600 meters) which can make even the simplest exercise seem taxing, cold weather, and a 15 pound backpack (we were able to put some weight onto the pack mules) and it suddenly becomes a lot harder. Anyways, we both made it in just under 4 hours. After a well-earned celebration at the top consisting of cognac shots supplied by our guide and offerings to Salkantay (in return for safe passage to the jungle), we took a group photo and started the downhill climb
All of our tents, food, chairs, etc. was hauled on pack mules led by a local man and his young son, who together with the cooks were the heroes of the trek. Every day they were up way before us preparing the mules and starting breakfast. Then while we were eating breakfast they would tear down the tents and load up all the supplies onto the mules, do our dishes and clean up the campsite. Then us trekkers and our two guides would set out, and about 2 hours later the horsemen and the cooks would pass us on the trail—on foot and with relaxed ease—in order to beat us to the next campsite to start the process all over again. The horsemanīs son was no more than 6, and I am still not sure how I felt about a child setting up my tent, lifting his body weight in supplies onto mules and speeding past me on the trail in order to have my tent and sleeping mat set up for when I arrived. I felt a little guilty, a little lazy, and a lot impressed by this apparently normal upbringing. Donīt worry, we tipped all the staff very generously and expressed our appreciation.
The second night we figured we deserved a beer or two to celebrate our victory. There was a little snack shop at the campsite, filled with supplies that were all packed in on mules since there are no roads. Naturally, the snacks and drinks were outrageously priced (a whole 10 soles for a 1L beer, about $3.50 lol). This turned out to be a terrible idea since we both woke up with a cold. But we trudged on fairly unaffected the next day, which was a 6 hour hike through more rain forest to the final campsite. After a brief bath in the freezing cold but beautiful glacier-fed river, the germs started to kick-in, along with the exhaustion from the past three days. We both awoke on the 4th day quite miserably sick, and thankfully only had a fairly flat 3 hour hike ahead of us from Hydro Electrica town to Aguas Calientes town along the railroad tracks. However, the mules had returned to Mollepata by this time, so we were responsible for carrying the full weight of our bags. Anyways, we finally made it to Aguas Calientes town, which is at the base of Machu Picchu and accessible only by train or foot. We slept the rest of the afternoon and woke up at 3:30 AM to begin the final hike—the climb to Machu Picchu. Why so horribly early, you ask? Well, the tall mountain in all the millions of pictures you have seen of Machu Picchu is called Wayna Picchu, and is the only look-out point from which you can see all of Machu Picchu. It is a highly coveted picture-taking spot, and because of the steep and narrow path that leads up the peak, only 400 people out of the 1000-something visitors daily (the vast majority of visitors arrive on tour buses) are allowed to make the climb
We arrived just before the first tour bus pulled up to the gates at 5:30 AM (yes!!) and were quickly supplied with Wayna Picchu passes. It didnīt dawn on us quite yet that this entailed another gruelling 1.5 hour steep climb up inca steps (must say that I was cursing the incas more than once during the 4 AM stairmaster hike), so we happily accepted our rewards and waited in line 30 minutes for the gates to open
It turns out that we were very luckly with our trek booking, because the day we arrived at Machu Picchu (June 21st) was also winter solstice. And like many other temples built by ancient cultures, Machu Picchu was constructed to capture the sunīs first rays perfectly in a window in the temple of the sun on only two days out of the year--summer and winter solstice. Around 600 people waited in anticipation, cameras ready, for the magical moment to arrive. And waited. And waited and waited until 7:30, when it became clear that the clouds had hidden the sunrise and the magical moment had come and gone unseen. We then took a brief walking tour of the ruins before lining up to climb Wayna Picchu. After comprehension dawned on us that this was going to be another seriously challenging hike, Jason decided to sit this one out and I went it alone. It was an incredibly steep and narrow path and I thought I was going to pass out from fear on the perilous way down. But the view was amazing and I really did feel like I was on top of the world.
Tired of walking, hungry, and just tired, we said goodbye to Machu Picchu and headed back down to Aguas Calientes on an over-priced tour bus which felt marvelous for our tired bodies (purists be damned!). And here we are, waiting for the train to take us back to Cusco.
Looking forward to a SHOWER and some well-deserved rest.