Travel Blog 4.0: The Salkantay Trek, one day at a time

Day 1:

The unwelcome sound of my alarm at 3:40am. Instantly regretted my decision to go out the previous night. Arose nonetheless and was greeted by Ferdinand who seemed preposterously upbeat for that hour in the morning. Clearly he’s done this before.

We stumbled onto the minibus and managed to snatch a few fragments of sleep before arriving at our destination 2 and a half hours later. 2 and a half hours? Wasn’t the journey supposed to be 3? A large chunk removed from the road in last night’s storm meant that our trek began earlier than expected.

By this point I was comparatively chipper. Two Nature Valley bars had set me up for the day like a champion. This 75km (now 85km) trek was going to be a walk in the park! And so it was. At least until the first hill. We had all smugly congratulated ourselves on having adjusted so completely to the altitude that we were practically natives. We weren’t and this soon became apparent. Nevertheless we soldiered on first up then down then along narrow, single-file paths with a sheer drop to our right. All quite jolly really and rather peaceful now we were away from the buzzing tourist hub of Cuzco.

A magnificent snow covered mountain enlivened the horizon. We all thought it picturesque until Ferdinand informed us that we had to walk there before receiving our lunch. Our goal was soon gained however and we all considered we’d got off rather lightly on this, the first day of our 5 day trek to Machu Picchu.

We arrived at Soraypampa (3912m) to discover that the tents had already been set up, our bags had arrived ahead of us by mule and there was really nothing for us to do other than lounge around waiting for lunch. Cheating really. Our meal was a good one of quinoa soup followed by some hearty sandwiches stuffed with chips, ham and cheese.

Our afternoon activity was optional and, not being overly tired, I gladly participated in a little trek up to Humantay Lake (4200m). Rather a steep walk up a field in which our noble pack mules grazed after their morning exertion brought us to a clearer view of Humantay mountain and the edge of the lake filled with crystal clear glacier melt water. Declining the offer of a swim with the (honest) excuse that my underwear really would be see-through after such an encounter and having failed to bring my swimsuit, I contented myself with washing my face in the cold water. If I got brain freeze with this mild exposure, I dread to think of the suffering of the boys who bravely (or stupidly?) jumped in.

The day concluded with me eating my own bodyweight in food in order to make quite sure I was up to the next day’s continued excursion. Once again we were amazed with what the cooks could produce so far from the nearest village as we enjoyed a three course meal of Andean specialities.

Day 2:

We were treated to a luxurious lie-in until the outrageous hour of 4:30 at which time we were surprised to discover that our wake-up call included a cup of Coca tea served to us in our tent! Breakfast did not disappoint either and we ate our fill of pancakes and bread.

The walking began with a gentle incline at first just to lull us into a false sense of security before it gave way to a merciless slope which took us to our highest point of 4630m overlooking Salkantay Mountain. Our ascent took us roughly 5  hours of slow yet deliberate steps as we sniffed disgustedly at the “pussies” (as Ferdinand likes to call them) who were attempting the trek on horseback and sighed in admiration at the runners who passed us in their bid to complete 100km Salkantay race that had begun at 2am that day.

Then commenced the downhill. At first we embraced the circumstance though we were soon made to repent due to the knee burning monotony of the experience. Although this section only lasted 3 hours, we’d fain have had the morning to do twice over.

At long last Chawllay (our camp for the night) was reached and again we were amply rewarded for our trouble with absurd quantities of food.

Day 3:

The Llamasutra’s (as our group had decided to call ourselves) were ready and raring to go on day 3. Quinoa porridge, for me, was in many ways a life changing experience and I shall be attempting to make this upon my return home. This was only a half day so we cruised easily onward.

For the most part we were following the bus route as the trail had been damaged and made too dangerous by the heavy rainfall this year. We amused ourselves with covering ourselves in the dye from berries that grew along the path and learned all about the hallucinogenic properties of the ‘Angel’s Trumpet’ flowers that we passed. We were amazed to observe how quickly the climate and biodiversity changed as we descended. Having begun our trek in the relatively barren highlands we soon found ourselves deep in the jungle.

Camp Lucmabamba (2000m) was reached at around lunchtime. This campsite doubled as a coffee plantation and the locals were only too keen to show us the process of coffee production from bean to brew.

Day 4:

Another 4:30 start made sure we thoroughly made up for our laziness on the previous day. Thus wrenched from our sleeping bags we were thrust onto the trail which began with 3 hours uphill through thick jungle, 3 hours down, lunch followed by 3 hours along a train track.

The morning passed quickly. The Llamasutras being in high spirits, we spent the time singing, skipping along and pretending that the blisters weren’t slowly removing our heels from our feet. Then we had lunch and everything turned to shit. My legs hurt and my knees felt as if they were on the point of shattering. Then it began to rain. With my last shred of optimism went my decision not to put my coat on in the hope that the shower would be brief. It wasn’t.

Cold and hysterical, we waited in the rain for the injured Jake with all kinds of mutinous, survival of the fittest and all that ideas bubbling around in our exhausted brains. Fortunately we were only half an hour from Aguas Calientes and our hostel. However, that brief space of time was long enough for me to pass through all the stages of insanity.

At last, for no particular reason other than the hastened termination of my suffering, I just decided to run. I’d like to point out that at this point in time I was wearing a large, yellow, plastic poncho which one girl in the group had said made me look like a giant, yellow condom. This giant yellow condom was sighted sprinting across the bridge to Aguas Calientes much to the amusement of my fellow Llamasutras and other innocent backpackers.

Finally. Hot shower. Food. Bed.

Day 5:

We weren’t in bed for long. By 4am we were out and on our way to our goal which was very nearly in sight.

It was a slightly surreal experience walking blind (I had forgotten my head torch) through the dark up 2000 inca steps to reach Machu Picchu. Unsurprisingly, it was all worth it in the end. I won’t say the pain melted away in an instant because it couldn’t have. Nonetheless it was with a cheerful sense of completion that I took my victory lap around the magnificent ancient city.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect spot to end my two months with the Camps International team. Sadly another tourist up there couldn’t think of a better spot to pop the question to his girlfriend. She refused and the pair were later seen in an awkward silence that lasted the entire way down the 2000 inca steps that they had no doubt joyfully ascended.

Nonetheless, the last 2 months have been a pleasure and I will sincerely miss my 15 team mates. Up next: a solitary week in Cuzco followed by my trip to La Paz.

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