11 July 2015
05 April 2015
A: Alpaca Expeditions
This was the amazing tour company with which I booked my trek. They took care of us and made sure we had an amazing experience.
For a trek like Salkantay, my boots were my lifeline. Mine were made by Keen and well broken in. They were waterproof and comfortable. I bought some moldable arch supports to make them even more efficient for me.
Served as tea or just chewing the leaves, the Coca helped with acclimation to the altitude. The flavor was a lot like green tea and we were awoken every morning with a steaming, hot, sweet glass to get our day going.
Worried about altitude sickness, I went to my travel doctor before the trip and he prescribed me Diamox to help combat the symptoms. It worked wonderfully and the altitude caused me very few problems throughout the trip.
Our Salkantay trek ranged in elevation from 5,971 feet (1,820 meters) to 15,157 feet (4,620 meters).
F: Five / Four
The Salkantay trek lasted for five days / four nights.
The guide on my trek was Simon Puma. Puma was an amazing trail guide, he taught us so much, encouraged us and was a friend. Plus he played his Peruvian flute for us.
H: Hiking Poles
I was able to rent these from Alpaca Expeditions. They were, for me, absolutely vital for all of the downhill switchbacks.
Some of the hike is in the jungle and insects (especially the biting kinds) become an issue. I used a natural insect repellent made with Eucalyptus and suffered one bite. Many of my co-hikers used Deet- laden repellents and they were bitten up. I also pre-treated my outer layers of clothes with repellent designed for clothes before I went to Peru.
The hike took us through many terrains including the jungle. In the jungle the humidity was high, plants overgrown and insects were active.
We may have been hiking in the middle of nowhere, but we had a Chef and 3 porters with us. Our Chef, Herman, was able to concoct the most amazing dishes in the primitive kitchen space he had available. I felt like I was eating at a 5 star restaurant for every meal.
The weather on Salkantay changed frequently. Sometimes we were freezing cold, wearing gloves, hats, scarves and several fleeces. Other times it was hot and the sun was beating down. For that reason, I always dressed in layers. To further protect my skin from the sun and insects, my innermost layer was always a long-sleeved, white wicking shirt from Patagonia.
M: Machu Picchu
This ancient Incan city was the goal of our journey. Being on the Salkantay trek, not only did I get to see it up close, but also I saw it from afar, from an side most tourists rarely view it from.
Going from the rocky high-altitude Andes to the Cloud Forest to the Jungle, the nature we saw was so varied. I got to see Citronella growing wild, bright colored flowers, butterflies, chinchillas, coffee and coca plants as well as raging water, mountain peaks and panoramic views.
O: Only Ones
During the trek pretty much the only people we saw were those in our group, we rarely saw others. The day we arrived in Hidroelectrico and saw other tourists our solitude ended. I missed it.
Alpaca Expeditions provided us with 3 porters (and 2 horsemen for the first half of the trek) to carry our gear. These men were amazing – not only did they carry so much more weight than we did, but they arrived at our site faster, set it up AND cooked our meal – usually before we had even arrived.
This is the native language of many individuals in Peru, especially those who live in the Salkantay area. We learned how to say ‘hello’, ‘let’s go’ and ‘thank you’.
My trek took place at the end of the rainy season. It was still quite rainy. We experienced rain daily and most nights it rained on our tents. The rain also caused landslides, mudslides, rockslides and washed out trails and roads. We did have magic ponchos - every time we put them on, the rain stopped!
Yes, of course we had rain, but we also had sun. As Peru is near the equator, the sun was intense. I wore a lot of sunblock, SPF 50. I also wore long sleeves even in the warmer, more humid climate of the jungle. I only ended up with a small bit of sunburn on my ears, nothing more.
The terrain we traveled was varied. We started at very high altitudes and rocky trails, we moved into the cloud forest and then into the jungle. Trails were often muddy, rocky, slick or all three.
While hiking we saw so much undergrowth on the trails around us. As a result, we could also see how easy it was for a city such as Machu Picchu to be completely hidden for centuries.
On this hike, the views I had were unlike any others. Our third night campsite was on a cliff with a panoramic view of the mountains. During the third and fourth days we had views of Machu Picchu from the side, unlike those most tourists have.
Water is vital to survival. Out in the mountains, we had water all around us in the form of rain, waterfalls, rivers and more. However drinking water had to be boiled. Before every meal and every morning upon awaking, we were given a small bucket of hot water with which we could wash our hands.
X: eXceeding eXpectations
My Salkantay expedition was amazing, it exceeded my expectations and pushed me to exceed my own expectations of myself. I am so glad that I took this opportunity!
Peruvian dishes are known for containing potatoes, and when potatoes were not used, yucca roots were eaten like potatoes. Sometimes we even had both.
Our trails were full of switchbacks that zigged and zagged up and down the mountains.
29 March 2015
Today was the hardest day. It took a lot of grit, determination and a few tears to get through. We woke up to rain on our tent (like every other morning). In fact, due to the sloped angle of our campsite it would be more accurate to say it rained on and in our tents. Breakfast was our last sit down meal cooked by the amazing Herman. After we appropriately thanked Herman and the three porters, we headed off towards Aguas Calientes.
Our first hour repeated the hike we had taken yesterday to see the view of Machu Picchu. Luckily we had been able to see it yesterday because today the sky was heavy with clouds. We continued another thirty minutes until we came to the Incan ruins of Llactapata (8,758 feet / 2,700 meters). Puma told us all about these ruins and hiked us through the undergrowth to see just how big this former city had been. This area, now covered in greenery, including bamboo taller than I, had been used for storage and as a “hotel” for travelers headed to Machu Picchu. The walls were completely covered and other than one small area which was completely exposed, it would have been easy to miss.
We watched as the clouds moved across the sky through the mountains and eventually exposed Machu Picchu. Once again we were privileged to have the side view of Machu Picchu that most visitors don’t see.
After visiting Llactapata, we continued on, coming to a beautiful open space where Alpaca Expeditions used to camp, but due to governmental regulations no longer can. As much as we thought it was a nice space, we were glad that we had camped on the edge of our cliff last night.
We then started what a sign claimed to be a 2 hour hike to Hidroelectrico. It consisted entirely of switchbacks, muddy, steep downhill switchbacks. I was going as fast as I could, but still my group, with their long legs, were way ahead. Quite frankly, it felt less like I was hiking and more like I was semi-controlling a downhill fall. Speaking of falling, my butt hit the ground A LOT!
Towards the end of this downhill switchback route, my guide Puma was playing his Peruvian flute for inspiration and I had the silly “just keep swimming” song from Finding Nemo in my head.
Eventually I made it to the bottom and rejoined my group. We walked across an amazing, long suspension bridge over a raging river. The rainy season is nearly at it’s close, so the rivers and waterfalls are powerful, full and brown with sediment. Apparently this year’s rainy season was drier than normal, so I can only imagine what it must be like during a typical rainy season!
We continued on our hike, taking an alternative route because the river covered some of our intended trail. We passed a massive brown waterfall that was feeding the river and finally we made it to Hidroelectrico.
At this point we began to encounter other tourists. Before this point we had seen very few Quetzal who live in the mountains and even fewer tourists. We had to cross through a barb-wired fence and a group of Israeli youth helped us. I must admit that as much as I appreciated their help, I immediately missed the solitude of our group and the trek.
Hidroelectrico (Hidro) is the checkpoint for entering the protected Machu Picchu lands. We checked in, then stopped to eat our packed lunches. After eating, we headed out for the final leg of our hike to Agua Calienties, also known as Machu Picchu town.
I blister quite easily and I had come well prepared to deal with them. I also have well broken in hiking boots. Over the last 3.5 days of the trek, my feet had touched a variety of terrain and had gone through a lot of mud and water. Despite this, I had only three small, well-managed, pain-free blisters. I was quite happy with this.
The three hour hike from Hidro to Agua Calientes changed that. Nearly 4 days of hiking behind me, up and down mountains, cold, heat, humidity, pouring rain and blazing sun; I had loved every minute of it, even when it got tough, I loved it. I hated the last three hour hike. We had faced danger with rushing water and falling rocks, but the last three hour hike had four bridges that I would say were not safe. The last three hours was, for me, miserable. This hike was alongside the railroad tracks between Hidro and Agua Calientes. Sometimes there was an established path, but often we were simply only the small, pointy, ankle-rolling, blister-causing rocks that lined the trail. We encountered the first bridge, it spanned the raging river below and was probably 50 feet long. Several of us immediately though of the train scene in the movie Stand By Me. There was a footbridge that ran alongside the tracks. One side had a rusted railing and the other was up against the trestle. Some of the metal planks were solidly welded, others had connections made by spot welding or twisted wire. Some of the planks were solid, others had rusted holes and/or ‘popped’ as we walked across. All of us were glad to get over and off the bridge. Later on we would encounter three more spots where the tracks crossed the river. These did not have set footpaths, instead we walked over active tracks and step from wooden beam to beam. Not all of the beams were equidistant and one was extremely high up. Like the first bridge, all of these crossed the raging river. Quite frankly, these bridges scared me.
By the end of the hike my feet were a mess. I had gained four new blisters and enlarged an existing one. They were aflame. I really wished that the last group hike had not been one that was miserable, especially after everything else had been so wonderful. We finally made it to Agua Calientes (6,561 feet / 2000 meters)
Throughout the journey, Puma had spoken highly of the hot springs we could visit in Agua Calientes. We were all looking forward to it. We arrived at our hotel (a hotel? Yes, a real bed and not a tent in the rain — but let’s be honest, I knew I would miss the tent in the rain!), I quickly rinsed off with a hot shower and then Sandra and I headed to the hot springs, excited to soak. Much to our chagrin, when we arrived they were closed due to natural disaster. That’s right, the rain, mud- and rockslides had struck again. We returned to our hotel, and later met up with the guys for some Pisco Sours and Cervezas. Later that evening we had a celebratory dinner at a nice restaurant and were given “I survived Salkantay” T-Shirts. We headed to sleep, excited for our next day - our visit to Machu Picchu!