The big trek! We’d been prepared for a shock to the system as our unconditioned bodies were thrown into the altitude of the Andes for 5 days. Two nights acclimatisation in Cusco proved useful, but it certainly didn’t give us enough of a test for what we were to experience. We took a list of things to buy and spent the last day in cusco filling our packs with anything that would help to keep us alive up there – wooly hats, gloves, peanuts, snickers bars, biscuits, head torches, altitude sickness pills and of course agua! In order to give you a proper view of what life was like on the track we put together a short video blog of our trip. So if you like make a start with that, or if you want a short overview of the days, then read on below for that and photos.
The Salkantay Trek, Peru
The Salkantay Trek, as it seems to have been named, is a point to point trek that traverses the Salkantay Pass. Mount Salkantay itself isn’t terribly climb-able, given that no one has done it successfully yet. It stands at 6,264m (about twice that of Mt Cook in NZ), it was and still is a hugely important mountain for the Inka’s and local people. The worshipping of mountains was one of the most important types of worship for the Inka’s – they even left human sacrificial offerings, on top of mountains, for the gods. While trekking up to and over the Salkantay Pass is a big highlight of the trip, the other days are filled with plenty more stunning vistas. We’d booked our trek through Salkantay Tours and our guide David was ready to drive us up the mountain early on the 21st August
Day One: 14km, Marco Casa To Soraypampa
The warm-up day. That’s what we were told and led to believe. What we didn’t understand was that warming up meant bringing you close to vomiting and thundering headaches – learn as you go I guess. The walk in started early and the sun was up quickly to warm things up. We made our way into the valley over 5 hours, ending up at Soraypampa for lunch. It was the last 20 mins of the trek that took it’s toll. It left me feeling nauseous and dealing with a thumping headache and Cel, already having stomach troubles before we left, was running to the loo! Food wasn’t appealing for either of us and facing another 3 days of trekking seemed like the biggest mountain we would face! The effects of 3,800m was taking it’s toll on our kiwi sea-level bodies! I managed to perk up after lunch and the group (6 other lads) and me took a walk up to a glacial lake above our camp ground – a good tester for the next big day. Coco tea was drank by the gallon and we went to bed feeling anxious about our bodies and their coping mechanisms as we faced ‘The Big Day’ on day 2.
Day 2: 20km, Salkantay Pass to Chaullay
The test. Hiking from 3,800m up to 4,600m and back down to 2,900m, approximately 20km, covered over 8 hours. The day started early and after breakfast washed down with 3 cups of coco tea we were on our way up the trail. It was a struggle, oxygen was thin and the gradient was steep, but after 2 and a half hours we made it to the height of the climb. In all honesty it was easier than we’d expected, not tantrums and no collapsing on the side of the track. After the photos and celebrations, we made our way downhill for 5 hours, stopping along the way for lunch. Coming down from mountainous terrain, through highland farms and finally down into lush forest dissected by a river. The sun shone on us over the last few hours and we could enjoy the fact that we’d ‘knocked the bugger off’ to coin a phrase from a living legend of the mountain trails.
Day 3: 12km, Chaullay to Santa Teresa
A light day, topped off with a soak in natural thermal pools. This was by far the easiest day of the trek, a late start (6:30 wake-up) and a good breakfast set us up for the 12km that lay ahead. Undulating terrain through green forest, accompanied by a fast flowing river that ran down the valley. An unexpected trip in a cable car across the river and back was a highlight, as was splashing our faces with glacial fed water in the heat of the day. It was all over by lunch, we ate another great meal prepared by the cooks and afterwards took a taxi to nearby Santa Theresa to visit her hotpools. Two hours standing and sitting in the warm pebble bottomed pools, resting our chins on the stone walls looking out over the raging river just steps away. This was trekking if ever we’d done it!
Day 4: Llactapata to Aguas Calientes
The final day on the trail, but not the easiest. Today we had 24km to cover, taking us from the valley, up and over a mountain (with Incan ruins and views out over Machu Picchu), back down to Hidro Electrica (Yep, hydro electricity) for lunch and finally around the base of Machu Picchu mountain to the small and touristy town of Agaus Calientes. We took an old Inka trail uphill for 2 hours, relentless, but rewarding once we got to the top. The ruins at the peak looked out across the valley to Mt Machu Picchu and the ancient city. It was where the elite Inka’s would stop to prepare themselves for the journey through to Michu Picchu city, so it was only fitting that we left the site with Machu Picchu being our next Inka stop-off the following day. After lunch at Hidro Electrica we we walked our way for 3 hours around to Aguas Calientes and checked into our first hostel in 4 nights! Showers, probably the best in the world, were taken and a feast consumed.
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu…in the mist and rain. The final stop off on our 5 day trek was Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan City. An early start was called for, up at 4am and at the control gates for Machu Picchu at 4:40am. At 5am we were let across the bridge and onto the path that leads, steeply, uphill to Machu Picchu. Cel led the way up for 40 mins, we had to summon our very last ounces of trekking energy to make it up, but we got there – the first people in line to enter Machu Picchu for the day. The morning delivered us a misty start, a different view of site than we’d expected but it was quietly eerie. It was a great feeling to be up on top of the site, looking over the amazing city just as Inca’s would have done. David, our trekking tour guide, walked us through the city, giving us all the knowledge we could absorb in 2 hours. Then the rain set in, luckily we had jackets but it wasn’t relenting. After a decision to make an exit, we saw the queue for the bus was enormous so mustered up energy from the reserve tanks and hurtled ourselves down the mountain back into Aguas Calientes. Showers and pizza were all that was left to tick off on the trip!
It had been an amazing and rewarding experience, tough at times, but without a doubt worth all the effort. We came down from the peaks with intentions of hitting the famous tracks of NZ when we get back!