Published: May 22nd 2009May 22nd 2009
Outskirts of Cusco
Driving in a van to the beginning of our hike
Hello! I´m back in civilization (and the land of internet) after finishing our 4-day trek to Machu Picchu. It was absolutely incredible! We had such a good time.
Our trek took us from Mollepata to Machu Picchu by way of the Salkantay Pass, which rises to 15,000 ft (or 4600m) before dropping into cloud forest on the other side of the pass and winding along several stunning valleys. We were supposed to trek for 4 days before reaching Machu Picchu, but due to complications at the airport (a four hour delay) we missed the first day´s hike and caught up to our group at the first night´s camp at 12,000 ft under the shadow of Salkantay (Savage Mountain). The snafu might have worked out in our favor, though, because after three successive days of fairly grueling hiking, my feet are killing me! Í was definitely feeling the altitude as we climbed switchbacks up to the pass on Day 2 (OUR first day), and by the end of the eight hours hiking, I felt as though we´d been properly initiated! Our trek was organized by a company called Llamapath, whom we were very happy with. I´d recommend them to a friend,
Camp; Night 1
At the bottom of the Salkantay Pass
and we especially liked that they treat their porters well and are very attentive to customer service. We joined eight other people on our trek, a mix of Brits and Americans, all of whom were really cool people that we became close with. It´s amazing how fast you can bond in 4 days, but I guess the shared experience of trekking through the Andes and seeing gorgeous vistas does tend to make you open up to people. (Although mutual suffering and the joys of communal life while camping also tend to break down barriers! lol = ) In any case we all got along really well, and our two guides Agousto and Joshin were great. It was pretty luxurious camping, to tell the truth, because a staff of 3 horsemen, 1 watchman, 2 porters and 1 cook followed us around on horses with half our gear, ALL our food/tents/etc., and had everything set up for us by the time we reached camp each night. I must say that it was humbling to watch the Andean men zoom past us on rocky, muddy paths with seemingly no difficulty, but I was always extremely grateful to see them at the end of
the day! The food was fantastic, and we usually had two-three courses for every meal, including breakfast. That doesn´t count teatime, which was coca tea, hot chocolate, popcorn and crackers every evening at 6! I felt totally spoiled. I don´t eat nearly that well at home! We got to try all kinds of Peruvian foods, which were really good, and it kept us fueled for the 6-8 hours of hiking we did each day.
Here´s a basic outline of our trek:
Day 1: Cusco-Soraypampa
Bus from Cusco to camp at Soraypampa below the Salktantay pass. This was by far the coldest night of the trek since we were so high up, and I´d guestimate that the temperature was about 40 degrees. Maybe 50 but windy. Hot chocolate felt wonderful that night.
Day 2: Soraypampa-Colcapampa
This was our first day hiking and definitely the toughest day of the trek. We woke at 5:30 and started hiking up the Salkantay Pass at 7:15. It took us about three hours, and over that time we climbed about 3000 ft and gulped a LOT of oxygen. Really strenuous, but also incredibly satisfying when we reach the top and stood
higher than I´ve ever been before. Cloud cover obscured Salkantay from our view, but even still I think we all enjoyed the experience of getting up there. (Once it was over : ) After the requisite stop for group photos, we hiked 2 more hours down the pampa (kind of a mossy, grassy plan above the treeline) to our lunch site. It was cold and kind of rainy, so we all were bundled up in all our gear. After a really good lunch we set off down into the cloud forest, which is a misty, cloudy high-elevation jungle just below the treeline. It was fascinating to watch the scenery change so dramatically as we hiked, and we followed the train down the side of a valley for 3-4 more hours before finally reading our campsite at the little village of Colcapampa. I can´t find the words to describe the beautiful sights along the way, so I´ll let my pictures do my talking for me. Dinner there that was fun, and warmer than the night before since we were back to 10,000ft, so we all lingered around the table and had a great meal. The stars that night were amazing. I
just can´t find enough superlatives to describe everything!
Day 3: Colcapampa-Santa Theresa
Today we hiked along the Lluskamayo River, and as we went lower the forest turned decidedly more tropical. We started to see orchids and impatiens and other types of flowers I recognized, and the weather was much warmer- probably 70 degrees. The terrain was sort of rolling, with ups and downs throughout the day we followed the contours of the valley. A couple of the waterfalls that we crossed were really cool. We hiked about 5 hours straight in the morning which was tiring, especially after the day before, and then we got a nice lunch in a campsite in La Playa by the river. AFTER lunch the reall excitement began. We decided to detour and spend the night at the hot springs in Santa Theresa (which at this point was sounding really good) so we had to catch a bus there. When Agousto said "bus", though, what he really meant was "open-air truck packed with people whipping along a treacherous muddy road inches away from a steep drop-off." LOL. I´d been to Peru before so I kind of knew what to expect from their transportation,
Sacrificial Rock in a temple
Llamas were sacrificed on the triangular rock on the floor, and their carcasses were thrown into the cave behind Augosto
but some of the other people in our group got the fright of their lives! We made it safely, though, passing coffee and banana plantations along the way. When we got to Santa Theresa about 30 minutes later, it was immediately obvious that the truck adventure was DEFINITELY worth it. The hot springs at Santa Theresa are down along the river surrounded by steep forest-covered mountains, and waterfalls cascade off the mountain into the springs area creating all sorts of rainbows. The springs themselves were almost like a resort, with beautifully manicured stone pathways, tidy cabanas, and colorful flowers everywhere. We were able to camp there for the night, and we all had a blast swimming in the warm, clear water. It was totally luxurious. We spent a good couple hours that night drinking beers down by the pools, and if you´d told me I was in Bermuda or the Caribbean, I would have totally believed you - except for the huge mountains around us! Excellent way to end the day.
Day 4: Santa Theresa - Aguas Calientes
On the last day of actually trekking, we followed a road (flat! dry! heavenly!) up a valley towards Machu Picchu,
Huayna Picchu in the background
Means "Little Mountain". It's supposed to look like a profile of a face lying on its side
which came into view several hours in. We couldn´t actually see the city on top of the mountain, buyt just knowing we were close was exciting. It was hot this day, almost 80 degrees and sunny, which was hard to believe considering we´d seen snow on top of Salkantay Pass only days before! There is a hydroelectric dam along the river we were following, and we stopped just beyond that for lunch atop a cafe-like place for one more delicious meal cooked by our very own Cesar. The afternoon hike turned out to be very boring - three solid hours following the railroad ialong the river into Aguas Calientes. And we literally walked ON the railroad ties. I never want to see another railway tie again! So that was really no fun, and my feet were killing me, but groaning aside we reached Aguas Calientes in late afternoon and made our way to the hotel where we were to stay the night. This was a matter of great importance to us, because it meant hot showers!!!!! Hooray! There´s nothing like 3 or 4 nights of camping to remind you of the joys of hygiene. Dinner that night was in a
nice restaurant in Agueas Calientes, which is a very charming but touristy town nestled in the valley below Machu Picchu. It´s the place where the trains to Machu Picchu come, so it´s swarmed with tourists. We had a fun night, though, and looked forward to finally seeing Machu Picchu!
Day 5: Machu Picchu!!!!!
This morning we woke up very early and caught a bus to Machu Picchu at 6am. You can hike up, but it´s an hour of steps with no views, so we decided to skip that in favor of hiking Huayna Picchu (the famous mountain sticking up behind the city) when we got to the top. Unfortunately that didn´t work out either since we missed the cutoff for hikers (they only allow 200 a day) so we ended up spending the entire time up their touring the city. And what a city. It was absolutely incredible, breathtaking when you first see it and still mesmerizing hours later. The skill and precision of the Incas who built it and the effort required to construct it just boggle my mind. Our guide gave us a two-hour tour of the city, pointing out all the highlights and detailing its
history, and then we had another hour to explore for ourselves. Briefly, the magnificence of Machu Picchu is due not only to its fantastic location, but also the fact that the Spanish conquistadores never found it or sacked it. It was built around 1450, and (possibly) abandoned a mere hundred years when the Incan Empire was falling into chaos with the arrival of the Spanish. They think that when the last Inca king fled into the jungle to Villcabamba, all of his subjects fled with him (to their doom) and that is why the city was empty. Over the years it remained hidden, known only to locals, until an explorer called Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1915. The "Lost City of the Incas", it truly is an incredible thing to behold. I´m so glad that I finally made it here, and I think spending 3 days hiking through the Andes to get to it made the experience just that much more profound. Everybody in our group thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I´d recommend it to anyone coming to Peru. It´s worth a trip down here by itself!
Right now I´m in Aguas Calientes, where Allison and Lisa and I
are going to spend the night before heading back to Cusco on the train tomorrow morning. The rest of our group is already gone, but since we wren´t able to switch our train tickets to this afternoon we got left behind : ( It makes me sad to say goodbye to them, but I´m glad we got such a great group to experience this with. Tomorrow it´s a train, then a bus back to Cusco for some quick sightseeing, and then we fly to La Paz on Sunday morning! Next time you hear from me, I should be in Bolivia.
(Pictures coming soon!=)
There are more photos below