Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Peru, Anything Can Happen...

...but nothing is for sure.

These were the words of wisdom imparted to us by our guide, Enrique, as we embarked on our 5-day trek to Salkantay and Machu Picchu. It was amazing, and it was really, really hard.

Day 1

A bus picked us up at our hostel at 4:45 a.m. After a few more stops in Cuzco (alt. 3350m) to pick up about 14 other adventurous souls, we drove on very curvy roads to the town of Mollempata (alt. 2800m) where we disembarked, slathered ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray, and started walking. We hiked, mostly uphill, for about 5 1/2 hours. After lunch (soup, rice, and delicious lomo saltado (beef stew) the road was blessedly "boring" (read: wider and flatter). We arrived at our first campsite at the base of Salkantay (alt. 4100m) around 5 p.m., just in time to beat the torrential downpours. Luckily there was a shelter in which we could set up our tents, so we stayed dry. We drank coca tea, ate dinner and were huddled in our sleeping bags by 8 p.m.

Day 2

At 5 a.m. our guides Enrique and Saturnino "knocked" on our tents and presented us with hot cups of coca tea. We packed up our gear and after a delicious breakfast (pancakes!) we were back on the trail. Day 2 would involve about an hour of switchbacks, or zig zags, up a steep mountain, a brief plateau, then another 40 minutes or so of steep uphill climbing to reach our highest altitude (4650m). By the end of the final climb Ken and I were resting after every 50 steps. It was beautiful and brutal, and when we got to the top we celebrated with cookies and apples and much picture-taking. Walking down the other side of the pass we passed completely different terrain: Huge rocks surrounded by mist that reminded us of "Lord of the Rings." After lunch we walked about 2 hours more and arrived at our camp, nestled into the side of a lush hill and also home to various chickens, dogs, and pigs. Bedtime was again early, and we slept soundly after our long walk.

Day 3

After another 5 a.m. coca-tea wakeup call and a hot breakfast of oatmeal and omelettes, we started out through the forest. We crossed a small river and then hiked a steep, rainy, and very muddy uphill for about 50 minutes. As we started to make our way down the other side, through the Andean cloud forest, we passed a small home with a yard full of wild turkeys, giggling away in the fog. These were some of the funniest beasts I've ever heard, and each time they gobbled (in unison!) I laughed and laughed. It was one of my favourite parts of the trek.

We continued our descent until we reached a dirt road, at which point we were also low enough that the rain had stopped and the sun was strong. The dirt road stretched on for many hot kilometres and included a small river crossing at which we had to strip off our boots and socks. The icy water felt wonderful! Unfortunately there were swarms of small blackflies waiting for us on the other side, and we all ended up with countless small, red, and indescribably itchy bites on our calves and shins. We finally reached Playa (alt. 2400m) and were finished our hike for the day: After lunch, a bus took us on the most treacherous road EVER to Santa Teresa (alt. 1800m). After we set up camp (and continued to slather on insect repellent in a feeble effort to fend off the relentless biting flies), we continued our scary bus ride (seriously, I was sure we were going to be part of a "there were two Canadians and an American on the bus" article) to soak our tired bodies in the loveliest of hot springs. On our return to camp we dined, and several members of our group celebrated into the wee hours of the morning. Ken represented on our behalf; I was in bed by midnight. (Apparently Ken's representation was strong, as the next day, Saturnino frequently sought him out to provide reggaeton beats as we hiked!)

Day 4

We slept in until 8, despite Enriques's warning the previous night: "If it's sunny, I know you're going to be up at 6:30, because inside your tent it will be hell." Breakfast included a birthday cake for our amazing cook, Isidro, who turned "at least 50" and who could climb a mountain faster than any of us 20- and 30-something gringos. After breakfast, we walked at a leisurely pace through a valley in the blazing hot sun, stopping for lunch at the Machu Picchu hydroelectric plant before continuing our walk along the railroad tracks to our penultimate destination, Aguas Calientes, a small town through which almost all Machu Picchu visitors pass. Ironically, our hostel in Aguas Calientes didn't have hot water. It did, however, have beds, and toilets. With seats. Glorious, glorious seats. Dinner was a very mellow affair at which we received our tickets to Machu Picchu and were instructed to begin our climb of approx. 400m (vertically, that is) at 4 a.m. the next day.


Tyler said...

I miss Peru, that was a fantastic trip. Enjoy Machu Picchu!

montague said...

i am both exhausted and exhilarated on your behalf!

Elizabeth said...

What an amazing trip! Already contemplating following in your footsteps and organizing a Peruvian adventure of my own!