First off, please pronounce the first 'c' in Picchu. It is there for a reason. If you don't you will be saying "Wise Penis" instead of "Wise Peak". Machu meaning Wise, and Picchu meaning Peak.
Okay now that the language lesson is out of the way…well for now, I can move on.
Originally wanting to do the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu solo, I debated with myself and occasionally out load (to others) about the pros an cons. Seeing that there still seemed to be some issues with transport and things were constantly changing I decided to go with a tour group to save me the headache. The tour company was X-treme Tourbulence (very unique name), and is located just off the Plaza des Armes in Cuzco. The offered a great price with all the amenities and only two other people were in the group. So it was small enough so I could feel on my own.
There were some changes already when I had the briefing with the trekking guide. Apparently, due to the landslides there is no road access to the hydroelectric. Therefore, after our last camping night in La Playa our big bags would have to go back to Cuzco and we would have to carry what we needed for the next two days ourselves. A minor inconvenience. Also, there may not be a train to take us from hydroelectric to Aguas Calientes, but you can easily walk the railway. Lastly, at the moment I didn't have a train ticket back from Aguas Calientes to Piscacucho. Well, so a lot of this weren't as expected.
Regardless I was up at 4a.m. Monday April 12th,packed and carrying my peanut butter (organic from home, that I have been savouring) and blueberry (not actually blueberry but a similar local fruit, that is so tasty. Will have to bring some home) jam sandwiches that I made from the bread my German hostel neighbors and I didn't use from the day before.
In the min-van transport I met the cook Fabian and my two trekking partners. A mother, daughter combo from United States. Kelly, 24 living in Bolivia volunteering for the last 8 months, and Cindy, 55 her mother, coming down for a visit. They will return to the States together. Oh, and of course the guide, Raul.
We drove on the winding roads to Mollepata (3000m) for about 2.5 hours. Where we stopped for lunch. The best pb&j ever. Love that jam! After some coca tea and a water fill up, were off for what should have been a quick 30 minutes to Marcocasa (3400m) for our muleteer pick-up. Unfortunately, do the landslides, rain and mud, it became clear that this path was on passable with the mini-van. We got out several times as our driver revved the engine and smoked the tires to get over the muddy turns. However, after the 3 turned and things were looking worse we finally convinced the guide that walking was best. So we unloaded all our stuff, left with the cook on the side of the road for him to wait for the muleteer to come to him. While we walked up the muddy road with our day packs. Although it was a steep muddy, slippery climb, sometimes taking anyone of 3-6 trails up that all looked more like dried up water streams or old landslides rather than trail, it was much better than sitting in the smoking vehicle.
After an hour of walking though alternating landslides and green fields filled with horses and stunning views we arrived at Maracocasa. The muleteer was waiting there for the mules. Finally he got the mules and started his walk down to the cook and our baggage while we continue the 6 hour walk to Soraypampa (3700m), the site our first camp.
The walk was beautiful. Only one more hour of up and then we continued on Peruvian flats (rolling hills). Passing many waterfalls (getting our feet wet), landslides, quarries and having some botanical explanations from Raul. Apparently a long vibrant indigo coloured flowered is used as a tea for abortions. I wonder if it is the ingredients in the morning after pill?
Raul kept stalling us, knowing that cook and muleteer were behind us. But we were just too fast had to wait for an hour at the lunch stop. However, we entertained by a bull fight, and a bunch of dogs that kept following me. One that followed me all the way to my toilet in the bushes. A group of 5 were ahead of us. Two of whom were from Toronto. From my area no less. I stopped them because one was wearing a Maple Leafs hat.
We also saw another group that drove up from another road. Why we didn't take that one, I don't know. They looked all refreshed, with designer trekking gear and no packs. Raul informed us that this was the 'luxury" tour. They stay in lodges with jacuzzi. NUTS!!!!
After lunch of soup and pasta we were off again. I have to say the set-up for meals were great. We had a table, washing bins and soup. They did set the cutlery in the strangest way, you have to just see the picture. Not sure Martha Stewart would approve. Must be Inca style.
Now we had another two hours to camp, but it was already close to 4p.m., due to our wait for lunch. Mostly down hill the trek was really easy and as we entered the valley we saw three spectacular sites. First a huge waterfall. Second the over the top luxury lodge, from which the sound of the jacuzzi motor was drowning our all natural sounds. Lastly the amazing snow capped mountains of Salkantay (6264m) and Humantay (5217m), beneath which we would camp. Right at the foot of another mountain Tacarhuay or Soraypampa (3700m).
The stars that night were fabulous. You could see the whole milky way. However, it was cold and I was bundled tight in my sleeping bag that night with a Peruvian wool cap on my head and socks on my feet. Cozy.
Next we woke early for our climb over the pass between Salkantay and Humantay.
The weather was great. Not too hot, but sunny and bright for great pictures. It was nice climb through some pastures and then stopping at a waterhole for a snack and for me to do some yoga tree poses on a rock. Then we started the 1.5-2 hour climb up to the pass through steep switchbacks. But only after we picked up a rock to offer the Gods at the top. The three mountains and the surrounding area represent the Incan/Peruvian Trilogy: Spirit, Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Water or Man, Woman and Child.
At the pass I climbed the pile of rocks offerings and made an offering of my own. Then clambering down trying not to disrupt the other offerings. Seeing as my whole group wasn't there yet, I decided to run across to this rock field to a cave in the mountain on the other side that was beckoning me. Unfortunately, once I got about half way there was a sign that said private property and the rocks turned into scree becoming virtually impassable. Well, at least in the time I now had available. Next time.
The wind started to howl and we made our way down the valley through Wyach Machai or the Windy Drunk. I kept looking back to get a final glimpse of the snow capped mountains. I am not sure what about them attract me so much. Maybe they have a kind of energy I crave, or maybe I derive some strength from their magnificence that reminds me of my insignificance. Or maybe I'm being to psychological and I can just say, "I like'm."
Anyway, going down I took a couple of short cuts, that ended in me sliding down a sandy, gravelling drop of way to many feet. But was fun. Once we passed the grassy pastures, dotted with huge rocks we reached a vast field, with running and alpacas. Lunch.
We some very tasty fried chicken, that unfortunately caused explosive diarrhea. Not fun on a trail. Since I kept having to stop and pooped, the other two got ahead and the guide stayed back with me. Finally everything was out and we admired the ecology as it changed form mountainous to jungle at Selva Alta "Yunga".
We were suppose to stay at ta campsite at Arayan Niyoc (3400m) and then take the trail less travelled tomorrow up to see a great view of Machu Picchu. However, since the others were ahead and didn't stop until much later we over shot that campsite and had to head down to Challway (3000m). This was fortunately though, since the muleteer tried the other way and said it would be impassable for the mules.
A much warmer night we went to sleep early only to be woken up at 3a.m. by rain. Fortunately, it only lasted an hour. But it did make the start of the 3 days trek really muddy.
It was a bit of a muddy climb over bridges and streams to a great view of our campsite. Then a gravelling, switchback road back down into the valley. At one point I joked we should just traverse down. If the ground wasn't so unstable that would be fun. As it was we came up to a new landslide with only a narrow path over the huge pile of sand and stone that had yet to be cleared way and had to walk quickly over and past it hoping not to disturb anymore rocks. We were lucky, but the group behind us had one person yet hit badly in the head with a rock. Causing it to bleed like crazy. The Peruvian guide had no idea what to do and no first aid kit. Luckily the rest of the group was more prepared than the guide and the guy was taken care off.
Now another area was lost so we went down a very narrow ledge and crossed a sketchy bridge in order to enter a land of deserve vegetation and wild strawberries. An easy and fun Peruvian flat hike of about 4 hours. Arriving in the town of La Playa. Our third and last campsite the trip. As I walked through the town a little boy was playing with a dad rat. I couldn't believe it. He was dunking it in and out of the water running from his home. Later when I walked back up in search of my group the little boy way still there with the rat, trying to saw it in half with a rock. Wow! That kid needs some Lego.
The campsite was not much of a campsite as it was someones property. But at least I was able to wash my clothes. Yes I have been wearing the same thing for 3 days and now that I could wash it, I would wear it for the last two.
Also there was a shower. Albeit cold, it was such a hot trek that cold was good.
There were a couple of issues with sleeping in someone back yard. First pigs oinking around your tent all evening and who carry really bad ticks. Luckily, none of got any ticks. Second the pubescent son, who would go into the adjacent toilet while you showered and peaked through the wholes in the wooden planks. Okay, so fine let the kid get off. It's gross but what can you do. However, at night while I was alone in my tent he came by as started whispering things like "are you afraid to die" or something in Spanish that ended in death. That pissed me off. I yelled for the guide, who incidentally didn't hear me, but made the kid stop.
I got to say one thing about the food too. Despite the one stomach issue, it was fabulous. Especially teatime. Which was at around 5 or 6p.m. and included snacks of popcorn and caramel covered wontons along with tea. The best!!!! Once I write my Choquequiraw trek bog you will understand why I am so impressed.
Now the morning of day 4. We said good bye to the muleteer yesterday. Who kept calling Raul Kuchywato or playboy in Quechua. Now this morning we said good-bye to the cook who will take our big bags back to Cuzco. The cook got all dressed up in his cook uniform, so cute and we said Adios.
This last day was really long, with little lunch or snacks, hot and a huge uphill to Llactapata to see a great view of Machu Picchu. It was tough. However, the view was great and luckily we were covered a lot due to the vegetation in the mountain. So after a couple of hours climbing we got to some ruins and the view of Machu Picchu. The ruins up here are aligned perfectly with Sun Temple at Machu Picchu. Plus we get a good idea of where all the important Incan cities lie, Choquequiraw, Ollantaytambo, Salkantay, Vilcabamba.
Pictures, talk and break over we started to descend to until we reached the huge and powerful man-made falls of the hydroelectric plant. I had been watching it my whole way down and was so overwhelmed by its power when I was finally under it. That's the way to use nature for good.
Another 40 minutes and we were at the railway station, which could take us to Aquas Calientes. However, seeing as we were there at 1:30p.m. and the train wasn't living until 4:45p.m. we opted to walk the 2.5hours along the train tracks. This was much to the dismay of our guide, who looked dead on his feet. I seem to always wear out the guides.
It was a surprisingly enlightening trek. You could see all the devastation the rain had caused. Places were still flooded and landslides were still be cleared by large construction plows.
Close to the end we could catch a great view of Machu Picchu from below as well as the Inca Trail and IntiPunku (Sun Gate).
Now into the village of Aguas Calientes and get ready for Machu Picchu.
But gotta to catch a bus now. So will finish the Machu Picchu portion in the nest post. Sorry for the cliffhanger.