Monday, December 7, 2009

Salkantay Glacier Trek To Machu Picchu

After looking around at options we landed a 5 day trip to MP via the Salkantay glacier pass. The trip was 4 days of hiking and the final day was spent in MP with a train ride home that night.

Day 1: We climbed to the 1st camp and had to cross many streams that had broken their banks due to the start of the rainy season. It was entertaining to try and make it across without getting soaked and we typically spent 5-10 minutes attempting to make a jumping point somewhere in the middle. After tossing several large rocks into the middle, most everyone made it without getting wet but a few weren´t so lucky. We had a 11 english speaking folks and a second group of 4 from Portugal and 2 Americans. The first day was incredibly hot and rainy which made for a steamy climb. We had some shelter at the first camp so the tents stayed dry but the area was incredibly muddy and messy. As soon as the tents were up I went to change into some dry clothes, no more than 5 minutes had passed before a little cat found its way into my tent, it must have known I´d be a sucker. It quickly decided to warm itself up on my lap and was content to stay as long as possible. In all it was somewhere between 8-9 hours of hiking for day 1.

By dinner it became clear that one of the gals from Portugal wasn´t doing well, she borrowed my inhaler and had taken some altitude meds but still wasn´t going to make it. That part of the group decided to turn back the following morning instead of going the rest of the way up the glacier the following day. The remaining two Americans joined our goup for the remainder of the trip. Now we were 13.

Day 2: The morning started out beautiful, it was quite cold so when the cook woke us with an offer of coca tea, I didn´t hesitate to indulge. We found an alpine lake on the way up to the summit where we sat for a break to soak up the sun and rest. A boy from England and a girl from Wales decided to get crazy and went for a swim in the freezing lake. After we were rested up we started heading the rest of the way to the top. It wasn´t as hard as I had anticipated. After we all gathered at the top for some photos, we started our trek down toward the jungle, it wasn´t long before the rain started and within an hour I was soaked from head to toe. Even my gortex jacket seemed to fail me. After 6 hours of hiking we were cold, miserable and tired. To top things off we learned that the trail was cut off due to a landslide from all the rain so we had to stop short of the original camp site for the night. We stopped in a very small pueblo village and camped on a family´s lawn for the night, I don´t think any one in the group stayed up past 8:30pm. We had hiked for about 10 hours in all on day 2.

Day 3: In the morning we awoke at 5am, as in the past we were stirred from our slumbers by the cook with an offer of hot tea in bed. The third day turned out to be more strenous than originally planned. We found a ¨short cut¨that the locals use which would take us up and over the mountain we had planned to walk around. It was a relatively steep climb through an amazing amount of mud, there wasn´t anyway to avoid it and everyone was covered from our knees down by the time we reached the top. Fortunately there were no falls but some close calls made for good entertainment on the way up. Thank god it wasn´t raining! It was actually pretty fun to scramble up. We took a breather at the top and I made a feable attempt to remove the mud from my boots and pants (at least my new boots aren´t so clean and shiny now). We made it down the other side of the mountain and in total hiked about 7 hours. Starving and exhausted we climbed into a van and headed into Santa Teresa to our campsite. We had lunch, relaxed and then headed to some local hotsprings to soak our tired bodies. They were amazing, by far the most beautiful hot springs I´ve ever seen.... a garden oasis after 3 days of wet, cold mountains, hot jungle, and did I mention wet weather. We returned to camp after a few hours to find a new resident had moved in, we´ll call him George. George, a small monkey, was right at home playing with us and a couple of cats which again, found my warm lap as good a place as any to curl up for a nap. It was Hanna´s birthday so we had a couple rounds of Pisco sours and stayed up longer than usual. Dinner was amazing with chicken legs, beet salad, and other goodies. The cook even whipped up a birthday cake for the following morning.

Day 4&5: On day 4 we awoke at 8am (sleeping in for our standards) and headed to a couple of waterfalls that were close by before starting our trek to Aguas Calentes. Most of the group got eaten alive by misquitoes but for some rare reason, I made it out with very few bites. The 4th night we stayed in a hostal in town. The following morning we had to meet the rest of the group at 4:30am for our trek up the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu. We made it to the front gate by 6am where we waited for the entire group to get through the entrance and started a guided tour through part of the ruins. There was too much fog to get many photos until almost 10am. However, by 10:30 it started to rain. I managed to stay in the ruins until just after noon then headed back down the steps in search for lunch. All in all it was an amazing trip and the journey there was just as meaningful and memorable as being in the ruins.

We are back in Cusco and catching a night bus to Arequipa and then heading to the border for Chile in the next day. Photos are up on flickr, check them out.

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