The Salkantay trek has gained a lot in popularity over the past few years, now being the second most popular trek in the Cusco area – after the "Inca Trail". Over the next 4 days, we would be walking for 6-9 hours a day across two mountain passes towards the town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu.
|We first see Salkantay while|
driving from Cusco to Mollepata
|Packing the mules:|
Is the jacket to prevent the poor
animal from seeing its load?
A basic continental breakfast for 20 sol and a regular milk coffee for 10Sol.... This makes Cusco seem cheap! These prices are of course from the only available menu (in only English too!) as no Peruvian would ever pay this amount... And we are pretty certain that our guide and crew got their food for free by choosing a particular restaurant in lieu of bring us there. But in our group's case, the tactic backfired since no one ate breakfast there except our crew members. There is a point when Gringos are not willing to take the blatant price-gouging any longer. They could have sold a lot more at a reasonable price. It's called pricing yourself out of the market!
|The first hour on the trek:|
an easy incline
|Everyone is in good spirits and takes |
lots of pictures.
|Lunch with a view|
|The hike after lunch is |
|our campsite is in view|
|This is our dining hall, the building|
is actually a permanent structure,
although it doesn't look that way!
|Our first night's campsite is going to |
be so cold that they have a large
tarp tent to keep the winds at bay.
Our campsite is at the foot of the Salkantay glacier at 3950m (13000 ft). It will be a freezing cold night as the sky is perfectly clear.
Before we tuck into our sleeping bags, we admire the starry sky, which is beyond explanation. The last time we've seen the Milky Way this bright was over 10 years ago in Zermatt. Jose explains the Inca mythology within the Milky Way's hidden images. If you peer into it and discern the dark areas, you can find a mother llama and her baby (cria).
|The milky way as seen from Peru |
|It's a tough walk...|
especially with killer
In the early freezing morning, the cooks prepare a hearty breakfast for us while we pack up our bags and jump from one leg to the other in a desperate and futile attempt to stay warm.
|The Salkantay pass is still|
a long way to go.
1793 meters descent (5880 ft) and a total hiking distance of 24 km (14.3 miles) over 9 hours of walking time... Not a good day for Patrick to endure a stomach battling food poisoning!
|Also our mules are being obstinate |
snorting loudly on the steep way up.
|Looking back at our tracks |
from the halfway point.
|Almost at the top!|
The sighs of relief are audible as we reach the top, everybody in our group (including Jose) agrees that this was one tough climb. We take pictures on the top of the pass that is dotted with little stone cairns built by previous trekkers to honor the pass and its accomplishment. We also take souvenir pictures in front of the official sign and comment that the altitude is incorrect. Our GPS reads 4,671 meters above sea level (15,325 ft) – we notice all along the trek that the altitude signs are not quite accurate.
|We did it 4671 meters!|
|No time for a break: |
The rough path down
Lunch is served in a big tent; everybody is quiet and devours their food...except for Patrick who gets nauseous just looking at food: A snickers bar and an apple is all he can muster.
|Down there (in the flat part)|
is our lunch spot.
As we are getting lower in altitude we are able to take off some of our many layers but when we reach our camp in the town of Challway at 5:30pm the sun has long set behind the mountain range and we hastily need to setup our sleeping bags before complete darkness falls. The crew once again was much faster... How are they doing it? (They do walk beside the mule team.)
|Challway: our campsite in view, finally!|
Julane could probably have arrived much earlier too but she's walking slowly in solidarity with Patrick who is running low on his spare batteries. But he can be proud of himself: this is a tough trek under normal circumstances, and doing it weakened by food poisoning is a matter of shear willpower! Yet Patrick is not the last one to arrive at the camp: two of our fellow trekkers arrive almost an hour later with sore knees. Yes, it was a tough day.
We all gather for popcorn and hot drinks before dinner and agree that this day was absolutely wonderful despite the physical strain.
Patrick is so exhausted that he doesn't even come to the dinner table (probably a good idea after last night's battle with the trout). From his tent, he sips a bit of soup and retires. Everyone else soon also tucks in early after this long and tiring trek.
The roosters that call our campsite home start announcing the new day at around 3am: who forgot to teach them that they are only supposed to start their "cockadoodle doo" business at sunrise? Oh well, we turn over and fall asleep again. This night was much more pleasant than the last, what a difference a few degrees in temperature make.
|High tech bridge near Challway|
|Even the main road is washed out |
|in some places very badly. |
Cars have to drive through the
deep river bed.
|La Playa our 3rd night camp is in view|
|Time for a snooze...|
At first, the little girl watches carefully what Julane does, but before long she joins in and Julane is teaching her a few Yoga positions. Who knew that Julane had a talent as a Yoga Guru for kids ;-)
|"now breath in deeply |
and hold that position"
|while Julane is teaching Yoga at|
Later in the afternoon, we stroll up and down the one-street little town. We notice that there are an unusually high number of signs. Everything is labeled here, the school, the campground, the bridge across the river... What in the world is going on? Is La Playa opting for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records? All signs have a sticker from the Canadian Foreign Aid Agency adhered to it. So here comes our theory why La Playa has become a "sign jungle."
The Canadian aid money is probably given based on a per-sign-basis in good faith to promote tourism. The Canadian agency probably never visited La Playa but instead transferred money on completion... probably requesting photos of the signs rather than a reason why they actually were created. We are still waiting to see a sign: "The casa that Carlos built!" We also wonder how much money for these signs landed in the pockets of middle men and corrupt local politicians.
If you wonder why we bother to write about this whole story? Do you think that these signs actually improve the life of the villagers? And as tourists, we can certify that besides a laugh and shaking our heads, it did not improve our tourist experience. We sadly conclude that this is a classic case of well intended aid money gone down the drain.
See our photo series: "The useless signs of La Playa"below
|"Bridge in 50 meters" the first |
bridge warning sign that we
see in all of Peru
|"Don't throw garbage |
into the river"
Good intent, zero effect!
|Community or call center?|
or magnet collection center?
|Where is the "View point"?|
|"Commercial Zone" for free|
range chicken maybe?
|Ahh, this must be the |
|and this the sports ground:|
we could not have guessed this!
|Now, this sign actually makes sense:|
but it's not sponsored by the
Canadian Aid Agency :-(
|Height restriction with nothing overhead!|
|Our personal favorite: a street sign would makes sense... |
but why in the world is the original (yellow) one not good enough?
and why is it still there? Go figure!
|Candlelight dinner in La Playa|
We wonder if we will be addicted to popcorn after this trip? Dinner is served over candlelight; although La Playa technically is connected to the power grid, there has been no "juice" all day long – perhaps the Canadians should have invested in the electricity infrastructure instead?
We enjoy the quietness; with electricity running, the TV in our dinner shack would probably have been blaring at max volume.
Today is going to be another big day, or should we say long day?
We get up very early at 6:30am to be on the way by latest 7:30. Unfortunately, the cooks seemed to have forgotten today's briefing and are not ready with breakfast as scheduled. They celebrated our mid-day arrival with a few too many beers on the previous day! Actually they probably celebrated that they would not have to walk any farther after La Playa (they will take the bus and train from here). We also have to wait for them to finish preparing our boxed lunch. Finally some 45 minutes after our scheduled take off time, we are on the way.
|Turn off to Llactapata|
Yes, we have sympathy for the Flat-Landers ;-)
So off we go in a team of two French and two Swiss (Julane is Swiss too, you know!) We are determined to prove to our guide Jose that people from the Alps are fit enough to conquer the Andes!
|Coffee and citrus orchards|
|A last glance back at La Playa|
|The cloud forest near the summit |
looks almost like a rain forest.
|Steep steps near the top|
Anyway we enjoy the cool and damp climate in the forest at the top for a while and just as we start to walk down to the Llactapata ruins plateau, we spot a Capuchin monkey in the trees above us. Jose is surprised too as he has never seen monkeys here.
|Our small group taking a rest at the top|
|Descending down to Llactapata we |
wonder if there are elves in this forest?
|Our first sight over to Machu Picchu|
At this moment, the two of us know that is was worth the effort of canceling our first Mely Tours trek in order to spend a day in this magical area. See our Cusco Blog for more details
|Close up: the buildings and terraces|
of Machu Picchu are in clear view.
|Julane posing at Llactapata|
|View from inside the ruins|
over to Machu Picchu
|One last "tourist shot"|
The way down to the hydroelectric plant (where our fellow Anglo-Saxon trekkers were dropped off at by bus this morning) is very steep and the most technical part of the entire 4 days.
|On the way down from Llactapata|
Machu Picchu with waterfall
|The "artificial" waterfall is|
is much louder than it looks
The walk to the Hydroelectric plant/train station is our lunch spot destination. It takes nearly an hour in the hot sun – no shade whatsoever. We've had every extreme on this trek!! Before we can sit down and rest we have to sign in at a government checkpoint. They keep close tabs of who is getting near Machu Picchu...we figure that they are in trial run for extracting a new fee in the near future. After all, there are number of treks going this way so consequently a perfect opportunity to extract more dineros.
|The Hydro train station: Last stop |
before reaching Aguas Calientes
|No walking permitted!|
|Looks more dangerous than |
it is... There is pedestrian
walk way on the right side
|Help! the track ate my legs!|
We can tell that we are getting close to our destination of Aguas Calientes: we notice more and more "clean looking" trekkers in fancy clothes looking very fresh... they must be day trippers! Our anticipation grows by the minute. We are only a short walk away from a hot shower. The first in 4 days!
|Aguas Calientes is in |
|"Stop taking pictures silly, |
I want to take a shower first!"
Talking about Machu Picchu: tomorrow morning we would finally be able to cross off another item from our "bucket list". Day 5 of our trek is a full day's visit to this most famous tourist attraction in South America.
We are asleep in seconds, a real bed rarely felt this good before.
Our Alarm clock goes off at 5:45am... We wish we could have slept longer. But there is time to sleep in at another time. Machu Picchu is waiting.
After a short breakfast we meet the group at the bus station. That's right we are taking the bus up to Machu Picchu. We could walk up, but want to preserve our energy to explore the ruins and climb the mountain peaks above the site.
Stay tuned and read our next Blog post about our impressions of Machu Picchu.
Day 5 ends with a walk down from the ruins back to Aguas Calientes... We could have taken the bus down but prefer being independent once again... actually walking down is a nice and an appropriate ending to a perfect 5 days of trekking... We consider it a kind of wind-down.
|Our tourist train back to reality|
Our bus drops us in front of the Hotel around 11pm, we are too tired to fully appreciate the "Salkantay Experience" but there will be time for that after a good night's sleep – and no alarm clocks or roosters awaiting us in the morning.
The Salkantay Trek is tough, but one of the more memorable experiences that we had during the 6 months that we've been traveling so far... We highly recommend this trek to anyone!
We covered a total of 2 passes.
Walked 23h 45min in 4 days from Casamarco to Aguas Calientes
Climbed 3,074 vertical meters (10,085 ft)
Descended 4,843 vertical meters (15,889ft)
Covered ~65 km (40 miles) of terrain
"Major muscle ache afterwards?" you may ask.. Actually no, the only aches that we have are some blistered toes and bug bites!
We can highly recommend our tour company X-treme Tourbulencia and our guide Jose Fuerte to anyone considering the Salkantay trek.
Here is our trek on Google maps: click on the image for a larger viewView Salkantay in a larger map