At 4am we were all standing in the dark beside the kerb, awaiting our tour van to pick us up. We had woken up at 3am to have breakfast and complete the last of our packing. The tour company had provided us each with a small duffle bag that was barely big enough to fit all the things we would need for the 5 day hike in the mountains of Salkantay.
We had a three hour drive to where we would start the trek to our campsite for the night. Compared to the rough overnight bus ride we had survived just two days before, this was nothing. Although, the large van would honk loudly before swerving to the other lane to make the sharp curve. This still made us nervous, for to your left there would be a sharp cliff that ran beside the narrow little mountain road, and there was at any time a chance that another vehicle would come racing round the bend. We have found, however, that this is the way of driving in Peru.
The walk was beautiful! Our team of twelve (our family making up half of the group) immediately got to work getting to know each other, and from the first day we all got on well. Ricardo, our tour guide was wonderful! Always with a ball of dried coca leaves (for energy) in his cheek, he would explain everything, and anything.
After reaching our campsite (around 4100m altitude), we had a delicious lunch. I could honestly not believe how our two chefs could present such amazing dishes, when in the tiny room next door, there wasn’t even a kitchen bench! Never were we able to finish all of the food. Our two horsemen really did lift huge weights off our shoulders. All our luggage (except our small day bags) were hauled along on the backs of mules.
After lunch, with a bag of coca leaves, Ricardo led us up to a beautiful lake, and the Salkantay Peaks, climbing up to around 4250m altitude. There was a ceremony we all had the privilege of taking part in. To me this was fascinating, however, because the Andean Leader, during this ceremony only spoke the native language of Cetchua, it was quite difficult for me to understand.
The scenery was breath taking. Although, for mum and a few other members of the group the altitude literally did take their breath away. Even when returning to the campsites, heads were throbbing, and many were nauseous from the altitude.
In total, though, we had walked around 15km, reaching a hight of 4250m. We were all exhausted and quickly fell into bed, after another delicious meal. What a start to our trek of a lifetime!
All of us were quietly, but firmly woken up with a cup of steaming hot coca tea. Our cozy igloos were steamed up by the vapour and the fresh morning air outside. It was still dark when we emerged from our warm sleeping bags. I literally had to make a countdown to force myself to leave our cozy room to head for breakfast. Once again, we were all very pleasantly surprised when platters, plates and dishes were served to us from the tiny, damp room next door. Our chefs really did make it worth it to get up.
Two of our team members who could still feel the altitude, saw the amazing scenery from the backs of mules, who were at times very stubborn and strong willed. They were supposed to all follow a certain mule led by either a young Andean man or young boy. Well, I can’t complain, because they carried my heavy load of luggage all the way up the steep, rocky slopes. I don’t lie when I say ‘steep, rocky slopes’. We climbed up from the altitude of the night’s campsite to the splitting hight of 4630m altitude. This is when I started to feel a little unwell.
At the summit, one of our young chefs, Evan, served us all sandwiches and another steaming cup of coca tea. He had carried the large flask of boiling hot tea, and the bag of sandwiches in his backpack all the way from the night’s accomodation, and arrived before us to ensure that he would be able to serve us. Imagine climbing up more than 530 m with this load on your back. How’s that for service?
We had heard that in the Salkantay area, the weather changes very rapidly and to extremes. And then suddenly, from the hot shining morning, it went to completely overcast and then rain. We all slipped our cheap ponchos on, and tried to make the best of the situation.
This was hard though, especially if the track is a mess of sloshy mud, water pools and only a few scarce stepping stones to help prevent the mud from seeping through your brand new, sparkling shoes and on into your socks. Finally we arrived at the small mountain shelter where we would have our lunch. Lunch consisted of many delicious dishes and lots and lots of hot chocolate. We now had only 10km left to get to our camp for the night. The last bit, to me, was a stroll in the park compared to the climb through the Salkantay Pass earlier.
As soon as I was able to find my tent, throw my bag down and half organise my things, I hopped through the ice cold shower. When I say ice cold, I mean so cold that when you dunk your head under, you get a big time brain freeze. And for some crazy reason, I decided to wash my hair that night.
Happy Hour is supposed to be a light entrance to dinner time. Us ravenous Inca Warriors, however, hungrily devoured the popcorn, sweet potato chips and the delicious hot chocolate. By the time the extravagant dinner arrived at our table, we had all satisfied our hunger on the Happy Hour. The dinner was almost untouched. I really felt bad, because all the hard work on dinner was left unappreciated by the now satisfied group.
I slept very well that night, huddling in my warm sleeping bag, under the low roof of my tent, knowing that I had walked a total of 22km and climbed 530m.
The night before we had ‘agreed’ (with many moans and groans) that we would be at breakfast at 5am. However, it took a little longer than estimated to pack up all our belongings and make our way to the breakfast table. A few times Ricardo came to our group of tents to ‘remind’ us that breakfast was ready. We ended up walking about an hour later than the first group. Our track was along a dirt road with high rising cliffs to your right, and sharp, dropping cliffs to your left. Along the way were farms with large plantations of granadilla and other fruits, scattered across the mountain side. We refreshed ourselves at a small road stall with many tropical fruits, meeting a few local dogs on the way.
We were all pleasantly surprised when a van dropped by to pick us up. I don’t think any of us really understood what was going on, but if this meant lunch earlier, we were in. We had about a 15 minute ride before we arrived at our beautiful little campsite, much earlier than the rest of the groups. It felt like cheating because we had taken the van, but still I could not help but feel pleased. Some of our team members were planning on going to nearby hot springs, but as we had been before, we decided to stay and use the valuable time to do some washing and organising.
Dinner was served later than usual, never the less, it was still one of the best. We ended the feast with a traditional toast, also saying goodbye to our wonderful chefs, as they would be leaving us in the morning. All the adults (the entire group except us four children) got a glass of Maracuya Pisco Sour, and us four non-alcoholics, a small bowl of gelatina. The rest of the evening was concluded with a bonfire. Only a handful of members from each group were amongst the lashing flames. The rest (including me) wend straight to bed and within a short while were fast asleep, exhausted by the third day of crazy adventure.
The van ride had cut our trekking time quite short. I realise now that this is because we were a bit lazy and heavy footed this morning. We have trekked for only 14km, mostly descending. Anyway, that is still enough to make you tired, especially when you find out that wake up time is at 4am tomorrow!
Surprisingly, everyone was around the breakfast table on time today. This enabled us to have enough time to have a short rest at one of the nearby coffee makers. We were explained the entire process the bean goes though and then had a chance to taste the freshly brewed coffee.
As we started to enter the rainforest area, I was becoming very grateful that I had short sleeves on today. This was by far the hottest and most humid day throughout the tour. It was also quite steep! When rounding every bend, we would all silently hope that it would be going down, but unfortunately, it never did. It just seemed to go up.
After a long time, the rainforest seemed to end and we entered a little village, called Hydro Electrica. We went into a little local restaurant to have our lunch, and then had only another 10km left to walk to get to the town where we would stay the night. We were all very disappointed with the food. This is when we realised that this was normal standards. In the jungle, we had been served the most amazing food by our exceptional chefs. However, we were quickly forced to readjust again, and decide to conclude our meal with some long craved ice cream, something we knew could not possibly be different to what we expect.
For most of the 10km we walked beside train tracks. Little track stalls were quite frequent, selling almost anything imaginable. After a while though, the quite large town of Aguas Calientes (meaning ‘warm water’) came into view. Soon we had all refreshed ourselves at our hostal (with warm showers- what a luxury after 4 nights in the jungle) and headed down for dinner. I decided to try Alpaca for the first time, as it was highly recommended by some of our group members. I must admit, I was a little disappointed. It was very chewy, and very salty. Apparently, though, this was not very well prepared, but still, I’m not really keen to try it again.
Day 5- Machu Picchu
It was so good to sleep in a normal bed! This was the first in 4 whole days, and I slept wonderfully. Well, I had to, because we had to leave to get to the gate to enter Machu Picchu at 4am! There was barely enough time to scoff down a small bowl of oats and a slice of buttered bread. It was still very dark, and quite cold when we were lined up in front of the gate.
As soon as all six of our passports and tickets had been approved, we bounded through the gate, anxious to get to the ancient city. The steps up were extremely steep. Ruzow and I were ahead and determined to get to the top as fast as possible to rest with a view of a lifetime. In total, it took us six 35 minutes to get to the top. Although it hadn’t taken us an hour and a half as predicted, my knees and legs were aching, and I was very short of breath. Other than that, all was fine and I was extremely pumped to glimpse Machu Picchu for the very first time.
Our passports and tickets were checked again and we slowly emerged to the location we had been climbing for.
Machu Picchu! – At long last.
Finally, the ancient archeological site stood before my eyes. Never in a million years did I dream of being here in this place. I couldn’t believe it! After many pictures and a packed breakfast on the grassy lawn, we headed towards the city to have a tour with Ricardo. I don’t know why, but I always pictured Machu Picchu as kind of like a pyramid structure, never an entire city! This was a surprise.
We set out to explore the city and discover all it held. It was all very fascinating to me. I loved the history and the cultures, the Incas and the general sight of the well built walls that had managed to stand for so long. Many people wished to stand here on these rocks and ruins and here I am, at age 13 with my entire family drinking it all in. I am so privileged!
Later, with one of our team members, Joyce, now adopted into our crazy family, we set off to climb Mach Picchu Mountain. And I tell you, climb we did! The steps were so steep and narrow, that when we came down we had to turn our feet sideways to be able to descend. Our feet couldn’t fit on the narrow steps!
We were out of breath when finally we reached the top. At 3061m altitude, we decided to have lunch, consisting of fruit, crackers, cold meat and cheese. It was lovely! We took some pictures, and being very high above the city of Machu Picchu, we had a spectacular view of it. It was definitely worth the climb!
We got to the bottom with many aching knees and seven exhausted trekkers. A rest on the grassy lawn was in order. Only for five minutes, though, because the six crazy JvR’s, instead of going back with the rest of the group, were going to walk back along the train tracks to Hidro Electrica, where they would meet Daniel in order for more adventure! If that is even possible?!
Well, that’s it for now, but I’d really like to say a really big “Thank you!” to Ricardo our wonderful tour guide and friend, and also to our amazing group, including my five travel buddies. I’ve had so much fun and have made so many unforgettable memories. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing experience with me… the trek, and experience of a lifetime!
Until next time,