Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu

Getting up at 4.30am and packing is a real struggle due to a meeting with a vodka bottle and a girl from Lima the previous day, but I manage, just. I get picked up at 5am from where I’m staying in Cusco by one of our guides Juan Jose (Jen, Karl, and Bernie: not related to Juan from BA with the chopper).  Juan Jose leads me to the Plaza Armas where we meet up with the group and get a much needed cup of tea to warm us up.

As with all group activities I’m a little nervous about the make up of the group as the people can really make or break this kind of experience. It turned out that I need not worry as the group was full interesting people. The guides and porters too were great fun and full of smiles and laughs on the way.

There were: two english girls, Rachael and Siobain who studied Law together. Siobain worked on the Princess Diana inquest and had some interesting things to say about it; a couple from California who studied together, Matt and Yoong; an american couple from Boston, Matt who owned a start up building software to help private equity funds trade, and Dale who is working on a drug for a pharma company to cure skin cancer; and three portuguese doctors, Marta, Pedro, and Jose. Jose gave me some great tips on the wine region in Porto. And nice to know if anything went wrong we were in safe hands.  And Roger and Juan Jose our guides. Both of whom were funny and friendly. Roger had a nice turn of phrase to express surprise: “Oh my Christmas”.

I was still suffering a little on the bus ride to the drop off, but soon pulled up after breakfast.  The rest of the first day is a easy hike for about 8 hours before we arrive at our camp at the foot of Salkantay which we are going to climb tomorrow.  The campsite is surrounded by snow capped mountains and has a little creek running next to it – breathtaking scenery.  We’re camping at 3850m and it is bitterly cold.  I cannot tell you how happy I was that I bought the most expensive thermal underwear.

After breakfast on day 2 and the introductions to the porters, we head off up Salkantay to 4650m.  After a hard climb up a switch back path up what looks like a couple of hundred metres with more than a few breaks to suck in some much needed oxygen we reach Pampas Salkantay and have a break.  The last part of the climb up is next and is meant to take an hour.  I’m the first from our group up and manage it in 22 minutes, nearly beating our guide Roger who runs past me with 20 metres to go.  Yes I am feeling very pleased with myself about this.  A rapid descent down follows to lunch and a soak in a stream for my feet.

We are running a little late after waiting for everyone to complete the climb up and have a long walk to our campsite through cloud forrest for the rest of the afternoon.  I only just make it before it’s dark having to really hurry to beat the fading light for the last two hours.  Most don’t make it in time and have to find there way along a cliff side path in the dark.  Fortunately we all made it into our tents.

Day three and I get up to see what I couldn’t the night before: we’re in a gorgeous camp site in a village, high above a river running noisily below.  We hike until lunch at Luskamayo.  From here we catch  a truck to Aguas Caliente (as there were no more buses available).  We’re packed in on a dangerous road (dodgy bridges, hair pin turns, low hanging trees) with much screaming from one of the UK girls.  Lot of fun.

A few problems with the police emerge when we arrive at Santa Teresa as our truck driver has no license so we walk the last bit to the campsite and find there are more problems with the police if we want to get to the hot springs here as no-one has a license.  I put my oar in and chat to the jeffe of the police about coming from Australia and the like and that we are really looking forward to going to the spings.  He stops smiling and starts shouting at the bus driver (who told him he wasn’t there to pick us up).  Oops.

At last we get to the springs and they are amazing.  Very luxurious.  Two pools (warm and hot), icy cold mountain spring shower, and hot sit down showers from the hot springs.  So nice to be clean of dust.

The next day takes us to Aguas Calientes where we stay the night before going to Machu Picchu.   Chelsea win the champions league game, so it continues to be a very good day.

The last day of the hike takes us to Machu Picchu via bus.  The site and the scale are pretty amazing, but the experience was tarnished a bit by the amount of people crawling over the site..  I couldn’t help but compare it to when Brooke and I were at Angor Wat and we were the only people apart from the local monks there.

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