Cusco, The Salkantay Mountain Trek and Machu Picchu
Peru: Part 2.
22nd May to 2nd June 2010.
Sooo, I had spent about 4 hours, spread over a few days and many coffees, writing about our Salkantay trek, Cusco and Machu Picchu, selecting photos, captioning them, referring back to my diary etc. etc., and was pretty happy with the end product, until I went to upload it to the blog a few days later, opened the saved document.... and stared at a blank screen. BLANK! Nada, nothing, CAPUT! Just a void of white staring back at me. I resisted the temptation to shake and yell at the computer and ever so calmly called Ben (OK, it may have been more like a shriek of “BBBBBeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn”!!!), my very own “Mr Computer Fixit”. As I watched Ben work it became increasingly obvious that the document had disappeared into the lost world of Microsoft word documents, never to be retrieved again. I then had a little tiny sophisticated adult tantrum and refused to re-write the blog! A week has now passed and Ben has talked me back into it (meanwhile the Bolivia blog is something of a mystery, and has been "almost finished" for about 5 weeks now!!!!). So, here I am, sitting on a luxurious Swiss train to Geneva re-writing the blog (BTW, the Australian public transport system seems like it belongs to the developing world when compared to the Swiss model!).
Cusco: We acclimatised for 5 days in Cusco before starting our 5 day Salkantay Mountain trek to Macchu Pichu. Cusco was beautiful. Ancient Incan walls formed part of the city landscape, along with beautiful old cathedrals steeped in the bloody history of the Incan struggle against the Spanish invaders. Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley is full of history, both beautiful and violent, and we spent days just visiting different museums, scared sites and Inca ruins that lie in the valley beyond Cusco.
Sacred Valley Photos:
We also enjoyed the many cafes and restaurants of Cusco, and loved catching up with our friends Tori and Luke, as well as Liz and Ken.
Salkantay Trek: The Salkantay Trek is an alternative trek to the popular Inca Trail path to Machu Picchu. Ben and I signed up for it because we wanted to hike through the glacier covered mountains surrounding Machu Picchu (and also because we had missed out on a spot for the original Inca trail trek which was booked up 5 months earlier). What unfolded over the next 5 days could be described by some as torture with a scenic view and 3 meals a day, and others as one of the greatest adventures of their travel. For us it was a bit of both!
Day 1: We woke up at 3:30am (ouch!!), for a 4:30am pick up (we were to wake up between 4am and 5am for the next 5 mornings!). We drove out to a small town at the start of the trek, where we met our fellow trekkers and had a small breakfast , while the desperate coffee addicts tried to drink the luke warm Nescafe for a much needed wake up hit to the body! We then trekked 8 hours through the beautiful mountains, and came into camp at dusk. It was a very cold night, and we shivered our way through a sort of half sleep. I awoke with razor blades in my throat and a cough that produced copious amounts of Shrek- green phleghm. Not a great start to 5 days of trekking!
Highlights Day 1:
• We got to know our fantastic group of fellow trekkers: Canadians, Americans, Scottish and Singaporean. One woman was Deaf and a sign language user. It was great to have her as part of our trek and made me think of and miss everyone back at TPS / RRP (the school and pre-school where I work when not travelling).
• In true dramatic style I had an asthma attack after climbing our first hill at altitude (I was trying to keep up with Ben and the others in our group and went too hard and fast for my lungs to cope!). I had to ride “Fernando” the emergency horse for a little bit(I named him after Fernando the Mule in the Colca Canyon- not very original but my new favourite name for horses and mules!). I felt completely embarrassed and sounded like an old granny with emphysema trying to suck air through a tiny straw!
Day 2: This was the most physically exhausting day, as we hiked up to a mountain pass at 4600 metres high. We passed snow, walked through sleet, and enjoyed a trek through constantly changing scenery, from the glacier mountain, to a cloud forest and a valley lake. We chewed on cocoa leaves that helped us cope with altitude sickness, which many people felt. Most people experienced a headache and sense of nausea at some stage during the day. Unfortunately, my cough was worsening and I started to sound like I was a “pack a day smoker”.
• Making the pass at 4600 metres high was a great (and exhausting) feeling! Ben and I placed a stone each, along with everyone from our little group, to make a pile at the pass, sort of the equivalent of writing “ Ben and Chelle woz here!”
• Coming down the mountain and walking through the cloud forest was beautiful; there were humming birds and lovely orchids.
• Our camp for the 2nd night was in a lusciously green valley, and we had fun playing card games with everyone that night.
• Feeling like you are going to have a heart attack because when you walk at altitude your heart can pound in your chest like you think it is actually going to explode!
Day 3: An easy half day walk through the valley by a beautiful, gushing river.
• Beautiful scenery- see the photos!
• We met “Pancho Loco” the beer drinking monkey who took a liking to Ben (and then drunk some of his beer!).
• We got into camp by early afternoon, and had a great time playing cards and chatting with everyone.
Day 4: This was another challenging day of hiking along part of an original Inca Path, over another mountain and along a narrow path that hugged the mountain edge to some Inca Ruins, and a view of Machu Picchu. It was an optional hike, which I took, however Ben (who wasn’t feeling well) and a few others decided to head into the town of Aguas Calientes via an alternative route, carrying our pack for us.
• Trekking on an original Inca Path!
• Seeing Macchu Pichu from a distance, surrounded by the mountains and valleys.
• Lying and chatting with new friends in the sun next to ancient ruins, while our bodies recovered from another climb and prepared for the final few hours of hiking into Aguas Calientes.
• Staying in a real hotel and having a shower for the first time in 4 days!!
• Having a fun group dinner with everyone in town.
Day 5: Machu Picchu! We woke up at 3:30am for a 4am start, already tired from the previous days of trekking. We climbed in the early morning darkness up a steep and challenging path that cut through the zig-zagging mountain road. The climb took Ben 45 minutes and me about an hour. My breathing was so laborious and “phleghmy” by this stage that people were stopping to ask if I was OK. Imagine Darth Vadar with emphysema and that is how I sounded! I look back at this final climb and wonder how on earth we did it, as Ben had also started to not feel well. (In the end when we returned to Cusco I saw a Dr who diagnosed Bronchitis and severe asthma, and put me on a strong course of antibiotics to recover. Ben and I spent the first few days back after the trek in bed sleeping, and Ben ended up with a persistent night cough for about a week afterwards. Oh, the memories!!).
Machu Picchu: WWWWwwwwwwwwooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!! Wow Wow WOW! We will never forget seeing the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu for the first time. We stood together in silence, looking down onto the glorious ruins and terraced mountain fields spread before us. The early morning mist was still lingering, enhancing the mystical feel, and covering the sneaking jungle trees and terraced fields with a light dew. It was a magical and captivating view, one to remember forever.
We had a 1.5 hour tour with a knowledgeable guide, who explained the meaning and significance of the main buildings and temples. We were shown the stone quarry where the Inca people would cut out the giant stones, and carve and shape them for the temples and houses. The stonework was incredible, with giant, smooth stone walls perfectly aligned and sloping on a 13degree angle. Below are some photos of the temples, houses and stonework.
After our tour we had a quick nap in the morning sun, backs up against the ancient walls. It was only 10:30am and we were so tired!!
Feeling refreshed from our little nap we decided that we would climb the famous Huayna Pichu mountain to see the hill top ruins, the Moon Temple and take in the 360 degree views of Machu Picchu and surrounds. The climb up was another steep and strenuous climb, however the views from the top were stunning and well worth it (although Ben and I could barely talk to each other because we were so tired by this point!).
From the hilltop ruins we climbed back down and around the mountain to the Temple of the Moon, a small temple built over a cave with intricate and delicate stonework.
3 hours of walking later we were back in the main Machu Picchu grounds, and walked up the terraced fields for a view over the other side of Machu Picchu. At this point Ben had completely hit the wall with exhaustion and decided to catch the 2:30pm bus back before becoming delusional! I had a tiny bit of energy left and walked out to see the Inca drawbridge. It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined but was still an interesting insight into Incan technology and defence strategy.
I caught the next bus after Ben, and we met back up in town, where we joined everyone for a final group dinner. We then caught the train and bus back to Cusco, arriving at 2am in the morning, making the day an incredibly long one as we had been awake for almost 24hours!!
So, The Salkantay and Machu Picchu experience was unforgettable, challenging, rewarding and absolutely incredible. If you ever get the chance to visit Machu Picchu you have to go!! ( You can take a bus up to the ruins and don’t need to do the early morning climb!)
Love Chelle and Ben