Day 1 - Challacancha to Humantay Lake
The night before the trek we had a 6 o'clock briefing at the Salkantay Trekking office to explain everything, pay our final deposit, and sign waivers. There were ten of us total on our trek from various parts of the world. Our guide, Ramiro, also gave us small duffel bags to put the clothes and toiletries we needed for our trek. They also informed us that they would be picking us up from our hostel at 4am the following morning. Bleck.
The next morning, Gerrod and I woke up at 3am to get ready and checkout of our hostel while eating some leftover pizza from dinner the night before. The bus arrived very shortly after 4am, and we then got on the bus for the 4 hour ride that took us to our first stop, Mollepata Town. We were offered breakfast at a small restaurant in Mollepata Town, and I noticed the prices differed by 2 Soles for the same dishes depending on the Spanish versus English menu.
After breakfast we headed to the trail-head located in Challacancha. We gave our duffel bags to the crew so that could take them from camp to camp on pack horses, and began our hike. We could feel the altitude even at the first trek up, so the guide gave us some Inka power (coca leaves) to chew on while we walked.
To correctly use the coca leaves, our guide Ramiro told us to take “about 10 leaves”, and place a small amount of black colored catalyst made of stevia, ash, and mint, roll it up and place it in our cheek. After it gets all saturated with saliva, you chomp a little bit to release the juices, and place back in your cheek. We also picked out a rock that we would carry up the mountain for a ritual on the second day as an offering to Pachamama, AKA mother earth.
I managed to drop Gerrod's rock in a nearby aqueduct while going through his bag to grab some toilet paper to use the “Inka toilet”. Gerrod was somehow able to retrieve it through acrobatics that only one person witnessed, and he kept a much closer eye on it going forward.
After an initial climb, the walk was fairly nice all the way to our first camp. The first camp consisted of sky domes (glass igloos) with beds. We had some time to rest and have lunch before a round trip hike up to Humantay Lake.
The hike to Humantay Lake was very steep and slippery and we had to have more Inka power and take several breaks. We even got to hear and see some avalanches on a nearby mountain on the hike up. The lake was super blue!!
There was a bit of fog blocking the scenery, but our guide told us there was a small side path further up with a good viewpoint of the valley. The scenery was breathtaking, but it soon started to rain so we turned around and headed back to the sky domes. It rained for the ENTIRE walk back down, but luckily we had rain gear with us so we didn't get too wet.
We had an amazing dinner prepared by our very own group chef, and had a briefing for the next day. After dinner, we played cards with some of the other people on our trek before heading to bed. We went to bed around 8pm since we had a 4am wake up call the next morning. It rained all night so we did not get to star gaze from the domes, but we took some fun night-light pictures in our sky dome instead.
Day 2 - Sky Domes through the Salkantay Pass
The following day, Ramiro woke us up at 4am as promised, but he handed us some nice warm coca tea which made it a little better. We packed up our stuff and went to eat some delicious breakfast before our hike. The second day of the trek was very long and was supposed to be the hardest due to the ascent and altitude, which made us a little nervous. We had the option to take a horse to the top of the Salkantay Pass, but our whole group decided to face the trek.
As we started along the path, we made a puppy friend who followed us until we made it to a hut in a valley where Gerrod paid 1 sole to poop in a hole in the ground.
After the puppy went back home, the trek got so much worse; steeper, rougher terrain, and no puppy! Luckily we had some fresh Inka power to power us to the top of the pass.
After what seemed like forever, we reached the summit at 4,650 meters above sea level! We could see glaciers on the mountains, and the views were beautiful.
Our guide then took us to a secret spot nearby where there was a brilliant turquoise lake. According to our guide, we could only go to the lake since we had extra time, and that is why we woke up so early!
At the lake we took a small break to have some sandwiches and coca tea. Our guide also taught us about the coca leaf and about the rock offering ritual to Pachamama. Afterwards, we all stacked our rocks that we picked up at the trail-head on the first day's hike as an offering to Pachamama. After the ritual, our guide gave us Salkantay t-shirts and we got a group photo before heading down the mountain to the next campsite.
The trek downhill seemed to last forever, but the landscape was changing which kept things interesting. After stopping to eat lunch, we continued further down into the upper part of the Amazon jungle, which our guide referred to as the cloud forest. The name cloud forest was very appropriate, as it was cloudy, foresty, and rainy.
After a very long downhill hike and trek around some mountains we finally ended the day at our next campsite, which were Andean huts with beds in them. I paid 20 soles for both of us to get hot showers. Gerrod was tempted to trade his shower in for beer, but I convinced him a shower would feel nice. After the shower, our group had some beers and ate a delicious dinner. After dinner we played cards and continued to drink some beers until bedtime around 8pm.
Day 3 - More Hiking Followed by Ziplining and Hot Springs
The next morning began with another 4am coca tea wake up. We packed our bags, ate breakfast, and headed out on our hike. Our hike was mostly on the road due to recent landslides that made the original trail too dangerous, but the road still had wonderful views of the valley and forest. Ramiro taught us about the local flora, and we got to see wild banana and avocado trees along our trek.
On our way to our campsite, we stopped at a nearby town which had an organic coffee farm that Ramiro referred to as “Inca Starbucks”. There, we learned about the coffee harvesting and preparation process. We then got to roast our own beans in the traditional method, and even got to grind and taste it afterwards! It was absolutely delicious coffee.
After finishing up drinking our delicious coffee, we continued down our road to our jungle dome campsite. Following lunch, we had the rest of the day free with several optional activities. Our entire group wanted to go ziplining, so we hopped in a van, went across a very scary bridge, and headed to Vertikal Zip Line which has one of the longest courses in all of South America.
I know South Park says you should never go ziplining, but wow!! There was some rock climbing, a rope bridge, and 6 different lines where we could hang upside down or even fly like a Condor.
After that we got a well deserved break at Aguas Termales de Cocalmayo in the hot springs. The warm water felt amazing on our sore feet! After soaking for nearly an hour, we hopped back in the van and headed back to camp to eat another delicious meal. After dinner, we had another briefing and drank a few well deserved beverages before bed.
Day 4 - The Longest Hike Ever
The next morning we had another early wake up call with Coca tea, and prepared for our day. Breakfast was the last meal to be prepared by our chefs, as we were spending the next night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes.
We headed out for the longest hike of the whole trek. We started with a surprisingly not so painful uphill, and got to stop at an amazing swing which only cost 1 sole on the way to the top.
The weather was perfect, and we soon reached the top, where we could see Machu Picchu far away in the distance!
There were some Inca ruins called Llactapata and Ramiro taught us more about Inca architecture. We ate some snacks and started with the longest, steepest, downhill hike we have ever done. It went on forever, and by the time we got to lunch at the bottom Gerrod's knee was dead. Our lunch at a small local restaurant was not nearly as filling or tasty now that we no longer had our chefs.
We hiked even further to Hidroelectric train station where we got some clean clothes out of our duffel bags to take with us to Aguas Calientes town so we could shower, change, and go to dinner. We had the option to take the train or walk, but Ramiro informed us that waiting on the train would take longer than walking. So, the entire group continued to walk along the tracks to town. There were many of us in pain and thought the long monotonous walk would never end. We finally made it to Aguas Calientes town and checked in to our hotel, Illary Inn.
The group all showered up and went to have a drink at Full House Peruvian Cuisine before heading to dinner at Machu Pisco. We were given all of the tickets we would need for tomorrow and a briefing of the plans for Machu Picchu the following day!
To be continued...
Lauren (and Gerrod)
Links to things we mentioned: