14.04.2016 - 14.04.2016
What a busy and physical few days!
This post is very much about our trek to Machu Picchu but I'll have a quick little aside at the start about the Alpaca Farm. Because I want to.
So, we went to the Alpaca Farm. There were lots of alpacas but sadly very little opportunity to purchase and/or consume alpaca burgers. At least we got to feed, stroke, and selfie with the alpacas, which was pretty good fun. We got to see the locals working the alpaca wool and there was a little museum section about the history and genealogy of the alpaca, but I can't remember much of it - just the cute little alpacas.
It was all good fun, but this is and was just a prelude to my main point of excitement...
The Salkantay Trail
This is an old Incan trail, but not THE Inca Trail. It's longer and steeper and a lot less travelled, so logically I was more excited to do this trail.
We started off in the afternoon with a short trek of about 8km to Soraypampa, which sits at 3,880 MASL (meters above sea level). It was a steep trek and took us all a while to get used to the change in altitude, but the views were more than promising of the sights to come. We stayed the night at the camp beneath the glacier, and to say it was cold was an understatement. I wrapped up in several layers and a sleeping bag just to sleep, but even then I still felt the cold. Still, the night sky was alive with shooting stars and the Milky Way.
Next morning, we woke at 5am to begin the next, and longest, day or trekking. We climbed up to 4,630 MASL to Salkantay in about 2 hours 15, which were all proud of as the guides reckoned it would take us 3 hours. We even managed to beat those of us who took the horses up! It was a very taxing trek; mainly because some of the slopes and inclines were exceptionally severe. A couple of our team even suffered slight nosebleeds due to the altitude! Tough as it was though, as usual, the views were worth it.
After a short break, we then hiked onwards and downwards for another couple of hours to Almuerzo Huayracmachay, dropping down to 3800 MASL. The mountains were shrouded the entire time in mist and cloud, only momentarily parting allowing us a quick attempt at pictures of the snow-capped mountains. After the skies decided to piss down upon us, we finally arrived, cold and wet, for a much deserved lunch. Our departure was a lot more timely though as we left just as the rain stopped.
The mountains and rocks finally gave way to the jungles of Peru as we headed towards camp for the second night. You could literally feel the humidity increasing as our altitude dropped to 2850 MASL. The mud track was steep but this time in descent, although that does not make it easy. All our joints and knees were aching, shoulders stiff from backpacks, feet and toes raw from blisters. When we finally arrived at the Challway campsite we were ready for our much earned sleep. 25km covered in day 2 and every step fully earned.
Our third day, another 5am start, was not nearly as steep as the second but quite long. We hiked alongside the Salkatay River to our next destination, though it was a fairly flat hike. That didn't mean it wasn't a tough 6 hours and 19km to walk. We had to cross a fairly sizeable ford by placing the stones in the river ourselves and hopping across. It didn't work for everyone and a couple of people sadly had to continue with wet feet!
But we all kept on, spurred on by the treat at the end of the day. After having lunch and arriving at our next camp site (we camped inside an empty hostel building!) we were taken to natural hot springs for two hours of relaxation and fun. You cannot imagine quite how good it feels to jump into naturally hot water after three days or walking and climbing and aching and sleeping in the cold and hard and waking early and hurting and being tired. But whatever you can imagine, it feels better, let me tell you!
The evening rounded off with a bonfire at our campsite, where we roasted marshmallows and are smores. Where we drank Inca Tequilla and beer. Where we danced and rejoiced and...sang happy birthday to me.
Yes, I made the mistake of telling the hostel staff when we were buying drinks that I would be my 32nd birthday in three and a half hours. Well, we got four free shots of Inca Tequilla and I was quite happy about that. But moments later the Happy Birthday song was belted out over the speakers. And so under full pressure of my group and complete strangers in the campsite I was forced - forced - to dance against my will in celebration of my birthday. Thankfully I was fuelled by a little bit of alcohol...
That was a very good night!
Sadly the morning was another early start. We woke at 6am, but this time we weren't to start trekking immediately. After being surprised by our cooks having made me two cakes (and Aaron shoving my face into one as he grossly misinterpreted a Peruvian custom) we started the day off with by ziplining over the Peruvian jungle. 5 wires and 1 massive rope bridge in 2 hours. It was incredible fun, and what a way to spend my birthday, I have to admit. I loved it! We shot around those wires at speeds of 70-80kph! Unfortunately, one traveller from another group, who just happened to be standing in front of me, decided it would be great to ride the last wire completely naked. Don't feel bad for me, feel bad for the staff who had to help him in and out of his harness.
After the adrenalin rush of the ziplines, we started on our final leg of the trek to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. It wasn't a physically demanding trek, it was completely flat and followed the railway line, but it was difficult. We were tired and sore and hot. The trail just went on and on. Perhaps because we just wanted to be there and rest in our hostel? Who knows! But when we saw the edge of Machu Picchu on the cliff tops, I must admit it lit a little fire in me again.
The night in the town at the base of Machu Picchu was fair enough. It's a typical tourist town, in that everything is twice the price it should be. But it does what it needs to do!
In the morning, we began our ascent of Machu Picchu.
The mist was out in force and it cloaked the mountains and trees in a King Kong-style fantasy. When the sun began to shine through, it turned the mist into clouds of minuscule flecks of gold. And we went up...
Hard to describe Machu Picchu without turning into a bit of a fan-girl. I've mentioned before that MP was the factor in which I had built my travels around and possibly one of the first things on my bucket list. I had high expectations. Could it live up?
Yes it could.
When we arrived the Incan ruin was shrouded in the same cloud as the mountains during our ascent, turning the ancient buildings into an almost a longing mystery. As we waited on a bluff, catching glimpses of the city through gaps in the grey clouds, Sam (being born in June - a lucky birthday for the Incas) performed the act of waving the mist away. And strangely enough in a matter of minutes the mist dissipated.
Before us lay Machu Picchu in all her wondrous glory.
Just wow. Pictures will not do it justice but they will at least help remind my brain how great the views are. We had a tour around the ruins, then hiked up to the Sun Gate for more views of the ruins.
The size and scale, and especially the craftsmanship and effort involved in its construction, was staggering. That it was built in 50 years was incredible. We checked out the temples and gardens, the homes and factories - they all looked remarkably alike. But still the work involved, the creation of it, it can't be denied as anything short as a wonder.
It was a shame to leave. There is something humbling yet inspiring about it. Maybe I'll never return but I'll never forget either the trek or the ruins. It was what I'd hoped it would be and more.