Bill and I knew that our year in South America would have to include the hike to Machu Picchu. Earlier in the year we had asked my best friend Kathy and her fiancé Pat as well our friends Robbie (Bill’s friend since high school) and Annette if they’d like to do the hike with us. They had expressed an interest in visiting us in South America and we thought Machu Picchu would be an awesome trip to do together.
Kathy, Pat, Bill, and I arrived in Cusco from Santiago on the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving. Annette and Robbie had arrived earlier that morning from Chicago. We all took it easy as our bodies were acclimating to the altitude (11,200 ft.). Robbie was starting to feel sick in the afternoon and continued to feel worse in the evening. We spent 3 days in Cusco before our Machu Picchu hike began early Wednesday morning. We mainly rested, shopped, explored the churches and side streets, and ate delicious Peruvian food. We experienced the best of the best food and atmosphere on Monday night at the restaurant Inkazuela. We were the only patrons and we were greeted by our enthusiastic, young Peruvian waiter, Francisco. Every dish was a different variety of Peruvian cazuela which is like a stew. Everyone loved their dish and we talked about coming back on Saturday night when we return to Cusco (without realizing how completely exhausted we would be).
On Tuesday when Robbie was feeling better and we were all pretty well acclimated, we went on a tour outlined in Robbie’s travel book.
It took us to a large market where they were selling everything from fresh fruit juice to guinea pigs (alive or grilled – both types with teeth).
The main part of the tour/hike was up to Sacsayhuamán - pronounced like “sexy woman.” This was the former capital of the Inca Empire (which we didn’t learn until later on).
After our hot and tiring tour, we had to go to the BioAndean office to meet our guides and get prepped for the hike. We met our guide Carlos and he described the general outline of our 4 day/3 night Salkantay hike.
On Wednesday morning we were picked up at 5:15 am and taken on a 3 hour car ride up to Mollepata. Along the way we picked up our chef, introduced to us with the name “Amazing.” We met our other guide, Jimmy John (yes, that is his real name and he had not heard of the U.S. sandwich shop of the same name). The other trekkers in our group included a young, newly engaged British couple, Penny and George, and a French couple, Alex and Mary (Mary is the mutually agreed upon name – she was really nice but we all had trouble understanding her).
Our first adventure was when our van came across a group of men digging a ditch in the middle of the road. It was about 4 feet deep, 3 feet across, and spanned the width of the road. The terrifying solution was to put down two narrow planks of wood across the ditch for the van (full of people and supplies) to drive over. After a few failed approaches, the driver went for it and we managed to get across the ditch on the wood planks. We came across a similar ditch farther down the road and crossed that without a problem – piece of cake.
We started our hike just outside of Mollepata. It started out pretty easy, walking along a dusty road. There were a few challenging parts where Carlos and Jimmy John opted to take us through a shortcut. After a few hours of hiking, we stopped off in a clearing where our cook and assistant cook were preparing us a hot lunch. The spread was pretty impressive including fish, vegetables, rice, and salad all laid out buffet style. We drank a sweet purple drink called chicha morada, which is made from purple corn (distinctly different from Chilean chicha). There was a water pump in the clearing, so we filled up our water bottles and tried out Robbie’s SteriPen for the first time.
After lunch we hiked another 4-5 hours to the highest (11,750 ft) and coldest campsite of our trip at Soraypampa. The trails were pretty clear (not too many loose rocks), but it was sometimes difficult to catch your breath due to the altitude and uphill stretches. As we got close to the campsite, the 6 of us had caught up to one another. We all heard a loud whinnying sound off in the distance. We all looked to see where it came from and saw a white unicorn!
When we arrived at the campsite, our tents had already been set up in a large shed which would help give us more protection from the wind. We grabbed some warmer clothes from our bags and rested for a bit. Then we gathered next door in a smaller shed to warm up with hot chocolate and snack on popcorn. We had an even larger spread for dinner than we had for lunch. The guides Jimmy John and Carlos had us go around and tell everyone what their goal of the trek was. Our group mainly wanted to have a good time with friends, see some amazing scenery, and not get sick (too bad the latter goal wasn’t met by all of us).
The next morning we got up early (5:30 am) for our longest day of hiking. In the morning we hiked about 5 hours straight uphill to reach the Salkantay pass which was the highest point of our hike (15,200 ft.). This was by far the most difficult day.
The second part of the day was downhill, but mostly on rocky trails meant to turn your ankles. By the end of the hike for that day, it got dark and started raining (good thing we brought our headlamps!).
Day 3 was much flatter and more scenic. We hiked through a jungle area where we saw all different types of plants and a waterfall. We then took a van to the train station and took the train to Aguas Calientes.
We all decided to go to the hot springs, looking forward to soak in the natural hot water.
To our surprise, the hot springs looked very much like a public swimming pool and felt luke warm, needless to say, we were not impressed.
On Saturday morning, we woke up at 4 am for the 2 hour hike up to Machu Picchu. We felt fresh from our night in a hotel with a hot shower and excited to finally reach our destination. The hike that morning entailed a long set of uneven steps. At the top, we reached the checkpoint where they checked our papers and let us into Machu Picchu.
The view was inspiring.
Carlos took us around for a few hours explaining the history of this ancient Inca empire. After the tour, we said goodbye to Carlos and went on to the 45 minute hike up Huayna Picchu.
This was the hardest part of the trip for me. My legs were sore and wobbly and the steps were massive. I made it to the top and was greeted by another amazing view.
We took the scary trek back down Huayna Picchu and then took the bus back to Aguas Calientes. From there we took the train to a bus that took us back to Cusco at around midnight. We were exhausted. We woke up early for our morning flights. We said goodbye to Kathy and Pat and Peru as we headed back to Chile.