This is the third part of my diary series when I was trekking in Peru the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. Click here to jump to the first part of the diary, folks. This part it about the first trekking day. If you are interested in walking this Trek, you should continue to read. For you could gain a lot of useful information for your own trip to Peru. We will begin with the moment when we got picked up in Cusco.
In the hotel…
The clock rang at 3 a.m. but thanks to the jet lag we still had, we had no problems to get up such early. After giving us a short time for preparing ourselves, we took all our luggage and went down to the reception desk. There we saw a half-asleep employee of the hotel who obviously slept the night on the couch in the lobby.
Also, there was a man about 40 years old, sitting on the lobby couch and waiting for something. First we thought it was another tourist. But a couple of minutes later we saw a young Asian girl walking down the stairs and this man asked her for her name. It became apparent that it was someone who was picking the young lady up for a different adventure. I heard him saying something about Machu Picchu and the train. Obviously, this young lady wouldn’t trek but just go by train to Machu Picchu.
While we are sitting on another couch, we see through the window a younger man walking by and entering the hotel lobby. He is about 1,60 m tall and looks like a teenager. I would give him about 19 years old. His facial features have something native Peruvian but there are also some European features in it.
He looked around and then asked for my name. As I called him my name, he said that he is here on behalf of our travel agency to pick us up for the Salkantay Trek. What the heck… I thought the young lady from the agency would pick us up. At least, she told us she would do it. But there is no time for questions because he seems to be in hurry.
As we stood up, I hear him saying that we have too much luggage and that the horses can carry only 5 kg (11 lb) per person. Again, what the hell? It’s a completely different information we got from the agency. In total, we have two trekking backpacks to carry our staff during the trek and a huge rucksack with the rest of all our stuff in it. In total about 50 kg (110 lb). I’m getting nervous: What to do now? Asking the dozy employee if we can leave our stuff in the hotel during our hike? Yes, I could, but I didn’t have this idea during this moment because I was too confused and also upset. Later, when we got back from the trek, we found out, that there were no storage rooms in the hotel anyway… That’s why you should look for a hotel which offers to storage you luggage, when you plan a Machu Picchu hike, folks.
So the best answer I have in this stressy moment is to say that we would carry all our stuff on our own. I have no clue how to manage this but I don’t hope for a quick solution at this moment, and hope to solve the issue during our drive to the starting point of our Salkantay Trek which will be a town or village called Mollepata.
Gathering in Cusco
As this dude heard my statement he seemed to be satisfied with that and asked us to follow him. Outside, he made a short phone call and said that the meeting point is a couple of hundreds of meters away, and that we need to walk about 5 minutes. After about 50 m (165 ft) walking, we saw three persons waiting in a front of a hostel. Our guide started to speak to them and it turned out that they are belonged to our trekking group. Okay, now I got it. The guy was picking people on the way to the meeting point and he started with us. To our surprise we saw that those three guys had just small trekking rucksacks but no other luggage… “I need to talk to them later”, was my thought.
After next 5 minutes of a taciturn march through the dark alleys of Cusco lined with orange street lamps, we reached a brighter place with parking lots. There were already two minibusses and a roomy Jeep. Our guy asked us to wait for another 5 minutes and vanished in one of the dark alleys making another phone call during the walk. A couple of minutes later he came back with another two persons. As he got close to us, he said to all of us we shall leave the luggage close to the minibus and enter the vehicle. In the bus, he asked us to place all our small rucksacks on the front seats. Luckily, this was the moment of my relief. For I saw that there were another 5 huge rucksacks like ours already lying close to the minibus.
While we are waiting inside of the bus, I’m watching the guy who picked us up at the hotel. He is still hurrying from one alley to another and permanently making phone calls. Little by little, single persons and small groups appearing and heading to our bus. Meanwhile, there must be about 20 persons, us included. That’s awkward, the young lady at the travel agency told us, our group wouldn’t exceed 12 persons.
While I’m watching this scenery, I noticed how the other local guys started to put our luggage onto the roof of the minibusses. After they had been, they took our small rucksacks too and started to put them onto the top of the bigger luggage already lying on the roof of the minibus. Crap… our money and my camera were in the small backpacks, and I didn’t realize they would put them on the roof too. But my worries were unfounded. For I saw the guys putting a bigger net on the top of the whole luggage and fixing it with strong cords. Finally, the driver started the engine and now we are heading to Mollepata. The young lady from the travel agency already told us we would start with the Salkantay Trek not directly from Cusco but we will have a ride for about 2 hours.
The jeep and the minibusses are rolling now through the partly empty streets of Cusco, and I am watching curiously the surrounding area. The centre of Cusco is located in a valley surrounded by several mountains on which the buildings are sitting like bunches of grapes. Dirty and in many places unfinished, without roofs and clotheslines on the balconies, with talismans on the roof ridges and unplastered fronts, this place is so different to what I am familiar to. And I am sure I am not the only one with this impression. But hey, that’s what makes the traveling so exciting.
In a brief moment I’m getting clear why the buildings look dirty. The clay bricks obviously are made from the red soil you find everywhere in the vicinity. And this red soil makes those buildings look dirty.
In total, we had a 2 hour ride and finally we arriving the starting point in a village called Mollepata. When we got out from the cars, the guy who picked us up, lead us all into a “restaurant”. Actually, it was a normal house with a separate room with some tables and chairs in it. Here we should get our breakfast.
We had hardly made our orders and took the first sips on our coca tea, as our guy from Cusco entered the room with another gentleman who looked like a real Peruvian Inca. Both started to call out the names and as they were ready, they introduced themselves. It turned out that the guy’s name who picked us up in Cusco was Eduardo and the other guy’s name was Ramiro**. Both of them would be our guides during the whole Salkantay Trek. As Ramiro called my name, he would be my tour guide for the next 5 days. The said, we would start in 10 minutes. But our breakfast wasn’t ready yet! As it came, we had about 4 min to gobble down our scrambled eggs.
After this, we started to check our luggage. Ramiro asked us all to weigh our backpacks, for you could let the horses the mules carry 5 kg (11 lb) for free. Fortunately it turned out that there were enough horses to carry all of our luggage. It would cost us about 90,- Peruvian Soles but who cares. I was lucky that my problem from today morning could be solved such easily. But why the heck was Eduardo telling us we cannot take the luggage with us? Maybe he didn’t want by unpolite saying that we need to pay extra.
The last sip of coca tea and we are leaving the “restaurant”. Ramiro is asking us to head toward the parking lots. The cars already left and there is plenty of space now, where we are gathering, and Ramiro starts to speak.
He is introducing himself again and asking us now to introduce ourselves to the group. In total, we are indeed 12 persons because the other group will follow Eduardo. Our group is very international. There are two girls from Argentina, some people from Brasil, Chile, two another persons from Germany and another two persons from Israel. There was also one guy from Peru who lived in Lima.
After doing this, Ramiro started to give us some explanations about the first day on our Salkantay Trek, like the break times, the length of the hiking section of the first day and so on. Our final destination would be a place called Soray Pampa. We are now at 2900 m (9500 ft) in Mollepata and our night camp at Soray Pampa would be at the altitude of 3700 m (12139 ft) above the sea level.
Our new family Pachacutec
Finally, he explained that in the next following days we shall not consider ourselves a group but a family. Because a family is something special and completely different to a normal group. “It would strengthen the team spirit you will need during the next days”, said him. But as every family has a name, our new family also needed a name. He asked us which name we would like to choose, and as he saw that nobody had an idea, he made a suggestion. Our name will be “Pachacutec, okay folks?” asked Ramiro. Back home, I did some research and found out that Pachacutec was the ninth ruler of Peru and allegedly, the founder of Machu Picchu. After that, my new family Pachacutec and I began with the Salkantay Trek. It was about 8:30 a.m.
Towards Soray Pampa
We were walking about 5 minutes through Mollepata. As we reached the last house, we stopped and Ramiro started to explain a bit about the local vegetation, like cactus and a plant I’ve seen a lot of times on TV and in books. I believed to remember that the same plant is growing in the southern states of the USA like in Lousiana.
“The cactuses fulfill three important functions in the life of the people here”, said Ramiro. Firstly, they are natural barbed wire fences. The second benefit of these cactuses was the white coating on their leaves which looked like a fungal attack. But obvously, it was something different. Ramiro touched one of those leaves covered with the coating and just in this moment the white turned into a crimson red which looked like fresh blood. This suspected fungal attack was a kind of a “plant louse” and the red color was their blood the locals using as a colouring for textiles. Back home, I found out that the name of this plant louse is “Cochineal” and that their blood was used to give the typical color to Campari, up to the year 2006. The third benefit of the cactuses were the cactus figs delivering nutrition for the people.
After this short botanical excursus, we started to walk without any further interruptions. The road led us further and farther upwards and thus, our family Pachacutec stretched a bit, for not all of us could hold the same pace. First we walked about 1,5 hours along narrow and steep paths in the middle of nowhere. From time to time it was pretty tough to keep the walking speed but fortunately, there were some flat sections from time to time.
After a while, we came to a dusty gravel road and walked along it. There were trucks passing us from time to time, loaded with both goods and people. Ramiro called them jocularly peruvian taxis.
The morning sun raised steadily higher and the air got pretty warm. It was about 11 a.m. when we left the gravel road and reached a kind of a mountain meadow. We stopped there.
It was just a short break for a breather, and after a couple of minutes we continued the hike for the next 2 hours. The way led us, apart from some flat sections, steadily uphill.
The higher we walked the more exhausting it became in the thinner air. Some of us were able to bear those exertions. Later I found out that they were students already spent at least 4 weeks in the Andes. But the rest of the group was already pretty exhausted. Especially this one young lady from Argentina suffered a lot. At a certain point, she started to fall back, and it was hard for her to move forward. That was the moment I felt that to belong to the family Pachacutec made sense, for us all started looking for her so she couldn’t get lost.
At a certain point Ramiro said there were just another 45 minutes to the first break camp where we will get the lunch. All of us were looking forward for that break. I felt fairly all right, apart from this slight pain and pressure in the temples. But during this last 45 minutes before the break, I noticed that there was something wrong with my stomac, and the after a while I clearly felt the nausea which starts slightly to intensify. I told it to my partner, and she said it came from the overexertion and the altitude.
After another 20 minutes we finally reached the camp. It consisted of a bigger hut where our crew already was cooking the lunch. As we started in Mollepata, they walked ahead with their horses. Thus, they were earlier here and had time to prepare the lunch. Besides the cabin, there was a small kiosk and three or four tables with benches under a kind of a pavilion.
It’s time to eat. The “first course” consists of a soup. But in the meantime, my nausea is such unbearable that I’m not able to eat anything. Every single thought of food is increasing the queasiness. And thus it happened that I am sitting here slumped at the table with a pale face, looking to the ground and trying not to puke. I wish I could stand up, but there is no way I can do this. What the hell… I hope, this is not the altitude sickness… Fortunately, my partner noticed about my condition and gave me promptly a pill against nausea. After another 30 minutes I began to feel all right again. “That’s how it feels to get sick in the mountains”, I thought. Nevertheless, I didn’t touch the lunch because I was worried that nausea would return.
In total, our break lasted about 1 hour. After lunch, most of us laid down just on the earth to rest and used the backpacks as pillows. While we were lying on the ground, the crew packed the equipment and started to move on towards the night camp.
Ramiro used this time to tell us that there were another 3 hours to the night camp at Soray Pampa, and that this last section would be easy to walk because the rest of the way would remain flat.
A bit rested, we took our rucksacks and started to continue our hike. But although the way was indeed flat, after 15 minutes, our family Pachacuted started to stretch again which was not surprising. After the previous exertions, it was pretty difficult to hike in such altitudes even on a flat way. About 1 hour before we reached Soray Pampa we noticed that the weather became windy, more cold, and it started to drizzle.
Ramiro, who still seemed to be fresh as at morning, stopped from time to time to watch for the laggards. Finally, we reached the night camp and with this the altitude about 3700 m above the sea level. We saw a big tent there the crew already set up. There was also a small kiosk like at the lunch camp and a tiny toilet made of concrete.
In the big tent, there were several small igloo tents, for every person or couple. By this strategy, we were protected by the cold night winds in the Andes. Soon after our arrival, the dinner was served. It consisted of a murky vegetable soup with lot of cilantro and it tasted excellent. After that we got chicken with sauce and rice.
After the meal, we got some coffee and tea. During this, Ramiro explained us the plans for the next day. It would be the most exhausting day on the Salkantay Trek. “The next day will be the one we wouldn’t forget soon”, he told us with a broad smile. We would hike about 18 km (about 11 miles) which would take approximately 9 hours, according to the plan. Doing this, we would reach the highest altitude of our trek at noon which will be about 4600 m (15100 ft) over the sea level.
Although exhausted from this day, I was confident to deal with that but I wasn’t sure about my partner. Luckily, it was possible to rent a horse which would carry us to the peak of 4600 m. Therefore, I decided to rent two horses for both of us because I didn’t want to leave my partner alone. And I saw that I was not the only one. In total 6 persons of our family Pachacutec decided to take a horse instead of hiking.
It was about 9 pm, and we played about 1 hour cards before we all went to bed. Too arduous was the first day and we all were done. Thus, we crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep immediately.
To be continued…
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**Those are not the real names. I changed them to protect the privacy of those guys.