This is the fourth part of my Salkantay Trek in Peru towards Machu Picchu. To read the third part, please click here. We are still in Soray Pampa and about to walk the second section towards the mighty Mount Salkantay. Today, we will reach the highest peak of the whole trek which is located about 4600 m (appr. 15000 ft) above the sea level. So read on folks and gather useful information in case you would like to do the same Machu Picchu hike.
Preparing for the second day
It’s 4:30 am and it’s time to get up. We are still on jetlag. That’s why we are already awake since 3 am and tossing and turning in our sleeping bags. But now we are getting up, doing the morning toilet and getting the breakfast served by the crew. It consists of hot chocolate, rolls, oversweetened marmalade like in the hotel (remember part 2 of the diary?), butter and a pancake served with caramel. Hot water for coca tea is obligatory, and I love it.
By the way, in Peru, the coca plant and its products are not considered drugs but foodstuff. You can buy coca leaves legally and there are even cookies with coca sold in the supermarkets. The reason for that is that the coca plant was always a faithful companion for the Inca people and helped them to survive in the inhospitable altitudes of the Andes.
After the breakfast, Ramiro asked us to put our luggage we got back from the crew in the evening, outside of the tent, so the crew could load it onto the horses again. After doing this, we gathered around Ramiro who retold us the schedule for today. Those who wanted to hike to the highest point, would start 20 minutes earlier. After that, the rest of the Pachacutec family would start on the backs of the horses.
Through Soray Pampa
So we said goodbye to Ramiro who left with the hikers and waited not far away from that place where the big tent was built up at the previous evening. After a couple of minutes, one of the horsemen came to us and asked us to start with a short “vamos amigos”. Yesterday evening we were six persons but today I see that there are seven of us. And I notice that the suspected horses in reality are mules.
I was about 11 years old when I sat on the back of a horse for the last time. And now I am trying during the first 20 minutes not to fall down from the saddle. Doing this, I tugged a couple of times clumsily at the bridle and thus, I made the mule to move pretty awkwardly to the left and to the right.
The other ones from our Pachacutec family didn’t have any real experiences with horses neither. Hence, we all moving on as a quite disorderly crowd, swaying and obstructing each other, and bringing the mules too close to each other so they started to bite each other. It must have been a quite pathetic scenery, and I am sure this was what the horseman must have been thought.
But about 20 minutes later we all got the hang of it and also brought the mules to walk in a line. Actually, the mules started to walk in a line automatically as soon as they felt that we didn’t act like stupid anymore. I was wondering, if they were trained to do this or if this was an instinct.
After about 40 minutes of a mule ride through Soray Pampa we came to a hillock, and after reaching its peak we got this splendid view. At the left and the right sides, huge yellow mountain slopes rose up into the sky, and in front of us there was a majestic massif with rock faces and a fantastic snow cap. This whole scene was rounded up by a shallow meandering river. We couldn’t help but to ask our horseman to stop for a couple of minutes to let this landscape mesmerize us and then take a couple of pictures.
The ascent begins
15 minutes later we continued our tour and soon we came to a point where the flat pampa ended and we saw the ascent point. The former fairly broad path we came from, became pretty narrow and the river was suddenly located much deeper as a couple of minutes ago. One after the other we began to drive the mules uphill along this path.
And then we saw those of our family Pachacutec who decided to hike up. About 50 meters (165 ft) above us, they strode the zigzag path steadily upwards. There we shall go with our mules? I was skeptical, and I felt a bit uneasy. The path was just broad enough for two persons to pass each other, and a lapse of a mule would break it into the depths together with the rider.
But there was no other way and we accepted the challenge (at least, I did). So we started to drive the mules, which were sweating and steaming in the cool morning air, farther upwards. My nervosity increased as I saw that the mules were tending to walk at the edge of the path which was closer to the abyss. But luckily, those 30 minutes succeeded without any incidents, and at the highest point of this section we caught up our hikers who were making a break from the exhausting hike.
But we didn’t join them but rode further and turned to the left (by following the narrow path). It seems that the path is leading us around the mountain. But this turns out as a false assumption, for soon the path became straight and in the next 20 minutes it lead us sometimes upwards, sometimes steep downhill. But we had the “worst” already behind us, and looking back I would do this ascent anytime again.
Eventually, we came to a tiny lake which was presumably made by the melting snow and looked like a giant pasture.
At this place, the horseman let the mules to have a break from the arduous ascent and soon we faced Ramiro with our hiking Pachacutecs again, approaching to us. Additionally, we saw some other groups walking by we didn’t know. Obviously, this plateau was a kind of junction where several different routes came together. Before we continued our ride, Ramiro said there were just about 20 minutes to the highest point. After that, we would leave the horseman and hike downwards for the rest of the day.
Soon we arrived at the highest point of the Salkantay Trek of 4600 m (appr. 15000 ft) and were facing the mighty Mount Salkantay in front of us, which has its peak at 6264 m (appr. 20550 ft) above the sea level. There were already about six another groups from other trekking tours. At this point we got off of the mules and waited another 10 minutes for the rest of our Pachacutec family, and used the time to enjoy the view and take some pics.
After we had been complete, Ramiro asked us to gather and gave three coca leaves to each of us. He began to tell us about Mount Salkantay and its meaning for the Inca people. “Our New Years Eve is not on the 31th December, he said. It’s on the 1st August. At this day everyone who can, comes to this place and to Mount Salkantay. Then, they are celebrating the New Year by eating together, showing reverence to the gods of nature and being at one with mother earth they call “Pacha Mama”.
Ramiro told us a lot of things about the religion of the Inca and their love for nature. But I would go too far by writing everything down, for this diary is about the Salkantay Trek and should rather give you an idea what you would expect by doing this Machu Picchu hike. That’s why I’d like to go jump to the end of Ramiro’s explanations and pass on with a short ceremony we did together, before we continued our hike.
Ramiro asked us to hold the coca leaves with both hands. Then we turned to the Mount Salkantay and said in chorus “Anyay, Salkantay”. After that we blew them in the direction of this mountain. “Anyay” comes from the Inca language called Quechua and means “thank you”. By doing this small ritual, we expressed our thanks to the Mount Salkantay for our journey and for arriving here without any harms. To complete the ceremony, Ramiro is asking us to pick a rock with that we can build a small tower. By doing this I know, that this short ceremony brought our family Pachacutec a bit more together and this is a great feeling.
Now we are ready to continue our trek. Ramiro is explaining that we have a march of 6 hours before us and that we will walk about three hours to the interim camp where we will get our lunch. The supposed good news is that we will walk almost the whole way downhill. But if you already did some hikes or trekkings, you will know that walking downhill is as arduous as walking uphill and sometimes even more exhausting.
We are starting to move and although we are walking downwards, the air is getting colder. The reason for that is that in the gorges around the Mount Salkantay the winds are pretty cold and they prevent the air from getting warm. But the snow we saw around Mount Salkantay starts to vanish, and soon we saw again the yellow slopes of the Andes. After 1 hour of walking, we noticed that the vegetation started to change. Here and there we began to see some shrubs in this unhospitable area.
In the fog
At a certain point we came to another valley and walked on a flat ground for about of 15 minutes. Then, within brief moments, we found ourselves in a cloud of a thick fog we already saw brewing from above. But we had the hope that the wind would blow it away. Unfortunately here was no clear way we could follow but some footprints scattered everywhere. And those are the only signs we can follow almost blindly.
Actually, it’s not a problem. The actual problem is that we don’t know if those traces will split up, and our family Pachacuted extended about an hour ago so we don’t see anybody we can ask. Ramiro is walking about 20 minutes before us, and we are walking in the middle of the trail. But luckily, after another 10 minutes of walking we saw an outline of a person in front of us waiting for something. It turned out that it was Ramiro. He was waiting to show us the direction and remained in the fog to wait for the others.
About another 20 minutes of hiking in the dense mist, we suddenly saw a brand-new building popping out from the fog which wasn’t accomplished yet, but which seemed to become a hotel or a hostel. Not far away from it we saw two longish shelters with benches. It was our interim camp.
After the lunch we gathered for the last part of our hike for today. It was still cold and very misty which made us feel uncomfortable.But Ramiro said that this unpleasant weather would last just for another 30 minutes and then it would become warm because we would enter the border of the highland primeval forest.
So we continued our hike, and the path lead us downhill all the time. As Ramiro had promised, it became warm pretty soon. The vegetation also changed and we saw more and more trees which went over into a forest. After three hours since we had the lunch, we eventually arrived our night camp in a tiny village called Chaullay. It was surrounded by mountain slopes of the Andes which weren’t yellow anymore but had a deep green color. The place we would stay over was a bigger farm with a meadow, spacey enough for all our tents and the tents of other groups from different trekking tours.
The “evening program” was the same we had at the camp in Soray Pampa: a lovely evening meal then having fun by playing cards (a game called “chancho va”) and chatting. But as me and my partner were quite exhausted, we went pretty early into bed. In total, this day was full of new great impressions and experiences I wouldn’t forget that soon. There are just to more days and then we will arrive at Machu Picchu.
To be continued…
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