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zest&bare Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine. Ralph Waldo Emerson

trekking tales

PERU | Sunday, 6 September 2009 | Views [831] | Comments [3]

After a seemingly epic five day trek from Mollepata via Salkantay Pass to Machu Picchu I'm back to tell the tale.

Friday night before the trek we decided against the original plan to eat cuy (guinea pig) for dinner. Erin, my house-mate and soon-to-be patient, nurse, human blanket and companion, was already unwell so it seemed wiser to avoid something so weird the day before toilets became scarce. Instead we got into immaculate trekking shape with brownies and ice-cream. I'm sure Sir Edmund Hillary prepared for Everest on such a diet.

Day One started worryingly with our agency not being able to find us. Once found, we boarded a random bus in the 5.30am darkness marked 'Sacred Valley' (not where we were going) and our bags disappeared to the top of the bus – concerning when driving up a mountain. Regardless, off we went. The views as the sun came up were picture perfect - farmers, kids playing football, and oddly eucalyptus trees, jacarandas, pine trees, ferns and cactuses. The views were topped only by the awesome 80s mixed tape playing in the bus (yes, 'The Land Down Under' featured!). The first day was long and hot however I was happy, enjoying the views and the familiar smells of the Australian bush (who knew gums were so common in Peru? I have since been told the eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia, so there you go!). The view got better as we got to our first stop and spotted the snow capped Mt Umantay.

This view however was barely enough to get us through the loooong last two hours of the day where, feet dragging, we got waylaid and started walking up an actual stream to find our campsite. After some confusion and wet shoes, we were back on track and camped at the foot of Umantay and in view of Salkantay under the most amazing, starry sky. At minus four degrees (C) in a tent with my grossly un-warm supplies and my arse partially frozen to the three centimetre thick mattress, it was possibly one of the longest nights of my life.

Day Two started with the dread of hypothermia. After an hour of hiking (and escalating dread) the feel of my sock fabric as my toes finally melted to life, felt like a small miracle. The second hour, tackling the 'Seven Snakes' was in a nutshell, hell. Wearing a billion layers of clothes and barely being able to breathe or lift my feet I escaped into my little brain telling myself that if I don't get myself up the mountain, the other trekkers will just step over me. Not to mislead you though, as you possibly have a vision of me attached with cramp-ons to the side of a glacier, remember this was just a really steep incline.

I found a horseshoe somewhere along the way and picked it up - hoping for any helping hand. Hmmm… well, I’m sure you have your own thoughts on superstition! Anyway, I finally made it to the highest point - Abra Salkantay at 4600mtrs. It was spectacular and serene and well worth the effort. And that was the worst of it over... or so we thought!

Day Three started at a tropical 2900mtrs. The white cargos I was wearing were a stupid choice with almost the entire trail being a dirt track with the occasional stream thrown in for fun. Lunch was particularly delicious and we were all pretty content as we made it to our third camp from where we visited beautiful thermal baths made even better by the fact no one had showered for four days (your vision of dirt covered, smelly trekkers is spot on). Back at camp our satisfaction quickly shrunk away as one by one we all got violently ill. So much for the particularly delicious lunch. I was the first soldier down. Food poisoning whilst camping, without going into too much detail, causes quite some panic! Six out of our group of ten become sick and this continued into the fourth day where we were unable to walk the last 15kms of the trek (we had already done 65kms mind you!).

Day Four was a write off for our camp of zombies (you know, that 45 degree angle you shuffle along at when so so weak?) and Wilson (not the volleyball from Castaway, but the Peruvian smoking, drinking, partying mountain goat guide of ours) organised alternative transport to get us to the hostel at Aguas Calientes. We thanked God for the solid walls, bed, and of course the bathroom.

Day Five started much healthier for me (no one else unfortunately) and we were at Machu Picchu when the gates opened. Wilson told us we wouldn’t be able to climb Waynapicchu (the pointy mountain you see in all the ‘postcard’ pictures of Machu Picchu) as the allowed daily quota had been filled. So I was confused then excited when I actually became number 381 of the 400 person quota. Not sure what Wilson was on about.

At 6am Machu Picchu was almost completely wrapped in mystical-feeling low cloud.  Then as the sun rose higher and the clouds lifted, and as our tour guide explained the mostly-guessed history and methods of the Incas, bits and pieces of the complex were revealed and it all became quite baffling. After our tour we climbed the vertical Waynupicchu for a birds-eye view of Machu Picchu. The small, ladder-like rock stairs terrified some climbers with more than one poor soul petrified stiff on the way down.

After the climb I was wandering around on my own and in my awe of the place and amid taking my gazillion photos I found a rock and fell gracefully, like a ton of bricks. Of course I sprained my foot. I continued though to hobble around for a bit and tried to suck it up until we got to the bus and train back to Cusco (in reality I wanted to cry). At least it was at the end of the tour… so maybe there is something in that horseshoe business after all?

Now ‘home’ in Cusco I look back on the adventure and remember a long and at times challenging five days but I am so fortunate to have visited Machu Picchu, one of the most intriguing places I’ve ever been, and to have enjoyed some of Peru’s beautiful scenery. And whilst I’m not entirely convinced about the crazy-man's idea that Salkantay is my angel mountain (see last story)… who knows? Maybe things could have been much worse…

Until the next adventure… Here’s to life.

Tags: food poisoning, machu picchu, salkantay, trekking




Mum and I sat and read this together and both just went, "woah...amazing!!!!"
And I thought my 3km walk was something to be proud of today ;)
Thinking of you and loving your entries yff xx

  Amy Baker Sep 9, 2009 7:45 PM


Wow, Dan, I am sooo proud of you, what an adventure and getting food poisoning - i know this wouldnt have been the highlight! Love reading your updates.
Love you
Love Em xxx

  Emma Dixon Sep 11, 2009 8:40 AM


Hi once again Dani. U seem to be having an exciting adventure full time. I don't think I could have done the river crossing at all not even in daylight. Pulling myself across an expanse of flowing water na - I don't think so. Good on u girl. Take care of urself. and be careful. Jennifer

  Jennifer Oct 1, 2009 5:25 AM



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