Peru was our first giant step outside the comfort zone. Had never been to South America, didn’t know the customs, the currency and barely the language. Had never been near this altitude. Plus we went alone. Permits for the Inca Trail Trek are only issued to licensed agencies, but we found a travel agent (Andina Travel) that was willing to take a group as small as 2 people.
We flew to Lima and changed planes for Cusco. Made it to the hotel and despite our training and diamox, we had to stop half way up the first set of stairs to catch our breath. We had just flown from sea level to over 11,000 feet and we looked at each other wondering if we had gone too far outside our zone.
The next three days were for acclimatizing. On Monday we took a cab to the top of the hill and followed the trail back to town, stopping at several ruins along the way: Tambo Machay, Pucapucara, Qenko and Sacsayhuaman. No one knows how they cut the rocks so precisely or moved them. They are only ruins now as the spaniards have carted off any stones they could carry to build their houses and stores.
It was Tuesday morning and we still hadn’t been able to contact our travel agent. Finally we walked over to their office and it was locked up. Mild panic set in. We began stopping at other travel agents to see what could be arranged on short notice. Eventually around noon we found their office open and confirmed all our plans. Relaxed again, we checked out the museum of Contemporary Art in the afternoon.
Wednesday involved a bus trip to the Sacred Valley. It was our only group activity. They took us to a silver shop and the ruins of Ollantaytambo, Temple of the Sun. The terraces are to support the temple, not for farming.
The Trek – Salkantay Trail
- Trek Length – 37 miles
- Duration – 6 days
Thursday was the beginning of the trek. We met our guide, Paul, picked up provisions and drove several hours to Mollepata and the first weird synchronicity of this trip. A couple approached us and asked if they could ride with us to the trailhead at Soray Pampa. They spoke good english so we asked: “Where are you from?” “A little state in the US, you probably never heard of.” “What its name? “Connecticut.” Interesting, we’re from CT, too.” So we drove Miles and Sara to Soraypampa, they headed northwest on the Santa Teresa trek and we headed northeast on the Salkantay Trek. The first night we camped in shadow of Mt Salkantay 20,486 feet and it began to snow.
Friday we had views of the Andean Plateau and crossed the highest pass on the trip, Inca Chiriasca at 15,090 feet the highest we had been so far in our lives. Along the way it began to get windy and suddenly our guide was directing us to a hut where two old men sat selling hats. He greeted them and we sat down to rest out of the wind. We debated whether we should buy something, then suddenly Paul got up and we were off. As we hiked away it struck me as odd that there should be such a place in the middle of nowhere and when I turned around to take a picture of it, it was not there.
Further along we were hiking along one side of a valley several hundred feet deep. Suddenly Paul spotted some people on the other side of the valley. He whistled at them and they waved. All of a sudden a man was walking towards us from the valley side of the trail. There was no way he could have crossed from the other side in such a short time. I began to feel like Carlos Castaneda, questioning what was real and what was not.
Saturday was a short day, we arrived at camp at 11:00 and explored and did yoga in this ruin at Paucaracancha.
Sunday – we arrived at Huayllabamba where the Inca and Salkantay trails merge. Pack animals are not allowed on the Inca Trail, so the horses left and the porters arrived. It was here, while waiting for the porters that we first talked to Val and her mother Pat. They were from Chile and were trekking alone, like us. We had lunch at Llulluchapampa; arrived at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass (14,250 feet) at 2:35 and offered our guide a shot of Drambuie. Arrived at Pacamayo campsite at 4:15.
Monday we left Pacamayo and headed for Phuyu Pata Marca, the last (and most crowded) campsite before Machu Picchu. Many incredible ruins along the way including Runcu Raccay, Sayac Marca and Concha Marca. And we kept seeing Val and Pat, leapfrogging them through out the rest of the trek. At Phuyu Pata Marca the crowdedness of the Inca Trail became evident as there was barely room to pitch a tent. The bathrooms as well were quite over used.
Tuesday the guides woke us up at 5:30 for sunrise pictures and then struck off for Machu Picchu. Passing through Intipata and Winaywayna our guide taught us how to sneak up on llamas without getting spit at. We arrived at the Sun Gate (Intipunku) at 2:15 for our first view of Machu Picchu. After celebratory pictures, we hiked down to Machu Picchu and got a bus down the most incredible switchbacked road to Aguas Calientes. Explored the town, had dinner at India Feliz – excellent and very crowded.
Wednesday Paul took us back up to Machu Picchu on the bus and gave us an extensive tour. He left around 11:00 and we climbed Huayna Picchu. Got the bus back to to Aguas Calientes, got our bags and headed for the train station where we again bumped into Val and Pat. They were taking the same 3 hour train ride along the Urubamba River back to Poroy. We talked briefly in the terminal and said goodbye, knowing we would probably never see them again.
Thursday was drizzly and wet, we hung out and ate guinea pigs for dinner. Friday we showed up at the Cusco Airport for the flight to Lima and once again bumped into Val and Pat. We took a picture of them in front of the LAN terminal and said goodbye again. Janet and I were assigned different rows in the plane for some forgotten reason. When we boarded Janet proceeded to her seat and found that Val and Pat were sitting next to her. The synchronicity continued even after we left Peru. We haven’t seen them since, but still keep in contact and found out recently that we were in Ecuador at the same time last year. Lima was congested and dirty. The Concierge wouldn’t let Janet stand outside the hotel entrance while I went a block away to the ATM. Went to Miraflores, had ceviche for lunch at Punta Sals then to a pre-Incan ruin and then back to hotel.