There are a lot things we are excited about over the next year. Having a year to travel gives you a lot of dreams to fill. But first is first, and high on our list is Machu Picchu. We realize a lot of tourists travel to these famous ruins, but they are among everyone’s “must see” lists of travel.
With time on our hands, we earned our visit to one of the most densely touristed ruins in South America with a formidable hike through the Salkantay Pass. The trek covers 60km over 4 days, nightly camping and a 5th day spent at Machu Picchu.
The real fun of this hike is that the elevation reaches 4,650 meters or over 15,000 feet. The first day we climb 900 meters (2,950 feet), the second day another 800 meters up (2,600 feet) and 1,500 meters down (4,900 feet), the third is relatively flat but through mud (some seasonal rain and humid cloud forest). The last day crosses a mountain top on an ancient Inca path steeper than any other hike, roughly a 1,000 meters up and the same down.
We booked with Llama Path who organized our 6 person trek along with 6 porters, horses and a guide. What we did not realize until we were hiking was why we would pay someone for this punishment. It was impossible to know what we had gotten ourselves into on the first day.
Perú has amazingly diverse terrain and climates from dry grassy fields, to glaciers above the tree line, down into a nearly perpetual cloud forest (more meadow than forest).
Even an actual tropical jungle with waterfalls and creeping vines. Add to that the ability to see the Milky Way at nearly 15,000 feet with shocking clarity and you feel that where ever you look, nature has another wonder.
We stayed in a meadow on the first night with an icy wind whipping off the Salkantay Glacier and down through our pass. It kept knocking over our baño tent whether we were in it or not. The temperatures dropped to zero and we huddled in the cook’s tent over our meal and later, in our little private tents for warmth (the thoughtful porters gave us hot water bottles to help).
The second night we camped on a farm between two rushing rivers, surrounded by roosters eager to wake us in the morning.
Each lunch and dinner was at a new site, whether a village or a native plain, where the porters set camp. Each morning, we were given steaming bowls of water to wash with, and tea to warm us. It was amazing how we hiked so hard and yet the porters always raced ahead with the horses to have everything set for us.
Llama Path also provides food not commonly found on any camping trip we’d heard of. Meals ranged from trout with a sauteed onion salsa to beautifully plated avocado salads.
The little kitchen crew and chef mixed traditional Peruvian foods such as Causa (a pureed potato cake stuffed with tuna and avocado salad) and quinoa (a buckwheat-like grain) with camping favorites like popcorn, oatmeal and roasted chicken. The presentation and variety of food that can be carried on a horse and prepared in a tent was a welcome surprise at the end of each long hike.
Machu Picchu is more impressive then any picture we had seen of it beforehand, and any ruins we had visited on our trip so far. It is amazing to imagine that this sprawling site had lain hidden until early this century. However, there is an old saying about how the journey is sometimes greater than the destination.
To stand at the top of the ruins of Machu Picchu is a milestone in our lives, but after days of trekking through the Andes and even hiking to the top of Huayna Picchu, we felt our experience in these mountains had been even bigger. Man had built something inspiring and epic in Mother Nature but the planet had built something even grander. Machu Picchu was the icing on the cake of the Andes but without the Andes, there was no cake.
We have many more pictures from the trek to share here.
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