Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain. 

Day three of the Salkantay trek and with a slight hangover from the celebrations of the night before 7 am was an early start.

As with every evening Saul our guide would talk us through what we could expect from the next day. Day three was Saul’s favourite – walking through the jungle along the river, stopping at some fruit farms to try fruit and avocados.

Sadly after the consistent downpour over night we were told that the river path would be too dangerous to attempt due to avalanches. So we would have to take the road instead. Boring 

Our moods dampened by the news of our less than impressive route and the rain, we walked along much slower than previous days. As we turned the corner and see the avalanche over the other side which had wiped the path, we were all great full for our guide and his sense of safety. 

To access the fruit farm on the other side we had to climb down the side of the valley to a bridge made of what looked like straw and bamboo. I’m yet to cross a bridge in South America and be convinced its completely safe. This was no different. 

So one by one we gingerly walk across and up the other side to the farm, where we try the local grown produce of passion fruit and meet a playful puppy that had a knack for undoing shoe laces. 

After thirty minutes we were ready to continue our 16km walk to lunch. This time we carried on the same side and followed the path deeper into the jungle, thankful for the drizzle and the clouds that kept the suns heat at bay. 

The path meandered along the rivers edge, and at times dived deeper into the jungle, crossing waterfalls and rocks that glistened like gold and silver. Apparently a chemical reaction with the rock and water. 

Dotted along the route are little wooden shacks and places to rest where you can eat gigantic avocados in bread and drink fresh coffee for 5sol/ £1:50.

After five hours and 16 km of walking, we made it to the rondeavouz with our minibus to take us to lunch. Thats if this junk of metal would actually make it there. It had more holes and patch up jobs, than Trumps first year in office. But just like so many Americans we had to put our faith in this old rust bucket and it’s driver. 

Thankfully it got us to lunch and to our campsite for the evening in Santa Teresa. The best bit about the afternoon on day three, is spending a few hours in the thermal springs and a shower for the first time in three days. 

The Termales de Cocalmayo are positioned right next to the river Urubamba and consists of 4 large pools, the largest at the bottom being the coldest. The smallest at the top had water so hot, it was like stepping into a newly run bath. Two and half hours of absolute bliss. 

The only issue were the mosquitos waiting to bite you alive once you stepped out of the water for more than thirty seconds. 

That evening was pitched as the party night, where we would dance around a fire and drink lots and lots of booze. Pisco, rum and wine in no particular order. 

One would fall off a wall injuring his leg and another would fall face down, narrowly missing the smouldering ash of the fire. 

Hangovers a plenty the next day, it was time for zip lining – a first for me and I was super excited providing I could keep down my breakfast. 3km of lines high above the canopy of trees and an aggressively flowing river. 

The second zip was the best. The first to go, I was positioned upside down, looking up at the bright blue sky while the river and trees wizzed passed my head. On the third you get to try out your superman skills. If only I had my cape with me.

The fun was shortly over and it was time to join the remainder of the group and drive to Hydroelectric for lunch. Lunch was in a restaurant that clearly just caters for the the majority of the treks that go to Machu Picchu, the restaurant was rammed. 

Some of the other gringos had been bitten alive by mosquitoes and sand flies, with legs that looked like bright pink sponges. They were that bad, you could be mistaken for thinking they had chickenpox. 

Plenty of strong mosquito spray with deet is certainly required on these treks or just cover up your legs. Luckily they don’t like me or bite me, so I felt a bit smug walking around in my shorts.

The only issue I had was having to rely on a good amount of Imodium for the last three days. It would seem any food would need to go in and come straight back out again. Trying not to be to graphic here, but you get the gist. 

The next two hours and 8km of walking is along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, where we spend our final night of the trek. The tracks follow the river and wind around the base of Machu Picchu mountain, and every so often you here the horn of the train. 

Thinking it would be a good idea to walk through the bridge instead of along the footpath. We hear the distant horn of the train and had to leg it across the 300m bridge. Pretty scary as we wouldn’t have survived the 50m drop to the river. 

Arriving in Aguas Calientes we were all pretty shattered. Tonight we get to stay in a hostel and eat in a restaurant. We pray for pizza, but sadly it just more of the same, we just get to choose what meat. 

Wake up is at 4:15am as we have to be at the front gates of National Park for 5am when it opens. Still pitch black we walk the thirty minutes and join the queue that has already formed. 

I somehow lost my entry ticket, which we were given the night before. So I had to run back with the guide to print a new one. Thankfully I realised in time. What a plonker.

The gates open, and we cross the bridge and make our way to the start of the 3000 steps and make the climb to reach the entrance of Machu Picchu. After four days and 60km of walking this was bloody tough. Thank god we still had the morning fresh air to keep us cool. 

Doing it in the heat of the day would be pure hell.

After Forty five minutes, which seemed like hours I reached the top. Some of the group couldn’t face the steps so they paid extra for the bus. I say take the steps as its part of the whole magical experience. 

With the group reunited it was finally time to see what we had all been waiting for and the whole reason we walked 64km over five days. The magnificent wonder that is Machu Picchu. 

Climbing more steps we reach the first viewing platform which gives you a full view of the Machu Picchu mountain and the remains of the Inca city. Which I learnt still to this day no one knows the name of.

The next two hours are spent walking around with Saul while he tells us the fascinating history, and what each building once was and how important this city was and how it was never finished. 

There is the option to walk up to the sun gate, the original entrance and only access to the city for all visitors and goods. If after five days of trekking you still have the energy, you can walk up to the top of Machu Picchu mountain for $80 or the less gruelling Huayna Picchu opposite. 

I managed the thirty minutes walk up to the sun gate and was surprised how high it was. The city looked tiny from up here. We seemed to be higher than Machu Picchu mountain itself. 

After four hours of exploring, sadly it was time to leave this incredible sanctuary and make the two hour walk back along the tracks to Hydroelectric, have some lunch and meet the bus. For what I can only describe as the most torturous seven hour bus journey back to Cusco. 

If I had known how cramped and uncomfortable it was going to be I would have paid the extra $65 and got the train for four hours and the bus for two more. The cost varies depending on the time of the train. 

Back in Cusco and back with Keno and Esteban we recount our experience over a curry and plan to book Rainbow mountain for two days time. I certainly needed the two days to recover before I hike to 5000m.

It also gave us the opportunity to have a good night out in Cusco, with some of the guys from my Salkantay Trek. And of course practice my salsa technique… 

The Rainbow Mountain is a good two to three hour bus ride away and involves getting up at 3:30am. Loaded onto the minibus full of local Peruvian’s we make our way to the first stop at Checacupe for breakfast. 

From there it’s another forty minutes winding drive up to Quesiuno at 4326m. It’s then that I realise coming on a Sunday was a bad idea, there are hundreds of busses and good 1000 or so of people being heard up like sheep. 

Those that couldn’t manage the walk up could make use of the many horses available. Now I was getting use to this sort of height, I had no problem. The same couldn’t be said for Keno and Esteban who needed to take their time. Now I see why they opted for the Jungle “kids” Tour. 

At the top we were told we could only have 30 minutes before we would have to make our way down. They really need to limit the amount of daily tours, to make the experience more enjoyable. 

Sadly it had snowed that morning and the sky was grey with clouds, so the effect of the Rainbow wasn’t as impressive as I have seen on some Instagram pictures. 

Back down again first to the bus I managed to get few winks of sleep before everyone else arrived. One woman needed oxygen and wasn’t well, while another one had an argument with me about seating. I wasn’t in the mood for this today.

Something you learn quickly about South Americans is how precious they are about the seat on the bus. Best way is play dumb and pretend you don’t understand and don’t speak Spanish. No way was I moving this time. 

 

Cusco and the Salkantay Trek

 Travelling in Peru for three weeks, and experiencing the ever changing landscape from the desert and luscious beaches in the north to the bustling cities of Trujillo, Lima and Arequipa and the incredible sand dunes of Huacachina. It is finally time to arrive in the most visited city by any gringo – Cusco. 

The 1400 miles of travelling to get here has been long but impressive and well worth it – I hope .. 

Arriving into Cusco after another nine hours on a bus – this time the cheaper operator olturso, but the more expensive executive seats downstairs. Wider, more room and almost horizontal sleeping – all a plus and only 60pesos/£13

However, being downstairs you feel every bump and lump on the road as if you were the wheel – and Peru have some of the worst roads  in South America and are obsessed with speed bumps every few kilometres. Suffice to say I got no sleep and neither did Esteban. 

Yes after three weeks of travelling together I arrived into Cusco with the Germans. So maybe now is a good time to tell you a little bit about them. 

Keno and Esteban fresh out of school, taking a gap year before university are the most unlikely travel companions I would have expected to meet. But being away from the routine of normal life you do things differently. 

Keno is 19, into football, girls and more football. He is one of the most well mannered young men I have ever met. Esteban 18, is mix of French and Italian and has little more fire in him. He is an accomplished piano and hand ball player and wants to study chemistry. But he should really follow his dream and be a photographer. 

After three weeks they are like two younger brothers I never had. Also they remind me of what’s it’s like to be young, which is always good for the soul. 

The one thing we are yet to agree on is which Machu Picchu tour to do, Salkantay or Jungle. Me being pro trekking and seeing the Salkantay mountain and they were up for rafting, zip lining, Less trekking and Less days. Basically the easy option and the one for kids..  They would counter that with, “you have to be old to do the Salkantay” . They were clearly just chicken…

Having shopped around a few tour operators we finally decide and book through Peru Coca Travel. We managed to negotiate my five day Salkantay trek for $155 including zip lining and they booked their four day jungle tour for $120. A good $20-$30 saving. 

Before the trek started we had a few days to explore Cusco and see what all the fuss is about. 

Well if I’m honest and you know I always am – I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Yes it has a nice plaza or two with a couple of old red stone churches, so some old Inca stones and tons of tourist shop selling tat.

Not to mention the hundreds of women and girls in the street asking every gringo if they want a massage. 

Thankfully our hostel ‘The Magicpacker’ was just far enough away from all the tourist stuff. It had the largest bunk beds and dorms I have stayed in so far, set around a main courtyard that was perfect for relaxing in the sun. And possibly the best hot showers. 

The next day we booked quad biking through the same agency, as there was little to do in Cusco, and the kids really wanted to do it. One hour away we arrive at the Sacred Valley of Moray and spent the next three hours tearing about the Peruvian countryside terrorising the locals. There is also a trip to the natural Salt mine, impressive to see terrace after terrace of salt that flows down from the hills.

 All before the hilarious moment Keno falls knees deep into mud, not once but twice. 

Four am and I get a tap on my shoulder – it’s the night guard saying my guide for my trek is here. I managed to sleep through my alarm, so I had to quickly get dressed and grab my bags and run, hoping I haven’t forgotten anything.

Arriving at the plaza for the bus there is a huddle of about 30 people and who do I see but Toby and his friend Aaron, whom I last saw in Mancora three weeks before. 

After two hours the bus arrives at the first stop Mollepata for breakfast and to be told who our guide will be. My group of 10 had Saul as our guide, a 36 year old Peruvian with long hair and a big smile and a funny sense of humour. 

Day one of the five day 63km trek consisted of starting to descend from 2900 metres up to base camp at Soraypampa 3850 metres above sea level. It was a three hour trek along the edge of the following irrigation stream the local farmers use with views of the Valley of Apurimac River.

Arriving at Soraypampa for lunch, I was surprisingly feeling ok – my breath was a little shorter than usual, but so far no effects from the altitude. Lunch was far better than expected with a treat of freshly made guacamole, chicken, veg and fries. 

The afternoon would be spent making the 2 hour trek 2600m up to the Humantay Lake at the base of Humantay Mountain. The consent steady climb up was tough, probably the toughest yet thanks to the altitude and the headache it was giving me. Every 15 minutes would require a stop to slow my breathing and heart rate. 

Reaching the top and the edge of the turquoise lagoon was exceptional, the blue and green colours of the water against snowytopped mountain was breathtaking. The best lake of the trip so far.

That evening would be our first night in a tent, and as I was travelling solo my tent friend would be Daniel from Germany. The next day was an early start and pitched to be the most difficult. So after dinner it was an early night. 

Wake up was at five am by the chef with a hot coca tea. We had thirty minutes to pack our bags before breakfast. Each person being allowed 5kg for the horses and the rest you take on your back. So packing light is very much recommended. 

Some didn’t get the memo, as poor Ludvic had 12kg on his back, that included a bottle of pisco for the celebration at the top of the Salkantay pass.

The trek up to the pass should take up to four hours to a height of 4600m. Halfway up Saul our guide said that there are two options we can take. The ‘Gringo Killer’ that had the best views or the easy route. Obviously we opt for the steep zigzag path of the ‘Gringo Killer’ for the the best views. 

Seemingly fully acclimatised, I pressed on with my fellow fast trekkers and made the pass in just over two hours. I was amazed at how quickly, Tara, Hannah, Daniel, Ludvic and myself made it to the top. 

Feeling pretty good with ourselves for making it in such good time and while we wait for Saul and the rest of the group, Ludvic cracks open the pisco and we down a shot. Obviously not before offering some to Pacha Mamma. 

Reunited with the group, Saul talks us through the Inca traditions and how important the mountains are and how they are respected and feared, by offering coca leafs and more pisco before we take another shot. 

Then I jump right out of my skin as this almighty cracking sound echoes around the pass and snow and ice starts to fall down the side of Salkantay. Thankfully we are far enough away to just watch and listen in amazement. 

It reminds you who is in charge up here – Pacha Mamma – and how she should never be taken for granted. 

Now late morning and the weather starting to turn it was time to start the one hour hike down to where lunch will be served. Following the flow of water down the gradual slope, the valley turned from rock to green and looked a lot like the scenery you see in the Scottish Highlands. 

After the usual lunch of some meat, two carbs, some veg and coca tea it was time to make the two hour decent to the camp at Chaullay for the evening. 

And when I say decent – I mean a gruelling steep trek, covered in rocks and scree, making it hard on the knees. At times we wished for a slight incline or flat part to give our legs a rest. But alas no, it was just down.

Finally arriving into Chaullay it was time to collapse and not move until dinner. Slowly one by one each of the group made it down and we celebrated with copious amounts of rum, pisco and wine. 

A great end to a great day. Definitely the most intense on the body, but much easier than I had expected and achievable for inexperienced trekkers.