The salcantay trek in my tour was a 4 day hike interspersed with the odd stop for extra activities/ cultural visits. It goes slightly higher than the classic inca trail, with arguably better views but fewer inca heritage sites.
The first day was an early start at 3am, jumping in a bus to take us to our start point followed by a very long morning’s ascent to the cold and snowy peak as we walked up with stunning views of the salcantay mountain itself. The rest of the days 22km hike was spent gradually going downhill to our destination passing through some breathtaking jungle scenes. I did a real mischief to my knee at some point, took some painkillers and got as far as I could before they put me on a horse to take me through the last hour or so! It was really annoying about the knee, but also quite cool being on a horse. The campsite was beautiful and we ate really well before going to bed at 8pm – no drink allowed tonight as at altitude still.
The second day had a more civilised starting time but was still pretty bad knee-wise and I didn’t get very far before needing to jump in a car to get to the days lunchtime stop. On the short run down after overtaking the hikers that set off before us we saw a mountain fox scampering down the road and stopped by one of the houses. Here our cook went in and came back with a huge sack of granadillas (like passion fruit). I gave him a puzzled look and he told me they were for his children… to which i said “cuantos hijos tienes?! (How many kids do you have?!… the sack must had close to fifty fruit in). Apparently he gives them these on a daily basis and the sack should last a month! Fortunately the afternoon’s activities were light and I was able to get involved.
First we had short tour around the coffee plantation process, the business was a cooperative run entirely by the women of the area. Then we had a game of “sapo” where I tied with Mike a fellow compatriot in the group, our new joiner Sabine lost and was to buy the beers tonight, but won the next round comfortably!
Some Quechua words:
Sulpaiki waykicha = thanks my friend
Allin puchao/tutay = good morning/afternoon
Jakuchis = let’s go
Iman Sutiyki = what’s your name
Allillanchu = how are you
(Inti) Raimi = (sun) party
We learned a bit more about frank our guide for this bit and his aspirations to start his own company that he can run and his kids after him to follow his footsteps. We went down to the campfire, had some “inca tequila” or Cañoso (sugar cane spirit), then danced. The girl behind tried to teach me some salsa but not too sure how well that went! I also had a good chat with our cook so got lots of Spanish practice in. Despite many rounds of beer and shots amongst 6 of us from 5pm until about 2am the total came to less than £40!
Up early a few hours later to go zip lining across The Valley which was awesome. The best one for me was the third line which was really long and you could go upside down the whole way! We then finished off the last 12k or so of our trekking and arrived at aguas calientes for our stop overnight before heading up to Machu Picchu. Shortly after I got to my room I developed a splitting headache which I put down to the altitude which somehow hadn’t affected me much until now and we had been almost twice this altitude before. I have dinner a miss and got to bed early for some much needed rest.
We were up at 4am to get in the queue for a bus up to the entrance, thankfully we didn’t have to hike up this bit… and managed to arrive pretty early before many people had made it in and it got crowded later. From about 8.30 the fog descended and you could barely see 15 metres in front of you and it stayed like that until left… as such my resentment for the early start soon melted away as I realised it was actually extremely lucky for us. I think you can just about go around by yourself and appreciate the awesome scenes (they may be changing that soon), but I would not recommend it as you will only get half the experience. Our guide Frank took us round all the key spots and explained their significance which I found really interesting and brought the ruins to life for me. In quite a few circumstances I think I would have just thought “ok it’s a rock… cool” but actually it was used for something specific and certain customs were built around it. The incas had a terrible problem with disease here and the whole site was abandoned in a hurry, and with a trained eye assisting you… you can actually see evidence of half finished building work and materials that have been dumped in a hurry during construction.
There’s also an optional part you can do that involves the pleasantly-named “death stair” which is effectively where the brave amongst us can show their mettle by walking up a series of stones effectively jutting out from the side of a cliff. I challenged my cousin to do this when she visited Machu Picchu a few months back (not seriously as it looks pretty damn scary) but nonetheless duly received a video of her doing so! As such I needed to return the favour but it turned out they had closed it off. So thankfully/unfortunately did not partake in this bit – sorry Jo!
We had lunch at a lovely place called Full House Peruvian back in aguas calientes (aguas calientes is very touristy if wondering about the name!) then went for a horrendous pisco sour at a place called Mapacho, but in its defence the beer was good and it sells itself as a craft beer place. Then it was back to Cusco via a comfortable train to Ollantaytambo and taxi for 6 from there. Out for a nice dinner and some Chilean wine at Toqo-Kachin food was lovely but took a while as effectively just one person in the kitchen making the lot!