Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mountain Dogs: Salkantay Trek Day One

On our third day in Cuzco we departed at 5am for our 5 day 4 night trek to Machu Picchu.  Boo and I opted to do the Salkantay Trek due to the Inca trek being sold out.  We planned our trip in May thinking we were far enough in advance to book our trek, but the Inca trail needs to be booked at LEAST six months in advance.  When we looked in May, we were able to find passes for October.  Just an FYI in case you're trying to book something similar.  The Salkantay Trek can be booked right when you step off the airplane in Cuzco.  We were a tad paranoid about doing that and booked it about a week before departing. 

Our tour briefing happened the night before during our hostel's BBQ night.  We rented trekking poles that were highly recommended, and went out on a late night search for long underwear which was also highly recommended.  Our briefer, Ryder, gave us duffel bags for us to pack telling us to leave room for a sleeping bag and mat.  So we didn't need our ridiculous 30+ liter packs that we brought along for the trek! 

We were picked up by a van and driven to the main plaza while we waited for our trek-mates to board then drove about two hours to Mollepata where we ate breakfast and began our trek.  Day one they told us, was "easy".  We started trekking at 9am and ended at was HARD.  Along the trek we got to know each other better and listened to our guide as we moved along and he told us about Andean corn beer, Peruvian plants, and when and where to stop.  Our guide, Hipolito (or Papi, what we mostly called him), insisted on taking short-cuts to various spots which were straight up the mountain type short-cuts.  Not wanting to un-impress our trek-mates, we'd power through them only to be bent over heaving once we got to the top.  Afterwards, our guides definitely were chatting about us and who could handle what.  After one of the most trying shortcuts we stopped at a rest-stop.  Along the trek these were frequent...little bodegas selling water, candy bars, and other beverages.  And at these rest stops, little beggar dogs were waiting for you to buy something at the bodega and share it with them.
The views were breathtaking, even on day one.  We could see off into the distance the snow covered mountain that we'd be camping at the base of and the green mountains surrounding it.  Around two o'clock we settled in for our first lunch, which was well earned after hiking uphill for five hours.  The boo and I were blown away by what our cook could whip up in the conditions we were hiking in.  Day one lunch we were served grilled trout, sweet potatoes (both pictured below), avocados, garlic bread, vegetable soup, and rice.  Plus we were given both juice and hot beverages.  I didn't realize we'd be eating so much and had dived into the soup and garlic bread not leaving much room for trout. 
After lunch it was almost like "free trek".  We were able to go off on our own pace for a while, which was about two hours before our guides caught up to us, and continue to our campsite.  The trail was mostly a winding dirt path with trucks and horses coming by every so often.  We'd have to move over to the side of the trail to let them pass, which was a little frightening because the horses would get right up next to you. 

Around 4pm it started to get cold.  I started the day wearing my running leggings, tank, and long sleeved tech tee and ended the day with a scarf, ear warmer, fleece, and gloves.  Around 4pm I also started to lose my cool.  Although the first day wasn't nearly as hard as the second, I was shocked at how challenging it started out.  Only an hour later did I really start to lose it, complaining to the boo that I didn't realize it was going to be this hard and I can't blame anyone but myself since the whole trek thing was my idea.  It was at that point as I was tearfully dragging my aching feet that a little baby black puppy pranced out followed by his trotting mother.  They were the friendliest mountain dogs, the only I met that were interested in playing and not what my latest purchased snack was.  They brought my spirits up and powered me through the final hour of our trek.

We crossed a river that we'd be seeing a lot more of and trekked into our first campsite, extremely tired and as our bodies cooled down, extremely cold.  Campsite number one, Salkantaypampa, was situated at the base of a mountain which meant that we were wearing hats, gloves, long underwear, pants, fleeces, and even sweater socks and sleeping in all of it inside a down filled North Face sleeping bag.  Our tents were erected inside a tarp shelter that helped block the cold mountain winds and our eating area was a short walk away in another tarp shelter.  All of this was set up for us before we arrived by our trek crew.  For dinner we had some snacks of popcorn, crackers, hot cocoa, and a main meal of soup, chicken, rice, and another side that I can't remember.  We also had dessert and a nightcap of sangria to help us go to bed warm.  Seriously, I don't know how the cook did it.  Despite how cold it was, we passed out at 8:30pm, exhausted from a long day of trekking only to be woken up at 6am the next day for the hardest day yet.

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