Trekking to Machu Picchu!

Monday, November 03, 2014
Mancora, Peru

These past 5 days have been the most difficult and most amazing of our trip, by far . I honestly have no words to describe how insanely cool and beautiful the experiences of the Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu have been, but I'll try my best.

Early (last) Monday morning we all said goodbye to our host families in Cusco and met in the main plaza at 3:30 am. Tired, excited, and a little anxious, we boarded a bus to Mollepata with a bunch of other hikers. Once we arrived in the small mountain town, the group ate breakfast and organized all our belongings to start the hike. Each person was allowed to load 5 kilos (11 lbs) of their stuff on horses that would carry everything to the campsites for the first 3 nights. So after rearranging our backpacks and handing over our 5 kilos, we all applied our sunscreen and bug spray and got ready to go. A few of us also made the miraculous purchase of wooden walking sticks that would eventually become our life-saving "third legs" on the trek.

Soon we met the rest of our group in the middle of the town plaza . Our legendary guide and fearless leader was named Nilton, but we all referred to him by his nickname: Coach. We then met our amazing cook for the journey, whose name was Washington - he would prepare some great meals for us throughout the trek. Lastly we were also joined by 4 great new friends: Jack from England, Dave from Scotland, and Marcos & Gilmara from Brazil. So after introducing ourselves, Coach quickly dubbed our group as Team Awesome (a.k.a. - The Sexy Alpacitas), we all put our hands in for a team cheer, and we started off on our trek!

Monday was fairly difficult, as it was our first full day of walking. We trekked uphill for most of the morning, taking frequent breaks to recover from the hot sun & hilly terrain. We stopped for lunch about halfway and caught our first glimpse of a beautiful snow-covered peak, Mount Humantay. Some people went faster than others, and we were definitely not the most experienced hikers out there, but everyone had a great time just going at their own pace and enjoying the beautiful scenery of mountains and valleys .

That night we camped in a place called Soraypampa at the foot of Mount Humantay and Mount Salkantay. We each paired up - 2 to a tent - and unloaded our backpacks to rest. It was pretty freezing and windy, but we all enjoyed having hot tea, eating popcorn, and playing President with the group.

The next morning we all prepared for our hardest day - climbing up Mount Salkantay. Most of the group conquered the steep uphill climb on foot, while others chose to take horses (really mules) to ride up the side of the mountain. Both options were enjoyable because the views were so beautiful, even with the group of horses being led by a "guide" who looked no older than 9 years old!

After a lot of hard climbing and some horse-traffic jams, our whole group finally made it to the highest point of the whole Salkantay trek - somewhere around 4600 meters high (15,000 feet).

At the top we took pictures, learned about Mount Salkantay from Coach (Salkantay actually means "wild mountain"), and even made an offering to Pachamama - the Incan goddess of Mother Earth - with coca leaves and a pile of stones .

Going down the other side of the mountain was also hard, as we ran into some thick fog and some very slippery slopes. However it was very cool to start seeing the beginning of the cloud forest and the Salkantay River. So, after breaking for lunch, we continued on through the mountains, with the climate rapidly changing to a more humid, rainforest type scene. It was very beautiful but also incredibly difficult, as there were tons of mosquitoes and it was
almost entirely downhill slopes that were very hard on the knees, toes, and calves. Eventually, we all finally made it to our second campsite at a place called Challway. Thanking the Lord for a chance to rest our feet and our lungs, we had a great evening of tea and President with all of Team Awesome.

The morning of day three was very hot and long, but very cool. We walked through much more of the mountains' rainforest climate - seeing beautiful trees and waterfalls along the river valley - all the while learning about different Andean plants and animals from Coach .

With only a few short breaks along the way, we were all very relieved to reach our lunch spot in La Playa. There, Washington cooked us a delicious traditional Peruvian meal, and the 15 of us loaded into a van that would take us to Santa Teresa.

Tired and sore from our difficult past few days, we all made a visit to the AMAZING hot springs in Santa Teresa. The springs were so relaxing and fun, plus the hot water felt really good on our aching muscles. After spending a couple hours there, we all went back to the campsite and had a fun evening of President, music, and a camp-wide bonfire. However, our group didn't stay up too late, in order to be awake early again the next morning.

Day four was one of our shortest walks, but it was very difficult and felt very long. This was the day that we said goodbye to the horses and had to carry our extra 5 kilos again. Because of this extra weight (and because we were all really excited to stay in a hostel that night and get a real, hot shower and bed) most of the group chose to take a van in the morning to Hidroelectrica - the halfway point where we would eat lunch . Then, from there, we all walked
along the railroad tracks that connected to the town of Aguas Calientes, the home of Machu Picchu! After what felt like forever crossing railroad bridges, passing trains, and dripping sweat, we all finally made it to Aguas Calientes. We collapsed on our hostel beds and were able to enjoy some much needed rest and showers before going out to dinner with the rest of the team. That night we all slept soundly in our comfy beds, excited and ready for the final day - Machu Picchu.

On Friday morning we all woke up around 4 am, got together our gear, and left for our amazing day at the beautiful Lost City of the Incas. Most of the team walked down to the bridge at the edge of town in order to start climbing the 1,070 steps up the mountain. A few also took the bus up, so that we all met at the entrance to Machu Picchu around 6 am. Tired, sore, but extremely excited, everyone passed through the gates and climbed a few more steps to the top of the city .

Covered in morning fog, Machu Picchu was a little difficult to see at first, but as we stood on one of the terraces listening to Coach tell us the city's Incan legends, the fog cleared and the early morning sun lit up the whole mountain. It was incredibly breathtaking, and as we started snapping pictures, we also found it impossible to capture on camera.

Taking in the beauty of this "wonder of the world", we toured some of the temples and asked tons of questions while Coach taught us about Incan life and culture. However, it was soon time to say goodbye to our wonderful guide, and after a couple Team Awesome group pics and some bro-hugs from the boys, Coach left to catch his train back to Cusco.

For the rest of the day, we were free to explore Machu Picchu. Everyone did something different, but we were able to see cool places like the Temple of the Three Windows, the Intihuatana, and the Temple of the Sun . Some people even ventured up to the Sun Gate, where they were able to see a beautiful view of the whole city, and even take a little nap.

Eventually, we all returned back to the hostel in Aguas Calientes, and, after spending a little time there, the group packed up and headed to the train station. So after a very, very long day, we all took an evening train to Ollantaytambo, and finally a van to return to Cusco.

Looking back, these past few days have definitely been the most tiring of our entire trip. From the hiking 7 hours a day, to the sore muscles, mosquito bites, sunburns, and blisters - we have all been through a lot. But conquering the Salkantay Trek and getting to see Machu Picchu makes it all worth it. Machu Picchu truly was a wonder, and I'm so happy that I got to experience it with this great group of people.

In the end, there are no words that can truly describe the journey of the past few days . I hope you enjoyed my account of the trek, but now I will just let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!


P.S. - Here are just a few quotes from the rest of the group, describing their experiences this week, and their time at Machu Picchu:
"After 5 days, 50 miles, roughly 32 hours of hiking, and an estimated 325-scratch that, 642 mosquito bites between the 10 of us, we conquered the Salkantay trail and made it to Macchu Picchu. All the pain was worth it."
- Katy Krantz -
"Definitely an unforgettable experience."
- Alicia -
"I can't move my body, but the views and the experience were extremely worth it."
- Emma -

"Of all the places I've been to, Machu Picchu is one of them."
- Geoff Merz -
"It takes, what, 30 seconds to climb your stairs at home? Multiply that by 100 and you get the average time it takes to climb up to Machu Picchu. Add in the leg pain and mental exhaustion after four days of hard hiking and you have quite the trek. Oh, did I mention? It's also 5 am."
- Jeremy -

"My feet hurt."
- S. W. Morgenthaler, 2014 -
 "Listening to 'Started From the Bottom' while walking up 1070 steps is very motivational."
- Arvind Dixon -

 "Machu Picchu was the greatest leg workout in history."
- Craig -

"I can't decide which I enjoy more; walking uphill or downhill?"
- Ryan Silverman -