Salkantay Trek Day 4: Back to Civilization

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Farmland and settlements in the valley on our last day of hiking (the stretch between Collpata and La Playa)s

This is day 4 of our Salkantay Trek, continued from Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

TO ALL PARENTS AND OTHER PARTIES CONCERNED FOR OUR WELL-BEING: We are fine. This occurred about 6 months ago.

I slept soundly through the night and woke up feeling a lot better, well enough to wander around the farm in the morning. We started boiling water for breakfast, and then Ashley and Kyle pointed out some birds they could identify from their guidebooks. The birds were lovely, but impossible to photograph. Stoytcho made an inquiry to one of the family members about buying toilet paper, and they embarrassedly said they couldn’t spare any, something being low on supplies. I wandered down to the trail and watched as the elderly grandmother of the family cross the gorge on the gondola, probably heading into down to stock up for the family.

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The family’s grandmother pulls herself across on the gondola like a seasoned champion

Further along the trail I found some easier subjects to photograph. A fat caterpillar was starting his day, and still covered with dewdrops it crawled up toward a plant’s leaves for breakfast. I watched it chew away parts of the leaves, lean back to find a nearby stem, and repeat the process. The caterpillar wasn’t the only one enjoying a good meal, either. On a nearby plant, a jumping spider had caught a massive fly for its breakfast. Twice its size, the fly obscured most of the spider and made it a bit hard to photograph. “Enjoy your breakfast,” I told it.  I went back to our camping spot and helped pack up, adding more things to my pack now that I felt better. I still wore the neck brace, but I felt more certain the injury wasn’t life-threatening. All the same, we kept our goal for the day as the town of La Playa, where Stoytcho and I would catch transport to Santa Teresa and see a doctor.

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Good morning, caterpillar. I couldn’t identify this one.
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Nice breakfast you got there, jumping spider. I couldn’t identify this little guy, either.

We continued along our trail for less than an hour before we encountered bad news: there was huge, fresh washout that seemed impassable. We tried finding our way in the forest above, but this time the brush seemed to dense to push through without a machete. So we were stuck with two options: either backtrack to the bridge we crossed yesterday and then take the vehicle road, or return to the farm where we had slept and take the gondola across. Option one would take several hours of backtracking, leaving option two as the only viable choice. We hiked back to the farm to take the gondola across, the very thing we had hoped to avoid by crossing the bridge over the river yesterday.

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The high ground: attemping to find a way around the trail washout in the forest above proved impossible with our equipment.

Back at the farm, we clustered around the gondola and with the help of the farmer’s daughter got it working. The mechanism was simple enough: if the gondola was on the other side, you pulled it across to you. Then you loaded yourself into it, traveled by gravity to the middle of the line, and then pulled yourself across the rest of the way by pulling the hanging loops. Kyle went over first, then pulled me over. Then Stoytcho came; he was supposed to be alone but the farmer’s daughter tossed all of our packs in as well. “It’s fine,” she said, apparently amused and a little annoyed we were taking so long, “We normally put everything and everyone in at once.” Ashley came along last, braving it for the sake of progress.

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Stoytcho pulls himself and our gear along in the gondola.

We found ourselves back on the vehicle road that we had encountered in Collpampa yesterday, which was wide and easy to traverse. In about ten minutes we hiked past the point where we had been stymied earlier on the opposite bank and got a look at how bad the washout actually was. Steep and spanning more than 20 feet, this washout looked truly unsalvageable. It looked like the next travelers would have to cut a brand new trail above it, something we were entirely unequipped to do. I was glad we had taken the gondola instead of trying to cross.

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The trail washout we encountered earlier (middle right wall of dirt), viewed from the opposite side of the river. It’s probably about 30 feet across.

The vehicle road was an easy hike, although incredibly hot. We made good time as we moved, but stopped often to snack, drink water, and take photos. We also got the chance to forage a bit, as wild avocado trees grew along the trail. Hunting around the base of the trees, we were able to pick a few avocadoes off the ground. And although they weren’t in the best condition, I desperately wanted to eat them. That’s what happens when you’ve run a calorie deficit for three days straight. (At this point, I was also talking nonstop about what I wanted to eat for my first meal when we got to a restaurant, which was pretty much everything. “Lomo Saltado! And rice! Beans! A slice of pie! Beef stew! Wait, and PASTA!”)

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Beautiful orchids along the trail; these are Epidendrum secundum, also called Wiñay Wayna around here.
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Mm, wild trail avocadoes. (Spoiler: they actually weren’t that good)

As we hiked further along the valley road, signs of human activity became increasingly frequent and abundant. We passed houses and fields on both sides of the gorge. Some farms were tiny, one field affairs, while others were multi-building estates that seemed to stretch for a whole hectare. Tire ruts were also cut into the road in many places, and we crossed several sturdy, manmade bridges meant for vehicle traffic. In fact, the only thing that seemed absent from the road were the actual vehicles. There were also few people, none except those we passed working in the fields. It was oddly quiet.

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Our trail is oddly quiet despite being the only road to several towns and villages.

We found the cause of our quiet road in the early afternoon. Rounding a bend in the path, we found several locals sitting around, waiting. One woman had a portable stove going and was selling hot vegetable stew, despite the day’s heat. We asked her what was going on and she responded that there was a washout in the road ahead.

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A CAT digger attempts to create a passable road from a massive washout. So that’s why we had the road all to ourselves.

“Washout” turned out to be a bit of an understatement. A whole section of the road, bridge and all, had been washed away by the recent rains and was now nothing but a rocky, raging torrent of water. It was currently impassable by foot, let alone by car. But a regional authority had already dispatched a police officer and construction machinery to tackle the issue: a huge CAT digger precariously perched in the rapids moved mud and rock downward, re-creating a passable trail. In a few minutes, we were able to cross by hopping from rock to rock with the officer’s help, and continued on the way to La Playa. We later learned that this washout blocked access to the area we were in for a few days, so we were incredibly lucky we got there just as they were fixing it.

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The heroic officer who helped us cross.

From here it was less than an hour before we made it down to La Playa, where Ashley and Kyle parted ways with us and continued on to Llacapata. La Playa didn’t have any open restaurants, so we couldn’t celebrate the end of our time together with a celebratory meal; instead we exchanged contact info and agreed to meet in Cusco. Stoytcho and I asked around for a bus, but most locals said that one probably wouldn’t be coming today, since their normal route included a path through the washout. Instead, someone arranged a ‘taxi’ for us, which was basically a local guy driving us to Santa Teresa in his 1990’s sedan for 10 soles, or roughly $3 USD. He was friendly and told us what it was like to work as a taxi driver out here. Though it was far, this area was still pretty well-connected to Cusco and other towns, and it sounded like life was good.

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TRAIL BUDDIES!!! We’ll miss Ashley and Kyle.

We had three priorities when we reached Santa Teresa: a meal, a doctor, and a place to stay, in that order. I didn’t care how bad my injury was; I wanted first and foremost to have a hot meal before anything. My reasoning was after hiking 20-some kilometers, putting the doctor’s visit off another hour wasn’t going to kill me. And if it was bad news, I wanted a meal in me to deal with it. We stopped at basically the first restaurant we saw and ordered an avocado and chips appetizer, lomo saltado, and spaghetti with meat sauce. Pretty much all of it was terrible food, but we stuffed our faces anyway.

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The first meal back in civilization. It was pretty bad, including what I can only assume was canned cubed beef bits, but all my brain could think of was “FOOD FOOD FOOD YES FOOD.”

After eating, we walked over to the medical clinic and at first the office looked closed, but we followed a path around to a modest building in the back and found nurses working. Using broken Spanish, we explained to them that I had fallen on the trail and had some difficulty swallowing, so we would like to see a doctor. The nurse listened patiently and filled out a form for us. Then she asked us to wait and busied herself with finishing the form and carrying it off. The whole time, she had her toddler tied to her back in a sling. The kid occasionally made whining or giggling noises, but was otherwise entirely unobtrusive. We would never see this in the U.S., but it must be less expensive and stressful for a new mother to just bring her child to work.

The nurse sent us next door to wait for the doctor, and within ten minutes we were called into an office. The doctor on call listened to our story, then put pressure on various parts of my neck and back and asked if there were any sharp pains. At the end, she said I was likely fine and had just stressed my muscles with the blow, which tightened them and caused the difficulty swallowing. “I recommend a neck brace for a week,” she said, “and get an X-ray just to be safe. Are you going to Aguas Calientes to see Machu Picchu?” We responded that we were and asked if it was a good idea. “It should be fine,” she responded, “and they have an X-ray machine in Aguas Calientes.” Phew, what a relief.

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At the doctor’s office, we learn that I haven’t horrendously injured myself. The doctor didn’t even have to pull out one of these reference books.

The doctor pointed us to a pharmacy across the town square where we could buy a neck brace, so after a few minutes to revel in the relief that I wasn’t horribly injured, we headed over there. To our surprise, our doctor was there to ring up our purchases. Given how few people are out here, I guess it’s not surprising that she does double duty as the doctor and the pharmacist, though it may have also been a bit of self-favoritism.

We stepped outside into the dusk and were immediately greeted by a pack of dogs fighting each other in the street a few meters away. Three were actively biting each other, while another dozen looked on and barked furiously. We skirted them and decided to find the nearest hotel room, just in case they decided either of us might be worth biting (although we’ve had our rabies shots). The first hotel turned out to be just off the main square, an unfinished building with exposed rebar and dark hallways. For 30 soles, we bought ourselves a room and climbed the uneven concrete stairs to the third floor and into an equally concrete square with a bed and a semifunctional bathroom. It could have been worse—at least we had running water.

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Oh, our room also came with a FREE SCORPION! Thankfully I’m not bothered by stuff like this so I trapped him and put him in a garden outside.

Although we were exhausted, we had heard a rumor of hot springs in the area and asked the woman running the hotel about it. She told us it would be a 20 minute walk, and that she could order a taxi for 8 soles, but we weren’t sure if it would be more self-favoritism. We started walking to the hot springs with our flashlights, got picked up by a taxi for one quarter of the quoted price halfway through the walk, and got to the hot springs in minutes. The hot spring were more lukewarm than hot, but an artificial ‘waterfall’ they had created was the perfect place to sit and feel the water rushing over you, cleaning you off, and massaging every aching muscle.

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Meal two of the day was significantly better than meal one. It also consisted solely of an avocado the size of my head doused with salt. Life is good.

So we did it. We hiked the Salkantay Trail as our first multi-day through hike. We did it in the rainy season, covering a distance of 54 km over four days. We met some awesome fellow hikers, met the locals, and saw how people out here lived in contrast to the comforts of Cusco. And we faced pouring rain, steep slippery trails, and trail washouts that helped us develop our skills of assessing risks and alternatives out in the wild. Were there miserable times? Yes. Did we face danger? Yep. But it was totally worth it.

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We’ll miss you, Salkantay. Maybe one day we’ll hike you again, preferably when we have more than four days and can bring trail food from the U.S.

Salkantay Trek Day 3: From High to Low

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We hike into the lowlands after the Salkantay Pass

This is day 3 of our Salkantay Trek, continued from Day 0, Day 1, and Day 2.

TO ALL PARENTS AND OTHER PARTIES CONCERNED FOR OUR WELL-BEING: We are fine. This occurred about 6 months ago.

I thought yesterday’s fall on the trail had only left me with a few scrapes on my hands and knees, but I woke up sometime during the night with my neck aching and had difficulty swallowing water. Neither Stoytcho nor I could tell how badly I had been hit in the neck and how much worse it might get. Stoytcho helped me find a somewhat comfortable sleeping position by leaning me against one of the backpacks so I could sleep semi-upright. But we were both worried. If the swelling continued and made it difficult to breathe, we would be in serious trouble.

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Morning over the Salkantay Peak

I woke up in the morning still breathing fine but with my neck still stiff and swollen, and we started to make plans on the chance I might be seriously injured. Stoytcho repacked the backpacks so he was carrying nearly everything; by the end I only had a few pieces of fabric, snacks, and our jackets in mine. Ashley and Kyle, who had some wilderness first aid training, also helped Stoytcho fashion a cushioned neck brace out of our inflatable camping pillows, a jacket, and a belt. And to pile on the problems, whatever was upsetting my stomach since day 1 hadn’t gone away. But on the upside, at least the rain seemed to have stopped overnight.

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Sporting the new neck brace AND a strawberry I found

The new goal became to get to civilization and find a doctor to get me a checkup. While there was a road ahead, we weren’t sure where it lead and whether there would be anyone we could hitch a ride with, so we consulted with the map and decided we would try to get to Santa Teresa. We weren’t sure if there was a doctor there, but it was at least connected by road to Cusco, where there definitely was a doctor. I could walk, thankfully, so we started off down the trail at a comfortably slow pace.

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The river goes from crisp-clear alpine to blue-green tropical here

After the Salkantay Pass, the trail seemed to go mostly downhill, heading further into lowlands full of life and greenery. The temperature climbed as we descended, and we found ourselves quickly removing our heavy jackets and rain gear to stay cool. Grasshoppers and dragonflies became frequent, flitting out of our way as we trudged down the trail. There were even my perennially favorite animals, jumping spiders. Signs of their webs clung to bushes along the path, and we spotted a few hiding among the foliage. No matter the situation, I think these little creatures will always bring me cheer.

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A dragonfly along our path
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A jumping spider hides in the shade of a leaf.

The flora also became more tropical, basking in the day’s sun and casting new shapes and shadows in the greenery around us. The sides of the trail were a wall of greens, mosses and lichens layered with fast-growing annuals, clusters of woody bushes, and topped with trees that twisted their branches outward above all to capture the sun. The trees became worlds unto themselves, hosting hanging lichens, parasitic mistletoe, and bromeliads. Atop this sea of green we found bursts of color, with flowers of fantastic shapes and sizes blooming from plant and branch. Some seemed familiar, while others were alien to us, but all seemed intent on soaking up every last drop of the sun to flourish and thrive.

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Bromeliads and lichens hang from a tree along the trail.
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Butter…balls? An unusual flower along the trail that I couldn’t identify. UPDATE: It’s Calceolaria tormentosa, a species of Peruvian slipperwort, and yes, you can buy it commercially for your garden.

The rainy season also brought a second gift: fruit. Several plants we passed had branches full of fruit, much of which I could not identify. But some were unmistakably familiar. In one bramble, we found a massive unripe blackberry, flush red and firm. On another bush, clusters of unripe purplish berries that bore the same crown as blueberries—like Colombia, I would gess that Peru is a hotbed of blueberry diversity, and this could be one of several edible species. These fruits were not yet ready to eat, but there was one fruit we encountered that we did sample on the trail: strawberries. In some parts the whole trail was lined with strawberry plants, with hundreds of little ripe red berries hiding beneath the leaves. We picked a few and ate them, first a little to verify what they were, and then a few more. I still had difficulty swallowing, but the strawberries were delicious nonetheless.

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An unripe blackberry along the trail; fingers for size reference
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A strawbery growing along the trail

Our leisurely pace enabled us to observe the fantastically tiny worlds that unfurled over every surface, nurtured by the recent rains. Mosses sprouted the pods they use to propagate themselves. Unlike other plants, they do not make seeds but spores in these pods, which are then dispersed as raindrops splash upon the plant. Less than a centimeter away, lichens were performing a similar act of reproduction, sprouting stalks to disperse their spores. These creatures are neither plant nor even a single organism; they’re instead a cooperative symbiosis of two or three different species – a fungus, a yeast, and a green algae. Together they can survive harsh conditions such as barren rock faces devoid of water for years, and a single lichen spore must carry all three to survive.

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A miniature world: mosses, hornworts, and mushrooms grow together on a patch of dirt
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A lichen grows alongside a plant in a bed of moss.

On a larger scale, people had also shaped the Salkantay trail here. There were signs of horses and footprints everywhere, suggesting this road was used frequently. We passed a blue trail marker proclaiming ruins stood in the adjacent field, but all that remained were foundation stones. The rest had probably been taken long ago by people to make homes and walls. We also encountered a homemade livestock gate that illustrated how brilliantly clever and adaptable the people out here are; lacking springs and hinges, it relied on two rubber sandals hammered on in places of hinges to snap shut automatically after opening. How’s that for a low cost solution?

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Not much to see here; only the foundation rocks remain of this ruin
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Local ingenuity: this rubber sandal hammered to a gate takes the place of an automatically-closing hinge.

It took us nearly five hours to reach Collpampa, the first major ‘town’ on our route. Vehicle roads reappeared here and we could see tire ruts in the mud. As we entered the town, we spooked a family of pigs who ran hurriedly away from us. All of the dozen or so town buildings seemed closed, including what looked like the town’s one-room medical clinic. And no one was around, save for two elderly locals strolling through in the opposite direction. We greeted them and tried to ask them whether there was a doctor nearby in Spanish, but they simply smiled and didn’t answer. It’s likely that they only spoke Quecha.

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We spook some pigs in Collpampa.

On the far side of town we stopped for lunch under some picnic tables shaped like mushrooms. I ate some nuts, hoping they wouldn’t pass right through me, and drank as much water as I could. I felt that if I could at least kick this food poisoning or whatever, that would be one less problem on the list. After snacking, I sat staring at the rest of the food for a while the others continued to eat. Idly, I picked up one of the granola bars that had made up the bulk of our on-the-go meals and started reading the ingredients, just to practice my Spanish. I got through wheat (triga), azucar (sugar), and chocolate (chocolate). There were a few words I didn’t recognize, and then…sorbitol. “Wait, sorbitol?” I thought to myself. “There’s sorbitol in these?” I flipped the granola bar back over and re-read the front. Weight loss bars. These were weight-loss bars, and everything has been passing right through me because I’ve been eating sorbitol, which has a tendency to cause loose bowel movements people. So there you have it; don’t use weight loss bars as trail food, folks.

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Sorbitol is terrible, so here’s a picture of a bee instead.

After Collpampa, we hiked the vehicle road down to Rio Totora where we crossed the river by bridge. Ashley had here in her hiking notes that we had two options: to cross now by bridge, and continue hiking on the other side of the valley, or to cross later by gondola, which she wasn’t keen on. We walked the bridge over the river, which gushed beneath us in a wild torrent, fed by yesterday’s rains. I was glad that the bridge was sturdier than those we had seen yesterday; falling into this river would have been bad news.

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Swollen by recent rains, the river’s current is now fast and rough and not great for falling into if you want to survive.

The trail on the other side of the valley was considerably narrower than what we had trekked through before. It clung precariously to the steep slope, narrowing in some places to only a foot across. In some places both sides of the trail were walls of verdant green, trees in plants. In other, the downhill slope below us was nothing but a steep, barren dirt wall, plunging down into the river below. In places where streams fed the river, we traversed bridges made of nothing but thin branches placed atop a wider branch.

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Yep, that’s the bridge we crossed. That’s mostly loose sticks piled on top of bigger branches.

In other places, we weren’t lucky enough to have a bridge – a couple of parts of the trail had washed out and we had to find a way around. In most cases, we were able to follow a path already carved by others before us, climbing just above the washout and hopping to the other side. In one case, though, the washout spanned more than ten feet of trail. We had to backtrack a bit and pick our way higher through the underbrush, then walk forward and scramble down to the trail on the other side. Thankfully, all of us had adept balance and (at least Stoytcho and I) had faced things like this before.

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A large washout on the trail: one of the risks of hiking during rainy season.

In the late afternoon, the trail widened onto a small plain beside the gorge, and we again found signs that people lived nearby. We passed granadilla fields, with hundreds of unripe green fruit hanging from their vines. It was nearly 6 pm and it had begun to drizzle, so we were thrilled when minutes later we stumbled onto a farmhouse with a welcome sign. “Welcome to Winaypocco” it proclaimed, a place that was not on any of our maps. “Camping enjoy. Candy. Snickers. Twix.” Well, they know what we want after all the hiking. We went in and talked to the folks there, who let us pitch our tents for a grand total of 12 soles under an unfinished barn on their property. It was dusty, but at least we had a roof over our head to keep the increasingly heavy rain off.

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Unripe granadillas hanging in the field
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Welcome to where we’ll be staying tonight.

Though I felt much better, I didn’t do much besides cook dinner that night. Stoytcho and Kyle went over to buy snacks and returned with some candy bars but brought sad news that granadillas were not available; they weren’t in season yet. Stoytcho had also found out that there was a doctor in Santa Teresa, and that we should be able to get a taxi or bus there from La Playa. The wife at the house came by minutes later with a few she had found that were in the garden. “Gratis,” she insisted smiling, and refusing to take money for them. After dinner and a dessert of fresh granadilla, I found a semi-comfortable position laying on a backpack and fell asleep. With any luck, we should be able to make it to civilization tomorrow.

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The river rages on below us, fed by rain. Hopefully there won’t be much more rain and we won’t encounter too many more washouts.

Salkantay Trek Day 0: Mollepata or Bust

 

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The night before the hike. One of us is tired. The other one isn’t.

We are not morning people. Stoytcho and I have both realized this over the years, although exceptions have been made at certain times in our lives, from the 7:00 AM crew practice to the 8:00 am morning lab meetings. In these cases, we’ve dealt with it, adapted our sleep schedules, and generally acted like the weird image people have of ‘grown ups’. But in the absence of such external pressures, we drift back toward being night owls with a 1:00 or 2:00 am bedtime. It’s just naturally who we are. So it was foolish of us to think we were going to catch the 4:30 am minibus from Cusco up to Mollepata to start the Salkantay hike at 7:30 am. Thankfully, we realized this last night around midnight and adapted; we’d spend tomorrow making sure we were fully prepared for the hike, then take an afternoon bus out to Mollepata, find a place to stay, and start the hike early the next day. No need to wake up at absurd-o’clock, which we’ve already determined is not our specialty.

We spent the day putting finishing touches on our hiking kit and taking in the last sights of Cusco. We discovered our biggest problem in the morning, when Stoytcho ran a dye test on our fancy water filter and realized it was broken. We’re guessing the altitude change when we came here to Cusco ruptured the glass filter, although there’s no real way to know since we’ve been using it for three months without a test. We decided to leave it behind (with a pile of other stuff Pisko and Soul let us leave), but it meant we had to go out and buy ~6 2.2 L bottles of water and stuff them into our packs. This 13.2 L of water wouldn’t get us all the way through the trek, but it would get us pretty far. Towns along the way would fill in the rest of our water needs.

After purchasing water, we stopped at Mercado Central de San Pedro, a local market filled with souvenirs, coca products, and food. We bought some honey candy made with coca leaf infusion, and while that may seem insidious, it’s closer to coffee drops than cocaine. Without the insane refining, coca acts as a mild stimulant, just like coffee, so it’s normal to the people here. Plus, we’ve heard it’s great for dealing with the huge altitude climb over the Salkantay pass. We also got an amazing late lunch here, a heavy beef-and-vegetable stew served up by two cheerfully rotund ladies. It cost 6 soles (~$1.80) for the two of us. We tried to give them more money because we felt the meal was worth more, but they politely refused it. We bought a second helping instead.

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Delicious beef stew. We don’t know when our next meal will be, so seconds was a good idea, right?

 

Full and ready to take on anything, we raced uphill with our packs to where the minibus departs for Mollepata. At 3:30 pm, we were pushing it; the bus we were trying to catch was the last bus of the day. But we arrived with plenty of time to spare and found the bus driver outside his van smoking, with 4 or 5 Mollepata-bound locals waiting nearby. “When do we leave?” we asked the driver. “When we have a full bus,” the driver replied. We went and stood with the locals, made some light conversation with our rapidly-improving Spanish, and watched the traffic go by.

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A local bus passes by us as we wait for our minibus to leave to Mollepata.

It took another forty minutes to gather enough people for the bus to depart, and then suddenly at the end there was an abundance. A woman with an infant showed up, an old couple appeared out of nowhere, and with a quorum all of us loaded into the bus. Then three teenagers came dashing up, though there was only one seat left on the bus. “Please,” they begged the driver, “we don’t want to be left here tonight.” The driver motioned for one of them to get in the back with us, and the other two climbed into the sole free seat in front. Then we were off, putt-putting out of town on the three-hour drive to Mollepata.

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Room for one more? I think not, but we’ll try all the same.

The bus wound its way along the narrow Andean roads, taking us higher into the mountains. Occasionally the driver stopped to let someone off or take someone on, though no one seemed to make any gestures to him. He just seemed to know where to stop for each person, as if by habit and routine. Finally around 6:30 pm, the bus puttered to a halt in Mollepata’s central square. In the dusk light, we climbed off the bus, stretched our cramped legs, and donned our heavy packs. Our two goals were to find a place to stay for the night and to find the trailhead for the Salkantay. We asked some older gentlemen hanging around the square where we could find a room for the night, and they pointed us in the direction of a hostel. But they couldn’t give us much idea of where the trailhead was. I tried asking about the church (according to one blog I read, that’s where the trailhead is), but this was met with blank stares. “This town has never had a church,” they told us.

 

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Don’t worry; they may not have a church here, but they at least have DOTA2.

It was getting dark, so we postponed our search for the Salkantay trailhead and wandered down the street in search of the hostel. Everything looked closed, and we weren’t sure we had gone the right way when we finally a sign that read “Hostal Intikilla“. We rang the doorbell and after a few minutes of shuffling, a woman came to the door. We negotiated a room for 60 soles, trudged upstairs, and finally dropped our heavy packs. With the sun set and darkness advancing, it was getting cold rapidly in this little town. Hopefully we had enough blankets.

We grabbed dinner at the hostel’s upstairs restaurant, which consisted of the innkeeper and her husband cooking while their young daughter tidied up the restaurant and brought us the food. We ordered lomo saltado and pollo a la plancha, which ended up being huge portions of meat accompanied by fries, lentils, rice, and salad. It was way too much, but we forced ourselves to finish as much as we could. “This is the best meal I’m going to get in days,” I thought to myself, “better eat what I can.”

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The name and phone number of our accomodation, in case anyone is looking for a place to stay in Mollepata

After dinner, we set out in search of the trailhead with our headlamps. That turned out to be unnecessary, because even this town in the Andean highlands had streetlamps. Using some maps we had found online and the suggestion of our innkeepers, we headed northeast and uphill toward one corner of town. We passed a man running a grocery store and asked him if he knew where the trail started. He pointed us further uphill. We passed a group of men catching up on a street corner and asked them where the trail was. Uphill, they told us, and turn right when the street dead ends. We followed their instructions, and found ourselves trudging up and down a few hills, past the remnants of Christmas lights on houses. We encountered a group of kids playing out on the street, and we asked them where the trail started. They pointed further along the road, giggling. Finally, a couple of hills later, we found the sign (the link shows where on Google Maps). In blue and white, it named our destination tomorrow: Sorayapampa.

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Finally, we’ve found the start of the Salkantay trek!

Back at the hostel, we got ready for bed. I had a headache and my stomach wasn’t feeling great, so I chugged as much water as I could and hoped that it wasn’t altitude sickness. Guess we’ll find out tomorrow!