E-mail Update - 2006-07-17

5 Days to Machu Picchu

Hello Everyone,

When I last left I was about ready to do the alternate Inca Trail to Machu Picchu called Salkantay. We went for 5 days & 4 nights. It was an amazing experience & my favorite experience in Peru so far. The first day you get picked up early at 4:30, then wait on a bus to leave for a long time, eventually arriving to Mollepata where we had some quick food. Our group consisted of 8 people, a couple from Spain (who did the first & last day due to sickness), Roman from Israel via the Ukraine, Guy & Gil from the USA via Israel, Gigi from Chile, Nina & myself. There was also Juan the cook, porters, & our guides from Peru - Alfonso & Myra. Around 10am we started walking & continued this way uphill for the rest of the day.
In all we walked 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), getting to the camping area not to long before darkness (and cold) set in. On the way we saw spectacular view of the mountains & even hummingbirds. There is a point where you change climate zones & it goes from being warm to being very cold. We spent the night in a camping area surrounded by mountains with unbelievable views. The night was so cold that in the tent neither Nina or I really slept, sometimes you would sleep a few minutes here & there but always wake up due to the cold.

On the morning of the second day we were woke up by the persistent knocking of the porters. When we opened the tent we were given warm tea, which was SO GOOD. It really gave you enough warm to be able to pack & get moving. The trail starts of slight uphill with a few harder parts.
Where we were tired from the day & night before even this part was difficult. Eventually we got to the river bed, where we caught up with the rest of the group, but had to leave as soon as we got there. One thing about group walking is that the ones in the back struggle the most because they are walking slower & usually the group leaves when the last people arrive so they get less breaks as well. Something that is important to mention was that there were 2 guides. Alfonso the main guide stuck to the front & Myra stuck to the back (with Nina & I). After crossing the river bed the trail goes straight up hill, but in a Z pattern. This part was really tough, especially on Nina, it took us a long time to make it to the top part of this part. Time was important because we were told that we needed to be at the pass by 11AM. We were also told that a group of Japanese people had died here in the winter (it is winter here now) when trying to cross the pass. Not exactly reassuring. After taking a quick break at the top of the hard part we pushed on, this part was not as difficult as the last part which was great. Before we got the last tough uphill stretch we took some time to do a ceremony for the gods for a safe passage & we got some Coca leaves to chew on, which are to help with altitude sickness. After that we pushed through to the top. I arrived at the pass which is 4800 meters (15840
feet) high at 11:13 & Nina did shortly after. It was such a relief as we knew that the next part was all downhill. After a short ¨celebration¨ & some pictures we headed downhill to the lunch site. I included a picture of the mountains around this point, called oddly enough ¨Mountains¨. On the way Nina twisted her ankle, but she was able to push on. Probably a good time to mention, the path is long but it is also difficult because it is rock, meaning small chunks of rocks. So it is unstable as well as difficult. After lunch we continued downhill & got into the jungle area of the walk. It was such a change from what we had seen for the first 1 2/3 days of the trek. Even though it was supposed to be a short walk, we made it just before the fall of darkness. If at this point we hadn't been told so many times that the first 2 days are the toughest, I would have not known what to do. I was feeling so rough that I was only eating part of the meals, which for me is saying something, especially since the meals were small. We had walked 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) to get to lunch & 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) after that.

The third day started a little later & we got a decent nights sleep the night before because it was much warmer. The difficult part of the beginning for me was that there was water all over the trail so I had to be careful not do get in it since my running shoes would not keep the water out & walking with wet feet is very tough. Eventually we got to the hot springs which was such a welcome rest & energy boost. We had not showered since we the night before we left & were so dirty. The water felt incredible, it was the perfect time for it, my muscles even hurt a little less. The only bad thing was that Nina hurt her ankle leaving the springs. Of course being the tough girl that she is she continued on walking. She is one of the more determined walkers I have ever met. We walked in the forest/jungle the rest of the day. I saw an incredible waterfall on the way, it had no markings it just was there. Also there was a river running besides us which made for great pictures. Around the half way point we all stopped in this nice grassed area & tried a new fruit which the guides bought a bag of for 1 Sol (about 30 cents). It was so nice & relaxing there, it was nice to be there as a group. Towards the end of the walk the bottom of my feet really started hurting so I slowed down a bit. This was ok though because Myra showed me coffee, banana, avocado & numerous other plants. I even picked a coffee bean & opened it to see what it looked like before they dry them out. She also showed me other flowers & plants they used. When we arrived for lunch we knew that the walking was over for the day. I am not sure about the kilometers for this day but it seems like I heard 14 (8.7 miles), although that could be wrong. While at lunch we saw coffee beans being dried & they were cutting meat. The health standards are not quite as high in Peru. When they cut the meat with the axe they would then put the ax down in the dirt, move the meat & cut it again. This process was repeated several times & the meat was never washed. Maybe being vegetarian here is not such a bad idea
:) After that we took the mini bus to where we would camp. We also didn't get our bags as the bus tried to take off with our bags still on top, which we stopped & just before the bus left I remembered that I had left my sleeping bag & swim trunks on the bus so I retrieved them (I had slept on the way & was still a little out of it). After they setup camp for us we got our shower supplies & went to the hostel some of the others were staying at & showered for 2 Sol each. We chose to stay out in the tents because it seemed more appropriate & it was free saving us 8 Sol (10 Sol for the room minus 2 Sol for showers). Later we found out the rooms really only cost 5 Sol, so we could have had a bed for less than a dollar more, the Peruvians are very cheeky like that. The showers were cold for Nina, but when I was in them Gil helped me tell the owner they were cold & he set them right so it was nice & warm, which felt really good (you would be amazed how things like a warm shower become a luxury when traveling).
After that we had an amazing buffet style meal at the restaurant celebrating what we had accomplished. After that I worked on my Spanish with Myra (tour guide) & Gigi (from Chile), they even wrote a lot of it down for me so I could practice. I talked to Roman & went to sleep. It was nice enough temperature wise that I could sleep in my normal clothes!

The next day we got up late around 8am I think. I woke up a little before we needed & started packing the bag, which was good because practically as soon as they woke us up they wanted us out of the tent. Also since out porters had left the night before there was no hot tea on this morning (not that we needed it). I was going to wear shorts but after getting attacked right out of the tent by insects decided that long pants were the best course of action. After breakfast we headed off with our big bags on our back downhill to the river. It was the first time we had to carry our big bags, they had been on horses for the rest of the trip. Once down to the river crossing we knew this would be special (see the picture called rivercrossing). It basically was a cart on a pulley system. The people loaded the cart (big enough for 2 people & some bags) then gave it a push to the other side. Once to the other side the people in the cart pulled the last little bit. Below was the river which was low with rocks exposed. Not making us feel any better were the 2 crosses that we saw which could have only been for people who did not make it. Also we had to wait a long time before it was our turn. I gave my camera to Nina & she gave me to hers so we could take each others picture. We also split so I ended up going with Gil. Nina went first so seeing her make it gave me a little reassurance. The ride was fun to get to the other side, but I didn't realize I had to grab the rope at the end, so that took a few seconds to understand, but we made it safely!! This was the start of what we termed our theme park day. On the other side we hid in the shade & waited what had to be an hour for a truck to take us to the train station. Now when I say a truck I mean a truck with an open lumber back part where about 40 people cram into. As if this wasn't bad enough we had the people who kept picking up our feet & shouting at us to move (there is nowhere to move), so that they can put there bags on the floor. Originally we thought we could stand on the bags, but after Guy got yelled at for it we decided that we couldn't. Nina had only one foot on the truck bed & I was able to have 2 down, but I could not even pick them up as they were buried under fruit bags. When they started out I almost fell back because you have no room to move & you flow with the people. Eventually I grabbed onto the side where Gigi was so I was a little better braced. I even put in my earphones & listened to music & enjoyed the view (it was along the
river & we saw a really high nice waterfall). Luckily it was only about
a 30 minute ride, but it was quite the adventure.

Once at the train station we had lunch & then got our big bags packed onto the train as we were going to walk the train tracks instead of taking the train which would have cost money & did not leave for 3 more hours. We walked as a group for in the beginning & listened to Gil's music, which was nice. The walk took us about 3 hours & I am guessing it at about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), but I don{t really know. On the way we went through dark train tunnels & saw some nice, but not amazing nature. We beat the train there by over an hour & sat to wait in the town. Once the train got there we retrieved our big bags & walked uphill (I was really hating uphill walking at this point) to the hostel. Once there some of us got changed & went to the hot springs to relax. I did errands around the town of Aguas Caliente which means hot (caliente) water (agua). Got water, money, CD's burned, Internet & got to bed early for the next day which was Machu Picchu.

Day #5, the final day of the trek was to Machu Picchu. Roman & Nina, with Alfonso were the only 2 who did the 1 hour uphill walk to get to Machu Picchu from the village (Nina loved this walk she said it was really great). I was way to tired & wanted to save my energy for the hike that we would do later to the top of Wayna Picchu. The bus was expensive $6 for 25 minutes to the top, but it was worth it for the extra sleep & fresh legs. Once there we met the rest of the group (including the Spanish
couple) & went in for a look. No matter how much the guides would like you to think they know about the Inca & this area, they are mostly making it up as they go. Machu Picchu was not actually discovered until 1911.
The Inca's had no writing system & when they were beat by the Spanish they faded away into the hills. There are 3-5 theories about Machu Picchu & how important it was or whether it was even used by the time the Spaniards beat the Inca. However, Machu Picchu is quite the place, the setting is unbelievable, it is so spiritual & it has so many possibilities & area to explore. Back to the untrustworthy guides, we overheard when another tour guide was asked the question about how long the average life span was for an Inca. The answer he gave was an unbelievable 80 years! There were other things that were very sketchy even from our guide, the real truth is that no one knows that much. After walking through the complex we got to the entrance to Wayna Picchu where we had to sign in. Nina did not feel well & was not going to the top so I went with Gigi & Guy, it took us 35 minutes (going straight up hill after the first 3 minutes). It is quite the walk & one of the steepest I have ever done (probably second after Ayers Rock-Uluru in Australia). It is totally worth it for the incredible view you get at the top (see picture called brockatmachupicchu which is not at the top, but near the top). It is breathtaking, in the sense of the walk & when you get to the top & look around both. After about an hour Nina joined, she had pushed through another time to make it to the top :) After a long time & wondering around we headed back down the trail, going a different way which starts out so tough. I backed down part of the trail & held on where I could as one missed step could mean death or at least a very long fall. It actually takes longer to go down than up I think. I ran most of the last part as it gets easier so I was able to take a break & wait for the others. Eventually they came & after a little break we headed back down the trail to the bus. A side story I think is funny is that Alfonso said ¨Nina is taking the bus down¨, which once he said that I knew of course meant that Nina was not taking the bus down, so she walked the whole thing. I ran most of the trail down as I was out of water before the walk up Wayna Picchu & I was really thirsty.
Eventually I made it to the town & celebrated with a small bottle of water as my victory. Then I went back to the room (up the hill) & laid down to recover (I was so tired, words can't describe it). I would have had to pay 3 Sol for a shower at the hostel, so decided to go to the Hot Springs instead for only 7 Sol more, even though we only had about 10 minutes there. It was still relaxing. After that I got ready & walked to the place where we caught lunch. Originally we had planned to stay in Aguas Caliente for 2 days, but once there decided we did not want to do this.
So we told Alfonso the night before we wanted to switch, which he said was
ok. At the restaurant though he told us that we needed to give him $10
to change the tickets, which didn't make any sense (he had the money back from our room which was $20 already) & I refused, but he talked Nina into it as she got there later & was not sitting by me. He eventually decided that we would have to go to the station to get our own tickets, but he would help us & gave us $70 total. At first Nina & I thought it was too much but decided to wait & see what happened & we could give the extra back if needed. After paying our lunch bill we turned around & everyone was gone. We took only our small bags & looked around town for about 10 minutes until seeing Myra & having her show us to the train station (hidden behind the market). While Nina waited for the new tickets, I went back & got the 2 big bags. We ended up paying $32 EACH extra over the money given to us to get the tickets. Also Roman did not have a ticket bought for him so he ended up missing the first train & going with us. It was a very messed up deal & we barely made it on the 4pm train to go back to Cuzco. On the train ride we learned a lot about Roman & I even got a little sleep. We arrived to Cuzco around 9pm & followed Roman to his hostel, staying there (even though it was up a lot of steps!). It was a very nice place & it was good to sleep in a nice warm place not having to get up the next day!

Well that is the 5 days to Machu Picchu e-mail. I am already working on the next email which has pictures of Nina & I on the floating island in
Puno, a condor & the world´s second deepest Canyon called Colca. No
promises as to when I will send that one ;) Adding pictures is a new thing for this, but I sized them down so hopefully that no one has issues getting this message.

As always, but especially for my new friends, if you want of the list just tell me :)

Love & Peace