Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day 3: Lunes – Salkantay Trek

Monday we were up at 5:00 am for the start of our hike. We did the Salkantay Trek with Apus Peru. We piled into a van and met up with the other people in our group, Paul and Corah, a couple from Ireland. We drove for more than an hour or two to the tiny town Mollepata to eat. We ate breakfast in a little area that had guinea pigs, cats, chickens and dogs walking around. They gave us some tea from coco leaves that the natives use. I tried it but didn’t like the taste.

We then got back in the van and drove to the beginning of the trail at a place called Soray Pampa. The road we took was a dirt/gravel switchback. On the one side of the road was the mountain, and on the other side a drop that was upwards of hundreds of feet down at times. We listened to Quechua music along the way. Part way up we were crossing a creek and bottomed out, so some of us hopped out and I took these pictures:

This was a long drive, hours long. When the Quechua tapes were over the driver put on – what else – Bob Marley, thus getting reggae songs stuck in our heads for the next few days. We finally reached the end of the road and we piled out to begin the hike. Before we began I moved to the front seat to put in my contact lenses. The driver was fascinated and asked questions about them, I don’t think he had ever seen contacts before.

Our group consisted of our guide Willy, our cook Victoriano, two horsemen Jesus and Alejandro and the six of us.

The hike began at 3,900 meters.

It was straight up hill to the Salkantay pass. Salkantay is a mountain over 20,500 feet (higher than Mt. McKinley, but only the 12th highest peak in Peru) that can be seen in the background of the above pictures. It means Savage Mountain and completely dominates the surrounding area despite everything else. The hike up was slow going with many switchbacks.

After a while of going up it started to rain a little and got colder. We made it to a tent that the horsemen and cook had pitched for lunch. They started the hike a bit after us and blew by us like they were strolling through the park. Here’s the view from the lunch tent.

We gathered in as it rained harder and began to hail. I was expecting something small for lunch, but they went all out. We had some soup to start off, then rice, French fries, grilled chicken and vegetables. The potato originated in Peru, and they know how to cook with it. The food was amazing.

We hiked up to 4,600 meters (15,200+) feet to pass Salkantay. The view was spectacular.

At the high point there is a sign giving the altitude 4600 meters or 15,253 feet. There are only 18 mountains with a higher altitude in North America, and we were higher than Mt. Whitney (the tallest point in the continental 48 states). And this was the pass to get around the mountains on either side of us.

This was the highest I have ever successfully used a pointer, and I was left to wonder if anyone had ever used a pointer at a higher elevation.

When we were further down Willy told us to pick up some rocks and carry up the mountain, so we all had some small stones. At the top it is tradition to stack the stones up to resemble a mountain as a sort of offering to the mountain gods.

Willy did a more formal offering where he scattered coco leaves on a pillar of rocks. He did it on three levels, representing different gods in the Incan deity. The first represented the snake or god of what’s below the ground, the second represented the puma or god of what’s on the ground, and the third the condor or god of what’s above the ground. Willy also briefly explained Pachamama, who’s roughly Mother Earth. Before eating or drinking those who follow the tradition pour some of the liquid or take some of the food and put it on the ground as an offering to Pachamama, since everything comes from the earth you give some back.

It was cold at the top of the pass, but going up and back down it was warm enough to wear just a short sleeved shirt and be fine. As we were getting towards the summit my fingers got a little tingly and it was harder to breath, but other than that the altitude didn’t bother me. My fingers felt fine after a few minutes. We then hiked downhill to our campsite for the night.

Towards the end we were in a green valley with a creek running through it covered in mist. Except for the mountains, this part of the hike reminded Paul and Corah of Ireland.

After 12 kilometers of hiking up and down we arrived at the campsite. It was 4,000 meters above sea level and located by some dwellings where some people live.

I can’t imagine living so far out. To get anywhere these people have to trek I don’t know how many miles by horse/foot. And yet they had bottles of water and other things ready for sale for us hikers. We had trout for dinner with rice and potatoes. Dessert was purple corn pudding, which tasted like a purple Jolly Rancher. We went to bed early as there really wasn’t anything to do, we were all beat and we had 16 kilometers of hiking to look forward to the next day.

Here is Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 Part 1, Part 2, Day 7, Day 8


JennyW said...

That pointer picture is particularly impressive :)

Warren said...

That is one of my favorite pictures from the trip.