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Peru – September 9, 2017

October 14th, 2017 No comments

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Today will be a most interesting day as this is the day we hike over the pass. Salkantay is a 20,574 foot glacier topped mountain in the Andes and the pass is at 15,213 feet. So I wake up sort of anxious about what the day will bring. We get ready and go down for breakfast where we have eggs cooked to order and a spread of yogurt, cereals and granola, fruits, and cheeses. After breakfast we go by the snack table where we prepare a bag to take with us for the hike. I grab dried fruits and nuts, little hard candies, and a homemade chocolate covered fruit and nut bar.

We leave our lodge which sits at 12,690 feet early, but a bit late as we wait on the couple from Venezuela. We had arranged for an extra horse in case anyone needed a lift so the ranger has 3 horse to control during the trek. The horses carry our duffel bags, medical supplies and oxygen, along with extra water. Today will probably be our longest trek and the extra water will be a must.
Salkantay lodgeSalkantay lodge.

We leave the lodge and walk through a meadow like landscape where the llamas and horses graze, but soon we get to the trail and begin the ascent. The beginning is rather rocky with some steeper parts, and we do a switchback trail gradually climbing higher and higher. My legs are in shape for it, but I still breath a bit heavy even though we are going slow. It is a strenuous morning as it is a continuous uphill hike for several hours, but there are 2 snack breaks on schedule. The extra horse has already come in handy as Rosita is taking a ride up a steeper portion of the trail, but Vicky and I are still carrying our day packs and steadily making the climb.
Pack MulePack Mule.
Salkantay lodgeLooking back at Salkantay lodge (on the right side of the meadow).

Finally we come to a small relatively flat area where we take our first break and enjoy the dried fruits and nuts from our snack bags. There is a rocky shelter where a woman is selling a few things like gatorade and gloves and such. Our guide says that her family lives here in the rock caves and they make a living selling these things to people on the trail. All too soon our break time is over and we hit the trail again, but we will get a second break, scheduled just before the pass, and it is supposed to be a long one.

Hiking and camping is becoming very popular in the area. Along the way we’ve seen a number of camps where groups can spend the night under what looks like a makeshift shelter. In some cases, the camps have not been allowed to open because they did not get the proper permission from the government.
CampCamp.

Again we make our way slow and steady up the rocky trail. Occasionally a mule train will pass us by carrying supplies to the lodges or from one community to the next. It has been this way for hundreds of years as this trail over the pass has been a primary trade route coming from the rainforests and jungles to the cities in the highlands. When we see a mule train coming we get to the mountainside of the trail, as it is possible to be bumped by the big bundles they are carrying. You definitely don’t want to be bumped down the side of the mountain as it can be rather steep.
Mule TrainMule Train.
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We make it to the site of our second break and we are definitely feeling the altitude and the strain from the continuous climb. However it has started with a light hail storm and we stop just long enough to get our rain gear in place and eat a couple handfuls of trail mix. We are all determined to make it to the top, but a longer break to rest our legs and consume more energy food would have been nice. By this time our guide had showed us how to chew coca leaves and as we start the final assent we each have a little bundle in our mouth. The wind is blowing the bits of ice into our faces as we slowly make it to the top of the pass. There are a couple of other small groups taking pictures in front of one of the three signs marking the top of the pass. Soon we also have a quick celebration and take pictures next to the official sign at 15,213 feet. The other two are decoys I am sure.
HikeHike.
HikeHike.
SummitSummit.

The landscape changes somewhat quickly as we make it over the pass, and soon the skies are clearing and we are greeted with a spectacular view of glacier topped mountains surrounding us. The air is becoming slightly more humid as we were now on the Amazon basin side of things and it is becoming a bit easier to breathe. Our next lodge is at 12,812 so this part of the trek is down, down, down. After about another hour we make it to the lunch place and I am in serious need of food and a place to sit down.
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HikeHike.
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The lunch place is incredible given that we are so remote. They have a large tent set up with tables and chairs, a large cooking tent, and a smaller tent down the way enclosing a pit toilet. Soon we are enjoying bread and a hot creamy soup for our first course. The second course is pasta in a delicious marinara sauce. I am totally relaxed now and not really wanting to move, but the fact of the matter is that we are still a couple hours hike from the lodge so move we must. Energized after the wonderful lunch and enjoying the fresh mountain air and spectacular mountain scenery we strike out again on the trail.
LunchAs we leave the tents, this picture captures the setting.
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Map My HikeMap My Hike.

I am very glad to finally see the Wayra lodge as it has been about a 10 hour day of hiking covering about 7.6 miles of challenging terrain and I am really ready for that jacuzzi!
Wayra lodgeWayra lodge.
Wayra lodgeWayra lodge.

Vicky has started experiencing some stomach cramps, and so we let Diana know. It has been a very strenuous day at a high altitude and given the altitude sickness she experienced in Cusco we want to be cautious. This results in Vicky just getting to eat broth for dinner while I enjoy steak and potatoes with a nice red wine. We make our way to bed soon after where we find heated water bottles placed between the sheets for us.

At sometime in the middle of the night I hear Vicky in the bathroom; it is going to be another rough night. This time it is diarrhea. We hate to wake Diana, but she has stressed that we must come get her immediately if anything happens so she can start treating us. So Vicky makes her way down to room number 4 and gets Diana. There is no electricity after 11:00pm as it is generated on site for us and so Diana goes to wake someone else who will start the electricity. After getting the details of the diarrhea she makes a call to the doctor. All of this is a bit embarrassing for Vicky, but I’m sure the guide knows what precautions are necessary. She returns with a medicinal tea in a hot thermos which Vicky must drink and a liter of electrolytes. Soon we are able to settle back down and get back to sleep.

Categories: Peru 2017 Tags: ,

Peru – September 8, 2017

October 13th, 2017 No comments

Friday, September 8, 2017

5:45am comes around soon enough, but we are both well rested. We get ready, dressing in a base layer shirt and a mid-layer, and head downstairs for breakfast. I help myself to the continental breakfast while Vicky orders an omelet.

At 6:45am we finish our packing and head down to the lobby to check out and meet our guide/group. We leave our main suitcase at the hotel. We have had to carefully select which clothes go with us in the duffle bags provided by Mountain Lodges of Peru as the final day of the trek requires a train ride and the bag is limited to be 11 pounds. All other clothes will remain in the main suitcase in storage here in Cusco. Maria will pick it up later and transfer it to the hotel we were at originally as that is where we are scheduled to return on the last day.

7:00am, the van arrives right on time and we all get packed up. There are 6 others plus the guide. This group is composed of 3 American couples. They have been doing different vacations together for over 10 years even though they have moved to different areas of the country, so English conversation is flowing easily. It is about a 5 hour drive to the trailhead including a few stops along the way. So we settle in for a long drive as the road twists and turns climbing the hills out of the sprawling city. Soon the road turns to countryside as we gaze out the window to see small houses, crops, and livestock. In one small community a number of cows are being led on rope halters to a corral type area; it turns out that every Friday people come to trade for a better bull or a fatter cow, or just to socialize as it appears.

The first stop is an archeological site called Tarahuasi. Here the walls are fitted together in the typical Inca style, but the stones are not square shaped. In fact, many of the stones appear to form the shape of a flower. There is a platform type area built with a walls that has many large niches. Here they would place important mummies during certain times of the year so they could also enjoy the festivities. There is a large courtyard type area where according to our guide they still have festivals.
TarahuasiTarahuasi.
TarahuasiTarahuasi.
TarahuasiTarahuasi.
TarahuasiTarahuasi.

The second stop was a project garden where the hope is to grow all of the supplies for the mountain lodges beginning next year. All the food is grown organically and they have quite a variety of fruit trees and vegetables. They also have a guinea pig farm – yes, they eat guinea pigs. Who know, maybe we will get a chance to try this delicacy. They are well taken care of in several different pens. Mothers and their new pups are in their own pen and a grated shield is placed over a food dish especially for the pups as the mom can’t fit through the grate. Classical type music is playing throughout the farm house. According to Pepe, guinea pigs are a bit skittish and the music helps to calm them especially when they have visitors such as ourselves. Around in the back of the farm house we find that it is snack time. They have the seriously strong Peruvian coffee, which is called coffee essence and is usually diluted to your preferred strength with a bit of hot water. They also have a variety of teas: the coca leaf tea, a mountain mint tea called Muna, Camomile, and Anise. There is a fresh whole grain bread, fresh cheese, avocados from their garden. A basket of Inca corn kernels which were still warm from the roasting was passed around. The Inca corn is a very large kernel about the size of a hazelnut and grows in the Sacred Valley area which is around 9000 feet elevation.
Project GardenProject Garden.
Project GardenProject Garden.
Project GardenProject Garden.
Project GardenProject Garden.
Project GardenProject Garden.

As we are leaving the farm we notice a small community, Coronilla, that has quite a number of horses and mules. Pepe explains that most of the rangers for the treks come from this community. From a very young age they are taught how to take care of the horses. Some of the horses respond entirely to the ranger’s verbal commands to stop or go right or left. They do ride, but mostly the horses and mules are used to transport goods and materials through the mountains.

The last stop was a local shop where we could observe the women weaving material that would used to made goods for sale. The women had a display inside showing the various plants and minerals used to dye the wool. Surprisingly a variety of a cactus is used to make a very pinkish red color, how did they figure that out. The Andes have 3 animals whose coat is used in the making of wool: Llama, Alpaca, and Vicuna. The Vicuna wool is the most expensive as the wool is very fine and the hardest to get. The Vicuna does not breed in captivity and must be left to roam in the mountains. So every three years they round them up in order to shear their coats. The ladies also had a variety of homemade jams available for tasting and sale. The gooseberry was seriously good and we were wondering if it was ok to bring back on the plane or if customs would take it away from us. However, we ran out of time before deciding on any purchases and needed to leave before the group left us behind.
Goods for saleGoods for sale.
Goods for saleGoods for sale.

As we continue our drive, we are forced to make a stop as there is construction equipment blocking the road. We stop the van and get out to stretch our legs. Curious, I walk up the road to see what work is being done. I am surprised to see that the entire road is dug up in order to put in a new culvert. I guess they don’t really have much choice. A stray dog, one of many that we have seen, approached me looking for a handout. The dog appears friendly, but I don’t have any snacks for him. Surprisingly, they get the pipe in place and push the dirt back in place and we are on our way within 20 minutes.
Road’s outRoad’s out.
ViewpointViewpoint.
FlowersFlowers.
DogDog.

Finally at a place called Marcoccasa, which is really just a crossing in the road, we pull over in the van. It is time for our warm-up hike up to the Salkantay Lodge, the first on our Mountain Lodges of Peru trek. Vicky is feeling well and decides she is definitely doing the hike. So we each grab our provided sack lunch, our day packs which have a hydration bladder containing about a liter and a half of water, and our trekking poles. The elevation here is 11,001 feet, lower than Cusco, but the trail starts off with a bit of an uphill climb and soon all the members of our group are breathing heavy and our hearts are pounding. Pepe explains that we should slow down; we can’t hike at our normal pace in these mountains as the air is thin.
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Adjustments are made and we continue uphill to our lunch spot on the trail. We open our sacks to find a fat sandwich and a couple pieces of fruit, one of which was one of those sweet passion fruits we tried the other day. We find rocks to sit on and are enjoying our meal when this huge condor flies by. Of course I don’t have my camera in hand so I don’t get a picture. Pepe is rather excited as well; usually these huge birds are high coasting on the thermals and this one was low to the mountainside just in front of us. After lunch we continue our hike, and almost immediately a pair of peregrine falcons take a dive together off to the left. I need a pair of those Google glasses that take pictures as there is no hope in getting my camera in time. But what a sighting, condors and peregrine falcons and we just started!

Soon the trail meets up with a stone walled canal with rapidly flowing water. This is an original canal built by the Incas and still in use today. Occasionally the trail has a steep drop off on the right as the canal hugs the mountainside. Pepe announces to the group that if we are going to fall we should fall into the canal and not down the mountain. I don’t intend to fall either way and I carefully watch my footing in places where the path narrows. Soon we come to a clearing where we can see tonight’s lodge in the distance; perhaps it is a slightly less than a mile away. It appears to be downhill from our present location, but this has to be an optical illusion as Pepe explains that the Inca canal flows from the lodge to this spot along the side of the mountain and the water flow does not lie. The elevation change is only a few feet and these master engineers made this canal work using the lay of the land.
Inca CanalInca Canal.
WaterfallWaterfall.
Rickety BridgeRickety Bridge.

We continue with our hike as Pepe points out different trees and flowers along the way, and soon we celebrate and take group pictures as we make it to the Salkantay lodge. The elevation here is 12,690 feet and the hike took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to cover 3.7 miles.
Salkantay lodgeSalkantay lodge.
Salkantay lodgeSalkantay lodge.
Salkantay lodgeSalkantay lodge.
Map My HikeMap My Hike.

As we enter the lodge Diana and the couple from Venezuela, Eduardo and Rosita, greet us. It turns out that Knock and Eric had to make a trip in an emergency vehicle back to a clinic Cusco. She like Vicky suffered from altitude sickness the night before and could not stay at this altitude. Diana stresses to us that we must tell her immediately if we are experiencing any problems such as a headache, dizziness, or nausea. We can not just wait until the morning, we must come get her. Eduardo tells us of the hike that they took this morning up to Humantay Lake. This lake sits below the Humantay glacier and so the water is clear and cold. A local Andean medicine man had accompanied them to the lake and had performed a prayer ceremony to bless our hiking adventure. He spoke very few words of Spanish as the language of the native people of the Andes is Quechua. Tonight we will conclude this ceremony as we will burn the prayer package in a fire.

For now we get our room key and head off to drop our packs in our room and relax a bit. The lodge is surrounded by glacier capped mountains and the we are captured by the view out the large windows in the sitting area. Here we get a cup of hot Muna tea and warm ourselves near the fire as we quietly gaze upon the clouds brushing past the mountain tops. A hummingbird is visiting the red flowers on the tree outside, and llamas are grazing in the field beyond.
SalkantaySalkantay.
SalkantaySalkantay.

Dinner is at 8:00 tonight but beforehand we will have our prayer by the fire, so we grab our jackets and head outside. Diana explains that the offerings in the prayer bundle include flowers, seeds, herbs, and candies as an offering to Pachamama, the Mother Earth, and will be burned to carry the prayers to the Apus, mountain spirits. The medicine man starts a quiet song as he places the bundle on the fire. Smoke from the fire waves around us as we sit and listen, and soon it is time to head back in for dinner and I am more than ready. On the way in we gaze up into the night sky where the band of the Milky Way is clearly visible. Diana points out the Scorpius constellation with its curving tail next to the Milky Way band. The heart of this constellation is a reddish star known as Antares. She thinks the Southern Cross is hidden behind the mountains, but we can perhaps see it tomorrow night.
Salkantay lodgeSalkantay lodge.

The cooks will accompany us for the whole trip and I am impressed as the meal is delicious. The head cook competed for a place in the El Mercado restaurant and had earned that position, but soon had a lust for the trail once again. He taught his younger brothers his cooking skills and how to safely prepare food for visitors to the country, and now they also help him in the kitchens. As the conversation continues at the table my eyes are getting heavy and we excuse ourselves to the room where we soon fall into deep sleep.

Categories: Peru 2017 Tags: ,