Salkantay hike begins
Today I started the 5-day Salkantay hike, which is an alternative to the (massively overbooked) Inca Trail hike, and which also ends at the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. The journey started with a 5am pickup from the Loki hostel in Cusco, and a 2-hour bus ride to the starting point of the hike, the village of Mollepata.
Main square of Mollepata.
Salkantay is a very different hike to the Inca Trail. It's 5 days rather than 4. Along the way, it has very few ruins, but lots of gorgeous natural scenery. It's much tougher — the days are longer and more intense. And, of course, it's much cheaper (despite being a day longer), and it can be booked 1 day ahead, rather than 3 months ahead.
We were catching a public bus from Cusco to Mollepata, and because I was the last one in my group to get picked up (by a van), the bus was full when I got there. So instead, the tour operators whacked me in a taxi that was headed for Mollepata (their shout). No complaints there — the bus would have been much less comfortable.
When everyone arrived in Mollepata, we formed our groups for the first time, and went and had breakfast together. There are 11 people in my group (including myself), plus our guide, a local guy named Feliz (most people call him Felix). There's the Belgian Front: (Maes, Stef, Ellen, and Stijn). There are the Germans: Regina and Amin. There's Greg from London. There's "Argentina" (a.k.a. Hernan, from Buenos Aires). There's Sarah from Norway. And there's the unforgettable Dave from Ireland.
The group, getting ready to go.
We're travelling semi-together with one other group, which has about 9 people, plus their guide, Wilson. Our groups seem to be walking separately, but sharing equipment, porters, and cooks. And so far, we all seem to be getting along just fine.
Day 1 of the Salkantay hike was fairly long, but mostly pleasant. We did about 6 or 7 hours of walking today, with terrain that was mainly either flat or gentle uphill, and that was largely fire-trail type unsealed road. The morning was basically spent getting out of the Mollepata village and farming area, and into the less-populated and more rugged highlands (well... higher lands, I should say!).
Fine weather and green hills, getting out of Mollepata.
The afternoon, on the other hand, was spent passing through only a bit of farms, and through a lot of very scenic semi-jungle mountain terrain.
Beautiful river valley on the afternoon walk.
Even after one day, it's clear that we're getting spoiled on this hike. When we got to our lunch site of Sayllapata today, there was hot soup and tea all waiting there for us. When we reached tonight's campsite of Soraypampa, our tents were already set up, and dinner was rapidly being cooked. Very different to what I've gotten used to lately, on my camping trips back home with Liam and Sam, where we have to do all of this ourselves. Different, but nice. :P
Tonight's campsite is in a beautiful spot, in a gently sloping valley with mountains on 3 sides, and a beautiful, forested river valley that stretches away on the fourth side. Plenty of nice, soft ground for camping on. And plenty of cool mountain streams for washing your hands and brushing your teeth. And plenty of bushes for doing your business behind.
Soraypampa, the campsite between the mountains.
From Soraypampa, we can pretty much see where our path continues, up into the mountains, for tomorrow's massive ascent to Salkantay Mountain.