Nevado Salkantay rises 6271m above sea level, making it one of the highest mountains in the Cusco area. The Salkantay area is where I completed a 5-day hike to Machu Picchu, going through jungle, pastures, and swampy valleys along the way. It's a beautiful and starkly majestic area, and it manages to be both pristine in its wilderness qualities, and intriguing with its hardy locals and their traditional lifestyles, all at once.
The mountains of the Salkantay range.
This afternoon, train track trek is exactly what we did, in order to walk from Hidro Electrico, to tonight's haunt of Aguas Calientes. It literally was about 3 hours straight of walking either on or right beside the train line that goes (almost) to Machu Picchu. Long, tedious, and a bit risky when we had to jump off the track to make way for an oncoming train. But it got us there.
Unless we're just having really bad luck on this hike, landslides must be as common as Llamas here in Peru (and that's pretty common), because we've just encountered two in two days. However, yesterday's encounter — on the way to Santa Teresa — was nothing compared with today's, on the way to the Hidro Electrica. Today's was big, it was dangerous, and there was no getting around it. Uh-huh, es correcto: today we had no choice but to walk through a landslide.
On the Salkantay hike, Feliz is our own personal guide. He's done the hike over 20 times, and he knows it inside out; and he can finish it in ¼ the time that we can. We gave him a hard time on the trip, for his only-just-adequate English skills, and for his sometimes being slack in keeping us together and not lost. But at the end of the day, he's a great guy, and we couldn't have done it without him.
Ido is in the group adjacent to mine on the Salkantay hike, and he's both an intolerable and a friendly / entertaining guy, all at once. This is because of the (only) two things that he talks about. He's intolerable because he never stops talking about his love of Israel, about how proud he is to be an officer in the IDF, and about how defending Israel's right to exist is so important (bevakasha, habibi — genukh!). But he's also entertaining, because he also never stops talking about women: about adventures past with them, about crazy things he's done with them, and about which one's he's got the hots for right now.
I really am having bad luck with the old shoe department today. First there was the incident with the wet money; and then I had this: declining to bring shoes — or footwear of any kind — when I really, really should have done otherwise. The hot springs of Santa Teresa are absolutely divine; but when they assure you that you're getting a lift all the way there, don't count on it. You never know when you might need a bit of footwear.
This afternoon was the most relaxing part of the Salkantay hike; but it was also the most stressful so far, because we were hindered in our truck ride by a landslide, and because two groups' worth of us were piled into the back of a rickety pickup. However, we sang our way to our destination, the town of Santa Teresa, in the end. Hence, the story of the truck, the landslide, and the singing.
A piece of advice for anyone who's planning on shoving 160 US dollars inside their shoes, and on then hiking through mud and through small streams: don't do it. Today, a small misstep in a river crossing on the Salkantay hike ended up costing me much more than a pair of wet feet. Keeping money in your shoes may sound like a good idea, as a precaution against theft; but there are other ways to be robbed of money, apart from having it pulled out of your pocket.
There's one thing I can say about today, that really sums up the day's hiking: it was a bitch. We walked for almost 9 hours today. We left Soraypampa at 7:30am this morning, and the quicker people among us (myself included) didn't get to tonight's campsite of Challway until 5:30pm. The morning may have been hard, but the afternoon was long. It was one really long downhill slog, that just dragged on and on forever. Today really was not for the faint-hearted.
There couldn't have been a more able representative of fair Ireland, to grace our Salkantay hike group, than Dave. Dave showed up on day 1, having had zero sleep and gallons of alcohol the night before; and the first thing he did was down a large Cusqueña, "to keep me going fer the day". And, amazingly, keep him going it did.
The two Belgian couples that were in my group on the Salkantay hike — Maes and Stef, Ellen and Stijn — will be fondly remembered for many things. They can drink beer until the cows come home. They can sing Waltzing Matilda. And they can honestly claim that they were part of the world-first Australian-Belgian salute, at the top of the world in Peru. What's more, they truly are one of the friendliest bunch of people I've met on my trip so far.