The 5-day Salkantay hike, from Mollepata to Machu Picchu, is the biggest thing I've done so far on my world trip. It's also the biggest hike I've done so far in my life. All up, the hike was an overwhelming success. There were a few bumps and hurdles along the way; but in the end, they were nothing that spoiled the trip, and they were everything that made the trip, and that made the story of this part of my journey. After having finished the hike, I feel (unsurprisingly!) very tired, but also very satisfied.
In the classic postcard shot, you can see the city of Machu Picchu in the foreground, and a spike of a mountain rising up steeply behind it. That mountain is Wayna Picchu. It's popular, although challenging, to climb Wayna Picchu as part of one's visit to Machu Picchu. From the top, you can explore the ruins on Wayna Picchu itself, and you are afforded a pristine and panoramic view of Machu Picchu, which is spread out below. After our tour of Machu Picchu, three people in my group (myself included) made the ascent to Wayna Picchu.
This morning, after an exhilirating sprint up the mountain, we finally made it to the grand finale of the Salkantay hike, the Lost City of the Incas itself, Machu Picchu. The place may be overrun by tourists; but really, when you get there, you can see why so many people go out of their way to visit this place. Putting aside the history, the romance, the mystery, and the culture, Machu Picchu — city and surroundings — is without a doubt one of the most stunningly gorgeous places I've ever visited. Our guide, Feliz, was good enough to give us a tour of the ruins.
One of the things I resolved to do after leaving Mexico (as you may recall) was to waste less money, and to sacrifice less brain cells, on alcohol. I figured that going on adventures, and getting out of the big cities, would make this easier. Well, it hasn't quite turned out that way, on the Salkantay hike. I've been on a mission of virtual abstinence from alcohol the whole trip. But absolutely everyone else in my group — especially the Belgian Front — has had the exact opposite mission. And they've taken it upon themselves — "for your own good" — to render my mission a failure. They seem to have succeeded.
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.
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.