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.
For the groups of gringos that regularly do it, the Salkantay hike is a fun and challenging trek through the remote and exotic mountains of Peru. It's an adventure. But the hiking path isn't there for us. All the way along this seemingly middle-of-nowhere path, there are people (and animals) living and working. For these locals, the path is their main thoroughfare. For them, leading a pack of horses and donkeys along a winding mountain path for 5 hours straight, is like driving along the freeway to the CBD for us.
In Australia, we have a tradition that when you reach the highest point in a hike through mountains, you acknowledge the occasion with a (shall we say) "special" kind of salute. Being the true blue Aussie that I am, I was obliged to salute my fellows atop Paso Salkantay, at 4,600m asl. But what I didn't expect was for the boys of the Belgian Front to join me in performing the salute. Great sports, those Belgians. And apparently quite capable of being as big a bunch of bogans as us Aussies.
I knew that today, day 2 of the Salkantay hike, was going to be tough; but nothing could have prepared me for the massive ascent that we made this morning, from Soraypampa to the edge of Nevado Salkantay. We literally walked almost 1000m uphill, in less than 3 hours. By the time we reached Paso Salkantay, at 4,600m asl, we felt pretty damn proud of ourselves. Although a little more oxygen would have been good.
Just as we were leaving our campsite from the 1st night of the Salkantay hike, we saw a big building under rapid construction. A building that looked very much like it could be a hostel. And judging by its progress, I think it will be ready in just a few months' time. Are we one of the last groups that will get to do this hike as it's meant to be done, with camping? If so, then I count myself very lucky, and I feel sorry for the people ahead of me, who won't get the same experience that I enjoyed.
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.