Posted at 16:28:45, 12/10/2004
Saturday 9th October 2004, 7:30pm, Soray, nr. Salkantay
Yesterday we popped into South America Explorers to pick up our bags before the trek and to see whether anyone had responded to our notice to get someone to join us on the Salkantay trek. We overheard someone complaining because she'd been messed around while trying to go on the Inca Trail. Several people were suggesting alternative companies and good treks so I just wandered over and told her where we were going and asked whether she wanted to join us. She said yes - extra points to her for good trekking with two scruffy Brits who she only met the day before! She's called Shani, she's from Essex but has spent the last 20 years in Australia and she's planning on spending her 50th in Patagonia in January.
We decided to get a taxi rather than the 5am bus to Mollepata for the start of the trek. We got to the start just before 9am, had some breakfast and found an excellent arrerio (horseman) caled Fernando. We walked for about 7 hours up through subsustence farming and huge hills, along small winding tracks.
Our first view of Salkantay, the mountain we trek around the flank of tomorrow, was at about 4pm. It's beautiful, a maze of huge glaciers and seracs with several knife-edge ridges and giant steps of Moraine leading down to where we're camped.
Saturday 10 October 2004, Pampa Chuana, nr. Salkantay
We got up this morning at 6am for what looked to be the hardest day of the trek - start at 3500m, trek up to over 4800m and around the flank of Salkantay, and the camp just over the other side.
The walk up to the pass was fairly steep, up through glacial moraine and over the many streams and rivers coming down off the mountain. Every time we round a corner we saw more of the South face of Salkantay. Initially the weather was clear and hot, but as we approached the last steep section to the pass, it started to hail and then snow heavily.
Our celebrations at having reached the pass in only four hours, despite Shani's huge blisters (the guidebook says 5-6 hours) were kept short by the weather. We came down through wet and boggy valleys, the snow and sleet easing off by early afternoon. We pass lots of livestock - horses, donkeys, cows, pigs and alpacas.
We've reached a point quite a long way beyond where we were planning on getting to today, but Shani was half-dead with fatigue when we got here and she has massive blisters. Also, the stobe got knocked on last night so we're a bit short on fuel. For these reasons we've decided to cut short our trek a bit. Instead of heading up over another (much lower) pass and going to Chilco, we're going to do the first part of the Inca trail in reverse and go to the train station at KM88.
Monday 11th October 2004, 9:15pm, Koyllur Hostel, Cusco
Heh... through a combination of good luck and bad luck we're back in Cusco two days early! We did the 3 hours down the the small and fairly unimpressive (after seeing Machu Picchu anyway!) Inca ruins at Paucarcancha first thing this morning. Fernando reckoned it was three days more walking the way we had planned to go to Chilco (the guidebook is a bit vague, but seemed to suggest it was only a day). Given the state of Shani's feet and our shortage of fuel, the only real option was to join the first bit of the Inca trail and walk out to the railway. We left Fernando here with a big tip and some chocolate!
The Inca trail is a huge motorway of a path compared to the small horse- and foot-paths of the rest of the trek. It was full of porters carrying huge loads and occasional large groups of gringos.
We got to a point where we had a choice of 1/2 hour's walk to KM88 (where there is just a railway) or 2 hours walk to KM82 (where there is a railway and a road). We decided to go to KM88 but the spent several ours trying to flag down passing trains until finally a tourist train stopped, agreed to take us to Cusco and charged us a whopping US$44 each for the priviledge!
I was sat next to a French guy and a Spanish couple, all on their way back from Machu Picchu. There followed a long conversation in a mixture of English, Spanish and French - I'm not sure whether it has improved my language skills of just confused them!
Back in Cusco now and totally knackered... so the planning 10-day Paine circuit in Patagonia will be a challenge :-P
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