Excuse me while I kiss the sky.
- Jimi Hendrix
After our three days of acclimatizing in the warm and lovely city of Cuzco, we set off at 5am the next morning to begin our grand adventure. As per usual I slept on the moving vehicle (minibus this time) to the drop site so not much to report.
We all began our hike with only a day pack – such incredible luxury I have never known in my young life. It will be hard to go back to lugging all my own shite. The rest of the gear was towed by mules and porters who started with us, passed us, had lunch ready on arrival to whichever stunning lunch spot was chosen, stayed behind to clean up after, passed us again, and had dinner and tents ready when we arrived at the next beautiful sleeping spot. These guys were wonderful, mysterious legends. I got the opportunity to play soccer with them halfway through the trek after only a half day of hiking, my friend Syd was unfortunately riding out a nasty foreign stomach bug in the tent (we suspect it was from accidentally drinking tap water in Lima), so I played soccer with the guys and enjoyed every second. Even though I could barely breathe at that altitude it felt great.
Our trek guide, Isaac, was one of the most enigmatic and wonderful people I've ever met. He's the kind of guy you want to make your best friend but aren't sure how to do it. By day, he was full of restless energy, pushing the group on, his friendly face shouting, "Kick it, champions!!!" whenever we started to look tired or discouraged. During our short breaks, he would turn into a picture of serenity, finding a spot that seemed just right for him, and pulling out a flute to play. I'm not musically talented, but I'd have to say he's probably not the best flute player in the world, and yet he was doing it for pure joy and the results were magical in that breathtaking place. Not something I will ever forget. By night, after we'd all stuffed ourselves to the gills with the cook's impressive dinners produced from his tiny tent kitchen where the entire crew also spent the evening and ate their food, we would sit back in the guest tent, sipping a beer, and Isaac would turn out one lantern, and bring the other closer to his face. Then, with the light illuminating his beautiful weathered brown face peeking beneath his tasseled beanie, he would entrance us all with a different portion every night of his country's rich history. I feel like we all learned more about the real Peru than we ever could have from a guidebook. And he didn't stop at the history. He explained what his people, the Quechua believe in, which was beautiful.
Visually, the entire trek was composed of snowy vistas in the near distance, switchbacks and passes along the mountain range, waterfalls, colorful chickens scattered in tiny villages high on the mountaintop, and towards the end glimpses of Amazon jungle so green it hurt the eyes. The whole week was exhilarating and honestly a relief that I didn’t embarrass myself handling it. In actual fact it was so much easier than the hikes I've done before, with the high altitude and the fact that they carried 6kg of our luggage, plus tents and food, mostly canceling each other out. After many steps and beautiful vistas, we arrived in the small foothills town of Machu Picchu called Aguas Calientes.
The Salcantay Trek continued
Jasmine Ayla is a free-lance writer, traveler and amateur photographer based out of Maui, Hawaii, USA.