Salkantay Trek – Day 1

A fair price is fairly elusive and so when I wanted to book a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu, I decided to shop around. I asked 8 different agencies and got a similar price from 7. The story of what you get was the same at each one so I eventually just chose one that seemed the least sketchy and booked it, hoping that “basic accommodations” means more in Peru than Bolivia. With that, I was committed for 5 days and 4 nights for about $45/day and 85 kilometers with a vague idea of what I was getting into.

I got picked up at my hostel at 3:00 AM by one of the guides. We were all loaded into a bus to drive to a town called Mollepata where we would be beginning the trek. Once we got there, we ate breakfast and divided up our packs. 5 kilograms could go on the horses, the rest we had to carry. I really hadn’t brought much being that we would be camping but the one thing I was missing was a sleeping bag. The agency had said it would be there that morning but so far it hadn’t surfaced. I asked one of the guides and he told me they’d find one later.

Rueben!

We were divided up into two separate groups. I was in a group with a guide who had the build and mannerisms of Jack Black in Nacho Libre. I was beside myself. He was absolutely hilarious and had no intention of being funny. He pursed his lips and gestured with his eyes closed while he spoke. “Now, my family, we are begin the five day Salkantay Trek. This is not so easy so you are Champions. You are my Champion group.” His name was Rueben and he called us his Champions for the next five days.

We went around the circle and introduced ourselves. There were five boys from England all about twenty years old, along with an Israeli and South African about the same age. Then there was a family of five Brazilians and a couple from Switzerland. Rueben had us clap for each Champion after they were introduced. I looked over at the other tour group, they had a surly looking guide and no introductions. I figured we got the better deal. We had Reuben, who was a native Quechua speaker and had decent English and Matteo, a Brit who had lived in Peru 10 years and married a Peruvian.

We started walking. It was a fairly long day ahead with about 8 hours of hiking in total and about 9 miles. All was at high elevation and the steep slopes made for slow climbing. At one time I had thought that after a certain elevation, you were maxed out and a few thousand extra feet didn’t make much of a difference. I was wrong. We were at 9,500 feet and would end the day at 12,800. It was clear from the first few steep hills the Brazilians were really struggling as well as a few others. I was lucky to feel good because I had been in La Paz and Copacabana long enough to acclimate but those who hadn’t were already breathing hard and feeling miserable. The Brazilians were often so far behind they needed a separate guide.

It got colder as we gained elevation. We stopped for lunch near a little farmhouse that had a bunch of tables set up for Trekkers. Half way through lunch a woman ran up to our table demanding who had used the outhouse. We all looked at each other awkwardly. “Bano, bano?!” She demanded. Eventually one of the Brits said he had used some toilet paper to blow his nose. She demanded one Sole for payment then seemed satisfied and left. We all wondered how she had even known someone was in there.

I talked with Reuben or Matteo during the day. Reuben was very curious about other countries and asked me one question after another.

“How much is university in your country?”

“How old you get married in your country?”

“How much if you get sick in your country?”

“How much marijuana in your country?”

About 5:30 we came to the first camping area. It was cold and there was snow on the mountains. We had tents already set up inside an enclosure but you could tell it was going to be a cold night. I still didn’t have a sleeping bag. I asked Rueben who looked worried. He asked around for a while and eventually came up with what I assume was a cook’s sleeping bag. I felt bad taking it and gave it back. Luckily in a while a few extras turned up.

We ate a dinner that consisted of rice, noodles and soup. Apparently we were carb loading for the next day I thought but I was wrong again. That was the menu for lunch and dinner entire trek. I bundled up in all my clothes and headed to bed in my own tent. After 26 years of being cold I was good at making sure I could sleep despite the chill. Reuben poked his head in “Rashel, you have only you in your tent?! If you get cold come see Reuben. You sleep between Reuben and Matteo!” he said, giggling.

I went to bed and slept through the night. Reuben and Matteo would have to keep each other warm tonight.