Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Salkantay Trek - Day 1

Salkantay Trek, the best alternative to the Inca Trail.

I embarked on the 5-day trail with a Swedish couple and a Montreal guy on October 5 at 5am.

We were all picked up at our hotel or hostel by Alex, our guide, who came with the cook and the assistant cook in a van. We stopped for breakfast before we met with the horseman and his horses. The cook took a cab to the first camp to secure a good spot for us. Although we set off before the horseman and the horses, we were passed by them at the first stop we made.

The trail itself was uphill for a couple of hours. Then it flattened and we walked along a stream, sometimes shaded by trees, but mostly out in the open, For 3 hours, it was a leisurely walk to the camp. The camp was not as I imagined it to be. There was a main building next to washrooms and on higher ground was another structure to host our tents. The cook had set up and was preparing lunch when we got there. The tents were already set up too.

We were each given a bowl of water and soap to wash our hands before sitting down for lunch. The table was set with a table cloth and there were 3 lawn chairs and 2 stools around the small square table. We had a feast for lunch: soup, rice and vegetables and potatoes of course.

After lunch, we had a short time to nap before setting off to go see a lake up the hill. This was not part of the trail, but all the other groups also seem to be heading there.
That uphill was a killer for me. I huffed and puffed up, with Alex giving me both his walking sticks instead of my lone one. I did make it eventually, with lots of breaks taken along the way and Alex looking on. The view was quite worth it, the mountains covered with snow loomed over the lake to make a breathtaking picture.

The descent was way easier for me, and I enjoyed looking at the horses and cows freely roaming the mountains.
When we got back to the camp, we had tea time. Tea time almost always consisted of popcorn and crackers and an assortment of teas or coffee or chocolate.
I was exhausted and by the time we were served dinner, I was dying to go to bed, almost falling asleep at the table. We even had dessert that day, a black jello like dessert, very sweet.

As my fellow travelers braved the cold to take pictures of the night sky, I brushed my teeth in the cold water and headed to my tent, wearing layers for the cold night ahead.
Other groups had set up their tents across from ours and there was always someone talking or milling around, but I had no difficulty finding sleep, with the full satisfaction of having survived the first day.

Cusco - where the journey started...

October 1 to October 12, 2015 I travelled to Peru to finally do the trip I have been wanting to do for a few years. It was on my bucket list to visit Machu Picchu and having many of my friends make the trip in recent years, only made me want to go even more. I finally caved in and decided to do a solo trip.

My journey started in Cusco.
Cusco is where everybody starts their trip to Machu Picchu.
Cusco is where everybody gets used to the altitude.

I arrived at 7:00 am and my hotel had sent a taxi for me. The sign he held had 'Karine Chang' on it. I confirmed the hotel and followed him.
My first encounter with Peruvian traffic was in an old Toyota. The oldest Toyota you can think of.
The driver honked almost as soon as he would have to stop. The drive was as jerky as can be. When we got to San Blas, the street he wanted to take was flooded, so he drove me into a courtyard where he asked me to get out. He then took my suitcase out and wheeled it up the hill to a narrow alley, past the San Blas square to my B&B, Casona Les Pleiades. I immediately went to sleep for a couple of hours before heading out to lunch.

The thing I least liked of my trip was to eat alone. Yet, I had to do it for lunch and dinner that first day. The first 3 days, I was on my own.

Day 1, I walked around Cusco and explored the little markets for gifts to bring back home. I visited the chocolate museum where I saw chocolate condoms and then visited the Qorikancha, a convent. I took a picture with 2 girls in traditional dress and 2 baby sheep and they ripped me off of 20 soles. I ended up the night at Pacha Papa, a restaurant in San Blas.

Day 2, I decided to go even further up to Cristo Blanco. The receptionist at Casona just said to turn right and take the stairs. At the end of the stairs, I went a bit to the left and found more stairs. Stairs, stairs and more stairs. I arrived at a platform where a group of French tourists were lingering. I asked one of them to please take a picture of me before going on my way. I finally got to Cristo Blanco where I followed 2 couples from Boulder, Colorado, down to Plaza de Armas. I had lunch with Laurie and Ted at Jack's cafe, while the other couple went back to their hotel. It started raining heavily after lunch, so went to visit the Cathedral. As I left the Cathedral, I heard a couple speak creole. Sure enough, they were Mauritians. I chatted with them a few minutes, they were on a tour from France.

Later that day, after my briefing at Terra Quecha, I was having dinner at Le Papillon when I happened to notice than Arjun was also in Cusco. Arjun who I haven't met for at least 5 years. He was across the square from me. We met up and eventually were joined by Jenny, from Texas. We went to get her street food before we went to a bar called Quilla. We played Jenga and had pisco sour and Cusquena, the local beer. I went back to my hotel at 11pm, where the water wasn't running anymore. Good thing I had some bottled water to brush my teeth!

Day 3 was Pisac day. I asked the receptionist to book a cab for me. Jime was my driver. He brought me to an animal sanctuary first, where I saw llamas, alpacas, condors and monkeys. We then went to Pisac. It took me 2 hours to visit the ruins, then I had lunch in Pisac's main square at Mullu. I had an alpaca burger with avocado and fries and my first (of many) coca tea. I then went around the famous Pisac market before Jime returned me to Cusco. I ate alone for the last time that night, but a Dutch girl sat next to me just as I was leaving and I chatted with her until her food arrived.

I had to go to bed early that night to start the Salkantay trek early the next day.