On October 2017, we visited Peru for the first time. Our time on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions opened our eyes to the vast beauty of the Andes. We crossed the Salkantay pass at 4,600 m, walked through cloud forests, and slept in camp sites surrounded by mountains. The experience was more than I ever expected.
We booked our trek with Alpaca Expeditions, and on Oct. 8th at 6:30 p.m. we met with our guide and fellow trekkers. In a small yellow lit room with cocoa leaves strewn on the table, Manuel briefed us on what to expect on the trek.
We were a group of 8 and our Alpaca team included 2 horsemen, 3 porters, 1 cook and 1 guide. At the end of the meeting, we received our duffle bags. These would hold the items that the porters would carry for us. We would only be hiking with our daypacks. Even with this luxury, I was concerned. I could already feel the symptoms of altitude sickness creeping in.
DAY 1 – Soraypampa to Wayracmachay
- DATE: OCT. 9, 2017
- DISTANCE: 15 KM
- ELEVATION: 3350 M (Cusco) – 3900m (Soraypampa) – 4620 m (Salkantay Pass) – 3800 m (Wayracmachay )
I watched a TED talk once about strange things that occur at 4 a.m. I wonder if it was coincidence that it was at this time that Alpaca Expeditions picked us up at our hotel. The streets were empty as the van weaved through the small streets of Cusco. We picked up the rest of our fellow trekkers, who were looking suspicious as they waited in the dark streets.
We then made our way along the winding roads of the mountains. I took my gravol and slept. We arrived in Soraypampa 3 hours later. I woke up refreshed by the blue skies and snowcapped peaks of Salkantay and Humantay.
Our chef, Umberto wasted no time getting breakfast ready. We had our first meal as a group. There was Ashley and Alex, two friends that had just attended a wild Peruvian style wedding; Sloane and Chris, who were lightning fast hikers; and Jing and Cuixan who wanted to visit Peru before they moved back to China. Before starting our hike, Manuel gathered us along with Team Alpaca. We took turns sharing our age and where we came from. I was a little suspicious but it was nice to learn a little something about everyone.
We started the hike around 9 a.m. and just a few minutes into the trail, I felt heaviness in my chest. It was definitely harder to breathe up here. We walked slowly. I stared at our emergency horse wondering if I could have a ride. I was nauseous and as a result couldn’t eat much for breakfast. Salkantay Pass was at 4,600 m., I had no idea how I was going to make it. Pins and needles climbed up from my feet, to my hands and finally to my face.
Somehow I made it to the lunch spot. Team Alpaca had already set up our tables and tents. I laid on the tarp, trying to gather the energy to make it to bathroom. Everyone was tired, but still feeling up beat. There was lively chatter in the lunch tent.
After lunch, the weather turned on us. The skies darkened and rain poured down. We rushed to put on our rain gear and ran back onto the path. The rain turned to hail. We fought against it and the wind, as we climbed up the mountain. Miraculously, we made it to the pass. We could hardly believe our eyes!
Hail and wind attacked our ponchos as we celebrated our victory. But nothing could bring our spirits down. The mountain looked even more powerful as the wind and snow whirled around it. Manuel our guide magically produced a flute. He played for us, as we stood wet and cold on the mountain pass. We snapped some mandatory selfies before making our way down the trail.
The following path was much easier. It was a steady walk through the trail with snowy mountains towering over us. I still felt nauseous and short of breath from altitude sickness. But sniffing peppermint oil helped me make it to our first camp in Wayracmachay.
Manuel welcomed us to camp with a high five. I cannot say enough praise for Team Alpaca. They had to endure the same weather and trail, yet when we reached camp, our tents were already set up and Umberto’s kitchen tent was buzzing with activity.
We had an hour to relax before dinner. Lucky for me, I was feeling better and I was able to eat some delicious soup. Apparently, it was called Inca soup but I’m pretty sure Manuel was just messing with us.
The sky was pitch dark when we stepped out of the dining tent. We looked up and saw the clear stream of stars that made up the Milky Way, all of it beautifully framed by the snowcapped mountains. We tried in vain to photograph it but the DSLR camera proved to be more complicated than we thought.
We retreated to our tent. It was a cold night and we wore all our layers and snuggled to keep warm. Despite the discomforts, I would do it all over again.