It was an exceedingly early start this morning as I was being picked up at 5.45am to go on the Salkantay trek. Javier, our Assistant Guide, rang the bell slightly earlier than anticipated but, whilst I was ready and waiting, I couldn’t leave the house as I didn’t have a key for the extra lock Mary Jean uses at night for the front door. I had told her that I was leaving at this time but, for some reason, she still seemed surprised at the early wake up! (She had also said she would leave a thermos of hot water for me so that I could have a cup of tea before I left but then locked the dining room so I couldn’t get to it!)
We walked down the hill to meet the bus, which was waiting in a larger street. (The one I was staying in is very narrow.) Three Canadians had already been picked up. These were Tom from Toronto, who turned out to be a nice, quiet young man, and Lisa and Russell, (Montreal and Toronto respectively) who, it transpired, constantly took photos and videos of anything and everything. We then drove around to the plaza to pick up the others. These were Erik, our guide, Ben and Rebecca, an English/Irish couple, who had just walked the Camino so I was able to pick their brains, Eileen and John, the fighting Irish from Kilkenny, Renee and Brei, a couple from Perth, Jennifer, a fairly talkative American from Washington, who used the word ‘awesome’ quite a lot and who taught spin and body pump classes in her spare time, and Mark, Laura and Philip, a family from Chicago, of whom only Mark was keen to do the hike. It was quite a motley group! It almost goes without saying that I was the eldest by some way, although at least Mark and Laura were not too many decades behind.
We drove out of Cusco and onwards for about 3 hours towards the Sacred Valley, through some spectacular scenery, until we arrived at Molleta, a small town off the main road, where we had breakfast. Afterwards, we continued for another hour or so up a gravel road until we reached the starting point of the trek. The horses, supplies and camping equipment were already waiting with our porters. This was where we also left the duffel bags, with our clothes, for the horses to carry, so that we could walk unimpeded by luggage.
We started walking at 3,200 metres, so it was slow and quite hard because of the altitude. Laura was finding it particularly difficult and slowed the group down further so, after our lunch stop, she rode the spare horse that had accompanied us specifically for this purpose. Dining and cooking tents had already been erected by the time we arrived to eat and this set the pattern for the remaining days. Somehow the cooks produced some magnificent dishes in very basic conditions. Our first day’s lunch was exceptional with some delicious ceviche, as well as assorted chicken and vegetable dishes. Unfortunately, due to the altitude, I felt quite nauseous all afternoon and also developed a headache (thankfully, not too severe) both of which conditions persisted for the next couple of days.
During the afternoon, we wound our way up the mountain side with a good view of the Salkantay glacier for much of the way. It was superb. Our campsite for the night was perched beneath this, in a beautiful setting, at 4,100 metres, which really helped my headache! We arrived at about 4.45pm and it was already extremely cold. The porters, of course, had arrived before us and erected the tents and, as Jennifer had paid a single supplement, I was lucky enough to have a tent to myself, thank goodness, as they were not big!
We were given sleeping mats and bags and a thick blanket. I found out afterwards there was only one blanket per tent, so someone was looking after me once again as, of course, I had one to myself. This was much needed and there was quite a bit of banter the following morning from the Irish, who had had been fighting over the blanket all night.
Once we were sorted, it was time for happy hour in the dining tent. Not happy hour in the traditional sense, though, as it was tea and huge bowls of popcorn! Whilst waiting for dinner, my tiredness was accompanied by such a degree of nausea and a headache that I couldn’t sit there any longer, so went to bed before dinner at about 6.30pm.