Day 1–Trepidacious Trekkers
I was so nervous that I didn’t sleep much the night before. Nagging self-doubt about my ability to manage such a strenuous trek kept me awake. We were picked up in a van from various hotels, and our group slowly came together. My first impression of the group as each boarded the bus was “Oh my God, they’re all so fit!” But I resolved not to be intimidated and just concentrate on enjoying the experience. This turned out to be very good advice to myself, for reasons that will become apparent later. (Hint: I was not the only one who felt intimidated by a seven day trek through the Andes).
Here we are, waiting for the van in front of the hotel, as ready as we ever would be, with no idea what lay ahead.
Our first stop after a hot and bumpy van ride was the Inca Ruins of Tarawasi. We saw an Inca wall, built without any mortar, which had remained standing for over 500 years.
We learned about some of the plants in the area, including the fact that a white parasitic growth on the prickly pear cactus can actually be used as a dye, because it turns red when touched. After some free time to explore and take photographs, we returned to the van and drove to the village of Mollepata. We stopped at a local workshop that sells handmade goods to tourists.
Mountain Lodges of Peru supports a charity called Yanapana, whose endeavours include this workshop where local women can sell jams, honey and textiles to support their families. A very worthwhile charity indeed. We bought some jam and a Christmas tree ornament for our travel Christmas tree. If you are looking to add an international component to your charitable giving this year, check out yanapana.org
Next, we stopped for a snack at what turned out to be a guinea pig ranch and restaurant and had our first chance to get to know the other trekkers.
After another short van ride, finally, the moment was upon us. The trek had begun. It started with a steep uphill climb for about 45 minutes. It was everyone’s first crack hiking at altitude and we all felt short of breath and fatigued during what would have been a manageable hike back home–a portent of things to come. But mercifully, once we were up the hill, the rest of the day’s trek was flat and scenic, following an Inca water channel.
We arrived at the first lodge around 4 p.m. The Salkantay Lodge was beautiful, with stunning views, and a hot tub nestled against looming mountains. After a recuperative dip in the hot tub we enjoyed a delicious dinner of Lomo Saltado, a traditional Peruvian meal of beef strips, tomatoes, onions, rice, and French fries.
Unfortunately, I began to feel ill around dinner time.
It was probably a combination of thinking I was fully acclimatized and stopping my Diamox (bad idea) and dehydration from not drinking enough water during the trek (worse idea).
Pro-tip #1: It was doubly not smart for me to deny myself water so I wouldn’t have to pee during the hike. At altitude, you perspire more, and exhale more often. And combined with strenuous exercise, it’s easy to get dehydrated without even realizing it. So drink plenty of water, and go when you need to go! Everyone else will have to pee at some point during a seven day trek, so you aren’t inconveniencing anyone. There are lots of tall boulders around to pee behind. Our guide called them “Inca Toilets” 🙂 ( “I need to find an Inca Toilet” became a familiar refrain on the trek!)
Pro-tip #2: Don’t use the hot tub at the lodge if you are teetering on the edge of dehydration. As I discovered, this will make it worse.
Pro-tip #3: Think carefully about when to stop taking your Diamox (if you’ve been prescribed it to prevent altitude sickness). I stopped after 5 days in Cusco, just before the 1,500 feet of elevation gain on Day One. (Yes, the logic escapes me now too. In retrospect, I wish I’d kept taking it a bit longer.)
–Tips courtesy of Valerie: “Doing dumb things so you don’t have to”
Claudio, one of our fantastic guides, gave me Gravol and electrolyte replacements, which helped a lot. A comfy bed and hot water bottle at our feet made me feel much better. Roughing it, in the Andes…
Here are a few more pictures of the beautiful lodge and surroundings:
Day 2–Panpipes and Electrolytes
The very smart people at MLP give their trekkers a second night in the same lodge so they can take some time to acclimatize to the higher altitude. The trek on Day 2 was an optional one up another 1,000 feet of altitude to Lake Humantay, a glacial lake. As much as I have FOMO and hated to skip it, I decided to be sensible and sit quietly in the lodge and read, since we didn’t have to check out. I think the rest helped me feel much more ready to face the challenging hike across the mountain pass the next day … cue ominous music…
Steve did go on the Day 2 hike and had a wonderful time. The hike up to Lake Humantay included a traditional Andean/Inca blessing ceremony, where they blessed coca leaves and offered them to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Celso, a native of these mountains, conducted the ceremony. Our guide Claudio asked everyone to take a moment of silence to contemplate the beauty of the mountains and “just listen.” On such an active vacation, it is important to remember to be still sometimes. The wind rustled, water lapped gently at stones on the shore and birds called to each other across mountain peaks reflected in a glacial lake. Everyone seemed quite moved by the experience. When it was time to go, Celso piped everyone back down to the lodge with a pan flute. Here is Celso, whose love for the mountains showed in his smile. In addition to being a talented piper, he has an uncanny knack for navigating treacherous terrain wearing flip flops.
The glacial lake was stunning–and stunningly cold. Steve waded a bit, but the cold did not prevent one of the more intrepid members of our group from taking the plunge – twice.
The group’s return to the lodge was accompanied by Celso playing El Condor Pasa on the pan pipe. I heard them coming back and watched them from my window. Hearing our group’s return heralded by pan flute gave me chills (and not even because I was sick). It really brought home what a spectacular adventure this was. Later, Steve and I took a short walk around the lodge grounds and met up with these three fellows. Why did the llamas cross the stream? We’ll never know…
A fantastic day, with a lovely dinner and an early bedtime to get ready for the hardest day–crossing the Salkantay Pass.
If you have any comments or questions, let us know!