Cruz del Sur

8 05 2009

The vista from the average Peruvian bus trip is almost worthy of a Monet landsape: dark green splotches of trees scattered through a landscape of geometrically appealing agricultural plots,  verying widely along the spectrum from deep earth tones to pale yellow or ochre depending on their crop or stage of harvest.  A rolling, rollicking moutnain slopes into the foreground, molded as if from play-do.  Homes of adobe brick hardened in the sun face their respective plots and are outnumbered by the tree splotches.  It is difficult to decipher where the harvest fields become the mountain due to the gentle slope and the Quechua knack for farming at incredible angles.  A young boy leads a heifer by a path toward home, somewhere along the distant horizon.

As the bus climbs, the gently soping hill becomes an Andean giant, patched with glaciers and jagged like a ripped paper edge.  The enchanting light of dusk slowly and almost imperceptibly turns to the flattening non-light preceding full nightfall.  The landscape is transformed into a duotone of brown-gray land and ever darkening blue expanse above.  The key feature of the succeeding vista is the brash, white snow, leaping from the monolithic shapes of the mountains against the sky.





The Salkantay Trek

2 05 2009

salkantay mapScraps of journal entries logged on our Salkantay trek…

I have it from people in the know that the Salkantay trek to Macchu Picchu is a more difficult, more spectacular version of the classic Inca Trail.  As I didn´t want to be hiking with 500 other people (the number that are allowed to begin the hike each day) and as I didn´t intend to reserve 6 months in advance, Salkantay, the second highest mountain in the Cusco area, was the direction of our journey.

The day of the trek began inauspiciously with a 4:00 am start, and it would get worse before it got better..  As we traveled to the beginning of the trail via two-lane, rural, dirt highway, we were delayed two hours by a semi pile-up.  Instead of quick relief from professionals, everyone thought it would be fun to see what would happen if the issue were left to those sitting in their cars to solve.  What was especially interesting to me was the all-access pass anyone walking by had to the show.  In the States, we´re used to being cordoned-off 200 feet away from anything interesting as soon as it happens.  Then again, the roadway is usually cleared fairly quickly.

Eventually, the problem was solved by a group effort to move the stack of lumber lying in the road, and push the trailer of one of the trucks about a foot to allow space for cars to pass.  An hour later, we were having our breakfast of bread, butter, and tea in Mollepata, the beginning of the trek.

Our group was large (larger than anyone had signed up for) and fairly international.  The 16 consisted of: 2 French, 2 Swedes, 1 Irish, 2 Aussies, 3 USA, 1 Brit, and 5 Candians.  Began to get pretty attached to a few of them, especially the Aussies: Tram and Nij.

Salkantay MountainDay 1: We hiked shortcuts in an effort to make up time.  After about 8 hours of hiking, I. am. beat.  I feel no effects of altitude sickness outside of my never-dying cold, but it certainly affects my ability to hike.  I have been constantly short of breath.  My quads ache from the climbing.  And my feet hurt.  By the end of the first night, we were at camp at Soraypampa at 3900 meters.  Sleeping in long johns and every piece of clothing I brought on the trip, I awoke at about 3am, unable to sleep from the cold. 

Day 2: Commonly known as the hardest day of the trek, the first 3 hours climb steeply to the highest point on the trail, Salkantay Pass (4800 meters).  Paul had to get an alcohol rub by our guide, Darwin, to survive the day.  The last 5 hours was almost all steep downhill through a minefield of bruising, badgering rocks.  At many points, the trail was a stream.  Barely surviving by this point.  My calves express their displeasure.

Day 3: From the category, ¨Topics You Never Want to Read About.¨  One thing must be described to properly understand our situation.  As Paul and I suffer through stomach issues, it is done without the benefit of a toilet.  Since the beginning of the trek, a ¨toilet¨usually amounts to no more than a hole built into the bottom of a hut, sometimes it is simply leaning against a tree, maybe it is a commode, but with no seat to sit upon or any water to flush.  So that simple sweet relief of sitting and waiting is a fantasy from faraway lands.  As is not being swarmed by mosquitoes in the process…

Uneventful day of up and down hiking.  Relaxing hot springs in the evening. 

Also, I´ve rediscovered the love of my life: passion fruit.

Camps have been at progressively lower elevation and warmer.

Day 4: The trek today is entirely on the railroad track to Aguas Calientes, where we´ll spend the night.  Flat.  Sigh.  Thank you, Lord.

Machu Picchu awaits.