peru part one: the salkantay trail

llamas

Patrick and I recently spent two weeks in Peru.

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Traveling out of the country is never easy, especially when you have a six-hour layover in the worst airport EVER for layovers…Hello Mexico City with your tile floors, permanent armrests, and custodians who don’t think any human should ever be allowed to sleep in the airport. Ever.

beginning

But it’s always worth the struggle. And this time didn’t disappoint. People, if you’ve never been to Peru, PUT IT ON YOUR MUST-VISIT LIST. Like, at the tippity tip top of your list. There is so much to do, eat, see and experience…

We knew we wanted to do a trek while we were there. We’d heard the Andes mountain range is gorgeous, and we wanted to experience it first-hand. We originally planned to do the Inca Trial, which ends in Machu Picchu. However, after some research, we realized there might be a better alternative to the $500 (each!) price of hiking the Inca, and we wouldn’t be required to go in a big group. Pat and I kind of like to do things our own way…we weren’t really feelin the whole school-group tour of the Andes. Lucky for us, we discovered the Salkantay Trail; a 5-day trek you can do for free, with no guide and it supposedly had even prettier views than the Inca. SIGN US UP.

DAY 1: We took a truck up a windy, dirt road for about two hours. And when I say we took a truck, I mean we sat in the back of a truck on some plastic chairs that weren’t very good at sitting still…

truck

As we wound our way up and up, the landscape just got prettier. By the time we got to our base camp for the night, I was in a daze—it was amazing to actually be there, in the middle of a country that’s so incredibly beautiful.

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This was home the first night.

After we dropped off our gear in the huts, we took a short (but STEEP) two hour hike to a high-altitude lake. It was SO worth the climb.

lake

RIHGTone

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This lake was in the middle of nowhere—we were in complete solitude, and THAT WATER. Wow.

We had the perfect set up for our trek. Instead of paying a company $1,000 to guide us along with 20 other people, we stayed at huts and cabins along the way using Air BnB, which was much cheaper. The hosts fed us every meal, including packed lunches for the trail. Gotta love lunch in a tupper.

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salkantay

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Day 2: We woke up to this view…

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Within an hour, it had turned to this view…

sunrise

#blessed.

And so we began the longest day of hiking I have every experienced. In the beginning it felt like we were hiking through the Shire from Lord of the Rings. Everything was so green and hilly. There were cows grazing and a bubbling creek had carved a winding trail through the grass. Gorgeous.

cows

hikin

cow

This is Patrick trying to bribe a cow with a dandelion. Sometimes I wonder…

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cowontrail

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Before long, we noticed the landscape became dusted with a light layer of snow. As we climbed up and up, things got a little soggier. Everyone we ran into on the trail seemed to be wearing those big bulky hiking boots that are supposed to survive a hurricane without getting wet. Yaaaa, we’d really planned well for the snow with our water shoes, complete with tiny holes for the freezing snow water to move freely around our toes. It was a cold few hours to say the least…

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snowie snow

So it turns out altitude sickness is a real thing, people. Say what?! While we were hiking, our fingers, toes and lips kept going numb and tingly. We kept having to take “breathing breaks,”and we were hiking at the pace of 80-year-old women. By the time we got to the top of the pass, we were at 15,000 feet, and pretty light-headed. But we had conquered the Salkantay Pass, and thanks to our Diamox (altitude sickness pills) we were still alive!

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As we hiked down the other side of the pass, the scenery began to change back to “green hills of the shire.” After a few more hours, somehow it had changed to Jurrasic Park land, and then to Amazon jungle. What country were we in again?? Within 10 hours of hiking, we’d gone through five different micro-climates with insanely diverse landscapes.

jurrasic

crosstheriver

By the end of the day, we could barely walk. The high altitude made our muscles more sore than usual, and we were starting to feel the affects of hiking hard for 10 hours straight (with AWFUL head colds too). We fell asleep at 8 p.m. and didn’t budge for 12 hours…

Day 3: More hiking, actually I should say limping–I’ve never been so sore in my life. We got to a little town called Santa Teresa where we spent the night soaking our sore muscles in some natural hot springs.

Day 4: We hiked along a railroad all morning.

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Eventually we made it to Aguas Calientes, which is basically a hub for Machu Picchu tourists. Despite it’s touristyness (ya, I questioned that word too…) it’s a cute little town nestled into the jungle. We had the afternoon to relax and recuperate, so we took FULL advantage. Another hot spring soak and an hour-long massage (for $15!) made a world of difference for our exhausted bodies.

*Bit of advice:

1) If you ever soak in the Aguas Calientes’ hot springs, go at night. We made the mistake of going during the day, and let me tell you, the water was the color of root-beer. Not to mention all the little black hairs swirling around the latino bodies in the pool. Mmm hmm. Just take my word for it…go at night when it’s real dark and try not to think about what you’re soaking in.

2) Eat at Indio Feliz. It’s the strangest, but most delicious restaurant. The best part is that it’s more Americanized, which means you can actually eat the fresh vegetables and drink the water without wondering if you’ll be puking all night. Yippee for salad when you’ve been eating fried chicken and rice for two weeks!

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Day 5: Phewww. Are you bored yet? If you’ve lasted this long, congratulations to you. Our journey along the Salkantay is almost over.

We took an early bus to Machu Picchu so we could hike Wayna Pichhu before all the crowds descended. Wayna Picchu is listed as one of the world’s top 10 most dangerous hikes, and I can see why. The Incans carved a steep trail all the way up, so we climbed steep, skinny steps for an hour straight until we reached the top. Those Incans must have been in kick-butt shape to do that hike everyday.

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steps

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After four days of solitude along the trail, the crowds at Machu Picchu were a little overwhelming. But it was still a mind-blowing experience–how did those people built such a massive city of stone with no power tools or giant trucks? Props to you, Incas.

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*Pause–you can now laugh at my Dora the Explorer hat…sunburns from hiking at 15,000 feet wiped out any sense of fashion whatsoever. #priorities.

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That’s real fear on my face. That llama wanted my fingers for lunch I tell you.

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What an incredible adventure. From what we saw of it, Peru is a stunning country filled with amazing people and places. Lucky for us, the Salkantay Trek was just the beginning.

Our next stop: the Amazon! Eeek.

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