Three Days in One: Salkantay to Andenes Camp

Back in 2007, my husband and I took our first real adventure to Peru where we visited the Amazon Jungle and hiked to Machu Picchu. This is a series of post I've been writing about since I started this blog.  The first post on this particular day can be found at: The Savage Mountain, Nevado Salkantay.

Getting ready to come down Salkantay!
Tuesday, October 17, 2007
We started heading down Nevado Salkantay and it was cold, rainy, windy and muddy but it was much better than hiking up the mountain!  I was very glad to have some energy back and could hike again.  I learned a very good lesson on my way down the mountain to never buy cheap gear! Half way down the mountain my cheap poncho broke....I tried  to fix it but I just got wet.  Never again will I buy cheap gear.  I also wished I had a Balaclava because I had to hold up my scarf around my face to protect my face against the freezing cold wind the entire trek down.

This was the longest portion of the trek in my memory, my zombie trek.  I was cold, wet, hungry and I felt super disconnected I was just walking because I had no choice.  Sit down and rest in the pouring rain or just keep hiking, I chose the latter.  The energy that I felt early was gone, probably because I had barely eaten anything and I started singing to motivate myself to keep walking.  Once we got off the actual mountain and were hiking on flat ground I just wanted to be in our lunch tent!  I don't remember who else was walking with us except Jesse (my husband) and Edwin (one of our guides) but it was foggy, raining so we couldn't see too far ahead of us.  I kept asking Edwin, "How much longer?" and he would say 15 minutes, an hour or so later we finally saw the red tent in the distances and we made it.

We ate our delicious lunch in the pouring rain in a slowly forming swamp, we all sat there talked, recovered from the mountain we just came down.  The guides told me I looked like the women from Puno because my cheeks and nose were so red but after a few days had gone by we realized my nose was burned from the freezing wind.

Rosy Nose and Cheeks!

Jesse made me a make shift poncho out of a garbage bag which of course I wore for about two hours and it never  A group member later remembered she had an extra poncho that she let me borrow for the rest of the trek.  The rest of the afternoon we walked through a beautiful green valley as the rain slowly let up as the sun came out.

Garbage Girl....
Everyone felt good and was in good spirits when we made camp, except the Australian who became sick at the top of Salkantay, he ended up riding the horse all the way to camp.  I felt really bad for him because he really wanted to hike but he couldn't stop throwing up and just looked awful.  I was in his situation the day before so I knew what he was feeling.

Beautiful valleys

Goodbye Salkantay....

Andenes Camp
This day felt like it was three days in one! First getting to the pass at Salakantay, making it down the mountain to our lunch tent, and then walking through the green valley to our second camp at Andenes.  Even though it was a very tiring day, this was one of my favorite days because of the changing scenery from the rocky pass to the green lush valleys.

Related Posts and Links:

  1. Chasqui Mom: Peru Posts
  2. The Savage Mountain, Nevado Salkantay.

The Savage Mountain, Nevado Salkantay

"Wild, Uncivilized, Savage, Invincible...Savage Mountain"

Tuesday, October 17, 2007: Soray Pampa Base camp, Cerro Soray is in the back ground along with a mini market stand.  My nausea still hadn't subsided by breakfast time so I had only liquids for breakfast, which was not a good way to start a long day of hiking, but I was in good spirits.  The dog in the pictured followed us from Challabamba from the previous day in hopes for scraps.  The dog actually followed us over the pass until lunch on this day! That's a hiking dog!

Our faithful horses and mules grazed as we had our breakfast as well. We were soon to become best friends.

The trekking crew! I remember everyone except for the guy to the left of the guy in the cowboy/brimmed hat.  He wasn't in our group but I think he was talking with the Canadians when we took this picture so he just jumped right in.  To correct my previous post there were two Australian couples.  The only people not pictured here are our guides, Alex, Santiago and Edwin.

C'est Moi
After breakfast and group pictures, we started to hike up to Nevado's Salkantay's pass.  This is my ultimate FAVORITE hiking picture.  I love how insignificant and small I look compared to Salkantay, God's creation is magnificent.

Boulders anyone? 
An hour or so into our hike, I was nearly gone, no drive, no energy, nothing left to hike.  I walked 15 minutes and had to stop and rest.  I have always thought hiking was all mental and I was going to hike up Salkantay but I was hiking so slow and falling way behind.

Back of the line.....nothing left, walking with Edwin.
Edwin and Santiago told me it was probably a good idea to put me on a horse to the pass and I agreed reluctantly.  I needed to rest and get some food in my belly and not hike a couple of thousand feet in the sky. So I layered on some more clothes as my horse got prepared to carry me to the pass.  As I got on the horse I felt liked I failed, I wanted to cry but I did not.  I really wanted to hike and not ride a horse up Nevado Salkantay....especially on my first backpacking trip.  One day I will go back and kick that mountain's butt.

Santiago, myself, and my ride the horse.
I smiled for the picture but I was very sad inside.  To this day my motivation for almost every hike comes from failing to hike Nevado Salkantay, but now I understand hiking is not really about a destination but about the journey.  In retrospect I really enjoyed riding that horse and getting to know Edwin.  At this point +Jesse Avery tried to hike as fast as Edwin and the horse but he couldn't keep up so we were separated for a few hours.  This is Jesse's recounting of his portion of his alone hike up the killer switchbacks:

"The pass was brutal, an ascent of 2,000-3,000 feet, going up to 15,000-16,000 ft.  It was high, the air was thin and I'd spent nearly an hour busting my butt to keep up with Melissa's horse and the caught up with the rest of the group.  Anika and I finished together, walked twenty feet, caught our breath and walked another twenty."

This was my view of the switch backs, riding my horse.  I liked my horse, he was really small compared to all the horses I've seen my entire life.  Edwin explained to me that those are the kinds of horses they use in the mountains.  The horse was somewhat stubborn because he kept stalling on the switchbacks so Edwin had to make horse noises to make it move and I had to kick it with my feet.  I was timid to kick it but it was mostly like "hey get moving!" kick.  The funny thing about the horse was that it farted a lot and it smelled, both Edwin and I laughed a lot!

Edwin was probably a few years younger than me, reminded me of a little brother.  This was his fourth or fifth trek that he had done with +Llama Path.  He was a timid young guy but we had good conversations which put me back into good spirits after being put on the horse.  We saw the porters across the valley taking an even harder shorter trail to get ahead of the group, I took a picture and the porters yelled across the valley, "One dollar!!". We all had a good laugh...

My hiking buddies, Edwin and my horse!
I was a little scared riding the horse because I never really rode horses before and the trail was very steep.  I also really didn't have anything to hold onto, since Edwin was guiding the horse.  We stopped at some point on the trail and I was left alone with the horse while Edwin ran up and down the trail checking on  the status of everyone.  Very impressed with Edwin's hiking skills.  The horse went to the cold mountain stream and quenched its thirst, once again I was reminded of the horse being like a giant dog.  I was able to have some snacks and get some calories in by this point.

Killer Switchbacks
My picture of the switchbacks came out blurry but I wanted to show how steep the mountain was....there was no way I could have hiked up the mountain in the weak condition I was in.  When I arrived at the pass of Salkantay, hot coca tea was waiting for me.  This was the view at the pass...

Cold was an understatement.  I had to wait at the pass for the rest of the trekkers but more importantly wait for my hubby, +Jesse Avery, I missed my forever hiking partner!  I decided that I was going to walk down the trail to see if I could see Jesse and call out to him.  15,000 plus feet in the sky was weird, trying to take breaths and not feeling like I had enough air, getting winded with a few walking 20 feet was strange.

Two other girls had to ride the horses up the mountain and one of the Australian guys made it to the pass, but was obviously sick.  He threw up at the pass and sick for the next two days.  Combination of altitude sickness and stomach bug.  The savage mountain was a truly living up to its name, not only were people struggling to hike it but it was windy, raining a little bit.  Not more than five minutes after Jesse had his coca tea did the skies started hailing on us like crazy.  Alex, our main guide, hurried us along to start hiking down the mountain because he knew the weather was going to get worse.  A few days later, we met a trekker from a different trekking agency who was right behind our group almost every day, said when they passed Salkantay 30 minutes later than us, they had to hike in a foot of snow....I was glad that I could start hiking again with my love!

Day two was so long, I can't even finish it in one post!
Related Posts: Peru

To the Valley of Soray Pampa

Monday, October 16, 2007:  We woke up at 4:30 a.m. to start our adventure five day backpacking trek to Machu Picchu.  We checked out of our hotel and waited for +Llama Path to pick us up.  +Jesse Avery and I were the first ones to be picked up on the giant tour bus but the bus was so big that we actually had to walked down a few blocks because the bus did not fit in the street!

We got a tour of all the different parts of Cuzco as we picked up all the other 13 trekkers.  The bus stopped for gas on the outskirts of Cuzco, our last stop before we started our three hour bus ride down to Mollepata.  Jesse was a little nervous about the bus ride because he's prone to carsickness if he's not driving but thankfully he was able to sleep most of the way to Mollepata.  I was excited nervous but mostly agitated because the altitude sickness pills made my hands and feet tingle and I still had some stomach issues.

Mollepata down below
The bus dropped us off at Mollepata which was a tiny town.  The porters all dressed in matching red uniforms started their trek.  This backpacking trip was a "luxury" trek because we had porters carrying our sleeping bags, tents and whatever we didn't need during our day hikes and would set up camp and three-course meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The porters were amazing ninja backpackers and I have an enormous respect for these men.

We started our hike with having breakfast at a backpackers restaurant and started hiking up the hills.  The view were beautiful and kind of resembled California hiking, well at least in the beginning of the trek. This part of the trek was still inhabited which was weird for +Jesse Avery but since this was my first time backpacking I didn't know any different.

Trekking from Mollepata to Soray Pampa
We didn't have a GPS to track our hike back in 2007 but we started at Cuzco at about 10,000-11,000 ft, drove down to Mollepata which was at approximately 6,000 ft.  Our day hike started at Mollepata at 6,000 ft and ended our first campsite 11 miles away at Soray Pampa at approximately 11,000 ft.  Our entire trip was about a 40-50 mile hike.

Nevado Salkantay, Circa 2007
This was my first view of Nevado Salkantay and the excitement grew even more when I saw my first glimpse.  By this point, I was still feeling a little ill but I just ignored it because the view of the Salkantay was so amazing.  We stopped here and took our "glamour shots" with the Salkantay which means, Savage Mountain.  The mountain lived up to its name!  I ran and we had "training" hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area in preparation for this trek, but no amount of training could have prepared us to hike up to 15,000-16,000 ft at Salkantay's pass.

Glamour Shot
I really don't like this picture of Jesse and myself, but I put it up as reference because we look "fat".  Each day we lost weight and it wasn't because we didn't have enough food because like I mentioned before +Llama Path fed us three course meals three times a day, it was because we hiked 8-10 hours a day, maybe 12 hours.  I calculated my calorie intake and based on only 8 hours of hiking and I could have eaten everything and anything and I would have still lost weight during this trek!

As we ascended it got chillier and chillier, so we layered up.  When we were in Mollepata the guides highly suggested to purchase a hiking stick/pole.  We almost didn't purchase our hiking sticks because we never needed hiking before on our regular hikes, plus we were "tough" enough that we didn't need one.  But we decided it was better to listen to our seasoned guide, Alex.  We had three guides, Alex, Santiago and Edwin.  Alex was the Senior Guide and Santiago and Edwin looked like his trainees though Santiago had been on more treks than Edwin at this point.

This was our lunch view, I believed this location was called Challabamba, it was pretty flat here.  When we arrived here for lunch the red lunch tent was set up along with tea and our three course meal, which always consisted of appetizers, soup, main course and sometimes dessert.  We finally had a chance to get to know the other trekkers who were from Canada, the United States and Australia.

I felt a little better after lunch and we had a little break before we started hiking again.  Jesse and I sat in this field for a while, took pictures and just relaxed.  I remembered seeing a horse act like a dog for the first time in my life.  Our group had horses and mules to carry a lot our group's equipment, so at lunch time the horses also had a break.  A horse laid down and then proceeded to roll on its back to scratch his back on the grass just like my dog back at home.  It looked hilarious to me because he looked like a giant dog.

We started to hike again and about an hour after lunch, I really did not feel well, so much that I threw up.  I think it was a combination of my stomach issues and altitude sickness that caused my vomiting and headache.  Santiago came to me and immediately pulled out a clear bottle and poured some clear liquid over his hands and covered my nose and mouth and told me to take a few deep breaths.  I felt the same and all I smelled was alcohol.  Then Santiago said, "Now you will see the difference between chemical and the natural stuff!"  I was so out of it by then I didn't care what I was going to inhale!

Santiago pulled out a plastic water bottle with plants floating in some black liquid and poured it on his hands to cover my nose and mouth again.  I inhaled four deep breaths and I felt like a brand new person!  It was amazing, my stomach and headache was gone and I had energy to hike immediately....immediately.  I don't know what it was, but everything was brighter and I could hear the birds chirping louder than normal.  The black liquid must intensify senses and numb pain because that is what I felt.  Whatever, it got me to finish the last hours of hiking.

This was the last picture of that I took that day.  I absolutely love this picture, right around the base of the where the snow starts is a thin layer of cloud that looks like smoke.  Just around the bend on the left of the picture was a lodge with a hot tub filled with chubby older white men drinking beer...Santiago turned to me and said they didn't hike, they rode horses.  Whatever floats your boat!  The trail was pretty uninhabited by this point but there are few people that live around the trails to sell beer, coke and trinkets to trekkers like us.  I remember the Australian couple bought beers, they like to drink a lot!

Jesse and I had just purchased our REI Half Dome 2 tent, so we set up our own tent even though +Llama Path provided tents for everyone, we just opted out of their tents.  Our camp was in the valley at the base of Nevado Salkantay, Nevado Tucarhuay and Cerro Soray.  We arrived at Soray Pampa and each minute that passed, the temperature got colder and colder.  Dinner was served and I couldn't eat anything and everything smelled delicious.  My nausea returned so the guides prepared a "special soup" for me, it was celery soup as far as I could taste.  Thankfully one of the trekkers was a pre-med student and gave me an anti-nausea pill which fixed me once for all.

As we got ready for bed, the porters made everyone hot water bottles to put in our sleeping bags because they knew if was going to be a COLD windy night.  I visited the facilities (hole in the ground with a surrounding tent) a few hours after we went to bed and I've never felt so cold in my life, let's just say I didn't leave the tent the rest of the night after that!  I bundled up back in my tent and fell asleep to the sounds of Salkantay's howling winds....

Related Posts and Links: 

  1. The Savage Mountain, Nevado Salkantay
  2. Three Days in One: Salkantay to Andenes Camp
  3. Other Peru Posts
  4. Llama Path - Sustainable Tourism Operator

Guest Post - Book Review "The Last Days of the Incas"

A very good friend of mine and fellow blogger, Nate Rische accompanied us to our trip to Peru in 2009.  During the trip he read, The Last Days of the Incas, by Kim MacQuarrie  and described the "story" of the Incas as we walked through the streets of Cuzco and hiked in the Andes mountains.  I had all the intentions of reading this book but four years later I still haven't, but I still plan too.

In 2009, I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime; two of my closest friends were taking a trip
to Peru, their second, and they invited me to accompany them. How do you say no to that? Five days,
hiking the “Camino Inca” through the majestic Andes Mountains, stopping only to drink maté de coca
and explore the ruins of the Incan Empire. And Machu Picchu, one of the greatest wonders of the world.

But what did I know? Well, I knew that there was an Incan Empire, and it must’ve been in Peru because
that’s where I was going to see the ruins.

Epic history class fail. I even like history, and paid attention in high school!

How is it that I knew nothing of an empire that spanned over two million square kilometers (almost
775,000 square miles) and ruled a population of over twenty million people? An empire that had
eradicated poverty, and ensured that every single citizen had food to eat. An empire with vast
warehouses full of food, supplies, weapons, all stored away in the event of an emergency or disaster. All
of this done, even more spectacularly, without a written language!

I wanted to know what I was getting in to, hiking through Peru, so I headed over to the local bookstore
to find a book on the Inca. There was only one I could find, sitting on the shelf, The Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie. I was upset; I didn’t want to only learn about the last days of the empire, I wanted
to learn about the whole history! But it was the only option, so I picked it up anyway.
I’m glad I did.

I love to read, but I’m a fiction guy. Non-fiction just isn’t my thing; it usually reminds me of a textbook. I
like to learn, but I don’t like to read textbooks. I love to read, but if a book doesn’t capture my attention
quickly, chances are high I’ll put it back down and never finish it.

I decided I wanted to be reading it while I was in Peru, when it was still fresh in my mind, but I wanted
to be a little bit ahead of the curve. I started reading it a few days before we left. I read it on the plane.
I read it in the airport, and on the next plane. I read it in my hotel room, battling jet lag. I read it in the
bus on sightseeing tours. I would have read it even more often, had there been time. I finished it before
we left Cuzco. It was excellent.

Kim MacQuarrie, the author, lived many years in Peru and became fascinated with the Incans. The book
was born out of his passion and fascination, and reads exactly like an adventure story. Much to my great
joy, MacQuarrie begins with the rise of the Incan Empire and details its relatively short history before he
dives into the real heart of the story, the Spanish Conquest. How was it that an army of only 168 men
was able to conquer this vast empire in such a decisive and quick fashion? And what became of the Inca
after this conquest?

MacQuarrie takes the time to address all of these questions, and more. The narrative never stops, and
you never feel like the story is dragging or boring. The story? Oh yeah, don’t forget, we’re learning
actual history!

While we were in Cuzco, we would walk down the streets and I would put my hand up against a wall
that I read about in the book that morning. I could stand on the hills at Saqsaywaman (yes, that is
pronounced nearly exactly the same as “sexy woman”) and look out over the battlefield and siege that
helped determine the fate of Cuzco. The sights became more real to me, and as I read along I could
place myself into the story and really get a feeling for what it was like.

MacQuarrie is very transparent with the biases of the source material, and despite the very one-sided
written view (most accounts of the events come from the Spanish, as the Incas had no written language
of their own), he works very hard to present as complete and accurate of a view as possible.

The book follows the Inca from the birth of their empire to the Spanish Conquest and through the
following years of rebellion, integration, and oppression by Spanish rule. But it would hardly be
appropriate to end the story there, and The Last Days of the Incas concludes with a detailing of Hiram
Bingham’s excavations and discovery of Machu Picchu.

The Incan people have a majestic and tragic history, and Kim MacQuarrie captures it with great detail,
passion, and vitality in his book The Last Days of the Incas. Even if you’re not a fan of non-fiction, or of
history, you will be a fan of this book. Highly recommended, especially to anyone who has visited or is
planning to go visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

Cuzco Artisan Market and Dances

Sunday, October 15, 2007: +Jesse Avery and I woke up with headaches, apparently we were both suffering from altitude sickness.  Jesse thought he drank too much mate and was dehydrated, either way both of us were not feeling well.  We had the hotel's breakfast and headed down to the "Centro Artesanal", the artisan's market.  I wanted to buy presents for everyone back home.  On the way there we walked through San Blas towards the Plaza de Armas again and we stopped at the famous "Stone of 12 Angles" at Hatun Rumiyoc.

I'm no expert on Inca stonework but these stones were carved by hand and were cut precisely without what we would consider rock cutting tools.  It seems unclear of how these rocks were cut with such precision because no one knows how to do it manually with out power tools today.

It was pretty amazing to see how perfectly the stones fit just like a puzzle and to think the was done hundreds, and hundreds of years ago.  When the Spanish came to conquer they destroyed the emperor's palaces and built the churches on top the base of the emperors palace, that is why you see these walls with a "Spanish" type building on top. The Spanish could never replicate the Inca stonework.

All along this street there were Andean dressed women with the babies in a sling and their older daughters carrying baby llama's in their slings.  They were charging money to take pictures with them of course.  I really don't like doing touristy activities like take a picture with an Andean woman but I almost did when I saw that cute baby llama.

At the Plaza de Armas the military and other community organizations were getting prepared to parade around the plaza.  The stage had all the cities government officials like the mayor and other important people, I suppose.  Intrigued, we stayed for a while and watched the parade thinking it was an important day come to find out later that its a weekly occurrence to install patriotism in the people. The Peruvian and Inca flag flies in the Plaza de Armas.  The rainbow Inca flag is not the gay pride flag.

I was never in the military, but being in law enforcement at the time I really liked looking at their rifles.  We left the parade before the mass exodus occurred and headed down Av. El Sol towards the Centro Artesanal, a mile from the Plaza de Armas.  On the way, we came across a Maranatha church that had a service going on, so we went in for the music part of the service and then sneaked out.  They had a Quechua service but much earlier in the morning.  I'm always interested in visiting other churches when I'm traveling.

The artisan's market was a typical artisan market which I loved.  We bought presents for all the families back home and Jesse got his "explorer" hat.  It was the only real shopping I did the whole time we were in Peru.

We walked back up the hill to run some errands and bought some supplies for our hiking adventure that was about to begin.  We had lunch at Andino Cafe in the San Blas neighborhood which was quite comfortable, affordable and most importantly delicious.  We actually returned there on many occasions to eat during our trip in 2009 as well.

We finished our walk up to our hotel and took nap, which we overslept by an hour and a half!  I guess we were more tired than we thought.  A half an hour late, we met up with my co-worker and her friends and headed out to find some pizza.  Dinner conversation consisted of the girls telling us of their adventure to Pisaq and their crazy taxi ride.

+Llama Path suggested we visit "Centro de Qosqo de Arte Nativo" where they held traditional Cuzco Andean dances, so after dinner we headed up the street to the art center.  The ticket seller was very confused why I wanted to buy two international tickets since I was Peruvian and my husband obviously not.  I explained to him that I was Peruvian-American and I was not born in Peru, so I needed two international tickets (more expensive).  The ticket seller thanked me for my honesty and charged me the international price.

We watched an hour and a half of traditional Qoso dancing from each different region of the the Cuzco department.  My favorite dance was the bull/matador fight where the women were the bulls and the men were the matadors.  The name Qosqo, Cuzco, and Cusco mean the same thing but the city's name was originally Qosqo, and slowly after time it became Cuzco or Cusco.  I will tend to write Cuzco but might throw in the other names occasionally.

On our way back to the Casa de Campo, the stores were closing down and the streets were lined with purple everything, candles, ribbons, but mostly purple flowers.  There were altars/shrines in every store and all over the streets to a crucified "black" Jesus.  I asked a lady what the celebration was about and she explained that it was the procession of "El Senor de los Temblores" (The Lord of Earthquakes).  Back at the hotel, I asked the receptionist what was "El Senor de los Temblores" and she explained that a long time ago there was a three day earthquake and people didn't know what to do so they prayed to the forgotten "black" Jesus and the earthquake stopped.  With that we quickly finished packing our gear to start our hike and went to bed.