Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Salcantay to Machu Picchu - Day 0 to Day 1

In front of Salcantay Mountain with French Theo
and Spanish Elena 
We were all going to Machu Picchu, which is a village the ancient Incan people carved and set deep into the Andes Mountain over 550 years ago. Machu Picchu to the Andes is what a fine diamond is to a gold ring without a gem. They both need each other to shine and awe the beholder.

Our group chose to see Machu Picchu through the Salcantay Trek, which would be 100km or 62.5 miles. Salcantay is Quecha (the local tribal language here) for savage or invincible. Hence, Salcantay means Savage Mountain. (I'm sure it's more savage in the ruthless and icy winter.)

It's the highest peak in the Cusco area - at over 6,670 meters. We would go to the highest point of 4,600 meters, which is almost twice the height of Machu Picchu. The entire tour would take four nights and five days.

Thanks to a German guy named Moritz at my hostel, I was able to book a tour at Gregory Tours in the Plaza de Armas for only $158, including my sleeping bag. Everybody else booked the tour for much, much more. I thought it was better to go on a tour, because the entrance ticket already costs $50 to go to Machu Picchu; so why not pay $110 more for 4 nights of lodging, food, and get another hike included.

We had 21 people in our group and 2 guides. The tour company told me that there would only be 12 people, but they were wrong. The group was made up of 2 guys and 1 girl from the United States (including me); a girl and guy from Canada, who were cousins; a married couple from Uruguay - who were fluent in English; a guy and girl from England; a couple from Denmark; a couple from Switzerland; a girl and guy from Germany; a guy from France; a girl from Spain; three Australian guys; and a guy from New Zealand.

On Day 1 - I had to wake up at 04:00AM and leave with the Swiss couple, who were also at my hostel. We walked to the Plaza de Armas, where a bus picked us up. I was tired; I didn't sleep enough, and I certainly hated waking up at that time.

We took a bus ride about four to six hours to base camp. I can't remember exactly the time, because I napped some in the minivan. You have to pay for breakfast at a village nearby and a $3 fee to enter Salcantay Park.

From base camp, we walked up to a lake - formed by the melted ice of the mountain. It reminded me of the Torres del Paine in Patagonia, Chile. (You can read about my time in Patagonia here in December of 2014: Seeing the End of the World in Chile.) The water had that same aquamarine color, which looked like a gigantic sapphire had melted in the basin of the mountain. (I also saw this phenomenon in Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo in New Zealand.)

The color comes from the melted ice, which grinds the basalt and granite from the mountains and deposits it into the lake. The ice freezes and melts and freezes, which breaks and pulverizes the rocks. The end result is that when the light hits the basalty water - it refracts and turns into the aquamarine color. It's also called rock flour or glacial milk.

Some of us swam in the water and hence were baptized in ice. We stripped off our clothes and swam in the freezing water. Our guide said it was below freezing point. I could believe it, and your body goes into shock entering liquid ice.

Most of us lasted inside for less than a minute. Your head starts to hurt, your body starts to shiver, and your groin starts to freeze.

After we dried off, we walked to our base camp - where we would sleep the night. It rained walking back. So, we all took off our wet clothes and hung them to dry.

The porters use mules to bring our stuff. In our group, we have a porter, a horseman to carry our stuff, a cook, and two guides. For dinner - we have chicken legs. They also serve us hot coca tea.

There, we had huts we could sleep in. Elena and Theo and I shared a hut. That was the end of day 1.
Glacial milk gives the water it's color

Me in the Valley of Salcantay

In freezing water, look at the ice above
A view from basecamp of the valley

Our hut

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