Salkantay Trek: Day 4

If you missed it: Day 3 of our Salkantay Trek!

After enjoying our evening and having a very restful night, we were all set to begin our last day of trekking. We’d have to carry our full packs today (which I’d already been doing), since our mules had left us at lunch the previous day.

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As we were getting things packed and sitting down to breakfast, we found out that one of the Spanish girls had lost her iPhone. She’d apparently had it the previous night, and taken some pictures right before going to bed. People searched all over the place and asked around, but it wasn’t found. There was a bit of a tense moment, as her friend was making accusations of theft by the locals (which is pretty obviously what happened, after it was left out somewhere), and our guide was trying to defend them. It put a slight damper on the mood for the day.

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Cheering things up slightly, was this ridiculous zipline agent who swaggered up to the breakfast table, decked out in full harness, gear, and helmet, to collect our young german friend. He was the only one who’d booked the zipline add-on, and would meet us later in town. They have wires strung over nearby canyons, that you sail across. It was apparently pretty fun from his later description.

We hopped back in our trusty van for another hour long drive to Hidroelectrico, the local hydro power plant, which was a pretty impressive operation. This was optional, and we could have walked that section, but as Leo explained, it would have just been along the same road the bus was on, and nothing nice to see.

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The hiking for the day would be pretty much totally flat, along the train tracks that wound along next to the river towards Aguas Calientes.

As we started walking, a local stray dog attached himself to us. I remarked that he looked like he should be on Sesame Street, and Alina named him Snuffleupagus. He follwed us the whole 11 km to our stopping point! We decided he was our guard dog.

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Walking through the lower elevation jungle was really nice. There were a lot of bird sounds, plenty of lush green vegetation, and a lot of vibrant flowers to look at. Many of the trees had Bromeliads attached, and we saw them off on distant rock faces as well.

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As the tracks followed the river, we also got some great views of interesting rapids, some extremely well worn stone, and lots of cliffs.

About halfway along, we passed an amazing eco-lodge with a butterfly house and supposedly several waterfall walks, though we didn’t go in. The amount of flowers overflowing off their property was amazing, including the hallucinogenic white trumpet flowers we’d learned about the previous day.

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We continued along, eventually crossing the river on an old, rusty railroad bridge, which we were pleased to be able to spot from high up on Machu Picchu the next day.

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As we neared town, we had to be careful, as the buses ferrying lazy tourists up and down from the ruins were whizzing by in either direction on the road we were now walking along. Unfortunately, the local stray dogs didn’t like this one bit and went crazy chasing them. Even more unfortunately, Pam was right in the way of their maniacal running. Two dogs took her out at the knees and she went down pretty hard.  Snuffleupagus turned out to be a terrible guard dog.  He just stood there!

We were really worried for a second as she seemed stunned, and blood was pooling on the road beneath her face.  Luckily she just had a bloody nose and some scrapes. Leo was impressively responsible and took care of the situation, cleaning out the wounds, giving medicine, and bandaging things. Pam just wanted to shrug it off and keep going. In the end, she ended up with a pretty nice black eye, for which we procured some “domestic abuse sunglasses” once we got back to Cusco. It made for some good pictures the next few days though!

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Of course, this happened only about 20 minutes before we made it into Aguas Calientes, perched alongside the Rio Urubamba, with another small stream flowing down from the side mountains, splitting the town in half. We made our way through winding streets, alleys, up stairs, across bridges, and through a bustling textile and jewelry market, before finally making it to our hostel. And then… we took showers.  Pam was in heaven.

After refreshing ourselves, and having the whole afternoon ahead of us, most of the group decided to make a short trip up the nearby Putucusi mountain.

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Leo showed us where to go, and then ran off to arrange all our tickets for the next day. He had left us at a short ladder, bypassing some steep rock, and as we continued, we realized this was only the start.

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Just past, an abandoned control point guarded the entrance to a truly formidable set of log ladders set into the face of the mountain. At least three connected pitches, probably 100-150 feet in total, and at about 70 degrees toward vertical in places. It was one of those things you just absolutely would not see in the United States. A little slip on the mossy wood, and you’d be dead. And probably all the people below you too.

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Anyway, we merrily climbed our way up first this, and then several more shorter ladder sections that wound around the mountain, combined with rock scrambles with steel guide cables. We eventually emerged from the jungle, feeling we’d done a pretty good job. Then we saw we were only about halfway up. And from here on, it would all be out under the hot, strong sun.

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At least the ladders were done. Now it was just endless Inka stairs, switchbacking towards the top. Every so often someone would pass us going down and encourage us with depressing things like “It’s only 25 more minutes.” Great. We did get some nice views looking down into the town, nestled between the incredibly steep mountains surrounding it on all sides.

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Well, it was worth it in the end. We finally reached the top, at 2560 m (8399 ft.), after about 70 minutes of hiking. The views were spectacular.

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We were situated right across the river from Machu Picchu, at about the same elevation. We could see the ruins laid out before us in the distance, nestled in the saddle between the two mountains on either side. It was intimidating to realize that we’d signed up to climb the bigger of those mountains the next day!

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Some of the most amazing things were the terraces falling away below the main city towards the edges of the steep cliffs. These little, several square meter, plots of land, just on the edge of falling off the side of the mountain. I really wonder if they were used for agriculture, or just were structural in nature.

After relaxing for a while, drying off a bit from our exertions, and of course taking a bunch of pictures, we headed back down into town, pleased to have down something strenuous and rewarding.

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We arrived just in time to greet the afternoon train, dropping off more sedentary tourists. Tomorrow, we finally get to Machu Picchu.

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See what happens on Day 5!

Day 4 Logistics:

Trekking Distance: 11 km

Trekking Time: ~3 hours

Starting Location: Santa Teresa (1560 m)

Take a bus 14 km to Hidroelectrico (45 min?) (10 soles / person extra)

Completely flat walking along railroad track

Stay at hostel in Aguas Calientes (2040 m)

Steep, free hike up Putucusi Mountain (2560 m)

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