Friday August 30, 2019
By far this was the hardest hike I’ve ever done in my life. We started early, climbing the gruelling path towards the Salkantay Pass. We ascended over 800m over the course of 3.5 hours, constantly out of breath from the altitude. It was cold and foggy to begin with, but it heated up quickly once the sun broke through the rim of the neighbouring mountains.
Finally, just past 10am, we reached the highest point of our trek, the Salkantay Pass at 4630m above sea level. In front of us was the peak of Salkantay Mountain at over 6km above sea level, covered in white snow and pale blue glaciers. We admired the scenery and took lots of photos, and heard two avalanches from the mountain.
Our guide told us about Incan mythology and the meaning of various symbols, like the Andean Cross. He talked about the importance of three - three worlds: above, represented by the condor, the land, represented by the puma, and below, represented by the snake. They signify the life cycle of living things. The number two is important as well, as everything must be in balance, very much like the concept of yin and yang. He also talked about various medicinal herbs that the Andean doctors use, as well as how important coca leaves are to their culture.
We began our descent over the next 6 hours, with a break for lunch. The terrain turned from barren rockiness to lush greenery of the Amazon Rainforest. Sure enough, it began to rain as we reached the campsite, just before sunset.
It’s another early day tomorrow!
Thursday August 29, 2019
We arrived in Cusco around 3.30pm and checked into our Airbnb. We met the final two members of our group in town for dinner - roast guinea pig and alpaca steak! - before heading for our Machu Picchu hike briefing.
Unfortunately we didn’t really have time to walk around and explore the city. The main plaza does look quite pretty and there’s lots of really cool buildings and monuments. We had to hot tail it home to pack for the hike and head to bed for a 4am start.
We were picked up from our Airbnb and driven to Mollepata for a simple omelette breakfast. Then we drove to the start of the trail and began our ascent. It was tough, the altitude sickness was definitely still there but we took it slow and steady. We could see in the distance the snow capped Humantay Mountain, and our base camp in the foot of the valley. After the initial uphill, we were on mostly flat terrain and it was much easier to walk. We learned about the local flora and Andean medicine, as well as some customs.
We arrived at the camp in time for lunch, then we began our hike to the Humantay Lake, a glacial lake with stunning colours. Again, it was truly an uphill battle but we took it slow and were rewarded with a view of the mountain, its glaciers and the lake below.
It began to hail on the way down, which turned to rain and a brief thunderstorm, but it disappeared quickly. We warmed a bit and had food, and now it’s time to go to bed for an early start and our longest and hardest hike tomorrow - through the Salkantay Pass!
Wednesday August 28, 2019
I began to feel a little short of breath on the bus and had a minor headache as we were coming into Puno. The elevation is 3800m above sea level, and this makes Lake Titicaca the highest lake in the world. It was definitely more noticeable at the Mirador el Condor lookout point above the city; even a small flight of stairs made me feel so tired and dizzy. You could say the view was...breathtaking.
We were driven to a boat ramp where our Airbnb owner, Carlos, met us with his boat. He took us around the Uros Floating Islands, showing us how people have adapted to life on top of the water. The islands are constructed of reeds and are surprisingly sturdy. There’s lots of really cool reed statues around, almost like each island has its own guardian.
We settled in for dinner and then some stargazing, but most of us were cold and tired so we went to bed early. I had troubles sleeping because of the altitude sickness, but I felt better in the morning than I did the night before. I was up to see the sunrise and then back on the boat towards the bus terminal to go to Cusco.
Tuesday August 27, 2019
Our first full day in Peru has been awesome. Arequipa is a beautiful but small city at around 2000m elevation. The landscape is very much like a desert, but in the city, there’s still quite a bit of greenery around. It’s cold at night but the day is even hotter than Toronto at the moment.
We flew to Montreal first and then to Lima. Our flights were slightly delayed but nothing too serious - a friend of mine on an earlier flight to Peru had her plane cancelled because of mechanical problems! As usual, I managed to doze off for a decent amount of time. We arrived just after midnight at Jorge Chavez Airport and had to wait a few hours before our domestic flight from Lima to Arequipa.
We took a taxi from the airport to our Airbnb and after resting a bit and sorting out our luggage, we went to a nearby market, Mercado San Camilo. I love these kinds of places, it’s full of amazing produce and you really get to see the kind of foods that locals eat. It was great to see an abundance of potatoes and quinoa, two foods that originated in Peru. Fruit selection is pretty standard - mangoes, star fruit, apples, pears, strawberries - but we got to have some cherimoya which I’ve had before, but my friends hadn’t. We got some delicious stuffed peppers, chicken and pork from a lovely lady who was very patient with our lack of Spanish.
We left the market and went to the central square, the Plaza de Armas. It was bustling with activity, lots of tourists and locals who had gathered for some sporting event. We walked on to the Santa Catalina monastery but didn’t go in, and continued to Mundo Alpaca, an alpaca and llama farm where we got to feed these adorable animals and see some of the traditional weaving techniques.
We spent some time getting some groceries and a SIM card for definitely not Pokémon related activities before heading up the hill to the Yanahuara Plaza, which has an amazing lookout over the city. We had a late lunch at a boujie restaurant where we sampled plenty of Peruvian dishes like cerviche, alpaca and adobo.
We also managed to get sample some queso helato, which is the famous Arequipeno ice cream. It’s delicious and creamy, with a hint of cinnamon, and on a hot day, super refreshing.
We went home early since none of us really got a good sleep the night before, and I was up early to meet up with Ants and Jo, who were coincidentally arriving from Cusco. So good to see them after all these years, and in Peru, of all places, even if our meeting was short!
Language has definitely been a struggle here, but my rudimentary Spanish has been enough to pull us through. It’s good that French and Spanish are so similar, so I can understand recognise some words like fresa (strawberry) and ovino (sheep), as well as how to count.
I’m now on the bus to Puno, and we’re circling around some mountains that are 6000m above sea level. The terrain is fascinating, and we’ve spotted some wild alpacas!