Monday, September 16, 2013

Salkantay Trek (September 1st - 4th, 2013)

Already when preparing for our South America trip, we knew that the Inca Trail would be very crowded, requires a guide and should be booked almost half a year in advance. This did not appeal to us at all, especially as we were aware of a similarly beautiful trek that can be done independently without neither advanced booking nor paying of stupid fees.

We had a delicious breakfast at our hotel in Cusco, after which we walked to a place where we thought we could take a shared taxi to Mollepata. Unfortunately, we were there too late and had to take a private one for 80 soles instead. After arriving in Mollepata we were surprised that nobody was urging us to use their accommodation. There were a couple of places with the sign "Hospedaje", but they seemed to be closed. We were happy that one of them finally opened, after we had banged on their door for a while. It was very basic place, with dirty bathrooms, but for one night we did not care too much. As it was still quite early in the afternoon, we just walked around and searched for an open restaurant. All the restaurants were closed and we quickly realized why: there was a Sunday market on the central square and they had plenty of possibilities for eating, so we had a delicious grilled pork meal there.

Afterwards, Laura stayed in our room to read and I went around a bit more to map the streets of Mollepata. I met two nice French guys who were also planning to do the Salkantay trek independently. We exchanged information, as they were relying on some French description, whereas our information was from the blog of one English-speaking couple. Unfortunately, when I came back, Laura had a stomach problem, meaning we would not depart the next day.

In the morning, Laura was feeling a bit better, but still not well enough to go hiking. We were quite annoyed by the place we were staying at by that time - in addition to the very dirty restroom and lumpy beds, we woke up with dozens of spots on our skin, meaning we had not been alone in our beds. Thus, we started thinking about alternatives. The previous day, the French guys had told me that there is quite a good hostel in the upper right corner of the central square. We had missed it as it does not have any sign indicating accommodation. I went and checked it and we moved there immediately. Laura stayed there for the whole day, but I decided to go on a bit of a hike on my own. I soon managed to get a lift towards Soraypampa from one of the guys who was transporting luggage for many agencies.

I was lucky not to ride on top of the luggage, but next to the driver

In the end we agreed with the driver that he would drop me off at the same place as the luggage for half of the original price. From there it was still forty minutes to Soraypampa, but it was quite flat and the views were just amazing. The Salkantay mountain started to appear from behind the mountain on the right. On the way I met a nice guy who was leading some horses. He told me that we can use his services and have our bags delivered to the pass for 80 soles.

Nevado Humantay dominating the end of the valley

Nevado Salkantay will pop-up in the side valley towards the right, with Humantay on the left

It took a bit of an effort to find the hiking path back to Mollepata: I did not want to walk back on the road. Fortunately, there were many groups going up, so I just went in the opposite direction. It would probably be quite a tough hike to go up with all our equipment, but going down with a small backpack was very pleasant.

One of the many nice views down

I came back down at around 4 p.m. and immediately went to see Laura. She was sleepy, but feeling much better. The owner of our hostel booked us a taxi for early next morning and we went for a dinner.

The following day we started walking from Soraypampa up. We saw a group that not only had their luggage taken up by horses, but even the trekkers themselves went up on horseback. We put my heavy backpack on one horse for 40 soles and I took Laura's, which had just half the weight of mine. Laura went up with a small day bag. 

Laura with her small bag was going quite fast

It was quite crowded, but we did not mind, as the scenery was just amazing

We had a well-deserved break at the pass. It had taken us much less time than we expected to go up: we arrived there before 10 a.m. From there, we knew we would only need to go down. We made some more pictures, took our bags and started descending.

Great mountains at the pass

As we were getting down, the snow disappeared first, then the first trees started appearing and eventually we were just surrounded by them. The mountains at the Salkantay trek are quite impressive, but we enjoyed the flora of the Choro Trail much more than the one on this hike.

First, mountains with snow ...

... then grass ...

... and almost a jungle at the end

It was a lot of descending, but eventually we arrived in Challway. We built our tent at one of the many camping sites. The sites had quite a nice business model: camping was for free, but they would try to sell the right to use a bit overpriced hot shower and many drinks during their happy hour. We easily resisted this and just bought a pack of cookies in order to support them.

Our camp site

The next day we were one of the last to leave, as our tent is always very wet in the mornings and without direct sunlight takes ages to dry. The hike to La Playa was a bit boring. It was partially on a road, but mainly between the trees. Fortunately, some waterfalls and the river nearby compensated for it a bit.

Laura felt quite tired when we arrived in La Playa and did not want to continue. She was much happier after a short rest and especially after agreeing that we would not continue walking towards Hydroelectrica, but rather take a minibus to Santa Tereza.

Santa Tereza was a pleasant surprise. Already on the minibus we were approached by the owner of hostel El Sol, which, as we later read, is also recommended by Lonely Planet. Embarrassed to say, we did not believe him in the beginning, because local people often try to drag us to bad-quality hostels that presumably pay them provisions. After a bit of checking we found that the improbable is not impossible and happily stayed with him. Our trek ended with a visit of the wonderful thermal baths at Santa Tereza, which we liked a lot more than the ones in Chivay in the Colca Canyon and cost just a third of the price.

As usually, we contributed to OpenStreetMap and have many more pictures

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