Glaciers, Mosquitoes, and Machu Picchu
The Salkantay Trek is a 5 day and 4 night hike through the Andes mountains. With a team of 10, we climbed to the peak of the Salkantay Glacier (4,600 meters), descended into the Peruvian jungle, and then ended the journey ascending the hundreds of stone steps of Machu Picchu. It was a tale of hand numbing cold, swarms of mosquitoes, and a host of peculiar foreign characters.
To set the scene of our diverse group, I’ll focus on 3 of the most interesting folk.
1.) Jorge: A 54 year old Colombian with calves the size of papayas and a tendency to laugh at his own jokes.
2.) Alexander: A 29 year old Russian chess teacher who suffered from joint pain and constant paranoia of losing his belongings.
3.) Lina: A 19 year old Taiwanese girl who was quick to smile and probably weighed no more than 100 pounds.
Here is our crew plus the cooks. In addition to the three I noted above, there were two Dutch girls, two Swedish med students, and a kickass French couple from the Alps.
For the first day of the trek, we hiked up to a base camp that served as our launching point to the top of the Salkantay Glacier (4,600 meters) the next morning. The camp was also next to an otherworldly little lake called Lago Humantay:
Despite all the exciting new people and Game of Thrones-like scenery, my first day was anything but perfect. Due to the exceptionally high level of altitude, my head felt as if Ringo Starr himself had decided to give my inner cranium a private drum lesson. Also, I was criminally under prepared, and resorted to using my Puma socks as gloves. If it wasn’t for my German Friend Simi gifting me a scarf and that wonderful French Couple lending me a ski mask, my ears may have been lost.
So, after the first day, I went to bed shivering and miserable. It’s in moments like these that the mind loves to wander off and imagine more preferable scenarios. I imagined how cozy I could be back in my hostal, curled up with a nice book and browsing Spotify for new music. My mind tortured me as it poked me with doubt inducing questions. Why did I choose to go on a 5 day trek when I could have been to Machu Picchu and back within 2 days?
Luckily, my neurotic brain eventually fell asleep, and I awoke to a heavenly gift from our godly chef, Cecilio. It was 5 A.M, my fingers were frozen together, and the day ahead featured biting winds, steep inclines, and 22 kilometers of trekking. So, when I saw a steaming cup of Coca Tea come gliding through the flaps of my tent, clasped by the hands of Cecilio, there was a spark of hope. I grabbed the cup, felt the warmth of the Andean stimulant wash through my body, and felt optimism creep back into my chilled bones. Thanks to the mythical power of Cecilio, I was revived.
Fast forward to the third day, and our diverse group had made it to the Peruvian jungle. This was also the morning of the World Cup final between Croatia and France. Television is a rare commodity in the jungle, and to the French Couple, this was a near tragedy. After waking up at 5:30 and starting out on our trek along the river, we were told our third breakpoint (hours away) would have a television available. As I’ve said, these French were badass, and decided to sprint off to catch the game, even if it meant only the last 20 minutes. My German friend and I watched them take off and felt inspired to follow in their footsteps.
What followed was an epic journey along a roaring river and through waterfalls engulfed in thick jungle greenery. There were sandy cliffs which had little more than a couple feet of safety between you and a life threatening fall. There were avocado and banana trees, crickety bridges made of logs and rope, and pesky hens that occasionally took up the path. After an exhausting and sweat drenched couple of hours, we made it to the pitstop with the television, and there were the French, watching their country beat Croatia 4-2. It was pretty surreal, watching a tiny television out of a hut, mosquitoes dancing all around, and two ecstatic French people celebrating as the river roared below.
And for the fifth and final day, we hiked up to Machu Picchu, one of the 7 new wonders of the world. We arrived at the entrance at about 4:30 AM, and slowly filed through to embark on the hundreds of steep stone steps ascending to the city in the clouds.
And holy shit, the Incas weren’t fucking around. Simi and I, our legs absolutely exhausted, huffed and puffed our way past demonic looking dogs. It felt like we were on a Stairmaster, but instead of a sweaty gym and fluorescent lighting, we were in a mountainous jungle lit by the dim haze of dusk.
After what felt like heart pounding torture, we made it. Voilà, here was Machu Picchu. We watched the sun rise over the horizon and cascade over the stone architecture that truly is a spectacular feat of humanity. Here are a couple of things I found interesting:
- Machu Picchu was a university/temporary living space for artists, shamans and the wealthy. Imagine going to school at a place like this:
- Also, if you look horizontally at the mountain, you can make out a face. The nose is in the middle, the eyes to the right, and the chin to the left.
And to end our journey, Simi and I felt the need to take a snooze, so we found our own private spot among the ruins, and drifted off into what we coined the Holy Nap. Here’s where it went down:
This pale blue dot we live on has some amazing places, and I’m grateful to have the chance to experience some of them. Edgar Allen Poe, that old poet who wrote that one really famous poem, once said:
“It is a happiness to wonder -- a happiness to dream”
And what a privilege it was to wonder and dream in this dreamy and wonderful place.
// Heart Is A Drum // Beck
// Time Goes Back // John Frusciante
// Candy Wrappers // Summer Salt