Day one of our five-day hike went from one extreme to another at such a rate that it, quite frankly, confused and nearly killed me. We went from humid 80+ degree weather (F) to a blistery 25 degrees, from gentle paths to violent peaks, from feeling good and well to utter misery. So drastic was Day 1, that I’m devoting 3 blog posts to it, so as not to write a full novel on the first 24 hours: The Drive, The Hike & The Fall = Salkantay Hike, Day 1.
As I mentioned in the previous post, very little research was given to this particular leg of our trip, so all of the aforementioned caught me completely off guard, though it fit perfectly with the running theme that has been my life for the past 12 months: ‘this is harder than I thought it would be’ (500 mile bike ride, grad school, writing an academic book, hiking 60 miles OVER THE ANDES MOUNTAINS!, etc.). It wasn’t until well after we got back home to the States that I came across the nickname for this particular hike: The Savage. With that being said, it is no one’s fault but my own for not being mentally prepared, so on with the story!
Knowing that there would not be access to a shower (other than kind involving an absorbent amount of baby wipes and some fancy footwork in a tent or behind a bush) I decided to forgo my last opportunity to wash-up since our meeting time was at the ungodly hour of 4:30AM. Early mornings are not when I’m at my best. I don’t feel great, look great or interact very well with others at such an hour. With eyes (and hands, and feet, and just about everything else on my body) swollen from sleeping at over 11,000 feet above sea-level, I drug myself out of my warm bed, and began to silently gather my things and head out into the chilly, dark morning. Thankfully Leah is more of a morning person and was able to be friendly and chat with our fellow hikers (3 others) as we awaited our guide, chef and sous chef (you did not read that wrong – we actually and truly had a chef and sous chef on the hike, but more on them later). A massive coach bus picked us up and somehow was able to manage the serpentine mountain roads while maintaining speeds reserved for machines with jets attached to them. How our driver coaxed the bus into the speed of light is beyond me, and it was too early to give much or concern to it anyhow.
We were driven to a dormitory style house where the porters, who all hailed from the highlands, stayed the nights before their respective hikes began. Llamapath, the company we went with, prides itself on being a sustainable and fair company. They limit the amount of weight each porter carries, pays them fair wages and gives them education opportunities. Kudos to them. After the feel-gooderie of the first stop, we continued on the jet-bus for several hours until we pulled into the small mountain village of Mollepata, where we learned our first lesson: don’t touch ANY animal. This was a hard rule for me to follow, as I have a very soft spot for dogs and in Peru they have thousands of stray dogs. The animals are all crawling with bugs and bacteria, and touching one would just about guarantee a visit to Diarrhea-ville. Our guide, Jose, who also has an affinity for animals, showed us a loophole to the rule: use an object to give a belly-rub. In this case it was a pen, and instead of a dog, a pig:
We had a lovely, but light, breakfast, and while we walked around the main square our bags were loaded into the back of what I can only describe as a farm truck – the type with wooden slats up the sides to keep in freshly picked produce. Our food for the next five days was also loaded onto the bed of the truck, and then us five hikers were cordially invited to board.
“Board what?” I asked, full of naivety.
“The back of the truck.”
“Oh. Right,right,right. The back. On top of the food. Gotcha.”
After a moment’s confusion, and hesitation, we then scrambled over the sacks of potatoes, sleeping pads and tents and found a spot where we felt at least somewhat stable for the bumpy ride ahead. As the old beater began climbing the “road” (really it was nothing more than an area on the cliff of the mountains, where trees were not obstacles and so trucks – like the one we were in – paired with a brave and highly skilled driver, maneuvered their way to the beginning of the Salkantay trail) we stood up to soak in the views of the peaks that were now within sight.
“How long is this drive?” I asked.
“A few hours.”
We adjusted our death-grips on the overhead bar and buckled down for a long and bumpy ride on the “road” (WAY) less traveled.
After several hours we came to a stop, where a few other hikers were making last-minute adjustments to their backpack straps and applying one more coat of bug spray to the little skin that they had exposed. We somewhat stumbled out of the back of the truck, as we had to use our sea-legs to maintain an upright position on the truck ride, and joined in on the application of bug spray and adjustments of packs. This was it! We were saying goodbye to modern conveniences and heading out into the wilderness of Peru for the next 5 days!
“See that glacier over there?” asked our guide.
“That’s where we’ll camp tonight. It’s an 8-hour hike, so we’d better get going.”