During the end of 2011 and early 2012 Apus Peru clients had the great luck to be communicating with Francesca Ginnett as their Travel Consultant. In early February Francesca did a version of the Ancascocha trek, one of the little known alternative treks, and wrote this excellent diary. Thanks Francesca!
We set off very early this morning, around 5am. Although I talked a little to my fellow passengers in the car my eyes kept closing and I eventually drifted back off to sleep. When I awoke the landscape had changed dramatically, from the stone city of Cusco to a verdant almost jungle like landscape. The mist was rolling in from all directions muffling the noise around us and hiding the road behind us. We arrived at the start point and all piled out of the car, although the rain was coming down everyone was in high spirits, we donned our ponchos and laughed about the sight we made – six rainbow coloured ponchos against the grey-green backdrop – we certainly stood out!
The first two hours of walking was breathtaking – the sun went in and out making the landscape gleam and the mist curled around Salkantay mountain revealing its white peaks and jagged edges. Then came the hard part. We started to ascend the mountain side and very soon all felt the effects of the altitude, I tried all the tricks I knew to take my mind off it – chewing sweets, playing games, thinking about my favourite things – but I can´t deny that it was tough to keep going. The mountain played the game of making you think you had reached the top only to reveal another ridge! The rain beat down hard as we finally crossed the stream leading to our campsite. Our tents were nestled in the thick snow and we all ran towards them. The dining tent was so warm and filled with the smell of cooking food – heaven! After a much-needed hot meal and endless cups of cocoa we all climbed into our sleeping bags and fell asleep to the sound of avalanches from the adjacent mountain – not exactly the best lullaby!
After consulting with our guide it was decided to change our route, we knew there would be rain as it was February but the volume of snow on the trail was unexpected and would make it dangerous to carry on our original path. At breakfast we all talked about yesterday – none of us could remember a time we had been so physically tested and although at the time we weren’t exactly enjoying the experience it didn’t compare to how proud we felt today looking down at the mountain we climbed and knowing we had overcome it – truthfully I think it’s something I will remember forever. There was another stiff climb up to the pass (5,000 metres!) before we rested, looked down on the valley we were so high above and obviously, made a snowman with our guide.
We then carefully descended the slippery cliff side, following the adjacent glacier into the rocky valley below. We passed from the moon-like valley onto a river bed and then into a wetlands area filled with small streams, abundant plant-life and imposing mountains on either side. It struck me that so far on our trek we had seen valleys, mountains, streams, rivers ,snowfields, wetlands and arid landscapes in only two days. Our guide stopped to explain the vegetation around us and to tell stories of life in the valley, including being aware of the wild cows (as I am from England where cows are about as dangerous as dandelions I found this very funny). We stopped for lunch on the plains and then headed off again, I began to feel extremely grateful to the cook, the weather was chilly and wet and the generous hot meals were a real morale-boosting point to the day, as well as a welcome break to rest and chat about our trek with the other passengers. We arrived at our stunning campsite around 5pm and the atmosphere was very different to yesterday – we all felt elated after our trek and the sights we had seen, the sun was out and although we felt tired we weren’t exhausted and had energy to play games, take photos and take a quick (but much needed!) wash in the stream running alongside our tents.
An ominous start today as the rain which had been falling steadily all night showed no signs of stopping. We piled on the waterproofs (including the much abused ponchos) and headed off, there was a dramatic moment early on when we were crossing the river, all the passengers crossed safely enough but one of the mules stumbled and fell into the river. Our cook instantly jumped in after the mule and swam to catch him but it was twenty minutes or so before they were both pulled out safely by the villagers who had run to help out. The poor mule was relieved of his bags and Herbert our chef was dried off and given new clothes to put on. As we walked the sun came out and we were once again able to admire the beautiful mountains which were wrapped around the valley like a great hand and to dry off our sodden clothes. When we stopped for lunch we found a nearby shop and bough Herbert and the porters a few beers congratulate them for their bravery, the mule got a treat too in the form of sugar lumps.
Today we were able to enter the ruins of an old Inca home and observe how perfectly the building was situated in its environment, even the stone used to build it matched the surrounding mountains and there were amazing views from each side of the house. As we walked further our guide told us that due to the poor weather conditions on the trek our route would now take us through the Inca Trail – although the trail is technically closed the trekkers in February they were able to make an exception for safety reasons. We all felt unbelievably lucky to be able to walk this legendary trail, I am leaving Peru in just under two weeks so never thought I would get to trek the trail Hiram Bingham trekked to discover Machu Picchu! As we start on the trail I can see why it is closed off in February, the rain has made the path extremely muddy and the river dangerously high, although we are in no danger the conditions are certainly not conducive to hundreds of trekkers. The part of the trek is markedly different, there is a set path, people living nearby and jungle-like surroundings including startlingly large plants and cactuses. As we reach our final campsite we are already hashing out our favourite parts of the trek and laughing about the low points over a few beers, our porters join us and the evening passes with good friends, good food and the promise of new things to discover tomorrow.
We hike further along the Inca Trail today and start to see more signs of civilization, amazing ruins and structures built into the cliffs, hoards of parakeets and tiny hummingbirds flitting around flowerpatches, the train tracks leading to Machu Picchu curve around the mountain on the other side of the river and we wave to brave backpackers making the long journey to Aguas Calientes along them. Our guide shows us the cochineal beetles hiding amongst the cactuses and we all paint our faces with their red dye, this includes chasing one trekker down the road and working as a team to hold him down and paint whiskers on his face.
The sun is out again today, and the mood is playful – there is no need to conserve energy now or worry about dirtying out clothes our bodies so we trip happily along the path, investigating every strange plant and pawprint and peppering our guide with endless questions. As we reach KM82, the end of our trek (and the beginning of the Inca Trail) we feel triumphant, triumphant to have completed our trek, triumphant to have experienced the highs and the lows and triumphant to have done it together. That day there were a few rockfalls along the train tracks and the Inca Trail so we scurry along the final 100 metres of the trail and over the bridge to the village built around KM82, this truly is the end of our trek as we are surrounded by people and buildings, we wave goodbye to our porters (and the unlucky mule) and settle down for a final meal together. It feels very strange to spend 24 hours with 5 people for four days and then to face the prospect that you may never see them again (apart from through facebook!) and our bodies were realizing that they could rest so I am afraid both myself and the other female passenger fell asleep at the table – luckily we awoke as the food was being served… Finally we drove to the train station where 3 passengers would go with our guide to see Machu Picchu, I have already visited the site so I decided not to accompany them we said a swift goodbye, promised to email photos and waved them off. So now we are on our way back to Cusco and I feel both happy at the expectation of a hot shower and a warm bed but also sad to have completed this experience and to not be able to wake up tomorrow, exit my tent to see the green mountains and know that today I will be seeing something amazing.