The sun is rising over the mountains surrounding Cusco as we ascend to the top of the valley on our way to Mollepata. We all sit patiently in the bus ride as most are half asleep and I stare out the window thinking about what the coming days will bring and how beautiful the country is before life emerges from hibernation and the sun has yet to rise.
Mountain sides covered in deteriorating buildings that fit together so perfectly to form this cityscape. Advertisements painted on brick walls, winding roads run along cliffs edge, and the city still seems to sleep as we push forward at 5:30 am. As we lay witness to snow-capped peaks of distant mountains; a view only dreamt of before my travels to Peru. Edgar points ahead revealing what is unknown to us at this point in our adventure…
“That is Salkantay.”
We are outside the city of Cusco now; fields of hay with scattered homes pass us by as we travel through these small villages. Many buildings abandoned; the shell of the structure erect without the essence of life. Simply brick exterior walls and the absence of windows, doors or even the interior elements of what makes a building complete. Emptiness where dreams began and the foundation remains, simply waiting to be fulfilled by those who once cared to begin their life within these walls. Spanish style terracotta rooftops are a staple of Peruvian architecture; remnants of a remote history of Spanish conquest and European influence.
We have stopped along the way at a small tienda, Edgar disembarks to buy fresh bread and other groceries for our five day trek that lies ahead.
The driver jokes round about Deniz being “un grande muchacho” and that they must stop to buy more food for him to eat. Everyone enjoyed these little remarks as we wait patiently for Edgar to emerge.
While most Peruvian men are small in stature averaging a measly 5 feet 3 inches, they look at Deniz in ‘Awe’. Locals rush to greet him everywhere we go and ask how much he weights, not in a mean demeanor but in admiration. Every ounce of strength and height that makes up this foreign traveler fascinates them.
The sun is rising and people begin to stir as they fill the streets; waiting for buses to go en route to work or where ever their final destination might be. We begin to pass fields with lines of small fires where farmers begin to get crops ready for spring.
Pastel pink, purples and blue caress the peaks of the mountains while a low morning fog fills the valleys below us. Light reflects off Mount Salkantay giving it a beautiful and laminating appearance that stands out above everything else.
The temperature is slightly 60˚ Fahrenheit (15 ˚C) now and I am still cold even with multiple layers on.
Yes, I know! Not very cold at all for most but keep in mind I am from Florida and most winters don’t even see this sort of temperature.
I remain hopeful of escalating temperatures and they embrace my every thought. I reassure myself that it is only the beginning of the day and the sun has not yet reached that point in the sky where its warmth can reach my cheeks and warm my core.
As we disembark from our bus in the small village of Mollepata, we will feast one last time at a local restaurant before we head out for Mt. Salkantay and further on to Machu Picchu.
A delicious fruit bowl layered with Papaya, apples, peaches, bananas, oranges, and blueberries. Real butter to spread on freshly baked bread; Eggs, yogurt and fresh squeezed orange juice. I sort through various teabags in search of the notorious coca tea aimed at alleviating the effects of the high altitudes.
I have learned that when I have my mind set on something, the onset of high levels of anxiety leading to sleepless nights seems to follow me until I have moved forward in pursuing whatever it is that my heart desires. In this case, I wanted more than anything to see Machu Picchu before it is roped off and visitors are limited. Taking a train to the ruins was out of the question, while the Inca Trail was just not extreme enough for my taste.
I do not deem myself the most athletic of types but my drive and determination always seems to get me to the finish line. When looking into Mountaineering I was first concerned with the fact that I do have a slight case of Asthma and want to be prepared, not held back from what I want to do. I figure if I am acclimated, drink coca tea and mitigate the situation that my chances of having problems in the next few days are reduced drastically. I remember the first time I read about Mt. Salkantay in the pages of National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine where it was listed in a featured article to be among one of the “25 Best Treks in the World.”
White with bright blue eyes; an adolescent feline scours for fragments of food left on table tops where back-packers once devoured their morning delights. At times he sat patiently next to those who continued to eat hoping to sneak in and swipe a few bites. He then crawled in Chala’s lap and continued to beg for a small ration of food and she was more than generous.
An hour escapes us as we are asked to return to the bus around this time and before we press on last minute restroom breaks and shopping consumes our attention before we are truly ready to venture forth on our mountain trek. Walking sticks with lions, llamas, monkeys and cats; mittens and toiletries are some essentials on our minds to be better prepared for our journey.
A lovely isolated ranch with various colored horses sets the mark for our adventures start, as we gather for a group photo and take in the air while mentally preparing for the seclusion and beauty that is before our eyes. Enormous mountains surround us on all sides as the Andes cross the horizon and views of Mount Humantay comprise our first images of snowcapped mountains. Small waterfalls and streams lead mountain waters across our path while butterflies dance in the mountain breeze and enjoy this water traveling down the mountain side.
As we walk along, I ask Edgar about the natural disasters here in the Cusco region as he recalls the devastation that occurred only months prior during February, March and April. One situation where 1,500 tourists were trapped in the Aguas Caliente and Machu Picchu area; unable to reach those in need the helicopters were incapable of flying the first day of these events as heavy rains continued to flood and wash away mountain sides. When helicopters were permitted to fly some were offering rescue services to those who were willing to pay upward of $1,000 limiting only the wealthy the opportunity to evacuate at first. Eventually Colombia offered to lend Peru numerous helicopters to begin the evacuation process. Drinking water went from 1 sole to 20 soles while a 20 soles dinner increased to 100 soles. Many were injured from the mudslides and falling rocks including an Argentinian hiker who was killed in his sleep when a rock crushed his skull. Cities were under water and rivers swelled to 20 meters wide.
“It was a sad time in Santa Theresa,” stated Edgar.
The main reason for such inquires on the topic of natural disasters, if you do not know me, can be contributed to my studies at the University of South Florida. I am working on my Master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Relief. I am an inquisitive person by nature and I find people enjoy me asking questions about where they are from or something they are passionate about! The exchange of information, experiences and culture is one of my favorite elements of travel.
As we walked further down the trail, a snow-capped mountain across from where we stood had only a small patch of snow on its peaks. According to Edgar only 10 years ago the whole mountain range was topped with snow.
Global warming in the works?
Soon enough, as we walk up and wind around the mountains edge, the first glimpse of Mt. Salkantay shows itself to us during our first hours of hiking through Peru. Breathtaking and at 20,600ft (6,279m) it is a sight to see.
Horses gracefully run through vast, uninhabited stretches of mountain terrain; a picture