After only four hours of sleep I was awakened by the sickening sound of my alarm. It was 4am. I tried with only little success to quietly pack my bags and leave the four bed dorm I was staying in. I grabbed my walking boots, rucksack and walking poles and headed off, slightly resembling a donkey, packed up to the eyes with bags and hiking equipment.
When I reached the Plaza de Armas a bus was waiting for me and the rest of the unexpecting and uninformed who had signed up for the 5 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. Two hours later we arrived at the starting point where we were served a slightly meagre breakfast to set us up for our day of walking. We all looked scarily like those people that you think are almost certainly over prepared for their 20 minute trek up a small hill, with their walking boots, walking poles and waterproofs. We were not over prepared however and the excessive hiking gear was not as excessive as it first seemed.
The first day consisted of a small ascent and around 8 hours of walking and sweating. We caught some respite at lunch where I had the chance to let my back dry out and refuel. Thirty minutes later we started walking again. The Salkantay mountain came into sight both taunting and intimidating us with its snow-capped peak and imposing size.
We carried on through fertile undulating hillsides, with waterfall veins and thin river arteries. I received a stark reminder of how perspective works when we finally had to cross the thin river.
We arrived with a collective feeling of success and relief to Soraypampa, our camp for the night. A Colombian on the trek, Herbert found out about a small lagoon half an hours walk up hill close to the camp. This was probably the toughest ascent of the whole five days. When we eventually reached the top, the lagoon was unnoticeable due to the reflection of the opposite mountain.
When it finally registered, a loud gasp followed. The water was unrealistically blue and the stillness of the water was enticing, so much so that I ended up having a quick wash, knowing there was no chance of a shower for 4 days.
The next day we set off for what was supposed to be the toughest day of the trek, where we would reach the Salkantay Pass our highest point, at 4600 metres above sea level. We eventually reached the top after hours of climbing uphill. The beautiful surroundings and the altitude simultaneously took our breath away. The second part of the day consisted of hiking down the mountain through cloud forest until we finally stumbled onto our second camp. This was definitely the worst part of the trek… it rained relentlessly and everyone was soaked through.
The third day of the trek was the easiest, only five hours of walking and we ended the day in thermal springs, which helped ease the muscle ache from the previous day of hiking uphill.
On the fourth day of the trek we headed for Aguas Calientes, the town that sits at the foot of Machu Picchu. On this day we had to carry our own backpacks, so laden with around 16KG I hobbled off down the train tracks towards our penultimate destination. We also got out first glimpse of some of Machu Picchu’s ruins sitting high above on the hillside.
That night I finally had my own room, there was no camping and not a sleeping bag to be seen… it felt like luxury. Almost certain the hard part was over, I finally felt like I could relax, with only the 4am trek up the 1000 plus steps to Machu Picchu to go.
The next day I decided to go for it as fast as I could, leaving behind all of those short of breath and catching a rest at different stops on the way. I finally made it to the top, panting like a horse and dripping with sweat.
I was too excited and intrigued to wait for the others so I walked to the entrance and after 4 days of walking and climbing, I was finally in Machu Picchu. After another 5 minute climb up some steps, I could see all of Machu Picchu in its full glory. It was everything you expect and it’s difficult to believe where you are standing. The imposing Huayna Picchu, is the famous dramatic backdrop of the lost Inca city and it’s difficult not to stand and stare in awe.
The 5 day trek added to my appreciation of Machu Picchu, I would feel like I had cheated had I just jumped on the train. Seeing the ruins was an incredible experience and is a sight that will likely never be forgotten.