Peru Day 3: Saturday 10.15.22
Market + Parque de Las Aguas
Since the past two days were pretty packed for us, today was a bit more low key, which was great.
I was hoping to find an awesome sweater with llamas, so after a nice quiet morning, Char took me to the market in Miraflores where she's got a guy who gives her good deals for being a repeat customer.
We passed lots of beautiful art, brightly colored pom pom garlands, and llama themed merchandise of all kinds as we walked past the different booths. Soon, we were at Edgar's stand. He was excited to see Charlotte, and they talked a bit as I perused the goods. I told him I was looking for a pullover sweater with llamas on it, and he pulled out exactly what I was looking for. Yessss.
I also spotted some colorful yarn - supposedly alpaca but Char said it probably was at least a blend. But even if it was 100% acrylic (the cheaper stuff), it was a great deal for all that yarn. Right now the Peruvian Sol is worth about a quarter - down a bit from earlier in the year - so everything was really affordable.
After heading back to the car, we picked up sandwiches for lunch at a place called La Lucha - it was right near a nice outdoor mall are. Then we took most of the rest of the afternoon to just rest at the house.
Char felt bad for being so tired, but I told her the down time was perfect. Travel can be so exhausting, and it's nice to feel like you're not constantly going 24/7. This also gave me some time to enjoy Charlotte's beautiful place and lay in the hammock by the pool for a while.
She also has a great setup in the basement with a projector, so go figure - I started a season of Married at First Sight 😂
We headed out for Parque de las Aguas later that evening, hoping to catch the show at the main fountain. The park is right near the fútbol arena, and there were a lot of people everywhere so finding safe parking was a bit nerve-wracking.
But we made it over and paid the 4 soles admission price. After figuring out when the show was supposed to start, we had a bit of time to walk around.
Everywhere there were families, couples, and lots of kids enjoying the park. Vendors were selling sandwiches and light up propeller things that launched into the air.
Eventually we made it back to the main fountain where the show was about to start. The fountains sprayed so that they almost made a screen, and the show was about the history of Peru, with the Incans, the Conquistadors, and the modern day. It was pretty cool.
After the show, we wandered around a bit more, but found out another really cool part of the park was closed while they were prepping it for Halloween. Bummer. But it was still a really nice night out, and it's pretty rad that Lima has such a beautiful park for its people to enjoy.
I tried a chorizo hot dog for dinner as we made our way back to the car -thankfully our parking spot was fine - and we headed home.
Peru Day 4: Sunday 10.16.22
Nueva Vida, Lunch with friends, Fall Decorating
This morning, I got to check out Charlotte's church, Nueva Vida Lima. We headed over to Miraflores and to the school building where they meet!
It was nice to see some familiar faces like Chris, Paola, and Toño, and a few people I'd met at the worship night - Diego, Carrie, Miguel, and Mary.
Considering the service was in Spanish, I understood most of it! The pastor was preaching on the passage where Peter affirms Jesus as the Messiah, and turns around and rebukes Jesus for saying that he would have to suffer and die. Definitely a lesson in humility.
After church, we headed to a nearby food court with Chris, Paola, Melissa, Toño and Diego to enjoy some lunch together. There were lots of options, but I went for a middle eastern/Peruvian fusion place that had a pita filled with Lomo Saltado. I also tried a drink called an "emoliente" that was supposed to be good for me, I guess! It was hot and had kind of a tea plus lemon and ginger vibe.
I said goodbye to Chris, Paola, and Diego, as the rest of us headed to a nearby Dollar Tree where Char wanted to buy some fall decorations. Apparently, it's super difficult to find harvest-themed fall decor at most Peruvian stores, but the Dollar Tree is where it's at for your Americanized holiday decor needs in Peru 😂
With the goods in hand, we dropped off Melissa and Toño and headed back to the house for a Sunday afternoon siesta.
After a good nap, I read by the pool for a bit, and then thought I'd help Char with her fall decor by painting a cute little fall banner. We put up some of her decorations with a nice Acoustic Fall playlist playing. So fun.
Char is working from home tomorrow, and my flight to Cusco is in the afternoon, so she got an early bedtime while I started packing. I decided to fly to Cusco, since taking a bus from Lima can apparently take a full 24 hours. With the VivaAir flight I booked, I only paid for a checked back and not a carry on, so I wanted to make sure my hiking pack would still fit inside my roller duffel with the extra souvenirs I had bought. Thankfully, I could tell with a little squishing it would all fit.
Peru Day 5: Monday 10.17.22
Flight to Cusco
After breakfast, I finished packing up all my things and said goodbye to Charlotte as she called me an Uber to the airport. It really was such a nice visit, and I was so grateful to reconnect with my friend and also have an awesome tour guide for the first part of the trip.
The hour-long trip to the airport was pretty uneventful, and I was able to quickly get my bag checked. Char warned me that there weren't that many food options past security, so I made a stop at the airport Starbucks (strangely enough, my one and only Pumpkin Spice Latte so far for the season). I picked up a pair of headphones too at a nearby electronics shop since mine had stopped working last week. My last stop before security was a little sandwich place for a quick lunch to eat while I waited for my flight.
Thankfully, security was pretty quick and easy, and before I knew it, I was getting on a plane to Cusco!
We soared above the low hanging cloud over Lima, and about an hour later, I was seeing mountaintop villages not far below us. I marveled a bit at the fact that people were living up at this high elevation.
Cusco is at an elevation 11,152 feet, pretty incredible considering it's a pretty large city of over 400,000 people. It's a major outpost for tourism, since it's the hub for all the tours to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, the Inca Trail, Salkantay, and places like Rainbow Mountain. Generally, it's a lot safer than Lima because of all the tourism.
The view coming into town was beautiful. I could feel myself getting extra excited for the adventure!
Thankfully, my bag made it just fine (my biggest worry for this flight), and I found my taxi driver that I had booked through Booking without a hitch.
The ride to my hostel was supposed to be around 20 minutes, but I had noticed on the map that the location seemed a bit confusing. Antonio the cab driver made a turn up an extremely steep cobblestone hill and turned onto a side street to park, letting me know that his taxi wouldn't make it all the way up the hill. He was determined to carry my bag for me all the way there though, and we started walking up the ridiculously steep hill. I could already feel the elevation change and tried to take it slow up the hill.
We got a bit turned around trying to find the hostel, and made a wrong turn - poor Antonio was such a champ hauling my awkward wheelie duffel around the cobblestones. But we found someone who was able to give us good directions, and a bit further up the hill, we found the Supertramp Hostel where I had booked a night.
I made sure to give Antonio a good tip for all his extra help, and got checked in. The girl working the front desk was a really sweet Argentinian girl named Violeta who showed me around. This hostel definitely had a youthful vibe, with brightly colored murals everywhere and music playing.
I decided to book a private room this time around for myself so that I could let my backpacking gear explode everywhere while trying to pack for my trek. This hostel also offered luggage storage in a locked room for people like me who had planned a hiking trek based out of Cusco. So I started getting my pack all ready to go, knowing that tomorrow morning I would need to get to Mollepata, the little town where the Salkantay Trek begins.
After a bit of getting organized, I decided to venture out for a little walk around Cusco to explore the sights. I also had a few things to track down - fuel for my camping stove (since that's a no-no to fly with), and alpaca yarn (because us knitters can never have enough good yarn).
Before leaving, I stopped to enjoy the amazing view from the hostel balcony, and then made my way toward the historic city center - the Plaza de Armas.
On my way to the plaza, I noticed a Quechua woman with a full grown alpaca and baby and my heart just melted. I asked how much for a photo, and she casually said, "Oh, whatever." She gestured to me to hold the baby and snapped my photo... it was so magical.
And then, being the shrewd businesswoman, said "20 soles." LOL. I had just gotten hustled for SURE. That's basically like 5 bucks for a photo... but also my alpaca dreams had just come true, and this is her livelihood, so after a halfhearted attempt at 10 soles, I just paid up.
Making my way down to the plaza, I just tried to take it all in.
The architecture of the cathedrals was beautiful, the square had a fountain with pretty gardens all around.
I also noticed a plaque dedicated to the victims of the Spanish invasion.
I meandered around town running my errands - I pulled out more cash from the ATM, perused some souvenir shops, and then headed down to the San Pedro market. Everywhere I looked, there were vendors selling sweaters, art, instruments, but no yarn! I finally asked a woman crocheting at her stand where I could buy yarn, and she told me the shop was outside across the street from the market.
After finding the yarn shop, I met a really sweet woman from Cusco also buying there who told me that the alpaca yarn here wasn't authentic and that the place to go was near the Plaza San Francisco. The shop was already closed, so I decided I'd try to find alpaca yarn when I got back after my trek. But in the meantime, this shop had some very affordable acrylic baby yarn that I liked.
Finally, I knew I needed to hustle to find stove fuel, so I made a beeline for the outdoor store and then headed back up to my hostel, since I had been eyeing the pizza at the restaurant there.
I finished my last bit of packing and messaged my Airbnb host in Mollepata about the best way to get there from Cusco. Because of road construction near the town, she suggested that I take a colectivo (Collective Taxi) so I didn't accidentally get stuck trying to take a private taxi when the road would be closed. Typically in places like Lima, colectivos can be dangerous, but I figured in this more rural area, and with her recommendation, it would be okay.
Peru Day 6: Tuesday 10.18.22
Colectivo to Mollepata / Acclimation
After enjoying my complimentary breakfast at the hostel, I asked Violeta to store my luggage, and pulled on my trusty hiking backpack to head out.
I knew that I wanted to try and make the 10am colectivo to Mollepata, so I gave myself just enough time to stop at the grocery store and get some meat and cheese for my trek. I also was on the lookout for some chips, but didn't see any options that I liked. Bummer.
I continued to the spot where the colectivo was marked on the map. At first, I blew right past it because it was literally just a van parked in front of a building. Haha... this could be interesting. But someone pointed me in the right direction, and I saw that there were two other backpackers waiting outside the van. Whew. A good sign.
The van driver said there was still room, and that they would leave as soon as all the seats filled up. Interesting. He stored my pack up top as I chatted a bit with the other two backpackers who were from the Netherlands.
More people trickled in, but soon the Dutch backpackers asked how long the drive was, and when they realized it was two hours long, they decided they hadn't budgeted enough time to hike and get back in a day. So they took off, but were soon replaced by another backpacking couple from Spain. Julio and Belén were also planning to do the Salkantay trek as well. It made me feel better that they spoke good English as well as Spanish, in case I had any problems.
We finally had a full vanload, so the colectivo started making its way towards the village. I noticed that the Spaniards were filming a lot, and they told me they had a Youtube channel based on travel - Welcome to el Mundo. They had been traveling around South America for a few months at this point.
They were both a bit shocked when I let them know I had only acclimated one day in Cusco, but I told them that my plan was to spend today in Mollepata (lower than Cusco at around 9,200ft), and then hike to Soraypampa instead of taking a taxi in order to acclimate gradually. They looked at me like I was a bit crazy. Normally, it's definitely a better idea to spend more time in Cusco, but I was hopeful that my Colorado elevation advantage back home hadn't completely worn off.
We finally made it to the village, and I was feeling really exhausted. I headed straight to my Airbnb, the Tilcafe Bed and Breakfast.
I wasn't sure how to get in touch with my host, since I had no wifi, but a friendly neighbor saw me knocking on the door and called her. A very sweet girl came dashing around the corner and got me settled in. She didn't speak any English, but with my limited Spanish skills, we made it work. She showed me which key went to the room vs. the main door. I let her know that I would rest for a while, and she said she'd be back at the cafe around 4pm if I needed anything.
I ate some leftover pizza for lunch, and then took a solid 2 hour nap. Not sure if it was the elevation adjustment or just the exhaustion of a long bumpy van ride, but I was TIRED.
I woke up around 3 and decided to scope out the town for food options and to explore a bit. Mollepata is very quaint, but not at all a tourist town. It's more of a stopover for people before they head up into the mountains with their tour groups. So I bought an ice cream bar and a coffee-flavored protein shake at the corner store, enjoyed the plaza, and then went for a little walk.
There were a few little restaurants, but I didn't see a whole lot that I was really craving, so I headed back to the hotel for more quiet time before dinner. I was trying to decide if I wanted to take a taxi up to Soraypampa or not - but with it being 70 soles, I decided I probably didn't have enough cash on me, and also I had planned to walk - so I would walk.
Realization of today: it's exhausting planning all the logistics of a trek yourself. I didn't know how good I had it with the Guthooks app on the PCT, too.
I emerged from my room around dinner time, and in the plaza, I saw some ladies with a cart that said "Salchipapas - 8 Soles". I wasn't sure what it was, but what I ended up with was a carb bomb of spaghetti noodles, rice, and french fries, loaded with sausages and drizzled with some sort of aioli.
I took it back to the Airbnb, and noticed that the cafe area was open. The front desk girl was back, and she invited me to eat dinner in the cafe if I wanted.
Despite the language barrier, I tried my best, and I had a lovely conversation with Nabely. She is only 18 and currently studying at an institute to learn pharmacology. Her phone kept dinging, and in frustration she told me she was working on a group presentation for school that wasn't going very well... it seems that group projects can be universally difficult even in Peru 😂
I was able to tell her a bit about my visit with Charlotte in Lima, and also about my trek on the PCT that made me feel comfortable with backpacking solo. She was really encouraging and thought it was cool I was confident enough to go alone.
After dinner, I was ready for a good night's sleep! I asked Nabely when breakfast was available, and we planned on 8am the next morning.
Peru Day 7: Wednesday 10.19.22
Salkantay Trek Day 1: 13.6 miles
Mollepata to Humantay Lake
I enjoyed a nice breakfast at my Airbnb courtesy of Nabely. She made me one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had, followed by orange juice, scrambled eggs, and panecitos with butter and marmalade.
I asked her if I could buy some panecitos to eat with my meat and cheese for lunch. She was super sweet and walked me to one of her neighbor's shops where I could get 3 for one sol (25 cents)!
I had filtered some water from the sink in my room since I wasn't sure if it was potable, and then I went on my way! I thanked Nabely again for her kindness and hospitality - really she was such a sweetheart and put up with my broken Spanish like a champ.
As I began the trek up to Soraypampa, I considered again whether to take a taxi part way or all the way to the pueblo. After all, it looked like some serious uphill, and I still wanted to climb from Soraypampa to Humantay Lake. But again, I realized my cash situation wasn't great. 70 soles is a lot when you've only got around 200 in cash left. A guy stopped near the bottom and asked if I wanted a ride, but I said, "Estoy Bien. Caminando a pie." (I'm good, walking on foot.)
I wondered if I would regret that later, but continued up the road. Because I chose to walk, I was able to get some really nice views of the valley and greet some locals. An older man who was farming greeted me and asked if I was traveling, then where I was from. I was happy to be able to understand his questions, and told him that I was from the US. He wished me a good trip and I kept hiking up the road.
It was pretty hot in the sun, but eventually, the road met a trail that takes a more direct way to Soraypampa. The first section was steep uphill to another road, but there I found a stream where I dipped my shirt and hat to cool my core temp. I always love doing this on hot days with long climbs.
The trail flattened and widened for awhile while I walked along an aqueduct that reminded me of the irrigation ditches in Montrose. But soon, I got a little turned around where my trail app wasn't super clear. It looked like I took the wrong turn, so I had to go back - but that turn was fenced with barbed wire. I saw a trail through the fence though and was able to walk back further and find the gate where I needed to enter.
At the point, the climb got super steep. I was listening to some gospel music jams, and y'all, Jesus and Kirk Franklin got me up to the next road walk. There were some beautiful valley views from up there, and I teared up thinking about how tough this was but also how thankful I was to be alive and okay and in Peru.
At this point, the road was generally less steep, and I was able to get into a better pace. I stopped for lunch on a switchback with some space.
A nice man on a dirt bike stopped to ask me if I realized that I should turn left and get on the footpath at the bathroom building ahead. I didn't understand 100 percent, but from looking at the map, and what he said, it sounded like it would cut off some distance for me. I'm pretty sure he was surprised to see a crazy gringa alone on the mountain hiking all this way. But that's kind of how I roll. I didn't see any other hikers today... pretty sure they all took the taxi.
I made it to the bathroom building shortly, and as I climbed the hill to reach the trail, I was greeted with the most incredible view.
At this point I had climbed almost 3000 feet over a few miles, and I was exhausted. But that view and the flat trail ahead gave me a renewed burst of energy. Heck yeah! I was doing this! And the snow capped mountain ahead was a burst of hope for my spirit.
I really enjoyed the next few miles to the village. I jammed to music and took lots of pictures. I reached the turn off to Humantay Lake at 4:30 and asked a guide I saw how many hours to the lake. " One if you go fast." He said. I knew I wouldn't be going fast with the elevation and my pack and my general hiking pace. But I was thinking maybe an hour and a half. I figured I still had a good amount of daylight.
But as I made my way up and started seeing the sun sinking, I realized that Peru is NOT on Daylight Savings. So instead of setting around 7-7:30, the sun would set around 6-6:30. Yikes!
That mile and a half climb was the longest steepest slog ever. I was trying to push, but my body said no. I reached the top after dark... and it was pretty pitch black. I was sad but tried taking some star photos to make feel better.
I walked the rocky shore, but soon realized I was completely exhausted. I felt sketched out about going down that steep downhill slope in the dark.
So even though it's probably super illegal/frowned upon, I decided to cowboy camp on the shore of the lake and head down early in the morning. If it hadn't been for my safety, I wouldn't have even attempted it, but there was literally no one up there and I decided to get up super early and tear down before anyone reached the top. At least that's my hope. So that's how I ended up camping at 13,950 ft. tonight. I also figure that if I can feel okay altitude-wise sleeping up here, then I should be okay to go over the pass tomorrow.
I took more star photos in my sleeping bag as I waited for my ramen to cook. Whew. What a hard and intense and unexpected day. But I'm proud of myself. Taking on Salkantay pass tomorrow!
Jesus, thank you for this day. Thank you for your strength when I was weak, for plentiful water, for clouds but very little rain on the exposed section of the climb today, and for kind strangers like Nabely and the folks I met on the road today. Thank you for the incredible majesty of the mountains and valleys I saw today. Amen.
Peru Day 8: Thursday 10.20.22
Salkantay Day 2: 13 miles
Humantay Lake to Chaullay
I slept decently well, considering I was at almost 14,000 ft. last night! I kept rolling over to see Orion's belt rotating across the sky - even without my glasses, it was bright and clear enough to identify - amazing.
I woke just before 5am and started to pack my things, just in case someone hiked up early and might catch me in what was probably an illegal spot 😂
The sun was starting to paint the peak in front of me with that early morning warm glow, and the lake was reflecting like glass. Some low wispy clouds hung near the peaks.
I made my breakfast and coffee watching the light and pinched myself. I had a beautiful night at this iconic lake in the Andes... what a blessing. And no signs of altitude sickness, thankfully. I think my choice to hike up gradually, while tough, helped with that.
After snapping a few final lake photos, I realized I probably wouldn't see it at its iconic blue stage without more direct sunlight, but felt grateful to see it in a different light than most tourists. And then I started down the hill towards the real start of my day - Salkantay Pass.
It only took me 40 minutes to get down the hill, and I only bumped into one guy hiking up. So quiet. Reaching Soraypampa, I saw several groups of hikers starting their journey up the pass. With eyes on the mountain, I joined them.
I passed a large mule outfitter early on, and slow and steady, kept heading up. This began an almost 4 hour uphill walk to the highest point I've ever reached.
I was easily passed by a lot of Peruvians, and several other hikers.
Most people had smaller packs than me, likely part of tour groups where mules carried the load. Or, as I later realized, they were just planning to stay in the many domes, huts, and camping options along this route. No tent needed Hmm. I'm definitely doing this the hard way 😂
But I pressed on, very very slowly as I felt the air getting ever thinner. My lungs and heart were working in overdrive.
I reached a spot called the seven snakes, a stupid steep set of switchbacks where a mixed group of trekkers from Germany, the US, and Namibia caught up to me with their guide. They were super friendly, especially the German couple. I had to pause to catch my breath at the end of every little switchback, but the guide commented on my strength carrying all my own gear.
I pushed onward, constantly reminding myself to just keep moving forward. It's not a race. And soon I was walking a flat open plain before the final climb, and WOW - what an amazing view!
I put on a soundtrack called the Green Planet and felt just like I was walking through a National Geographic documentary! The snow capped Salkantay Mountain is just incredible. It's higher than any mountain I've seen with my own eyes before.
I saw the group of trekkers from earlier just starting up the climb. Okay. Let's do this.
Soon, I could see the top! It was the slowest, most excruciatingly tedious slog up this last hill, but as I reached the top, the other trekkers started to clap for me. Their guide cracked a beer and said, "Here, have a sip!" and took my photo showing off my pack with the beer 😂 apparently the gringa hiking alone and carrying her own big pack is a novelty.
We all celebrated the achievement, taking pictures and enjoying the view. There were some clouds swirling near the mountain, but we had a clear view of the top, thankfully! The group's guide told us that we picked a good day, because yesterday there had been snow up here!
We all still had a ways to go for the day - 8 miles down to Chaullay - so gradually everyone began to descend. I soaked in the view a bit more and started down the hill just as a light sprinkle began that turned to light hail.
The clouds closed in and grew foggy as I descended, and I had the thought that if I didn't know better, this felt a lot like Iceland, where I just visited last month 😂
I popped in the earbuds again and just tried to focus on not tripping. After a mile or so, I came up on some familiar faces: Julio and Belén from Spain! The same couple I had ridden in the colectivo with! They were excited to see me again, and we hiked down the hill together for a while.
We talked a lot about travel and how it's great for helping us stay open and humble. Since they're content creators, we also got to talking about our favorite camera gear, haha. They use the same camera for filming that I used for Melissa's wedding.
We got to a break in the clouds, and I decided to stop for lunch - since they had eaten already, we parted ways. I laid out some things to dry in the sun, and took a little time at a nearby stream to filter water. I'm really grateful to have my filter, since a lot of folks on this hike are just paying for water at all the little bodegas they see. That adds up, with how pricey the bottled water is in this remote area.
I started down a rocky road that had a pretty steep grade of descent. I normally like getting to cruise downhill, but this kind of rocky stuff makes it take a lot more focus not to fall. My legs were getting sore and tired, but I was trying to enjoy the views.
I could tell we were moving from a more alpine climate to a high jungle one. The trees and plants were really interesting and different, and I kept saying to myself - "Wow... I'm hiking in South America right now!" Crazy stuff.
After a bit, I passed the mixed group of hikers that I had met on the way up the pass - they were taking a rest at a little outpost. But soon, they caught me again, and I lingered near the back of their hiking group, talking with the couple from Germany again. They asked me if I knew where I was camping, and all I could tell them was the name of the town. I think they were a bit impressed by my ability to fly by the seat of my pants.
The conversation helped the last bit of hiking go by faster, and before I knew it, we were in Chaullay! They were staying in some A-frame huts, but there was also a sign for camping, so I thought I'd ask the owner if I could get a tent spot. She was super sweet, and saw that I was a solo female hiker, so let me set up in a private spot on the upper deck of one of the pavilions. Score.
After getting set up, I made my way to the lawn where other hikers were hanging out. There, I met two other solo-hikers - Ian from Canada, and Kiran from the U.K. It was really nice to see that I wasn't the only one with the crazy idea to do this thing alone! Although Ian's solo-trip was unexpected, because his hiking buddy was stuck in Cusco with food poisoning.
There were also several other couples hiking self-guided. Louisa and Sebastian were from Germany, and Anna and Jayden were from Australia. This campground also had a restaurant and shop, so I ordered dinner for 15 soles and we all sat around the picnic table getting to know each other and talking about our plans for the next day.
I learned that Kiran was waiting on a working visa from Canada to be able to work at Whistler for the winter, and that both the other couples had been taking a few months to travel South America. Truly my kind of dirtbag people :)
The couples told us that the town of Santa Teresa was a short distance from tomorrow's destination, and had some really nice hot springs. I wasn't sure how long the hike would take tomorrow, but I kept that in mind in case I wanted to relax after a long day's hike.
I also learned that Ian's stove had broken, so I offered to let him use mine for breakfast. We planned to have breakfast at 7:45, and thus began a mini trail family of the Salkantay solo hikers.
So much adventure in this section! But the trip's not over yet... stay tuned for Machu Picchu!