A Travellerspoint blog

The Salkantay Seven

all seasons in one day
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Early on a dark Saturday morning a taxi comes to transfer us to a bus which will then shuttle about 50 of us to the start of what will be a five day treck, culminating in the climb up to now, new official wonder of the world, Machu Pichu. This is the Salkantay Trek and this is the tale of an adhesive group of 7 making it all the way.

Meeting for the first time over what can only be described as an expensive cup of coca tea and bread, we acquired sticks for the road ahead before meeting our guide for the trail Ricardo. Ricardo was only a year or so older than most of us at 26 and spoke great English, straight away you could tell he would be a good guy. With occasional stops for information either offered or was asked for from Ricardo, we walked an average track warming up ready for what was to be a more challenging trek tomorrow. The sun was hot on this first day, this wasnt a problem on the main trail but the shortcuts we often took were of a much steeper incline and no one would be embarassed to admit they were breaking sweat. Upon reaching the camp at the base of the snowy mountains we were to walk up through, (including the mighty Salkantay) that evening we set up tents and purchased some rum for the cold night that was ahead of us.

The next morning was very cold but we were woken for our early start by cups of coca tea coutesey of the cooks which certainly made getting up easier. It is worth noting at this point that the cooks and horsemen that were with us were brilliant, we ate basic whilst amazing 2-3 course meals, 3 times a day. Straight into the second days trekig and one of the Australians, Tracy, was struggling with an injury to her hip eventually leading to a lot of us going ahead whilst the only Kiwi in our group George stayed with her along with Ricardo. The path up to the mountains takes some steep windng routes and so upon reaching the sumit, Tony, Sam (both Australian), Elorie (Canadian), Kyla and myself took a well earned rest. Pondering the situation Tracy was in with such a challenging walk, our conversation was interrupted by the sight of her coming over the crest mounted upon a horse. With no chance of managing the ascent without aid and not wanting to turn back, Ricardo had found Tracy a horse man willing to help her to the sumit. Ricardo and George soon joined us after walking a feverish pace up the trail.

Now we all know what comes up, must come down, and so after walking our way through the mountain ranges, we began our descent. It had to threatened to rain all morning but as (bad)luck would have it, it managed to hold off untill we began to wind down along a muddy trail which acted as the run off from the mountain. Now slippery under foot, we carried on down into a raincloud forest where the cloud hangs low and moist in the air. Everything appeared to glisten with the drops of liquid covering the surfaces. Even with our sticks, now vital, the wet mud slowed the pace a bit, but this allowed us to enjoy the surroundings, even spotting a humming bird at a flower. We crossed water falls and rivers one such particularly muddy area lead to my demise at one point, slipping onto my back, luckily my bag taking most of the fall. The day was exhausting but never hard work because everything about it was amazing. We reached a much lower and warmer hight than the night before come the end of the day and so toasted our success with beers and some card games after dinnner.

The days were to be considerably easier after yesterdays conquering of the mountains. We treked through, once again stunning scenery but along a much more commonly tread path. Come the evening we stopped at a sight, form here some people chose to head out on a bus to the hot springs however I had no board shorts so missed out, instead opting to chill out for the evening chatting to the cooks over a beer. Come the morning we walked a very little way from the previous nights resting point until we reached a zip line bridge. Once all across we followed the trail passed various sights including a waterfall which come out of the middle of a cliff face, the water had dug its way through and burst out the side. After a lunch stop we followed the train tracks all the way to Aguas Calientes, the last stop before leaving the next morning for our ultimate goal, Machu Pichu. The monotony of the train tracks was a completely different experience from the environments we'd took on so far but our chatting and joking made the walk a great laugh. I thank the guys, as that evening the 7 of us went out and enjoyed a cocktail or two for the special events of tomorrow, I wasn't just seeing Machu Pichu but it would be the 23rd when we reached the ancient Inca ruins. Time to fashion a special hat I think.

Posted by FlatCapped 11:10 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Salty Days 3 and 4

sunny 18 °C
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So the second half of our tour began with an even earlier start, an arranged wake up of 5 o'clock was shattered by a banging on the door and a shout of "Desayuno!" from Jose which we all knew meant breafast, as I began to sleepily rise from the bed I heard a meek protest come from next door, it was Eric in Spanish "┬┐Cuatro, por que, Cuatro?!" which translates as "4?...why?...4!". One by one we appeared at the comunal table looking half asleep sipping cups of coffee, some of us with the added kick of whisky.

Jose returned at 6 and by quarter past the van was loaded and we were speeding along the trail, off road to the next stop. This stop was to be at least a couple of hours away and during this drive Jose sang, danced, handed out Coca leaves, laffed and joked and told of how the early start had been due to his drunk friends getting stuck in a lake which he had to collect them from and drive them home. Due to the copius cups of Irish coffee consumed in the morning, there were a few stops along the way, which included some climbing up and along a rock face for fun, Jose climbed to the top to take a creative shot of Ben climbing up, you could see the fear in Bens face, not for the climb but for the safety of his expensive digital SLR camera which Jose was holding, unsecured, maybe ten foot from the ground.

The day was mostly a journey to the nights hostel with stops along the way to see and photograph an active volcano smoking from a side vent, a lagoon home for a large ammount of flamingos, a rock formation resembling a tree (originally called the stone tree), the Salvidor Dali desert and a lagoon coloured red by the algae in its water. After dumping bags we drove out to a green lagoon off which is a hot spring you can bathe in. It was thought by the entire group that we were to visit here tomorrow so no one had come prepared with their shorts etc. Not to be stopped from experiencing the bath, whilst everyone dipped there legs, Ben stripped down to his boxers and slid straight in before drip drying in the cold wind afterwards. On the drive back to the hostels we visited some bubbling geysers, engulfed in the smell of sulphur we took photographs before snow began to gently fall and we climbed back into the van.

The hostel we stopped at this night was shelter for a few tour groups and therefore boasted a small shop. In search of some alcohol for our last night as the whisky supply was depleeting and the snow was still falling, we stumbled accross a drink called Tres Plumes, described on the bottle as a "delicate bouquet". This became the main drink for the night, along with wine, rum and the left over whisky, as we played drinking games and chatted in Spanglish with Jose and an American from another tour (his group was obviously not as lively as ours, in bed hours before).

The final day was mostly the drive back to Uyuni with a stop at the Cascades, which is supposed to mean waterfall but not one of us could see any water, and another stop for lunch in a small village that taught guitar to all of the kids outside in the sun. That night Ben headed off on the bus to La Paz and the rest of us enjoyed a pizza along with more drinking and chatting.

As Kyla and I prepare to head to Sucre we hope to catch up with Eric, Josh and Aurelie in La Paz in a couple of days.

Posted by FlatCapped 09:55 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Salty Days 1 and 2

sunny 22 °C
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As my last entry may have suggested I have moved up through Argentina via 3 very little villages and succesfully walked across the border into Bolivia. After catching a train to Uyuni arrangements were made to see the first major sight in Bolivia, the Salar or Salt Flats. As this was an active 4 days I have divided the tale into two parts.

In Uyuni there are more companies offering Salar tours than there are stray dogs, and that is some feat in South America it sems. Whilst browsing we met a Canadian guy who was also interested in doing the surprisingly less popular 4 day tour which includes climbing up to a volcano on the second day, together we found a tour company called Cristal which offered a great price along with the security that if the van did not get filled we would still be able to go at no extra cost, very handy when we were 3 people short of a full van and that could have led to the price doubling. On the morning of departure we arrived to find our group had increased with the addition of an English couple. We threw our luggage on to the top of the van and headed off, with two Argentine girls tagging along for the first two days.

As a note of how void of things to do Uyuni is besides the Salar tours, our first stop was to the towns main attraction, a Locomotive Cemetary... its 100 years old which is aparent with the rust colour of the trains and the ammount of rubbish caught ammongst its tracks. Eric (the Canadian), Josh (the English lad) and I made the most of the landscape by climbing over, under and into the various train remains before we clambered back into the van for our salty destination.

The Salar is like going snowboarding, as soon as you are surrounded by its crystal covered floor, the sun in its clear blue sky is reflected back off the white ground burning and blinding you. This is something I was unprepared for and promptly began cooking on my bare arms and face, soon leaving a prominant panda tan and chargrilled lips. We progressed via the people working the salt, pilling it onto trucks, to a small collection of houses, mostly made of salt bricks. Here we stayed for a short while watching tourists rushing to buy salt ashtrays, dice and cups. Our lunch stop was nicer at a salt museum/hotel, our driver Jose Luis jumped out and began cooking for us whilst our group attempted various takes on the obligatory perspective photographs. Lunch we...mostly Josh...are eager to think was Llama and not bad too.

Before landing at our first nights accomodation we stopped at a smal museum which was more 1 mans collection of old things. The smilling Bolivian spent the whole tour of his collection hitting the ancient items with a stick, most entertainingly batting a stuffed bird hanging from the ceiling like a pinata. Just as we thought the mans entertaining behaviour could peak no higher he lead us to a garden where he possesed a collection of rock forms all in familiar shapes, climbing aback a llama structure he damanded Eric take photographs of him, smilling from ear to ear. This guy is loco.

The rooms for our first night were in a very small village and whilst Jose made arrangements we went over to a nearby area to play the local kids at football. The teams were divided into Eric plus the local kids, ranging up to maybe 10 years old, against Josh, his girlfriend Aurelie and myself... team England, with an average age of just over 20 were beaten thoroughly. Excuses of altitude fatigue or the overwhelming number against a 3 man force could all be offered but at the end of the day, the kids ran rings around us with an endless amount of energy. Whisky with the evening meal helped warm us after a cold walk onto the flats to see the stars, before we sat in candle light chatting as the towns electricity cut off at 10.

Morning came with a 6 o'clock start for which I had to go and wake Jose up, we had breakfast before heading to the volcano. First we drove up and round to a small cave where a group of mummies were, we looked around the cave noting the tiny size of its preserved inhabitants and the remains of gifts offered to them at festival times by locals. The ascent of the volcano was our next concern with an altitude of just over 5000m we knew it could be tough. As a group we got to roughly the base of its crater peak before we had to return to the van and leave for a place in the middle of the flats called Fish Island, dissapointingly this is not named for its fish, it has none, it is apparently supposed to resemble a fish coming out the water from a distance, I have to say my imagination did not see the resemblance. We spent 3 hours at this island with little to see but our Argentine companions were being picked up from here so we waited with them, spending the time playing games and getting to know them a bit more.

As the 2 girls left we gained a new group member in the large, bearded French man called Ben, who was sporting a thin pair of John Lennon spectacles. We left for our second sleeping point of the tour, this was a 2 hour off road adventure powered through by Jose and his Colin McRae style rally driving, the speed and the terrain combined for an edge of the seat, and heads hitting the roof, ride. After safely arriving (im sure no one in the van doubted we would) we enjoyed cups of tea and some local kids coming and playing music for us, for a small tip of course. After tea Ben, Eric and I went outside with our bottle of whisky to gaze at the clearest nights sky I think I have ever seen. Being in the sothern hemisphere the consolations are all different to back home, we think we could just make out a grouping called the Sothern Cross but the sky had so many stars in, it was difficult to define anything.

Posted by FlatCapped 12:43 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Moving on Up

overcast 18 °C
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  • * There are pictures to go with this and the last blog, the following introduction will explain there temporary absence

We are into the nothern part of Argentina and as a result working internet isn't as readily available as before so this blog goes back to over 10 days ago, make yourself comfy, perhaps get a cup of tea and read on...

Preparing to leave Mendoza I thought a nice corckscrew would be a suitable souvineer of the place, however to my dissapointment, and to be honest, disgust, the entire city sold only penis corckscrews, the kind where the handle is a male character wearing local atire of some sort and the corckscrew itself protrudes from his crotch. Needless to say I did not purchase one of these.

Our next destination, Cordoba, was initially dissapointing, appearing very grey and dirty but bit by bit we turned up little gems from amongst the dirt. Primarily the city hosts two very nice art galleries, the best I have visited on this trip so far. Along with this stimuli for my artistic side there was also an evening art market, lit by candles and situated near the canal, the setting gave off an amazing atmosphere which everyone enjoyed. The other oasis amongst the urban durge was a newly developed plaza with illuminated fountains which were choreographed to classical music come the evening and a very striking church to boot.

A very small village called Tafi de Valle was the rural escape from my urban raincloud, although the actual rainclouds did follow shortly after me, Tafi's picturesque surroundings were just what I wanted even if they were largely inaccesible on foot. On the only walk we undertook, from another village, round the lake and back to ours, we were joined by a stray dog who has now seemed to gain a home at the hostel we stayed. It is my belief they are oblivious we are the reason he turned up.

After an early morning exit from Tafi we stopped at Cafayate, and in this larger more active village, there are Bodegas. So more wine tasting this timne perfectly complimented with cheese purchased from an organic cheese farm tour.
A short distance from Cafayate are canyons displaying to beautiful effect the multicoloured soils of the area. The heat of the afternoon was intense so upon return to the hostel I made my way up to the roof, layed in a hamock and enjoyed the stars in the cool clear night sky.

At the time of writing this I temporarily reside in Salta planning my impending passage over the border to Bolivia. For those unaware (which we were untill a few days ago) Bolivia has declaired a state of crisis due to unprecidented rainfall causing floods and mudslides. This situation has demanded changes to our route and as such my South America experience looks to become 3 weeks shorter, missing out Amazon treks and silver mine tours. On the bright side an early arrival in New Zealand may mean I can volunteer at a school putting an end to my distress at not having had to do any work in so long.

Posted by FlatCapped 13:26 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Women and Wines

sunny 22 °C
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My arrival in Mendoza was maybe a day earlier than predicted but this became a fortuitous event, walking through the streets toward an area of hostels we stumbled across an enormous parade circling the centre of the city. It turned out that the harvest season, which is almost a month long festival, includes a beauty competition for women from the Mendoza region. Each town in the region has a representative and the parade presents them all on floats before the judging and eventual crowning of the winner that night. The local people feel very strongly that there women are the most beautiful in the Americas and as such the newly crowned Harvest Queen becomes somewhat of a celebrity overnight.

So as well as beautiful women Mendoza is best known for its wines (now this i did know before arriving, the beautiful women were more of a nice surprise). The best way to enjoy seeing the vine yards and wineries [bodegas] was going to be on a bike so we spent a day riding from bodega to bodega tasting wine as we went. Joined by a lovely Brazilian woman called Margarita, over the space of ten hours we tried local chocolates & liquors, a local companies fresh deli foods not to mention tasting a bit of wine and possibly learning a bit about it too. The last bodega we visited was smaller and much nicer than the rest, owned by a French couple, we were provided with a much more intimate tour.
In the tasting room, prominently hung, there was a large framed picture of a past Harvest Queen from 2006, she was from Maipu the region that the bodega was in.

Ok, why am i yet to mention the National Park, camping and the increased level of adventure I was looking forward to so eagerly? Well because it didn't come to fruition. Upon arrival in Santa Rosa I found the only bus on to the park was at an un-godly hour, making our arrival and then walk to the camp site a difficult and possibly unsafe one. This meant being temporarily marooned in Santa Rosa. Nice hospitable people are to be found in the centre, however venture to the edge of the small town and a whisper of warning will be offered nervously "look after your persons", followed by the laughter of locals in the distance who have spotted your camping intentions.

Posted by FlatCapped 11:14 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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