Guinea pigs and a glacial lake: Cusco to Soraypampa

After spending three nights in Cusco, we had acclimated pretty well to the altitude (thanks to a combination of lots of water and rest, as well as the judicious cup of coca leaf tea) and were full of adrenaline and anticipation for our first day of hiking.

We had met our guides–Leo and Jimmy–and fellow trekkers at an orientation meeting in our hotel the night before. Our group of 13 included five Canadians, two New Zealanders, two Brits, and one other American couple besides us. Before coming, we had worried that we would be the oldest hikers in the group; in fact, we appeared to be the youngest. We would soon learn that we were also the least experienced hikers, by far. Armed with our detailed maps and itineraries, we all set off to get as much sleep as possible before a very early start the next morning.

October 5, 2017. We were picked up from the hotel at 7:30AM and driven to Tarahuasi (also spelled Tarawasi), Incan ruins not too far from Cusco, where Leo explained a bit about the site and showed us many of the local plants that were used medicinally. We then continued to Mollepata, a mountain village where we visited a farmhouse that grew many different vegetables, herbs, and raised cuy (guinea pigs), considered a delicacy in Peru. (And yes, we would eventually have a chance to try them later in the trek.)

We had a light lunch of sandwiches and fruit at the farm before beginning the trek to Soraypampa, along a path called the Camino Real. The itinerary had listed today’s hike as “moderate to challenging,” and it was indeed that. Right away we were faced with a series of fairly steep switchbacks, steeper than anything I had climbed prior to that. I was a bit worried, but this part didn’t last too long, and eventually evened out to more regular walking and gentler slopes.

It took about three hours to reach Salkantay Lodge (12,690 ft. elev.), where we would spend the next two nights. I think everyone was happy to see it as we crested the final hill. We arrived early enough to get in some hot tub time before dinner. Everyone went to bed early that first night, as tomorrow was a big day: the hike to Lake Humantay.

October 6, 2017. The next morning I awoke with a pretty bad headache, unsurprising given that despite our time in Cusco, we had climbed a further 1400+ feet elevation the day before. Some Advil and coca tea helped. Leo had said today was a chance for him to watch us each to see how we handled today’s climb, which would take us to 13,900 ft.

We began hiking at 8AM sharp, a challenging, very steep climb that was quite rocky in parts. Reaching Lake Humantay was worth every ache though, and felt like a reward. I have never seen anything so beautiful in person in my life.

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We had time to relax at the lake for a short while, and then participated in an Incan blessing ceremony and an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for a successful next day. On our way back down to the lodge, I slipped on some loose gravel and fell. I was fine, but a bit shaken; I couldn’t afford to hurt myself at this point.

Back at the lodge, we had a late lunch, and then everyone went their separate ways for the afternoon. Rob and I had booked massages before dinner. We figured we needed every advantage to conquer the following day: crossing the Salkantay pass.

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View of Abra Salkantay through the lodge living room window.

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