We woke with a start at 6:01am.
The alarm was set to go off at 6:16, waking us from our deep slumber with its tinny bell shrilly announcing the start of our Peruvian trekking adventure up the Salkantay Trail.
But at 6:01, the ancient city of Cusco was already bustling outside our third floor window. Pots banging, roosters crowing, coffee roasting, and people shouting greetings of “Buenos Dias!” to their neighbors as they passed them on Cusco’s winding stone covered roads.
At promptly 7:00am, we were notified that the van had arrived and was ready to whisk us off to Marcocosa where we would begin our seven day trek up to Machu Picchu. Trepidation, excitement, and nervous chatter filled the humid Peruvian air inside the van. It was an hour and a half drive to the trailhead/mule route just above the tiny ancient hamlet of Mollepata, allegedly the home of Peru’s first vineyard.
The first day of our trek began at an elevation of 11,001 feet above sea level, but upon looking about your surroundings your first observations were of the lush greenery blanketing the rolling hills. The roaring sound of swiftly moving water rushing down rocky mountainsides to the jungle floor. A flash of green and yellow as a Parakeet flittered and twittered in the trees towering above your head. And the humidity, thick wet humidity, of the fresh mountain air mingling with the thick jungle air rushing up from the valley floor.
In Colorful Colorado at 11,001 feet above sea level, the landscape is a hodgepodge of grays and browns. Tree line sits at close to 11,500 feet and the low, cropped, dusty green bushes tell the story of the dry, thin air that characterizes the magnificent, yet barren landscape.
It was the perfect contrast.
Our group of 14 was quiet for all of 30 minutes. 30 soulful minutes of 14 strangers with heads on swivels, engaging all of their senses to envelope themselves with the sights, sounds, and smells of Peru’s high alpine jungle.
Greens: sage, grass, evergreen, cactus, emerald, moss, sea foam
31 minutes into the hike, the giggling started, the singing began, and the chatter was present as a low hum among the group. The higher we climbed, the lower the walls among the 14 strangers became. And by the time we stopped for lunch at 12,000 feet above sea level, it was as if the group was a bunch of longtime buddies going for a weekend stroll through the Peruvian wilderness.
Our Lodge for the next two evenings was located in Soraypampa, nestled between the Salkantay and Humantay Peaks, at 12,690 feet above sea level. After lunch, the 1600 foot vertical of the morning’s trek leveled off as we followed a winding path alongside an ancient Incan irrigation canal. As we rounded the final bend in the day’s stroll, Salkantay and Humantay rose up in front of us; their snowcapped peaks nearly touching the heavens.
That evening, as the sun sank low beneath the horizon, I stepped outside to watch the dusk light paint Salkantay in a jewel-toned mosaic of pinks, pale yellows, and oranges. The rocky outcrops of the “savage mountain” looked as if they were aflame in the midst of the setting sun. Clouds swirled around the neighboring peaks, bathing them, and me, in a foggy, pink mist.
Day one was coming to a close.