This is the fist part in a five-part series documenting our journey trekking the Salktantay Trek, from Mollepata to Aguas Calientes and eventually reaching Machu Picchu…
Day 1: Cusco – Mollepata
Start: 12:00 – Cusco (3,360m)
End: 16:00 – Mollepata (2,850m)
Summary: Start from Cusco, three-hour bus ride to Mollepata where we will begin the trek. One-hour hike just outside of Mollepata to begin.
11:30 - Cusco: We arrived to the corner on the edge of Cusco at the end of Avenue Acropata where our bus was scheduled to leave at noon. We had spoken to the driver the day before to confirm everything: “Be here by 11:30,” he had told us. “So there is time to load the bags on the bus.”
We did as we were instructed, but of course when we arrived we realized (like nearly everything in Peru) the bus ran on ‘Latin Time’ and wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. We were the first passengers to arrive, and as other passengers, crates of chickens, and boxes of vegetables slowly began filling the street corner, it soon became obvious that we would be pretty lucky if we left by 1:00 PM. Apparently, we did have a little luck that day, because around 12:45 the driver arrived finally and with a running leap jumped into the driver’s seat, turned the creaky engine and sped away… to the next corner. There we waited another 15 minutes or so for the last of the passengers, and another box of chickens to be loaded on board.
Finally we set off for good, the bus creaking and grinding it’s gears as it slowly climbed the hills on it’s way out of Cusco. Soon we were in the Peruvian countryside, speeding past tiny villages, corn and potato fields, and fresh-smelling Eucalyptus groves. It began to drizzle and the smell of the fresh spring rain, eucalyptus, and llamadung mingles and filled the nostrils. I tried not to focus too hard about our bags on the roof of the bus and how wet our clothes (and my camera!) were probably getting at that point, but instead watched the countryside pass by, studies the other passengers, and pondered the upcoming adventure.
We were headed to Mollepata, a small town about 60km north west of Cusco where we would begin our 5-day trek past the sacred Apu Salkantay, eventually ending in the small town of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. Because of the cost of the traditional Inca Trail and of hiring a guide, we had opted to go alone- no guide, and no porters- to attempt the trek on our own. We would be passing through rugged mountain terrain, a pass at 4,800 meters, tiny remote villages, and then descend into tropical forest.
16:00 – Mollepata: We arrived in Mollepata finally around 4:00 PM, just as the rain was beginning to clear. We got off the bus on the edge of town instead of in the Plaza, since at some point up the rough, rocky road the bus had gotten a flat. We had barely made it to Mollepata and the bus would be left stranded there on the edge of town while the flat was repaired. We bought a few last-minute supplies, had a quick snack, and began to walk up the dirt road out of town.
18:30 – First Campsite: After about an hour of walking, we came to a farm where we spotted some flat ground suitable for camping. The matron was busy bringing the cows back from pasture, and we politely asked if we could camp there for the night. Without a second thought or a questions of the two gringo strangers who had wandered onto her property, she answered quickly Yes. “All of this is ours,” she said. “It’s quiet here- You should come closer to the house where there is less wind; it’s warmer there.” We thanked her warmly, quickly set up the tent, and then warmed some soup as the sky grew fast dark. Soon the moon rose over the mountains, drowning out the starlight, and we settled in for our first night out of civilization.
CONTINUE TO: Day 2 – Mollepata to Soraypampa