This is the third part in a five-part series documenting our journey trekking the Salktantay Trek, from Mollepata to Aguas Calientes and eventually reaching Machu Picchu…
Day 3: Soraypampa – Chaullay
Start: 08:30 – Soraypampa (3,850m)
POI: 09:30 – Salkantaypampa (4,100m)
POI: 11:00 – Albra Salkanta (4,750m)
POI: 14:00 – Huaracmachay (3,900m)
POI: 16:45 – Rayan-Nyoc (3,450m)
POI: 17:15 – Andenes (3,350m)
End: 18:30 – Chaullay (2,950m)
Summary: Cold morning. Starting with a moderate ascent to Salkantaypampa, before ascending steeply with many switchbacks to Albra Salkantay. From the pass, a sharp, rocky decent to Huaracmachay. Terrain and flora begin to change rapidly as the trail descends further. Much milder temperatures towards the end of the day, reaching lower altitudes.
08:30 - Soraypampa: We met the man with the horse who would take our bags up the pass early. I had asked him to come at 08:30, but he appeared at half-past seven and the horse was already saddled. He was a very small, crooked old man, with very dark, deep-set eyes in which it was impossible to find the pupils. He wore a dirty old hat made of felt and chewed huge masses of coca which dripped green down his chin. I offered him some coca leaves and Lena and I managed a hurried breakfast.
We set off finally with the bags loaded on the horses just before 08:30. Our guide (whose name sounded something like Vilcabamba?) set out ahead at a steady, quick pace. His three dogs trailed happily behind as well, darting between the legs of the horse and occasionally running off to chase some scent. It became very quickly apparent that our elder companion was very much accustomed to walking in these mountains and that neither the steep trail nor the altitude were any match for his lungs. We on the other hand were left quickly behind. Lena was having trouble keeping even half the old man’s pace and began to turn red…
Luckily, he had patience for the two slow gringos. He would begin to get far ahead on the trail, and I would start to worry that he (and our bags!) had left us behind. Then, we’d come around a bend in the trail, and he would be relaxing casually in the grass on the hillside, happily chewing his coca and smiling. We plopped down next to him, but he never waited much longer than it took us to catch our breath before he set off again. We would scramble off behind him, only to lose sight of him again around the next bend.
Each time we stopped, I tried to ask him a little bit about himself. He replied always in simple, direct answers in the short, quick Spanish of someone who speaks it as a second language- Barely audible due to the thick wad of green coca perpetually between his lips. Each time he answered, he quickly stood up and began walking again. I guessed his didn’t like small talk much and that was his way of saying, “If you have enough breath to talk, you have enough breath to keep walking!” I did learn though that he was 57 years old, was born and lived his whole life in the tiny village or Soray, and that is name was something incomprehensible my gringo lips would never be able to pronounce…
09:30 - Salkantaypampa: After about an hour, we reached the flat plain of Salkantaypampa. Little by little we made it further up the mountain as the trail became gradually steeper, eventually turning into a seemingly endless zig-zag of switchbacks. Lena began to look like she was going to die (or at least wanted to) and every time I looked back at her and reminded her to ‘keep breathing’ she gave me a look similar to the one I imagine women giving birth give to their men; Something like, “You did this to me, you bastard!”
11:00 - Abra Salkantay: Eventually the final ascent to the pass came into view. As we trudged up the steep trail we slowed to a snail’s pace and were breathing heavily. Here you could really start to feel 4,800 meters and the heavy pack pulling you back down to sea-level, and we had to stop about every 100 meters or so to catch our breath and rest our shaking legs. Thanks to the breakneck speed of our guide, we made the pass at about 11:00 and the horse was already there waiting; the bags already unloaded. I paid the old man, and gave him a few extra soles, por la coca. He laughed and repeated, “La Coca, ha ha…” He shook my hand and started again down the trail. “La Coca” I heard him chuckle again as he walked away. I figured he would be back down the mountain in about an hour, just in time for lunch.
So we were left standing there alone on top of the cold, windy pass with our bags which we would now have to carry on our own down the other side of the mountain. We snapped a few quick photos, ate our victory Twix bar which we had purchased at an exorbitant price for the occasion, and marveled at he wonder of the gigantic Apu Salkantay bathed in clouds above us. It was near freezing temperatures on the pass and the wind was harsh and biting. We quickly prepared the bags and readied ourselves for the decent. Just then, we heard a loud crack and a roar from somewhere high above us- An avalanche had broken from somewhere in Salkantay’s icy peaks. It was an extraordinary feeling.
14:00 - Huaracmachay: From the pass, we headed down the hillside towards the tiny village of Huaracmachay on the other side of the mountain, passing through beautiful green, rocky meadows. This side of the mountain was very lush, and thick plumes of fog continually flooded the valley. After a while we began to see cows and other signs of ‘civilization’, and after about 2 1/2 hours of walking and losing the 1,000 meters of altitude we had gained from Soray to the pass, we arrived in Huaracmachay. We stopped here for lunch (it was much warmer here) which was the first food I had eaten since the assault on my stomach two nights ago. My body badly needed some extra energy.
16:45 - Rayan-Nyoc: After lunch we continued our descent the landscape changed rapidly from frigid mountains to much warmer, increasingly tropical forest. We reached the small village of Rayan-Nyoc around 16:45.
17:15 - Andenes: Shortly after passing Rayan-Nyoc, we came to the beautiful village of Andenes where there was a very nice campground filled with flowers. The villages now consisted of thatched huts instead of the stone or adobe buildings we had been used to seeing. We decided to continue past Andenes toward Chaullay, even though we had become quite tired by this point. In retrospect, we should have spent the night in Andenes since it was such a nice spot, and as we would find out- We didn’t have as much energy left as we had thought.
18:30 - Chaullay: The trail past Andenes becomes very steep and rocky and our legs simply couldn’t take the constant downhill any longer. We spent the last few hours of the day mostly stumbling downhill on very shaky legs. It was close to sunset when we finally arrived at Chaullay, weak and exhausted. We stopped at the first house we passed and asked to camp. We were shown to the backyard, set up the tent with the chickens, and made a quick tea. After the sun set, masses of fireflies rose from the trees, glittering across the forest and fading into the darkness in the distance.
CONTINUE TO: Day 4 – Chaullay, La Playa, Lucmabamba