I cherish a lot of incredible memories from my travels and one of the most precious is the day I spent at “the Lost City of the Incas”: undiscovered from the spanish conquerors and untouched until 1911 when the exploratory Hiram Bingham and its expedition (reported on the April 1913 issue of the National Geographic) found it nord-est from Cuzco at 2.430 meters of altitude in the heart of a more ample archaeological area.
That day I woke up in Aguas Calientes very early in the morning full of impatience because I was dreaming that moment from the day I arrived in Cuzco when I started the challenging “Salkantay” trek. Salkantay is the name of the highest peak of the Willkapampa mountain range, part of the Peruvian Andes, meaning “savage mountain” in the quechua language.
Peru has been my first adventurous travel ever and its memories and emotions are still so vivid in my heart.
When I started the four days trek across the Andes I knew it would have been physically and mentally demanding and so it was. I had never slept in a tent, I had never walk six or eight hours in a day and I had never reached the altitude of 4.600 m.a.s.l.!
Our local guide was the extraordinary Marco Polo from the agency Infocusco accompanied by some peruvian sherpa, a cooker and some donkeys to carry our luggages, tents and food.
The first day after a long trekking from Mollepata to Soraypampa we saw the first snow capped mountain, the Humantay. When we reached the tent camp I was exhausted and the temperature in the evening was quite low: in those circumstances I discovered a tent can be something to dream of and the best beverage helping you to find your hidden energies, is the mate de coca, an herbal tea made from the leaves of the coca plant. In particular it is considered effective against the altitude sickness.
The indigenous people chew coca leaves to stimulate the energy to work all day long without eating: I met many of them along the trail with the typical cheek bulge of the coca chewer.
The second day, the most difficult one, started at six in the morning drinking some mate de coca and eating a big cup of porridge. After four hours walking we reached the highest point of the trek, the Salkantay pass at the altitude of 4.600 m.a.s.l.: I slightly suffered the altitude sickness during the last hour of hiking, but when I added my little stone to one of the apachayta (an heaps of stones created by the wayfarers) I was so proud I did it without asking to be carried by a donkey!
Mount Salkantay (6.264 m.a.s.l.) had a gigantic glacier capped summit and both the pass and the mountain range were covered with snow: the nature changed drastically from a dry scenery to the snowy peaks and it changed again the day after when we crossed a tropical forest to reach the thermal baths of Santa Teresa.
At the end of the trek we arrived at Machupicchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes, a no-man’s land with nothing to offer, but spending the night here grant an early access to Machu Picchu.
That morning I woke up a 4:30am: we arrived from Cuczo by foot and It was our intention to walk up to Muchu Picchu in the same way, reason why we chose to walking up the endless and rough staircase (probably the same path followed by Hiram Bingham?) crossing the zigzagging paved road, trying to reach the main gate very early and avoid the queue.
The spectacle of Much Picchu almost empty and enlightened by the sunrise is something cannot be describe except saying that in this very moment my eyes are full with tears remembering that scene.
I lost myself exploring the Citadel and I was so lucky (we didn’t book it in advance) I had the chance to buy one of the 400 tickets available to ascent the Huayana Picchu (the “young peak”), the towering mountain behind the actual site of Machu Picchu.
The one hour climb is steep, at times exposed (steel cables provide some support): at any moment during the climbing I was asking myself why I was there, why I putted myself in the hand of the Inca who cut those steps out of the rocks and for the first time in my life I suffered a paralysing dizziness.
Going beyond my limit I finally reached the top and I spent as much time as I could trying to embrace the magnificence and majesty of Machu Picchu.