Every time and I mean every time Scott and I start trip planning he happens upon a remote location in the country we are visiting that involves trekking, you know long hikes and tents. My usual response is positive, “Okay, I’ll do it. It sounds like an experience.” All the while I have my fingers crossed behind my back, my body is already aching at the thought of sleeping on the ground and I have to pee (sleeping bags trigger an instant psychological pee response in my bladder). We were planning our trip to Peru and the impetus for our country choice this time was Machu Picchu and how does one really “do” Machu Picchu? That’s right, the Inca Trail. Long story bearable, our travel planner, a hiker himself, suggested an alternative to the Inca Trail because while it is the most advertised route to the Inca mecca, it is not the only one.
The Salkantay Trek is less traveled, does not require permits and it was highly recommended by the travel agent for its remote beauty, so we decided to go for it. Next question (my spirits soared), would we like the lodge option or the camping option? Options that did not involve a tent? Definitely the lodges, definitely the lodges! “What do you think, Scott?” His reply, “Camping! Let’s give the kids a more authentic experience.” So here is the story of our family trek to Machu Picchu on the Salkantay Trail…with tents.
Jeremy, our guide for the trek and our visit to Machu Picchu, stopped by our Cusco apartment the evening before departure for a briefing. Warm clothing was the bolded and underlined topic. It would be cold the first two nights of camping and evenings and mornings would be chilly as well so Jeremy told us, “Bring every warm thing you have.” Jeremy passed out small black duffel bags for us to pack a few changes of clothes in and wished us a good night. Scott and I headed out for a few essentials we were missing like a couple of towels, trash bags to keep things dry and bags of candy to keep the kids happy on the trail. We picked up pizza on the way back to our apartment for a late night snack in the name of carb loading.
Jeremy picked us up at 6:30 at our apartment. I was up early with pre-tent anxiety and an unhappy stomach. I was suffering, as I am sure you can imagine, from a bit of traveler’s, shall we say, discomfort, and like all good things, the timing of my situation was impeccable. I could look forward to three days without a bathroom.
Our first stop was at a market in this town for some last minute supplies.
There was a wide variety of produce…
Scott shopped for something to keep his head warm. I purchased bread to settle my stomach.
My stomach rumbled and churned. Ashley spied a bathroom on the way out of the market. Thank goodness, I thought, until we payed our soles and entered the very tiny space…with squat toilets. There were two giant trash cans fitted with plastic garbage bags and filled with water and two stalls, but we took turns holding my backpack and used one stall. Sometimes you just get to the point where you accept the situation and decide to move through it the best you can. I waited for Ashley, my stomach creaked as I gave myself a pre-squat pep talk and thought about strategy. I passed Ashley pieces of toilet paper from my bathroom “kit” (not much toilet paper in Peruvian restroom facilities, FYI) under the door of the stall. It was my turn next and what an unforgettable experience.
Imagine, you have two sets of clean clothes for the next five days with no washing facilities of any type in your immediate future. Your next three nights will be spent in a two person tent and in close proximity to other people. Now, you are in a minuscule, dirty bathroom stall wearing semi restrictive clothing and you really need a sturdy standard toilet. Instead, you stand over a square porcelain tile with footprints where your feet go and a hole in the ground and you squat and aim. This would be a challenge moment in the best of circumstances, but I was having “issues.” I needed to minimize the many potential hazards and contain the explosivity of the situation, so to speak. I thought clearly. I spoke calmly. “Ashley, I need you to hand me some wipes.” With the level and enviable voice of a tranquil stomach-ed person (with a bit of pre-teen thrown in), she responded, “That’s going to be difficult, they are in the bottom of the bag” A little desperately now, I tried again. “Ashley, I need you to open my backpack and find the wipes. I really need them.” “Ummmm….” I hear her mutter as my resolve to get through the experience unsoiled sharpens. “Ashley?” She passes a handful of wipes under the door and I use them in creative ways to direct and deflect the turmoil of my stomach. We leave the bathroom what seems like hours later. Scott and Grant are waiting. Scott says, “Is everything okay? You look a little green.” It was a life changing experience for sure and happily I made it out of that stall with my clothes clean. I share this story for a few reasons: I think it’s funny, I think that you, dear reader, might have your own similar story, I want to keep it real and I was very happy to have the story just a few days later.
We finished our tour of the market and watched this hopeful pooch as we waited on the curb for Jeremy to come and find us.
After three hours in the van, we arrive at our starting point. Another “pay to go” bathroom but this one was much cleaner, larger and even had a toilet!
You can see Salkantay Mountain in the upper right hand corner of the sign. We would traverse the pass at over 15,000 feet on Day 2 of our hike.
We followed this water for over a day and half until it disappeared in the mountains.
Ashley dropped her pet rock and had to spend some time finding it,
Crossing an interesting bridge.
Proof that we are on the right trail.
We stopped for a family photo at the first lodge on the trail (remember the lodge option?) and it looked very civilized. I longingly imagined the shower and toilet and bed as we tromped past and walked the ten minutes to our campsite.
We would camp at Soraypampa on our first night while Salkantay, the “savage mountain,” watched over us.
I have to be honest here because although we were technically camping, we had a lot of help (we could have done the lodges by ourselves, Scott). There was Alfredo and his trusty steed Pan Duro (Spanish for stale bread) who walked with us for three days (you can see them waiting on the road). Pan Duro was there in case one of us was injured or became tired. Thankfully, we were never in need of that kind of assistance. Then there was Royar and Evan who made amazing food and set up and tore down camp everyday and did all of the chores that went along with that. On the second day, Francisco joined us with his pack horses to transport all of the stuff for two days so we were quite the convoy.
First, peeking out behind greener mountains, the “Savage One” had grown larger and more menacing as we neared the first night’s campsite. We stopped after about eight hours on the trail (you can see some tents in the background). Salkantay had been in sight for about half of the day. It was only 3:30 and I wondered what would we do until bedtime? We ate lunch, and organized out tents. The kids talked and laughed inside their tent. The campsite was a large grassy area near a creek. There was a building with a big sink and men’s and women’s bathrooms. We waited for someone to come and unlock the door. Some of us waited more anxiously than others, but my stomach issues seemed to have resolved themselves over the course of the day. Granted, I wasn’t eating much.
The food that Royar and Evan created was truly amazing and delicious and thankfully light on the stomach.
Scott spotted this Andean cross high on a ridge as the sun set. We climbed inside our tents, donned as many layers of warmth as we had brought and settled in for the night.