Salkantay + Machu Picchu trek / 7 days / April 29 to May 5, 2016 / Alpaca Expeditions
We’d booked a group trip but no one else signed up for the seven day trek so it ended up being a private trip!
Inca Canal – Pauccar Cancha – Wayllabamba

Sleep was better this time around as the ground was mostly flat and it wasn’t freezing cold during the night. So being woken up at 6am wasn’t too much of a hardship, especially since wake-up call came with a hot cup of mate de coca tea in our tent.

The Inca Canal and surroundings were absolutely beautiful in the early morning light as we left camp at 7:30. Everything was a vibrant colour, glowing in the sun. We walked through farm fields where both women and men were doing…farm stuff. There seemed to be several families that live out here and it was mind blowing to witness: they are so far away from anything – land that does not produce much more than potatoes, no stores, no police, no hospital. You pretty much have no choice but to like your neighbours out here! Juan Carlos explained that for items they can’t produce themselves, they trade or sell things at the nearest markets…a couple days walk away.

We followed the orderly Inca Canal which eventually turned into a wild river. The trail was mostly flat or downhill, always with beautiful views of valleys and mountains. Far in the distance, we could see another range of snow-capped mountains. For this portion of the walk, the valleys were silent except for the sound of rushing water. Slowly but surely, the vegetation turned from scrubby grass and small flowers, into big tropical plants. That morning I was in heaven…until my eyes started to itch, that is. Both my sister and I had to take anti-histamines. It’s really annoying to love the outdoors but be allergic to grass!

As we meandered our way along hillside paths, we eventually came to a little wooden bridge where we stopped for our morning break. Once, while standing in front of the bridge, I turned around just as a cow rounded a nearby corner. We almost died laughing at how she came to a dead halt with what really looked like a startled expression on her face. I don’t think she sees many people on this trail! Poor thing – I moved out of her way so she could get some water.

About four hours into the hike, we came across our first Incan ruins. This particular ruin held a strategic spot, we quickly noticed – it had a great straight on view through each of the valleys that surround it. The ruins themselves were pretty neat to wander and we did have the place to ourselves, but there really wasn’t much left beyond walls and spaces that were once rooms. In order to bring some of it alive, Juan Carlos started to teach us about the Incas. Two things I remember most:

  1. There was no slave system in Incan society but all citizens paid taxes through labour. It amounted, on average, to 50% of a person’s life that was dedicated to some sort of service (building structures, working crops, etc).
  2. Incan toilet habits included doing number two in a pot which was then filled with ash to hide the smell and to aid decomposition.

Not long after we left the ruins, we came across a check point – we were now on the Inca Trail! As we walked the trail, the change in vegetation became more and more evident. We had definitely left the mountains and were well into tropical micro-climates. One of my favourite flowers from this day was one called “cat cat”. It blooms for only three days and the middle part actually looks like a cat’s head. It was times like this where I kicked myself for not having a macro lens with me!

We eventually reached an outlook that gave us a sprawling view of the small town of Wayllabamba. We chilled up here for a while, watching people in the distance harvest their crops of maize. There was one field, though, where no one was working…except for a giant flock of birds. It was sad to watch, knowing these birds were eating someone’s livelihood but we were too far away to do anything about it.

Camp today was in someone’s yard. It seems that many people in Wayllabamba rent out their backyard space to trekkers. It was strange to be surrounded by tourists again. I’d quickly gotten used to being the only ones around during the first two days of our trek. Seeing so many people in Wayllabamba made me a little bit nervous over how many people may be on the trail over the next few days.

We said goodbye to the horses and their owner this afternoon – he was returning home, retracing the steps we took over the past three days. They are being replaced by porters. I’ve never had porters before so I find the whole concept useful, but awkward. It doesn’t help that I’m an introvert so I’m not one of those folks who makes friends with everything and everyone. I mostly spent the rest of the afternoon “resting” in our tent, using the time to catch up on my notes. The tent flap was half open so I could see when someone wandered by, so I wasn’t completely cut off from the world. Once, a chicken strutted by.

We ended the day with a huge dinner as usual. Juan Carlos must have found some electricity and charged his phone because he was able to show us some videos of traditional fighting women. He said that people think this style of fighting started in Bolivia but really, they just made it famous – according to him, it started in the town of St. Tomas, a Peruvian town. Who knew.