We flew into Cusco by way of Lima where we would spend our first few days acclimating to the high elevation. The city of Cusco itself is located at 11,000 feet and we would be climbing to much higher elevations throughout the week. I personally slept for what felt like two days straight as my body tried to get adjusted, but my brother was quick to make friends upstairs at the very social hostel bar. We were staying at a popular hostel called Pariwana, recommended by a few friends and fellow travelers. It was a large hostel located right in the heart of the city and filled with over a hundred backpackers waiting to set off on their Machu Picchu ascents. The friends my brother made at the bar that first night turned out to be quite a fun little group of Swiss, German, Norwegian, South African, and British travelers. We got to know each other a little better at the hostels Sunday night bbq and over the local Cusquena beers up at the bar. The following day we all did a walk about the city and up to the local San Blas town. Cobble stone streets, stairs, and giant stone walls lined the narrow streets along with an occasional sighting of women dressed in traditional attire. Of course casually holding a baby llama or alpaca that you just had to pet. For a fee of a couple soles of course! We walked through the winding streets that climbed the side of the hillside until we arrived at the San Blas market. An open air market with fresh produce and the biggest smoothie bar you’ve ever seen. A delicious and refreshing treat on a hot day. That evening we all walked to dinner together across town. The long walk reminded me of freshman year in college, getting to know people as you all headed to the dining hall. Brought back some great memories of sharing meals with strangers that quickly turned into good friends. After chatting a bit that evening we decided it would be fun to go on a little excursion all together. We chose to book a day trip to Rainbow Mountain, a popular hiking spot a few hours outside of Cusco. This mountain known for its beautiful rainbow colors of sediment at the top had been on my list, and I was excited to get my first Peruvian trek under my belt.
The van picked us up the following morning at 3:30am. An interesting hour at a hostel when you are sharing a room with 8 other people. Tiptoeing around as you get dressed as to not to wake up those fast asleep. Shining your phone’s flashlight (or torch) as you pack your bag. A courteous way of not flicking on the bright yellow lights. But this hour is also the time many are returning home from a late night out. Cranking open locker doors and attempting the loudest drunken whispers. This is hostel life in a nutshell.
The van drove us three hours away to a small family home where our group would have breakfast together. It was a small breakfast of quinoa porridge, bread, tea and jam. But it was just what we needed to warm up our bodies from the cold morning. The ascent began in a valley at the basin of the mountain. The starting point of this hike was already 13,000 feet so we immediately started passing out and chewing up our coca leaves. The first part of the hike was beautiful and we were all able to somewhat stay together. Crossing rivers and taking in the lush greenery. But as we reached a little over 15,000 ft the thick black clouds started to roll in. Already high enough in elevation it began to snow, and not just a little. What went from a gorgeous day turned into a white out. It was a full on snow day and all we we missing were our skis and snowboards! Looking uphill at the path we were supposed to continue on, nearly disappearing in the snow we made the decision along with two other gals in our group to turn around. We knew if visibility was this bad here we weren’t going to be able to see anything, let alone the rainbow colors of the mountain on top. So we made our way back down through the snow and down the slushy path that as we got lower turned to a muddy rain.
Cody was quiet for the hike down, which I assumed was just because he was tired. However, once we got back to the car he was sick as a dog and throwing up in the pouring rain outside of the van as we waited for the rest of the group to return. He got hit with the elevation sickness pretty hard that afternoon and couldn’t keep anything down. I knew he would be feeling better as soon as we got to lower elevation, but I was worried that his getting sick on this first hike might discourage him from wanting to do the big Machu Pichhu trek that was right around the corner. Luckily after a couple days rest, he was willing to come with me to book our multi day trek. We talked to a handful of people before choosing a trekking company because there were SO many options in Cusco. There’s nearly a travel company on every corner. We ended up going with a company called Salkantay Trekking, recommended by a friend at the hostel. We chose to do the 4 day 3 night Salkantay Trek because the famous Inca Trail you had to book nearly 8 months in advance. Happy with our decision we chose to head off on the 29th, which would mean we would be spending Halloween in the middle of the jungle! Before we left we still had some time to gather a few missing supplies and stock up on what we lacked while on our last trek. We picked up some Alpaca gloves and beanies from the local vendors to keep our head and hands warm as well as a couple more Alpaca sweaters. I couldn’t resist, they were just so warm and fun! We were now Alpaca’d up from head to toe and excited to start our journey to one of the seven wonders of the world.