Salkantay Trek: Day 1, getting from Cuzco to Mollepata

This past weekend I was lucky enough to tag along with a guide friend for a 3-day trip to Mt. Salkantay to do some route and camp site reconnaissance. Earlier in the week we made a general plan to leave Cusco on Saturday afternoon and make our way to Mollepata, about 2 hours from town, where we would spend the night before heading to the trailhead at Soraypampa the next morning. Granted, our plan was vague, but I was a little worried when I hadn’t heard from my friend by 3pm on Saturday…until I got a call saying he was still at work, but was hoping to get things wrapped up by 5:30. When we met up I was curious as to how we were going to find a bus headed to a fairly remote rural village at this time on a Saturday. Then I was reminded of one of my favorite aspects of getting anywhere in this part of Peru: if you are willing to pay the driver what he (and I’m yet to meet a female driver) asks, you can hire a private car to take you anywhere. We managed to find a taxi that was headed our way within minutes of arriving outside the local bus station and negotiated the fare of 12.5 soles each. Never mind that in order to snag that fare we had to share the Toyota Corolla station wagon with the driver and a family of 3 – and their small treasure chest of Easter goodies-we were headed to our destination on the fast track for dirt cheap! Undoubtedly, if you book or have booked this trek through a reputable tour operator you will be traveling in far more comfortable transportation in the light of day. As a tagalong, I was to happy to take what I could get!

The drive to Mollepata is fairly smooth on paved road for the most part, until you take the turn off to the dirt road that seems to make a seemingly never ending snake-like climb up the side of a mountain. With my window cracked I could feel the temperature dropping, and began to smell the familiar combination of high alpine meadows releasing the day’s heat in low hanging veils of condensation and mountain pines. That, to me, is pretty close to the smell of perfect happiness. Add the aroma of freshly-baked bread and it’s a sealed deal, pretty much. Of course, to remind us that although we were gaining altitude we are still in an equatorial region, giant bushes of yellow and pink blossoms poured over the earthen walls on the side of the road. I was definitely feeling like I was getting my 12.5 soles worth already.

We arrived in Mollepata well after dark, and the town seemed to have already gone to bed. Fortunately some local teenagers were still hanging out and gave us directions to a local hospedaje where we might still be able to get a room in time. We searched out the rambling colonial-style house and knocked on the door…nothing. Feeling a little nervous we knocked again and got a response from the small voice of the inn’s (very) elderly owner. After convincing her that we were, in fact, tourists looking for accommodation we were let in and shown to a (very) basic room. There’s not really much more to say about our palace for the evening, except that the woman was very kind and I was very grateful to find a bed at all at this post-sunset hour in this sleeply hamlet.
We decided to hit the town after leaving our bags in the room to see what we could find out from the locals about hiring an arreiro (a porter who will schlep your gear on the trail via donkey) for the next couple of days. Amazingly enough, we found a small restaurant that was open and got some good and bad news. The good? We could still get a plate of fried egg and rice that night. The bad? No local arreiro was going to want to work on a Sunday for such a small group that only needed 1 mule. So, here again is an example of something that will not happen to you if you book this trek through a tour operator: you will not end up carrying a full backpack (and some very unecessary luxuries such as books) up to a 15,000+ ft mountain pass. I’m not complaining, just sayin’…

We got back to the room and passed out pretty much straight away with a 6AM wake up scheduled for the big day of logistics and trekking ahead.

Summary of day 1: vague logistics planning allows for ‘surprises’, but I was stoked nonetheless.