Sometimes less is more. And sometimes less is just plain less. So when our tour agency tossed 9 of us together with an unknown tour operator and a less than accommodating guide, we realized that the low price we paid for a 5 day trek was probably going to be reflected in our experience. But we were only half right. True, we were barely fed, were given basically zero information, our guide was grumpy and unhelpful, and our equipment was not what was promised. But it’s the rough times, the unpleasant times, the ‘holy crap this really sucks’ times that bring people together. The 9 gringos in our group came together with vim and vigor, and people who were initially strangers became the battle hardened Salkantay Crew. Despite rough weather, landslides, mud upon mud upon mud, lung crushing altitude, and having just about everything go wrong for us, we had a blast. So without further ado, I present to you, the Salkantay Crew.
This duo of Swiss hikers were two of the fastest hikers we have yet to trek with in our travels. Turns out they are doing the reverse route of our trip, having started up in northern Central America and working their way down south to Buenos Aires. We disliked them so much that we even extended our trip and headed south to Copacabana and La Paz in Bolivia (our second time there and in the opposite direction of where we needed to go). Sabrina, also known as Shnappsy, spent the majority of the 5 day hike enlargening the crotch hole in her hiking trousers. In her own words, “I have a hole, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.” Lovely! Nora, who somehow managed to wait until the last day to get her own hole in her trousers (it must be a Swiss thing), was the 6th fastest person to make it up to Machu Picchu in the morning, where she joined Baloo and Mowgli for beautiful morning views before the crowds and before the rain. On the hike down from Waynapicchu (the mountain you see in the background of all of the pictures), she made her own splash on the quote board, with ‘I’m really looking forward to giving it to you.” Context not included. After many card games, dice games, countless double rum and cokes, and generally crappy times had by all, we are reluctantly sending the Swiss deep into Bolivia, the best country on the continent. They may not know it yet, but they are going to hike Huayna Potosi, the 6088 meter mountain, and probably curse our names the entire way up for convincing them to do it. Waahh!
Matheus, the oldest trekker in our group of 9, decided to leave his hometown of Sao Paolo, Brazil, to come and entertain us all on the Salkantay trek. When he wasn’t telling jokes, working his magic negotiating in spanish, or hailing Peruvian women by shouting ‘Mamacita!’ he was taking the most amazing photos with his ballin’ camera. Unfortunately, this camera was stolen days later in Ecuador, and so we are left with sub-par pictures. After our first day of hiking through the rain, he decided to put life in perspective for us with his quote, ‘It is better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick.’ Thanks for that one, Papacito. After smashing the one lightbulb in the middle of nowhere camp we stayed on the second night, Matheus went on and on about how the best coffee in the world is when you take your cup and go up to the cow to get milk ‘straight from the teat.’ We were happy to point out every public, breast feeding woman to him after that (probably 3-5 a day), and he could barely contain his excitement. After many beers in Aguas Calientes and the worst game of pool to date, we all had to part ways. Next stop, summiting the Matterhorn in Switzerland during our Salkantay Reunion!
Nikki, the Kiwi, revealed that her latest job was starring as a female gladiator on the hit television series, Spartacus. WHAT?! Yeah, that’s what we said too. But now that her character is dead, and she has a break in University, she left New Zealand to go travel South America by herself for 2 months. Her meek, non aggressive nature matched her meek use of language, and I’m not referring to spanish. She made the quote board with a consistent stream of profanity that was nothing if not consistent, our favorite being, ‘Oh my fucking lord, fucking motherfucker,’ which was uttered just about every 5th step through the 3 hours of mud and rain and landslides on our second day. It was actually incredible how many logistical things went wrong for our gladiator, who left us on the 3rd day to complete the 5 day trek in 4 days. Incidences such as getting swindled by her agency, having to hike through the rainy night over railroad tracks without a guide or a flashlight, and getting stranded after Machu Picchu without a ticket back to Cusco just begin to cover her calamities, not to mention being stuck in Cocaine filled hostel with male strippers once she finally made it back to Cusco. But all that aside, she’s still trucking, spending her last 2 weeks in Brazil. Look for her on the 3rd season of Spartacus!
The Israeli Pharmacist
Anna, our token Israeli, had only a brief 2 weeks of travel in South America. With her background of trekking in Israel, Georgia, and Nepal, we were not surprised that she took 4 of her 14 days to join us on Salkantay. Her contagious laugh, her plethora of amazing stories as a Israeli army EMT, and the inability to become negative despite all of the crap we went through as a group allowed Anna to keep us all going when circumstances tried to convince us otherwise. She also kept us healthy, with the entire Israeli pharmacy she brought with her in her backpack. Seriously, it was a ton of meeds. Unfortunately, she left us on the 3rd day so she and Nikki could hike in the dark with no guide or flashlight, in order to complete the 5 day trek in 4 days. Oh, you crazy Israeli. After extending a full invitation to visit her in Israel for Petra, Jerusalem, the dead sea, and of course more trekking, she boarded her plane and left the wonderful continent of South America.
Brazilians are known around the world for excellent soccer, having great beaches, and being just a little bit crazy. This last fact was confirmed when Eliza decided that her first real trek ever was going to be the Salkantay. Known as one of the more difficult treks out of Cusco, especially during the rainy season (aka freeze your ass off and maybe go down in a landslide season) and with the elevation of 4,600 meters, this is generally not a first trekker’s first trek. No matter. She and her boyfriend Leo jumped at the chance, and saddled up for the muddiest possible experience ever. Both studying to be doctors in Puerto Alergre, we knew that between their knowledge and Anna’s drugs, we were going to be medically fine through this trek. Not only did they trek with the best of ’em, but Eliza was ‘always gorgeous’ through it all. With an open invitation to stay with them during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, looks like it might be sooner as opposed to later until our paths cross again. Bom Dia, Amigos!