Peru, days 3 and 4

We didn't do a whole lot on day 3 in Cusco as we were prepping for our trek departure the next day.  We did enjoy some of the local restaurants.  The place we were staying at provided small breakfast; bread, jam, PB, coffee, tea, and cheese.  First on our list was to rent some equipment for our trek.  We ended up renting 2 sleeping bags and 2 sets of trekking poles from Loki Travel (who we booked through) for 90 soles, which is about $30.  That's a fantastic price for 5 days! 

After we secured our gear, we got a few other necessities from local shops; water purification tabs (these were absolutely crucial!), gloves for Alex, sunblock (also crucial), and bug spray (again, pretty crucial).  I wish I'd known how crazy the mosquitoes would be; they would bite me through my clothing.  My legs and lower torso were absolutely covered in bug bites by the end of the trek.  We hit a local cafe I'd had on our list to try; Cafe Ayllu.  All the reviews said it's the best hot chocolate in town.  We got two big mugs of hot chocolate (unsweetened), a dulce de leche pastry, and a honey panqueque.  It came to 24 soles (about $8).  We were learning very quickly how important having cash is.  The tricky thing about exchanging money in Peru is that they are so extremely picky about the condition of US dollars that it's likely they won't accept your money unless it's fresh off the press.  If it has any tears, folds, ink, etc, it won't be accepted.  Alex and I had to take most money out of ATM's as soles.  A lot of places advertised as taking VISA but we quickly found they had 100 sole minimums.  Humph. 

As I mentioned in the first post, we had lunch at an amazing pizza place; La Bodega 138.  It was the best pizza I've ever had!  The crust reminded me of french bread; crunchy outside, warm, soft inside.  It was a leek, mushroom, and bacon pizza. 

Another tidbit about Peru; a lot of people know some English but the farther you get out from the cities, the less frequently you'll run into English-speakers.  So knowing some Spanish is really useful.  Luckily I'd studied about 6 years of Spanish and even though it's not something I use often, it was enough to get us by.

We spent the rest of the day just walking around Cusco before we had our trek orientation at the Loki Hostel.  We met two other guys in our group doing the trek; Chris and Andy.  They were from San Francisco.  The guy went over what to expect and what we should bring.  It was brief so we headed out for dinner to a creperie we'd read about; La Boheme Creperie.  It was such a tiny hole in the wall, pretty far off the main plaza.  A French woman and another guy were running it.  She was making crepes while he cleaned dishes in the tiny sink.  This place sat maybe 8 people around the crepe griddles.  I heard her speak 4 different languages!  I ordered "La Playa", which was dark chocolate, banana, and coconut.  Alex got one with ham, egg, avocado, and cheese.  I had to have another so I made it lemon and sugar.  Yumm!  Fantastic place and great prices!  We headed back to hit the hay since we'd be getting up at 4AM for our shuttle.

The next morning we awoke at 4 and packed up our stuff.  A small walking group "picked us up" at 4:30AM and we walked to the San Franciso Plaza where a large bus was waiting, full of people!  We hadn't been entirely sure how many people would be joining us on the trek but it looked like a lot.  We tossed our bags under the bus and boarded to await departure.  The trek would begin at Mollepata, about a 2.5 hour bus ride from Cusco.  There we had breakfast at a tourist restaurant.  It was a quick breakfast and then gear was weighed for putting on the donkeys.  Alex and I decided to carry all our gear (one pack each).  We were then split into 2 groups of about 12-15 people with 2 guides each.  Our guides were Jorge and Edwin.  They gave a brief introduction on how the hikes would go and had everyone introduce themselves.  We had people from France, Germany, Slovakia, Spain, and US. 

We hit the trail and I was quickly humbled.  We were definitely in a group of very fit people and the trail can get rather steep.

 Here we are, fresh and ready to hike...not sure what to expect ahead of us!

 Lunch camp set up!  We hiked for about 4 hours before reaching the lunch camp

 First break after a long, steep "shortcut".  There were lots of these so called "shortcuts"...very rocky, narrow, steep paths.
 Inside the lunch camp.  The meals were always fantastic!  Usually started with soup, then a salad of some sort, then we had lomo saltado.  Tea was always available.  There were dogs everywhere (even in Cusco).  They are treated as pests, not pets there.  We had a hard time ignoring the many puppies.  This puppy seemed to like Alex's scruffy face :-)

 After lunch, the hiking turned into mostly roads.
 The landscape changed quickly and we were in the valley

 Here's our group!
 The mountains loomed in the distance

We reached our first base camp around 4pm.  The cooks had popcorn, tea, and hot chocolate set out for us to snack on until dinner. 

 Luckily, our tents were set up within this structure to protect from wind and weather.  This would be the coldest camp, getting down to -7C that night. 

Here's another view of the structure containing our tents.  Once the sun went down, I headed outside to check out the sky and was treated to the most fantastic display of stars I've ever seen.  The sky was so incredibly clear.  It's too bad it was so cold as I could only stay out for about 5 minutes!

At dinner, Jorge (our guide) warned us about the upcoming hike the next morning.  This would be the hardest hike up to the Salkantay Pass.  We'd be gaining 600 meters in a short distance.  He let us know donkeys were available for purchase to ride instead of hike for 100 soles.  He was making all of us nervous but nobody from our group bit and took the donkey.  He let us know wake-up would be at 5AM and we'd hit the trail by 6.

Alex was asleep by 7:30 and myself by 8.