Trip Report: Peru College Trek 2012 - Machu Picchu

Trekking for Kids returned to its roots with a trek through the Andes to Machu Picchu, following the footsteps of the inaugural TFK expedition in 2005. Fulfilling a goal to offer an expedition for college and recent graduates, the Trekking for Kids College Expedition followed the Salkantay route, culminating in a celebratory tour of Machu Picchu and a breathtaking hike to the top of Huayna Picchu, overlooking the ancient Incan citadel.

A small but mighty group of students and post-grads met in Cusco and jumped right into the heart of a TFK expedition with a visit to the Azul Wasi children’s home in Oropesa, Peru. Spending time creating artwork with the 15 boys and girls, many former street children, gave Trekkers an early taste of the heartwarming and life-changing outcomes of a TFK expedition. The next day, a field trip with the children to the impressive Incan ruins at Pisac gave everyone a chance to hike and play in the warm Peruvian sunshine, marvel at the skill and workmanship of early Incan builders, and exchange a few hugs with the youngest of the Azul Wasi residents.

The trek to Machu Picchu started with a scenic and early morning drive, stopping along the way for breakfast in Mollepata, a small hamlet in the foothills of the mountains. Later down the road, our guide made a quick dash through a stand of Peruvian mint, useful as an indigenous remedy for stomach ailments. At last, the official hiking start of the trek began with lunch at Soray Pampa in the mess tent, served by our talented and creative cook, assisted by his wife and small son -a family affair which would bring many moments of joy to our band of trekkers and a portend of the good and tasty things to come. Our first ascent to a ridge overlooking a glacial lake, an optional hike while lunch was prepared, was for some, their first experience with high altitude – topping out at over 14,000 feet.

Beginning the official Salkantay Trek after lunch meant crossing rushing rivers on log bridges, hiking to altitudes above tree line, along with constant reminders to stay hydrated and long and breathtaking gazes at the massive Mt. Salkantay, looming ahead. Camp that night, at 13,400 feet on the Salkantay Pampa was cold and invigorating.

Day two of the Trek dawned bright, avalanches thundering in the distance off the glacial overhangs on Salkantay. After a long, winding climb through increasingly thin air, an exhultant group of TFK reached the highest point of the expedition, 15,253 at Huayraqmachay Pass - an altitude higher than any mountain in the continental United States. It was a momentous, memorable, and important accomplishment, and thus, a hallmark of a TFK expedition. Goals exceeded, personal challenges met head on, and from that point on, all downhill. Literally. After photographs and high-fives, Trekkers began the descent down the flanks of Salkantay through the famous Peruvian cloud forest and to the campsite for day two, ancient Incan terraces on a farm on the edge of the Salkantay river near Arayan Niyoc.

The next day was the longest hike of the trek, through increasingly tropical vegetation, down steep inclines, stopping at small villages for cool drinks. The trek route followed an increasingly modern dirt road, stopping at Colpampa for water and finally at a farmer’s roadside picnic pavilion for lunch. Passion fruit and other tropical fruits and vegetables were a welcome treat at Wajcpunqui, a Quechua name that means “door of the wind.” After lunch, Trekkers walked a few more kilometers more to La Playa, where the group met a small bus for tranport past coffee and tea plantations, hugging steep mountain ravines near the raging Urubamba River, to the beautiful hot springs resort at Santa Teresa. After a long day of hiking 16 miles, Trekkers soaked in the natural hot springs pools and soothed aching muscles and tired feet. The sounds of the mighty Urubamba lulled Trekkers to sleep, gathering energy for the final push to Machu Picchu.

Another marvelous breakfast – a celebratory cake miraculously baked in our campsite – was a send-off for the last day of Trekking. Busing to Hidroelectrica – the industrial compound and small village where hydroelectric power is harnessed for the Cuzco region and Machu Picchu – Trekkers were treated to lunch of fresh avocado, picked from an overhanging tree at the small lunch site where we said farewell to our camp cooks, and headed down the railway tracks through increasingly steep and verdant mountainsides of the Machu Picchu region.

Aguas Calientes was the stop for the night, and Trekkers enjoyed a hot shower, a celebratory meal in a festive restaurant, and preparations for the pre-dawn departure for the Machu Picchu.

Visting the ancient citadel, the site of the first Trekking for Kids expedition, was an historical, cultural, and spiritual experience for TFK once again. A climb to the top of Huayna Picchu was an impressive accomplishment and with great pride, the TFK banner was flown overlooking Machu Picchu. Following the tour, a relaxing and unique train ride –complete with entertaining clowns and a fashion show – carried Trekkers to Ollantaytambo for an optional tour of this historical site. Our faithful bus driver, William, drove us back to Cusco for a warm bed and anticipation of the upcoming Incan celebration of Inti Raymi that would greet us the next day.

Costumes, singing, dancing, horns….parades, throngs of Peruvians – a spectacle of color and sound, honoring the Incan god and the winter sun. After much parade watching, Trekkers enjoyed a free day of shopping, sight seeing, and relaxation.

Our official work day at Azul Wasi followed. Being especially fortunate to have a group of talented artists on the Peru College Trek, a beautiful mural depicting a typical Peruvian scene was sketched and painted onto the exterior side of one of the dormitories. Young Azul Wasi residents contributed their own creations to the final artistic scene. Trekkers also helped complete improvements on the bathroom building that was built with TFK donations, and helped dig and install a sewer system upgrade. Other improvements funded by TFK donations included an internet antennae, a solar water heater, and a cement foundation for a new dormitory. A traditional Peruvian lunch was a welcome break during the day, and at the conclusion of the work day, Azul Wasi children sang and danced for TFK Trekkers. Gifts were presented and farewells were made, and Trekkers connected with the magic of a TFK expedition where service, celebration, and adventure are woven into memories to last a lifetime.

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Last updated April 14, 2014