The speaker for our September meeting was Ian Williamson, a volunteer with St Margaret’s Hospice, who gave us an in depth talk about his 2017 trekking experience on the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. Ian was a member of the group from St Margaret’s Hospice who took on this fundraising challenge for the hospice and to help with a community project at a school in Sacred Valley in the Andes. The special ‘guest’ on the trip was a Paddington Bear, armed with plenty of marmalade sandwiches, who travelled along with one of the ladies from the hospice group. The group set off from Yeovil to Heathrow for an early morning flight to Lima and a one night stay in the Manhattan Hotel where they were joined by others who were doing the same fundraising challenge before the group, which now numbered twenty six, took a flight the following day to Cusco. After spending some leisure time in Cusco town, acclimatising at 3,800 metres above sea level, they made their way, the following morning, to the school in Sacred Valley which had been an ancient Inca settlement where maize was once grown to make a fermented drink known as Chicha.
For the next two days, as part of the community project, the group spent their time cleaning and painting the walls of the junior school. The group wore their yellow St Margaret’s Hospice T-shirts contrasting somewhat with the shade of shocking pink paint that was used to paint the walls inside and out. Whilst there they were camped outside the school and were able to get to know the locals and learn about their way of life. They gave gifts of pencils, colouring books and small toys to the children.
The following day the group made their way along very narrow rough roads to the mountain town of Mollepata for the start of the trek to Machu Picchu. The group were supported by a leader, guides and cooks together with herdsmen with ponies to carry their extra baggage.
The start of the trek was all uphill to an altitude of over 4,000 metres and after a day of hard climbing they set up camp at 4,400 metres in an area with snow-capped mountains in the background.
The following morning, they set off at 7.00am to continue their climb up a zig-zag path another 200 metres to the top of the misty Salkantay Pass. After an hour or so, they started their downward trek to their lunch stop followed by a very strenuous downhill stretch on a rough path with large boulders which Ian found to be one of the most exhausting parts of the trek. It was already dark when they finally arrived at their campsite. After a good night’s sleep, they set off again alongside the river in the Salkantay Valley. Due to heavy rain the river was in full torrent so the leader decided to take a wider track away from the river. They soon arrived at a large waterfall over the track and into the gorge below. At this point, the group were advised to remove their boots and paddle across. Ian was following some of the group who had started to make their way across but tripped and dropped one of his boots in the river which sailed off down the gorge. Luckily, Ian had taken a pair of trainers with spare kit in his duffle bag so he had to wear them for the rest of the trek.
During the lunch stop this day they visited a coffee plantation and experienced grinding and brewing their own coffee. The campsite for the night was near some hot springs so the group took advantage of this and spent a couple of hours soaking away their pains which, after several days of trekking, was very welcome. The following morning, after a night of heavy rain with thunderstorms and lightning, some of the more intrepid members of the group decided to go on high zip wires across the gorges. After this adventure, the group continued their trek alongside a railway line heading for Aguas Calientes in the Urubamba river valley and a most welcome night in a hotel. The next day the group had an early start and finally made their way to the Inca city of Machu Picchu and the nearby mountain Wayna Pikchu and by the time they left around lunchtime the place was packed with trekkers and tourists. In the evening they travelled by train and coach back to Cusco which was the end of the hospice trek. Some of the group decided to extend their time in Peru to do an Amazon rainforest trek from Puerto Maldonado. They took a boat trip up the river to the Eco Lodge where they stayed for a few days to explore some of the rainforest itself.
After making their way back to Cusco again they started their long trip home via Lima, for an overnight stay, then on to Heathrow via Amsterdam and finally arrived back in Yeovil. This trek was one of many fundraising events for Ian who has so far raised £30,000 for the hospice through various treks and running the London Marathon. Ian’s future fundraising plans include trips to the Great Wall of China and Kilimanjaro.