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A little more trekking

July 28, 2013

I wrote the last post so quickly (Juan successfully fixed my charger and the computer is back in action), that I wanted to tell you a bit more about our hike.

It happened over four days and three nights. We were warned that the temperatures could change wildly, and we felt prepared. Graham and I were led by our guide Roberto and joined by a cook, Modesto, and two horsemen with three horses among them (one of which spent a lot of time with me on him).

One thing you realize quickly on this kind of trip is that things never go as planned. The trail we were taking is a beautiful hike though many types of Andean terrain. But the road to the trail was under construction, so the first couple hours of our hike was along a dusty road populated with coverall-clad and face-masked workers and earth moving machines. About halfway to the trailhead we passed our horsemen, coming from a village on the mountain. They had to head back where we’d left the truck to pick up our a backpacks and then double back to meet us on the path. (This, of course, was no problem for the hearty fellows.)

The trail, when we reached the start, was beautiful and lush, lined with tiny blue flowers, with sheep dotting the hillsides. As we got higher the vegetation would change, of course, but it was a beautiful start to our journey – albeit a late one. The horsemen and their handlers quickly joined us and after a few hours of climbing we stopped for lunch.  Our lunch spot featured one of the many Incan ruins we’d pass along the way. Like the ruins in Rome, they’re just there – you’ll be walking along and there will be the familiar stone work or terraced slope that marks the Incan design. Incans didn’t use cement or any sealant as they built their marvels. They would cut each stone to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, keeping a bit of space to account for cold or hot expansion or compression as well as earthquake activity. When the Spanish conquered Peru, the tore down many Incan buildings or built over them. Earthquakes have claimed many of their buildings leaving the Incan sites alone.  (and yet, they couldn’t figure out the wheel).

During lunch, Roberto became concerned about my cough and had a special coca tea made for me. It was really just coca tea with a lot of lemon, but it felt great. Coca is the trekker’s secret weapon. It is a leaf plentiful in the Andes and the root for one of Peru’s biggest exports – cocaine. But as a leaf it makes a wonderful light tea. Trekkers are encouraged to chew it as well, to fight altitude issues. I didn’t, but maybe I should have.

As we climbed on, and eventually I rode on, the terrain changed. Trees fell away and were replaced by yellow grasses. Our late start got us to our first camp site just before night fall. The horsemen’s were from a nearby village and their children, who will likely follow in their footsteps, came to help set up our camp. It’s a tough fate to be a born in the Andes. There are few primary schools and they require long walks for most students. If a child wants to go on to secondary school, the child has to move to a bigger community lower down, either in with relatives or the entire family  must move. University is usually not an option, but that requires even further moving. Most Andeans are Quechua and don’t speak Spanish, so they are further hindered in city life.

Our camp consisted of three sleeping tents – one each for me, Graham, and Roberto ; a toilet tent with a seat like a child’s training toilet and a little bag of limestone to dissolve anything unpleasant; and a dining tent where the tree of us would take our meals. I’m not sure where the other guys slept and I’m not sure they wanted us to know.  The horses just wandered freely but never strayed too far.

Meals on a trek are a treat. I learned this on my last trek, but it was reinforced on this one. I, however, was unable to appreciate the fabulousness, not to mention work, of the meals. I suffered from what is a common problem in altitude,  a complete loss of appetite. Feeling sick and weak, I went to bed soon after dinner, followed closely by Graham and Roberto.

Our first night on the mountain was cold. Not as cold as our second night, but by then we were prepared for it. The sky was clear and the moon was bright enough to make headlamps unnecessary. We all used the toilet tent and snuggled in our sleeping bags hoping against hope we wouldn’t need another visit before morning.

I’m terrible at sleeping in sleeping bags. I’m a toss and turner, so by morning, I always end up a bit mummified.

Day two was our hardest day of climbing and we struggled up a steep, sandy ridge. After a couple of hours of hiking, the horse approached and, given the option to ride, I didn’t’ refuse. After lunch, Graham pointed out that it looked like it might rain. As he said it the hail began.  About the size of the pellets in a bean bag chair, the hail followed us into camp. Between tea and dinner that night Graham taught me a great card game with a slightly obscene name, that became our constant pastime.

Day three was a lot of down. Steep, steep down in loose red sand. I landed on my bottom as often as I didn’t, sure-footed I am not, and got to camp a dusty mess. After some tea, Roberto suggested I wash my face. Looking into the closest thing I had to a mirror – my sunglasses – I could see that I looked like on of the Little Rascals, covered in dirt.

Day four, we triumphantly hiked into Ollyantetambo in the Incan Sacred Valley and straight to a bar. By this time, Graham had a sprained ankle and my burned lips were torturing me. But we were thrilled with our week.

It was a hard slog, but so worth it in the end. And of course, there was still Machu Picchu.



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