Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cold Shower, Anyone?

August 24, 2012

This morning, we start the morning with coca tea since our camp site is still near the peak of Dead Woman's Pass and the altitude for a few of us has been challenging. And, considering how long it took me to finish the last day's trek, I'm recommended to get myself together and start out as soon as possible. I'm not sure whether I should be offended or not but I take the suggestion to embark early: today is our longest hike of ~11km.

The morning is a bit rougher than the last since I notice my face is more tingly and numb than during the last few days. I poke at my cheeks while I try to wake up; it's another 5am wake up call. After breakfast, AW and I head out and after about 20 minutes of hiking, we turn back to see the rest of the camp packing up.

When we turn back around to continue, we see a flash of brilliant blue darting in and out of the bushes: a hummingbird! And this time, he's close but they sure do move fast. So fast that getting a good photo was not a possibility.

It doesn't take long for everyone else to catch up (including the porters) and I've returned to the back of the group. But the view is phenomenal.

We're in the cloud forest and there are literally clouds everywhere and it's difficult to see what's around us. But off we go again--back up. 

We're told the Incan rest station is around here somewhere... I look out into the fog... and just as my eyes settle in one area, the cloud parts and the rest stop becomes visible:

It's stunning up here: our surroundings are changing every minute and we see the ecocystems changing before our eyes. There is another ruin at the top of stairs but we're too pooped to go up. We continue on our way while the others decide to check things out. I don't know if I regret not taking the chance and pushing myself to get up there but I figure, maybe I'll come back one another time to do this again. I mean, why not?

A rest stop with llama and our goofy guides in the background:

The hike is challenging in a different way than what we did on the way up to Dead Woman's Pass. This time, we notice that the trail is more "groomed" than the other areas. What do I mean...? The trail is paved with rocks! Everything is meticulously placed so that the trail is walkable and intentional... considering I feel like we're scaling the side of the mountain with little room for error. Dimas is certainly right that this portion of the trail has some of the most beautiful flora (you'll see a yellow orchid). In addition to the nature around us, the Incan engineering feats astonish us.

I can't even remember how long we had hiked but we finally reached our lunch destination on top of a beautiful plateau with gorgeous surroundings. It is amazing to take in the scenery around you not just for the visual beauty, but to know that you've climbed all that. I walk to the edge, look down and notice that there is a small clearing with what seems like people running around... playing soccer?!! We're told that while it took us several hours to arrive, our porters have been here playing soccer while waiting those several hours for us! It took them around 30 minutes to get to this point. I sheepishly walk over to the lunch tent.

During lunch, Saoul makes an announcement that it's time to meet our porter friends who've been carrying all our stuff and keeping life bearable. I don't think people usually take enough time to do this--get to know the people who work to make their lives tolerable. I reflect on this though as we wait for everyone to gather and realize that if I was left to do this on my own, I probably wouldn't make it.

The porters are waiting for us as a large group on a stunning backdrop of clear blue sky. We learn that many of the porters of this group come from 1 specific village in the Sacred Valley. While many are farmers, they also range in age from 22 to 67 and we meet each one and they meet us. We also learn that all the porters sleep together in the single food tent and there is also always 2 who sit awake throughout the night to keep watch as security for us. As I sit and watch the translations back and forth, I begin to see the humbling looks dawn on us tourists as we learn about their lives and come to the awareness that these people are truly inspiring--not a single one of us could possibly do what they do and keep a content smile on their face during the entire trek.

This lunch is an enlightening experience for me and I get going with a different perspective. We head down this plateau over uneven stone stairs and walk past another ruin. I hear water though. It's imperative to have a water source anywhere and it's no different in the mountains; the Incans always built around a water source. I approach the ruins and see a stone fountain with water continuously spilling out: the porters come down here to get water to carry back up the stairs (and they boil all the water) to our lunch spot...

This ruin is really neat because we get to walk across the stone bridges and across their water ways built with stone. I find a seismic disc in the ground. Geologists place these throughout the Andes to record tremours.

This is a long way down. We're told that there is a lot of down until we reach our camp site for the last night. I have never seen so many stairs in my life--my heart sinks. Dimas gushes to us "you will see the most beautiful Incan stairs very soon". "Ha ha, funny, Dimas." We really don't think he's being funny as we're all pretty tired from going down. My knees are burning and I just want to stop.

But look at the spiral stairs that the Incan built! In going with the seismic detectors, don't forget that these trails have been here for centuries even through the tremours that regularly occur in the Andes.

Look at the terraces that have been built into the side of the mountain face:

We have options to either go the "long way" and check out that ruin, or to take the "short cut" and head to the camp site before it gets dark. I consider the options and the thought of being here only once, does cross my mind. But my body is screaming at me and is insisting that I arrive at camp, as soon as possible. So, we skip the ruin and continue our downward decent...

This camp site is placed on areas where terraces have been created. There's rumour that there are showers and bathroms nearby! I am excited until I hear that they're cold showers--remember that all the water here is coming directly from the glaciers and it's freezing! It's getting dark and I continue on another day without bathing and head to dinner.

Dinner conversation is filled with some nostalgic talk amongst our group and with our tour guides. They bring up the awkward conversation of gratuities and give us an idea about how much to expect to tip. I think it's probably a western perspective that this should be so awkward. Frankly, I'm of the school of thought that if you did a good service, then you should be compensated for it. Not much time to think a lot about this since we get a... surprise?

The chef made a cake for us!!! There is no electricity so an oven can't possibly exist! The cake is moist and fluffy. We end the night both thanking and praising the chefs and the porters. It is truly a life chaning experience. But, it's time for bed because we're expected to get up even earlier than the last 2 days... we're getting up for 4am to get to the queue to get into the park. That's right folks, we still have to hike for about 1 hour in the morning. *le sigh*

We call it a night and head to our tents soon after dinner and guess what? It starts to rain...


  1. love love LOVE that photo of you and AW with the llama ... and this entire series of blog posts! so neat!

    1. it's been fun so far! i can't wait to share the rest of the trip!! it was so much fun.