Friday, May 30, 2008

Trekking The Inca Trail: Lima, Cusco, Pisaq, Saqsaywaman, Aguas Calientes (Part III)

Trek Day 2

We were woken early by the porters bringing us a bowl of hot water to wash in and cups of coca tea. I actually became fond of waking up to coca tea, it was a nice way to start the day.

The porters get up at half past three in the morning to prepare breakfast, feed the mules and start packing things away. By the time we had got up at six, the mess tent had been taken down so there were just the tables and seats left. The tables were already laid up for breakfast. The weather was good for all five days of the trek, so this was the case every morning.

I had a quick wash and brushed my teeth, packed away my sleeping bag and made sure I had all my stuff out of the tent. Everyone had a main rucksack or holdall, which they would put in a pile every morning for loading onto the muels and a smaller day pack which they carried with them on the trek. Once all this was done we sat down to breakfast.

Urubamba river
Imagine the scene, more than seventy people sitting on small fold up seats in the cold open air wearing coats and most of us wearing wooly hats, eating porridge! We also had tea, coffee bread, jam, oh and powdered milk! It did the job, when you think that everything we'd need for three nights had to be carried by porters or muels you can see why they didn't want to carry cartons of milk aswell. After breakfast and quick briefing about the day ahead we started walking.

We left our camp at Chilepauwa in a north easterly direction, we started climbing almost immediately. We were at 3,800 metres (12,350 ft) and before we could have lunch we had to climb to 4,750 metres (15,437 ft). This walking lark is harder than you think! I trained for this trek on the South West Coastal Path (see links), which runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset on the South Coast of England. The stretch of the path near me has some big hills and testing terrain but nothing I did there prepared me for the five hours of constant uphill that we endured on day two of the trek.

The terrain was fairly barren with short greeny/brown grass in places. Most of the trail we were walking on was dusty with a few rocks. Either side of the trail was what I call scrub land. Wide open spaces with some gorse type bushes.

The hardest part of that morning's climb was not the flora and fauna but the altitude. I started to find it hard after about an hour. The throbbing pulse in my ears was back and the air was noticeably thinner. I had started the day with the lead group which included Alex, Joe and Brod but during the morning I fell further and further back through the trekkers.

I tried to walk at a pace which meant that I didn't have to stop before our guides stopped for a planned break but it was hard. One minute I'd feel like walking faster and then the next I'd regret it. After what seemed like an eternity of head throbbing and chest pains I made it to a rest stop. I'd been wearing a T-shirt so far this morning but once I stopped for this long rest I started to feel the cold from what I realised was quite a strong wind, the air was cold and fresh aswell.

For the last few hours I'd been wrestling with my conscience. It was telling me to "admit defeat and get on a muel, it would be so much easier" but no, I had trained hard for this and I wasn't going to let lethargy get in my way. There was quite a group of people at the rest stop, which was just a plateau in the hillside. From here we could actually see the top of the pass and it was only a few minutes away. After a rest, a group of us made the last push for the top. What were we rewarded with when we there? It started snowing! Not snowing very heavily but the fact that it was made the morning's efforts seem worthwhile.

It was a relief to be at the top and the sense of achievement was magnificient. It really was quite cold now that there wasn't a mountain in the way to block the wind. We could see that the path down the other side was narrower and it seemed steeper. Some people were ahead of us and we could see them winding away below us like a human train.

I rested a while at the top, took some photos and then started down the other side. There was more than one smaller path making up the trail downwards. Once I was passed a group of people who had started the joutney downward before me I found myself running down. At a number of points I was actually passing muels and their handlers. This was a great feeling as during the morning they had been overtaking me!

After about 10 minutes of running down hill the area opened up into a mass of short brown grass, less steep but still with rocks to catch you out if not careful. It was now a steep downhill walk for about another half an hour to lunch. Lunch was the bottom of the hill next to the river, we were now at 3,800 metres (12,350 ft). Most people were there already when I got there. By this stage I really was knackered, my lunch was much needed. I had a lie down and a good rest, also plenty to eat and drink.

It must have been about an hour before I started what turned out to be a relatively short but entertaining walk to camp. We started out by walking along the bank of the river which was nice and flat, then we started climbing again and the path got much narrower and much rougher. At one point we were walking along a narrow path in the middle of a very steep scree slop with the river and rocks below. I don't suffer from vertigo but this part of the walk did make me consider it!

It didn't seem like it took us long to walk to camp at a place called Anka Skocha and we arrived at about the same time as the day before. After the exersion of the morning it didn't seem like much effot but we must have walked four and we ascended 400 metres, the camp was at 4,200 metres (13,650 ft). It was cooler than camp on day one and it seeemd to get dark within two hours. When it was dark, the temperature plummeted so it was on with my fleece, wooly hat and gloves. To try and keep warm a lot of us sat in the mess tent from about five o'clock and played cards until supper. Afterwards we played cards again and at around nine o'clock I went to bed.

I had emptied my drinking bottle of water earlier and filled it with hot water provided by the kitchen staff. This was my hot water bottle and I put it into my sleeping bag which I had unrolled in my tent. I'd put it there before supper so when I went to bed my bag was nice and warm. Having spoken to some peole during the day about what to wear when sleeping I decided to cut down on the layers tonight. I didn't wear my fleece, troyusers or socks. I did seem to stay a lot warmer even though it turnerd out to be a very cold night.

Trek Day 3

We had a slight lie in this morning. I was used to the early starts now so I woke up quite early. I wasn't alone and when I poked my head out of the tent I saw that there were quite quite a few people who had partial insomnia.

We wandered around the camp site and met up on the far corner. We had a bit of a chat, much to the annoyance of people who were trying to sleep, then we decided to explore the area a bit. We didn't go far, back down the river bank for a few hundred yards and then back to the campsite. One thing that did suprise us was the amount of litter that had been left south of the campsite where we had been walking. The night had been very cold, when I asked one of the guides how cold he thought it was he replied in his best Peruvian that it had been "flipping cold" (not really "flipping" but you can guess what he did say), he reckoned about -6°C!

With hindsight, day three was the easiest of the trek. After what seemed like a very leisurely breakfast we walked north out the camp. We were walking to the east of Mount Wayanay (5,308m) and to the west of the town of Silque. The morning was gentle undulating walk through the Silque Valley. We saw humming birds and went through orchid draped creeks. Apparently we even saw a condor hovering around the top of the mountains but I wasn't certain that the small black dot above was a condor. Before the trek started we were told that "every day will be different" and each day really was.

Having endured a freezing night we were now walking in blazing sunshine. Also this morning we were attacked by mosquitoes as we were now low enough for them to be a problem. I had stopped during the morning to apply some insect repellant to my face, arms and hands. When we arrived at our lunch stop I took my hat off but this was a mistake, the sweat run from forehead down my face and it brought the insect repellant with it. The consequence of this was that it ran in to my eyes and I was in agony. Some people realised I was in difficulty and took me to one of the containers of fresh water with which we washed our hands before every meal. I gave my eyes a good rinse and this solved the problem.

Lunch was at a lovely spot next to the river. A few people went in for a dip which must have been very refreshing. Brod, who had a thermometer built into his watch, told us that it was 40°C in the sun so we had probably had a 30° temperature change in the last twelve hours. Now that is what I call variety!

After a long lunch we just had few hours walk to camp. We meandered down the valley following the river to the village of Kamikancha (3,400m), as normal our campsite was in a natural basin made by the mountains on all sides. It was also quite rocky with a few large boulders in between the tents.

Kamikancha was the scene of a great England victory. We had an England versus Peru football match. A ten minute walk down river from the village was the local school and here they had a pitch but not as we know them. Goalposts yes but rock hard ground, no green grass and very uneven. We'd known this match was going to happen as we were told the night before.

I'd come to the conclusion that I would just spectate but when it came down it and the adrenaline was flowing I couldn't resist taking part. I came on as a substitute for Joe after about 10 minutes. Within a short space of time I realised how hard this was going be. I could cope with walking at altitude but running was a different thing altogether. We were playing the porters plus two of our group to make up the numbers. Peru's most competitive player was Julio Cesar or Julius Caesar as he liked to be known, I kid you not. The end result? England 2 Peru 1, thankfully there was no need for a penalty shootout.

Because the Urubamba river was ahead of us, at the end of the day cold winds were drawn down the Silque valley through our campsite towards the river. They were also very strong as the photo of the bending trees shows.

After the football we walked back to our tents, about 15 minutes, and then after a while the children from Kamikancha came up to our campsite. Some of our group had brought pens and crayons over from the UK which mean the world to a Peruvian child. Just having a red crayon can be such an experience for these kids.

When the children left it was into the mess tent for supper. After supper all the guides and porters were engrossed in an official football match, Peru were playing Uruguay in a World Cup 2006 qualifier. As you can imagine this was a bit of a South American grudge match and all the staff were very excited. In the end Peru triumphed 3 - 1, so at least they had won something that day!

Now we were at a lower altitude it was safer to drink and drink we did. A guy from one of the nearby villages came up to camp with a crate litre bottles of beer. I think he charged us 10 Sol a time. Quite a few of us bought bottles and either hung around outside the mess tent or sat inside drinking them, telling stupid stories and singing silly songs. We had a great time and I eventually went to bed avoiding the rocks on the way to my tent.

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