Today was the tough day! Not sure how much I slept last night – I felt like I tossed and turned quite a bit and I was wide awake before our 5:30 a.m. wake up “call.” They brought us coca tea to start the day and then breakfast was around 6:00. So we had about half an hour to get ready and get our stuff together. We headed out just before 7:00 a.m. The first little bit wasn’t bad and I stuck with the lead group but then I knew enough to fall back. I was on my own for a bit until I came up to Persis and Dave, who had stopped to look at something. So then I walked with them for a while until at some point Dave went on ahead and Persis and I stuck together. So Kelsey, Dave, Rebecca, Jacek, the Norwegian girls and Persis’ husband Allan were up ahead and Christine, Lee Ann and Murray were behind us. Unfortunately Murray wasn’t feeling well – and all three of them were carrying their entire huge backpacks – so understandably they were moving slower!
Despite the difficulty, it was a fun hike because there were people from other groups who we kept running into. We chatted with them along the way as we stopped to rest – it was very nice camaraderie.
We got to our morning break aorund 10:00 a.m. after about 3 hours of hiking. The train was definitely getting steeper and I could feel the altitude increase and the lack of oxygen become more apparent, making it harder to breathe. I just tried to stay very hydrated and ate/sucked on lots of coca candy. The rest stop was nice – most of the group was there with the exception of Murray and Chris. We got popcorn, tea, cookies and sandwiches – again, with a table and stools set up for us. And there was more water and Gatorade being sold – I got Gatorade at an earlier stop and loaded up on water at this stop.
So we started the day at Wayllabamba, which is at 10,137 feet or 3,100 meters above sea level. The rest stop was at Tres Piedres, which is 10,954 feet, or 3,350 meters. Our next destination was the top – Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest we’ll trek on this trip. It’s at 13,776 feet, or 4,200 meters. Actually, now that I am looking at my map, I am revising this. I think we had a short break earlier in the day at Tres Piedres and our morning tea break was at Llulluchapampa – 12,589 feet, or 3,850 meters. That makes more sense! Anyway, after we finished “tea,” Kelsey, Dave, Rebecca and Jacke were the first to head out and Allan, Persis and I were about 5-10 minutes behind them. The Norwegian girls were behind us and Murray and Chris were just arriving at the stop as we were departing. This next part was definitely the most difficult stretch – rock steps were steeper and the air was getting thinner. There had been toilets at both the rest stop and the morning tea stop so I felt more comfortable drinking a lot of water and Gatorade without fear of having to pee in the bushes! Although, as Persis pointed out, there’s really not much place to pee anyway – everything off the trail is nearly straight up or straight down!
So Persis, Allan and I made a nice team. Our breaks grew closer and closer together as we got higher – every 3-5 minutes sometimes. But we used that chance to take some photos adn enjoy the scenery. My pictures really don’t do everything justice but I think I got some really great ones. The mountains are just amazing – so green and surrounded by clouds at the top with snow-capped peaks int he distance. I got some nice pictures of colorful flowers, llamas grazing down below, and shots of the path behind us and ahead of us. We think we started this last stretch about 10:30 a.m. and finished just after 12 – about the time David said it should take us. We could see the front 4 up above waving to us as we got closer to reaching Dead Woman’s Pass, so Allan and I both made one last push to get to the top. When we were all up there, we started taking pictures and someone got a Peruvian flag from another group so we got a picture with that. The one thing I’m disappointed in, though, is that I didn’t get any pictures by myself at the top.
Shortly after we got to Dead Woman’s Pass, it started to rain – hard!! So out came the rain jackets and ponchos! I guess we were pretty lucky, though, in that it was pretty warm and sunny the entire way until that point. The only downside was that we had to walk down a path entirely made of stones in the pouring rain! Recipe for disaster! Since I felt much better about going down than going up, as far as breathing was concerned, I went ahead with Kelsey, Dave, Rebecca and Jacek. We all stuck together pretty well, taking turns leading. Not a lot of chatting but I think we were all very focused on watching where we were stepping and making sure not to slip. There were a few near misses but everyone made it ok. Despite the rain, we stopped for a few pictures along the way. We made it to the campsite at Paqaymayu around 2 p.m. Because it was so tough, it was an early day with a free afternoon. There was some hot tea, which tasted great! I took some time to stretch and take another sponge bath and change clothes before joining the group. At first, I was half delirious and really too tired to hardly talk to people but that improved over time. Once the Norwegian girls and Allan and Persis arrived, we had lunch which again was awesome! Hot soup, rice, beef, veggies, and some sort of egg roll type thing. I think I almost ate too much!
After lunch, I went back to the tent to rest and work on my journal. Around 5:00, we had afternoon tea, which was hot chocoloate (actually Milo – the Aussie version of hot chocolate mix which Persis and Dave were quite thrilled about), crackers, and popcorn. After the tea, we got introduced to all of the porters and the cook, which was nice. There were 18 porters (a/k/a “chaskis”). I was surprised by the age of a lot of them – many were in their late 40s! I had thought that being a chaski was more of a younger person’s thing. Almost all of our chaskis were from the town of Chinchero, which we got to visit during our Sacred Valley tour. David spent some time during the tea explaining some of the customs and culture of Chinchero, which was really interesting – especially their dating and marriage traditions! For example, instead of dating, if a guy and a girl like each other, they become engaged and have 6-8 months to visit each other and each other’s families to decide whether they want to get married. A guy may visit the woman’s family and request that she make guinea pig so he can judge how good a cook she is and that could be a deal breaker. Then they may cancel the wedding up to 3-4 weeks in advance. David told us our assistant guide, Omar, has been engaged 15 times!
Anyway, after the cook and chaskis introduced themselves, we all had to introduce ourselves in Spanish, saying our names, where we’re from, how old we are and what we like to do. I went first and said my bit and then the chaskis asked David to ask me to say if I was single too! That was kind of embarrassing. After the introductions, we did a group photo with all the chaskis and cook in the fading daylight. Then we had some time to hang out in the dining tent until dinner was ready about 7. We passed the time by playing a card game called Pass the Ass – basically everyone gets one card and you can choose to keep it or swap it with the person on our left. At the end, the person with the lowest card is out. As people dropped from that game, the other started making up some sort of game using Dave’s first aid bag and the ointments he had – one called Savlon (sp?). I think the jist of it was that they spun the tube of Savlon and whomever it landed on had to put Savlon on some predetermined part of their face. Odd but they seemed to be having fun with it.
Around dinnertime is when I started not feeling all that great. I ate some rice but the chicken that was served didn’t appeal to me at all. We also got some rum for dessert, but I didn’t feel like drinking anything. My stomach was just starting to feel queasy and in knots. After dinner, David started warning us about not going to the bathrooms at this campsite at night alone because of the spirits around the site. And he told us this story of 2 Canadian girls who allegedly went to the bathroom together in the middle of the night and after they got back to their tent, they went to sleep but then felt like someone was pulling them out of the tent by the ankles. They allegedly woke up in the morning outside of the tent. Not that I believe that’s true at all, but it did kinda freak me out. I don’t like ghost stories! So after dinner, we made a group trip to the bathroom – which was not close! We had to go up a rocky path past 2 campsites and over a rickety bridge! Not fun in the dark!