Day Two of the Inca Trail
We were awakened early next morning by the porters and a steaming hot cup of coca tea. That hit the spot. Steve was having a lengthy discussion with Raul. Apparently he and Amy had a miserable night with vomiting and GI problems. They were so bad off that they were going to quit and turn back. That's when they found out that they were screwed. The entire Sacred Valley and Cusco were having a several day strike to protest the sale of natural gas to foreigners. Even if they made it back to the beginning of the trail, there would be no transportation to any towns, nor any hotels for them to stay, or restaurants open to eat at. They had only one choice--finish the Inca Trail. We all felt terrible for them because they are really some of the nicest people we've met. We ate breakfast, gathered our gear (I dumped the big camera in the extra porter bag), and started up the trail. Immediately, Amy and Steve held up and said that they would catch up to us in a few minutes. Raul stayed with them to make sure they were okay. Little did we know, that would be the last time we saw them for the next 8 hours.
Sherri and I hiked through the shade of the cloud forest for the next hour. It felt cool and refreshing as long as we kept moving. As soon as I stopped to catch my breath, I began to freeze. Jackie preferred to move at her own slower pace. I think she was bogged down by her poor choice of equipment. Her backpack was stuffed with pretzels and candy. She carried both a bulky fur-trimmed coat and a water bottle by hand while using trying to use two trekking poles. Additionally, she had two decent sized cameras slung around her neck like a Japanese tourist. Somehow, over the next few days, almost all of those items inexplicably ended up on Raul’s back. We made it to a small rest area with a scenic view of the mountains. There was a lady selling bottled drinks and candy. It was capitalism at its best. The price for a small bottle of Red Bull was inflated to about $10. The bottled water went for 10 soles (usually 2 soles or less elsewhere).
We had planned to wait up for the others there, but the Llama Path guide from the other group relayed a message from Raul to keep moving. I was freezing again so I was eager to keep going. Then the sun came out above the mountains. It went from cold to crispy. We quickly shed all the fleece, gloves, and alpaca hats as we ascended the path to Dead Woman's Peak. When I was researching the trip, I wondered why there weren’t many photos taken on the trail. Now I understand. All I could think of was surviving the heat and the hike. It was too exhausting to actually walk in the thin air. Instead, we did a slow, zombie shuffle for 50 feet, rested, and then repeated. This stretch of the trek helped Sherri and I make up our minds that we were not going to hike up Winay Picchu when we got to Machu Picchu. Chewing the coca leaves was a great energy boost. It was essential. I felt a little better about myself when I saw that the bad-ass porters were also struggling to get to the top. Of course they were carrying 10 times as much as we were.
We were exhilarated to make it to the top. Despite our struggles, we were actually one of the earlier groups to reach the pass. The view was breathtaking. Looking back down at the trail, I got a greater appreciation of what we had just accomplished. One of the porters was waiting for us there with a message from Raul to keep going. Apparently, Amy was in very bad shape and was barely making it up. I can't even imagine the ordeal she was going through.
We then tackled the steep Incan steps on the path down the mountain. Initially, I found it harder than walking up because the need to slow my momentum down was more taxing on my legs. Any misstep could mean a twisted ankle or a complete wipeout fall of several feet. After awhile, I got over the fear of the steepness and started jogging down (of course, not as fast as the porters). This was much easier as gravity did most of the work. I could't get Sherri to diverge from her methodical snail's pace. After about 2.5 hours we neared the lunch site at the bottom of the mountain. Two of our porters ran past us back up the mountain carrying a water jug. We thought that they were just gathering some water from the nearby stream. Instead it turned out they were heading back up the mountain to bring tea to our ailing group mates. We were exhausted going up and down the mountain just once. These guys essentially did it twice in one day, with much heavier packs too! Llama Path really takes care of their clients.
After I woke from an hour nap, the rest of the group started trickling in. We ate a late lunch. This site was originally planned to be for our lunch break only. However, since it was already getting late and we had some sick members, Raul wisely decided to pitch tents for the night. Unfortunately, this was also the main campsite for every other group. There was only one bathroom facility located 15 minutes away downhill. It was miserable with only 6 total toilets for about 400-500 people at that site. It was made worse by all the gastrointestinal maladies that many of the tourists were suffering. There was literally fecal matter on the floor and walls of the stalls. Ironically, I now understand what women go through at sporting events. The great disproportionate number of men on the trail led to a long line outside the men's room. There was practically no wait for women. Most guys opted to use the "Incan toilet" making sure that they didn't pee uphill from their tent.
Camping in the mountains meant that the weather was much colder that evening. Steve even saw some small flurries. Raul and another porter were awakened in the middle by some screams. Fearing that there was a trekker in distress, they rushed out out of there tents only to find a buck-naked couple making out. At that altitude, I guess they do qualify for the mile- high club. What truly was amazing for me was the night sky. The stars were so bright and vivid. I can see why the celestial sky was so important to Incan religion and spirituality.