Saturday, April 21, 2012

South America Adventures - Part 5 (Inca Trail)

Day two on the Inca Trail.  It was an early start waking up at 5am to hit the trail by 6:30am.  Turns out this would be the latest we were able to sleep in for the remainder of the hike.  We embarked on the 2nd-leg of the Inca Trail which is reportedly the hardest (not because of the length but because of the big ass mountain).  The path weaved upwards along the edge of a mountain.  It was a beautiful landscape which you could call breathtaking...but that was really just due to the elevation.  I tried to look around but it was difficult with the tears in my eyes (tears full of pain).
About 1hr into the hike, a local woman sprinted up past Dana.  She was apparently carrying a bunch of Gatorade and candy bars because we came across the woman at the first scheduled break. 
  Since Dana was a way better climber, I fell back and grouped up with two British guys (who met in a trampoline club) who would stage this leapfrog game in order to progress up the mountain.  Basically the fitter one would hike up to a nice resting spot and then hang out until we got there.  We would rest and he would continue on till the next "nice rock to sit on" was found. 
Now I could moan about how hard it was, but I was only carrying 5lbs of stuff where our porters were enduring the same climb with 50lbs.  It was reassuring to see the porters struggle like us to get up the last 100ft which was straight up...then again they were carrying the entire camp on their back.  The tour guides carried oxygen for those who needed it.  Thankfully I was able to go without (barely), but there definitely a handful of people having intimate moments with the masks.
The top of the trail was a saddle called Dead Woman Pass at 13,800ft.  It is dubbed Dead Woman Pass because it looked like the profile of a woman's face and large breast with nipple.  There is also a curious adam's apple so the group joked it was a chicho chica.  The top was literally in the clouds.  Everything was white fog and mist...and candy colored tourists.  Everyone was wearing the $1 plastic colored ponchos (more like garbage bags) purchased in town.
The trail continued down the backside of the mountain.  We have reached the point where the Incas stopped destroying the trail, so the path was laid with perfectly cut and polished stones.  The unfortunate part is that the mist made the stones super slippery and I was constantly catching myself from sliding down the steep surface into the grass.  The trail was straight down which would be a blessing after the monster climb, but going down 3000 steps takes a toll on your knees.  Okay yes I am making it sound so horrible, but it was actually really awesome.  The backside was part of a "cloud forest" in a valley so everything lush and green with waterfalls.  I can best describe it as the scene in Jurassic Park where the helicopter descends into the jungle.
The difference between the tourists and locals was made clear on the steps.  The tourists were all gingerly taking a step at a time.  The porters were all skipping down at a full sprint.
We found a wandering llama at the 2nd night campsite.  The Puerto Rican tried to pet it and it spit on him.  The campsite also had toilets.  Now don't get your hopes up...they aren't real toilets, just holes in the ground with wooden stalls.  It was one step above from finding a dense bush or big rock in the wild.  Of course one of the big side affects of altitude sickness is an incredible bowl movements.  This doesn't bode well for the one toilet located just after the biggest climb of the trail.  Yep, it was Armageddon in there.
The group was treated to hot chocolate and popcorn for our hard work.  The temperature dropped fast, so we ended up going through two cans of hot chocolate.  The group huddled together to tell ghost stories which wasn't a smart idea since we where far far far away from civilization.  It was one girl's birthday (and I don't know how the porters did it), but they baked her a cake!  It was pretty dense, and Simon (another Brit) ended up breaking a camp chair.
In bed by 8:30pm...completely spent.


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