20th Jun 2012
SALKANTAY a MACHU PICCHU: 4600 Meters Bitches!
“Buenos dias amigo. Coca te?” “Buenos dias amigo. Coca te?” “Coca Te?” “You like coca te?” Ugh, yes, but that meant unzipping my sleeping bag and tent and then getting punched in the face with uber-cold air. However, I said, “Si, Por favor”. Ahhhh. Warm sweat elixir. I was rather enjoying the taste of coca. It was like a mix between green tea and wheat grass. Not a bad way to start the morning despite it being only 5AM and FRA-FRA-FRA-EAKING cold!
The first difficult part of the day was changing my underwear. I drink my tea as I got the courage to take off all the layers from the waist down. Ugh. My need for hygiene!! I can only imagine what the other trekkers heard as I tried to remove my clothing and then put it back on in record speed. How I wished I was Wonder Woman who could just spin around three times to change her wardrobe and get kick-ass cleavage to boot. I left the tent when I heard Romero calling us to breakfast at 5:40. Really? It took me 40 minutes to drink my tea, change my underwear and roll up my sleeping bag?
Everyone looked like complete zombies at breakfast. I sat next to Justin who was smirking at me. “What?” Him, “I’ll tell you later.” Shit! What did I do in my sleep? I wondered if I told my mom to “Stop it!” again. Eh, who cares, time to fuel up and wake up. The spread at hand consisted of plenty of carbs and simple sugars: pancakes topped with arequipe, bread with jam, and hot chocolate. Hook a sister up with some hot chocolate and coffee. “MOCHACCINO!!” This turned me into the Great Kerenholio. WAHOO! I needed TP but not for my bunghole. The conditions of the baños where definitely not conducive for that activity despite Justin trying to unclog the toilets.
After breakfast, the crew filled up our water bottles. This alleviated one of my concerns of the trek: having enough water. The only other concern was handling what I was about to face an 800M climb to 4600M within the span of 3 hours, mas o menos. This was going to be the most grueling part of the trek. Everything would be literally downhill from there. As everyone gathered together, Abi, Justin and Stefan finished their AM cigarettes. I kept my distance. Crazy bastards! I got my coca candy out to have it handy and passed a few pieces my fellow hikers and to the smokey Joe’s to mask their stinky breath!
The ascent started slowly. Lauren was one of the others that voiced her concern about the climb. Her and Cara made up a game to focus on as they slowly started upwards. I, for once, kept quiet. I listened to the others and focused on my breath. Once the group made it to 4100M, Ramiro our guide told us to go our own pace and to wait at the lake. Usually it was Simona, Stefan, Justin and me towards the front of the crew. Today, the same. Simona took a good pace for her. Justin and Stefan started to sprint up the incline for 10 seconds until the altitude properly bitch-slapped them into submission.
I still had fresh memories of Volcan Maderas and how it almost beat me into submission. That would not happen again. I focused on my breath and deliberately took slow steps to match. In addition, I counted steps and paused frequently like I was doing intervals, Galapagos Tortoise style. Ana Maria and Cara kept a similar pace and we made it to the lake together.
The lake was frozen and even the blades of grass surrounding the lake were icicles. I was worried if we waited too long, we would suffer the same fate. Thankfully, we did not have to wait too long. Abi and Mr B had received some help from our horses. Soon, we were off again. This time Justin and Stefan did not try to show off their manhood.
After 40 more steady minutes of climbing we climaxed!! Oh yes, it was good for me! I felt elate. Based on looking at everyone else’s O-face, for them too. We made it to 4600 meters bitches! Stefan had ripped off his shirt. Feeling the spirit, Justin and I joined in! The view was spectacular (once everyone put their shirts back on). The snowy peaks of Salkantay still towered above us at 6264M, the 2nd highest point in the Cusco region. As I gazed at the majestic peaks, I was startled to see an avalanche gracefully oozing down one section of the peak. As we were about to head down, other groups made their way to the top and I was able to run into my buddy Denise.
The landscape started change drastically as we began our descent we left the snowy peaks behind and trudged forward through a drier scrubby landscape passing sheep and cows as they grazed. After walking another 1.5 hours, it was time for our crew to graze at an area called Huayracmachay. Lunch never tasted so good. We had an extra long break after eating for Ramiro to tell us stories about the history and folklore. It probably was not the best time for us to absorb his knowledge since some of us were focused on absorbing the sun or some zzzzz’s.
Ramiro told us that we had an approximate 3 hours to trek or 7K. Based on the math, the two did not match up. Whatever, I didn’t care about specifics. We would walk until we got to the camp. I was in my happy zone. Stefan and Simona walked to my front. Cara, Lauren and Justin to my back. I kept to myself. Periodically, I would emerge from my bubble to listen into the convos around me. Cara and Lauren made my head hurt by playing the “would you rather” game. That game gives me severe anxiety. Do I really have to choose? Can’t I put some of my own clauses on the options? Stefan freaked out at one point when he realized I was behind him and NOT talking. He asked if I was ok.
As the afternoon progressed, we continued to walk. The dry scrubby landscape morphed into a cloud-covered jungle. It would start to sprinkle at various intervals. I was digging the cliffs and clouds. It made me think of my Scooby-Doo cartoons and made me wonder if there were any witches brewing anything interesting in their black caldrons across the way.
Sweet!! Simona, Stefan, Justin and I stumbled upon a camp! WE MADE IT! Ramiro caught up with us and informed us it was a false alarm. He pointed across the way to Challway, 20 more minutes on the other side of the river. I guess we will cross that bridge to get there but first wait for the rest of the crew.
The order switched up. Some of the people were like, FUCK THIS and pushed forward double time and made a bee-line to the front: Cara, Lauren, Ana and Pablo. There was a minor gridlock at the final stretch. The trail narrowed. The trail was actually a muddy stream. We had to yield to the ornery horses that, too, were apparently eager for the long day to be done. Ramiro made a joke when he paused in front of our site for the night, “20 more minutes”. “Hee hee, good one Ramiro!”
Tonight, we were camping on someone’s front yard. There was a toilet and a cold shower for us to use outside. Simona was the first brave soul to shower. It gave me a few minutes to ponder: stink or freeze? Stink or freeze. Along the hike, Justin finally told me that I had been breathing rather heavy the night before. God Lord, I was embarrassed. Reading “Fifty Shades” and exchanging e-mail’s with a certain Berkeley boy probably contributed to some saucy dreams. A cold shower was good idea on many fronts. However, after my heart stopped from the icicles hitting my chest, I wondered about my brilliant decision. At least the porters and other males were happy with my decision to shower as I streaked half-naked with just a towel on to my tent.
The evening was much warmer than the night before but the clouds interfered with us viewing another starry night. Everyone was happy to be done with a long day. After our post-hike pre-dinner snack. A few of us grabbed a celebratory beer. I got a big one since, one, it was more economical and two, this was the lowest elevation, 2920M, I had been since Arica, Chile and knew I could handle it.
At dinner, Ramiro told us about the plans for the following day. He said we would be losing the horses and 3 members of the staff. He said we would have a good-bye ceremony aka tipping ceremony and told us the customary tip. Some people complained. When I worked out the math, it broke down to $3 per staff per person. For fuck’s sake, if you cannot afford that, you should not have come on the trip! These guys bust their ass, we did not have to carry our packs and the food was good. What the fuck?
After dinner, most people were exhausted retreated to their tents. For me, it felt like my post-Marathon/20-miler days. My body was amped. I was not tired. A few of us had another beer and hung out a bit more. Soon, it was just me and Justin. OK, maybe I could not handle the alcohol since I had been abstaining but I was enjoying having a good buzz going. Despite Justin’s lumberjack stature, he seemed to be pretty “happy” too and started teasing me to no end. Per Justin’s iPhone it was only around 9:30 but we felt bad that we might be creating to much raucous and soon retreated to our separate tents. Damn peer pressure!!
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