Day 3-5 - The Valley, My Stick, Cow Pies, Nicholas Cage, Macchu Picchu Here We Come...
Day 3 was spent on a tour of the Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley-- a lush green valley cut by the Urabamba river and spotted here and there with old towns and tiny farming villages. I started that morning feeling pretty ill, and probably didn't help things by trying an Andean beer called "chicha," which is prepared by fermenting chewed corn. Yep, that's right. They chew corn, spit it out, and then, a few days later, viola! It's beer. Kind of. Like beer that someone's spit chewed up corn into, anyway.
A girl paints ceramic musical instruments in the Sacred Valley town of Pisac
In the valley town of Pisac (which the Spanish built as a ghetto to contain the Quecha people), we bought some souvenirs from the large street market. In one shop we found off the beaten trail, we found a girl painting pottery. I bought some for myself and my parents. Jay bought a souvenir from the girl too... a 2006 calendar of naked women that was hanging on the wall. Only 5 soles! (which he dropped, losing it under a display case. Graciously, the girl said it was ok, and Jay didn't need to shell out 5 more soles.)
We also got the first preview of what we'd be up against hiking the Inca Trail. The short climb to the top of Ollantaytambo, an impressive-looking Inca fortress. If you're planning on going to Peru, I suggest preparing by taking the stairs instead of the elevator... for like three months-- because walking up those uneven Incan steps at the high altitude isn't easy (especially with some angry beef corazon still coursing through your veins).
We made it to the top. But on the way home, I partially passed out in the back seat while Jay made friends with some of the others on our tour bus. I was not doing well.
The next day was Christmas, and a lot of things were closed up during the day, so we took it easy. That night we met the group we'd be hiking with- 13 others, not including me and Jay. The Jets-Dolphins game was on TV that evening, which made me happy (and it's pretty funny listening to the all spanish commentary interrupted by familiar phrases like "Chad Penning-tone"). But I had to turn it off before the end because we were getting picked up at 5:30 AM to be driven to the start of the trail.
After picking everybody up, including several of the porters, the bus drove to Ollantaytambo, where we'd stay for a half hour to pick up supplies and eat breakfast. I bought a Kit Kat, which was the only solid food I'd eat on day 1 of the hike. Jay bought a flashlight from a girl on the street, which he then discovered didn't work.
Jay: "That little..."
Adam: "Jay, forget it... let it go..."
Jay didn't of course. He went back to the girl. I was all prepared for an embarrassing scene, but to my surprise, the girl gave Jay a new flashlight that worked (at least for a couple of hours).
Several village children were selling walking sticks, from 3 - 7 soles each (of course, depending on how rich you look, they'll start at 10 or 15). Should I get a walking stick? I wondered. Will I really need it? Or will I just end up getting stuck carrying it around? After a moment of deliberation, I purchased a stick for 3 soles. I can always ditch it on the trail, I thought.
Traveler's Tip: It was the best purchase I made all trip. That stick became my best friend, and later, during the particularly hard moments on the trail, I proposed marriage to it (We get hitched this summer). A dollar on a walking stick is little compared to the value it brings on those dire, hopeless, no-end-in-sight climbs and descents.
Jay bought a walking stick too, an impressively decorated one, for 7 soles. We then hopped back on the bus for a brief drive to Kilometer 82 of the Inca Trail, where we'd begin our journey. The raging Vilcanota River flowed rapidly below us as we crossed the wooden bridge onto the same trail where, thousands of years ago, Quecha pilgrims walked to Macchu Picchu. Of course, they were without hiking boots, waterproof rain jackets, and our special "sweat-wicking" t-shirts.
Our Inca Trail Friends
And so we begin...
The trail's pretty easy. The most difficult thing I find immediately is avoiding the cow, donkey, horse and llama poop that litters the ground. It's everywhere! What do they feed these things?? I find myself looking down a lot more often than I'd like, just because I have no desire to have my boots smelling like crap all four days.
Watch your step!
But whenever I look up, it's beautiful. The weather is cool, the rain is holding off. There's fog, but it mostly hangs just around the mountain tops. Along the way we pass some very tiny shanty towns. Before we started the day, our guide, Lobo, gave us small packages with snacks, candy and juice-- none of which I feel like consuming. So I give it to some little kids.
(The True story- I couldn't get my damn juice package open, so I gave up and gave everything to the kids.)
The first Inca ruins we see are at Llactapata. We stand on the hill above, staring down at the small town, nestled at the foot of a mountain, right along the river.
Our Guide, Lobo, Shows Us Llactapata
From there, we go downhill a bit, where I meet an old couple from Seattle. They have to be at least 60. We have a discussion about the movie, "The Family Man," starring Nicholas Cage, which they had seen a few nights before.
Old Man: So... the message of the movie is, you can't be both a successful businessman and have a family?
Me: Yeah, what's with that moral?
Old Man: I mean, and then he gets back from that alternate reality, and that woman who was his loving wife (Tea Leoni) doesn't even care to see him, really.
Me: Yeah, she's got a serious job. Are we supposed to believe she quits it so she and Nick Cage can start a family?
Old Man: And also, those two adorable little kids he has in that alternate life... they just don't exist? What's with that?
Me: Yeah! I thought the same thing. Why couldn't he just stay in that life?
Old Man: It just doesn't make any damn sense.
We stop for lunch, and are greeted by our porters (who all ran past us earlier, carrying all our tents, cooking supplies, and other essentials). We're given warm blueberry tea/juice, which was pretty damn tasty and refreshing. When we all sit down in the dining tent, we're presented with an avocado salad done up as if it were served in a fine restaurant. Impressive. The spaghetti con watery tomato sauce? Not so much. But still, quite a surprise. Of course, me and Jay can't really eat anything.
I talk with Alex, our assistant guide. He's a young guy, working his way up the ranks to someday become a head guide. We have a talk, in mixed spanish and english, about America. He asks about immigration. "Are illegal immigrants a big problem?"
I try and explain that, no, it isn't actually a big problem, but our politicians make it into one for political purposes. "En Nuevo York, personas no preoccupan sobre immigracion. Pero, en otros estados (por ejemplo, Texas), muchas personas no se gusta immigrantes, ilegales y legales. Es un mejor problema aquella."
Thanks Mr. Russo!! (9th grade Spanish teacher)
Of course, Alex speaks better English than I speak Spanish.
Back on the trail, it starts to get a bit tougher. Just a little incline, but enough to feel the altitude draining the air from your lungs. Still, we press on. Jay, the two English blokes on our trek, Simon and Avi, and I are well ahead of the rest of the group, not quite sure where to stop for our campsite. I'm nearing my limit. It's getting dark. That's when Lobo comes running up the trail behind us.
"You guys passed the campsite!"
We all look at each other.
"How far," I ask.
"About 40 minutes," Lobo replies.
I'm about to cry. Nobody else looks too happy either. 40 extra minutes of hiking!!!
"Your kidding, right?" I say.
"Yes," Lobo replies.
Turns out the campsite is about two minutes ahead. Oh Lobo, what a kidder!
The camp site was already set up when we arrived, on a grassy patch overlooking a foggy ravine. There I was introduced to the concept of a campsite toilet, or as the Peruvians might call it, "el hoyo jodida en el suelo." At dinner, Lobo gave us some pills (hey, when in Peru...) and some strange vegetable tea that tasted like sort of like "chicha." Everyone in the group talked about other treks they'd been on. Jay, not so casually mentioned he'd been to Mount Everest base camp. Only reluctantly did he provide the small detail that he'd traveled there by bus. Meanwhile, I'd only hiked down Mt. Washington. It was clear we were the least experienced of the group. Even including the three girls from The OC on our tour("Oh, we're like totally not like those Laguna Beach girls...). Sing it with me, kids: "Macchu Picchu... Macchu Picchu... here we commmmmmmmmmmmme..."
Then, still feeling pretty terrible, me and Jay bickered about where to put our boots and bags in the tent and soon passed out.
Hike, Day 1, over. Tomorrow-- "the hardest day," according to Lobo. How bad can it be?