Friday, January 19, 2007

Inca Trail, Day 2: Why Most People Take The Train, Rain, and Lobo's 20 Minutes

Reaching the Top
Perhaps My Face Betrays My Feelings About Day 2??

I'm an athletic guy.

In high school, I got a Varsity letter in Football and Lacrosse. I played Lacrosse on NYU's club team. I go to the gym at least 3 times a week. I own many pairs of athletic shorts.

Why am I telling you this? To impress the ladies? Yes. But also, to impress upon you how serious I am when I say that there were many moments during Day 2 of the Inca Trail that made me want to die just so I wouldn't have to hike anymore.

Before we departed, Lobo informed us that, on day two, we'd be going from 3000 meters to 4200 meters in elevation. At that same meeting, shortly after he told us that, I very seriously asked if we would have time at Macchu Picchu to do the optional, extra steep hike to the top of Huanya Picchu. Clearly, I had no grasp of what 1200 meters really is. We don't do metric in the Kick Ass States Of America.

The day was to take 7 1/2 hours. 3 hours up to the first mountain pass, 2 1/2 hours down to our lunch site. Then an hour and a half up, and two hours down. Wait.. that's 9 hours. Well, that's what I recall anyway. It seemed much, MUCH longer.

There's a little drizzle coming down as we begin our ascent to the first pass, through forest, alongside waterfalls, up a steep, stepped path "paved" with rocks resembling the "Astrocrag" from the classic Nickelodeon game show "GUTS." The steps never end. I keep looking ahead, expecting things to be flat around the next corner, so that finally my burning lungs, aching quads, searing calves and crunching knees can take a little breather. But it doesn't happen. Every time I turn a corner, the trail keeps snaking upward. By the end of the first hour, I'm leaning on my walking stick pretty heavily, praying that it won't break under my weight.

Meanwhile, the weather alternates rapidly, without warning. One second it's chilly and rainy, and I zip up my sweater and rain jacket, putting on my winter hat. Then, around the next bend, the fog clears and the sun shines down with all its might. We strip off our layers and reapply sun screen, only to have a new cloud descend and the cold rain whip down again. I can't tell if my sweater is soaked from the rain or from my sweat. Probably both.

At one point, we're continuing our climb when we hear a sound in the distance. Jay points at a tiny orange speck, high on top of the next mountain range, barely visible through the fog. "I think that's where we have to go," he says.

"That's impossible," I reply.

At this point, I'm having delusions. Beneath the rocky path, to the right, is a mountain valley filled with green fields of grass. I fantasize about rolling down from the path to lie in the meadow. Perhaps it's an easier hike down there! I should just do it! I should just jump off this cliff right now! I'll land on the pillow soft grass below! It looks like such a gentle slope!!

I almost did it. Jay had no idea how close he came to travelling the rest of Peru alone.

Somehow, we make it to the top of the FIRST pass. The FIRST. Of THREE. See the video below. I say, "Nunca Otra Vez," which I believe means "Never Again." But my Spanish isn't very good.

Lobo tells us that the archaeological sites are spaced out perfectly, the same amount of meters between each one. Simon asks him how the Incas could measure those distances.

"That's how far a llama can walk," Lobo replied.

Yes. That's right. Every llama can walk the same distance. They're like a walking tape measure. That's not a Snapple Fact, that's a fact.

According to Lobo anyway. You learn something new everyday.

I must be stupid, because at this point I was looking forward to the downhill section. I'll just roll down...

Within 5 minutes of beginning our descent, Jay and I fall on our asses. We just eat it, brutally. It's barely a path we're walking down, its more like jagged rocks drowned in rainwater. Actually, that's exactly what it is.

Somehow, we soldier on to the lunch site. It starts pouring. Our group huddles in the tent. It's coming down harder and harder. From the inside of the tent, we have to push up parts of the roof because rainwater is puddling up. Lobo says we can wait 20 more minutes, but if it hasn't cleared up by then, we have to troop on. This meets with groans from the group. Other trek groups are camping down here for the evening (and according to the online Andean Life itinerary, so should we), but there's no more room for us. And if we're going to make it to the next campsite before dark, we'll have to brave the downpour.

When 20 minutes are up, the rain has let up a bit, so we continue on. Up and up. By now, the rocks we're stepping on have practically become a waterfall. After about 30 minutes we reach Runkuraqay, some circular ruins that overlook the valley. From there it's a steep waterslide climb to the second pass. There's supposed to be a great view from there, but all we see is fog (this was to be a reoccurring thing).

Long Way Up
Leaving Runkuraqay, To The Second Pass (No, that's not the top)

By the time we reach the third pass, I've figured out how to use my walking stick as a lever, holding it in two hands in front of me, stabbing the ground and pulling myself forward. It works great, although one time I slip and almost end the family lineage (you guys know what I'm talking about).

We get to the turn off for Sayaqmarka, which Lobo informs us means "Inaccessible Town." Thankfully, we're not headed up that way. Lobo says to me, "Only 20 minutes to the campsite."

20 minutes! I feel a burst of adrenaline. I can make it. 20 short minutes, and I'll be able to lie on the cold, hard ground in my tent! Never has that sounded so inviting.

A second wind flows through my body. I jab the stick into the ground. Step step. Another jab. Step step. I'm really moving now, ahead of the whole pack, save for Simon and Avi, and one of the Australians, Peter. Jay, who ran the NYC marathon, is lagging behind. I'm feeling pretty good about myself.

But after 20 minutes, the campsite is nowhere in sight. Lobo that bastard!!

Don't lose hope, my mind screams. Strangely, it's the beef corazon that drives me forward. Must... make... it... to... facilities...

After another 20 minutes, I see a guide from another tour. "How much longer?" I ask him.

"5 minutes," he says, and I almost hug him.

In actuality, it's more like 15. But when I get to the campsite, I'm so happy I almost forget the horror I just put my body through. "Piece of cake," I say to Alex. "I'm ready to go to Macchu Picchu right now..."

(...on the train)

Everything I brought with me was soaked, despite carefully putting my clothes in plastic bags. My one sweater was a sopping mess.

Traveler's Tip: Don't be an idiot. Bring at least two lightweight but warm sweaters. Cotton tends to get soaked and stay soaked.

Other things I wish I brought:

More than one "Sweat-wicking" Shirt From Eastern Mountain Sports
Blister Pads
Face Wipes or Moist Towelettes
A Port-a-John

After seeing me show up to dinner in my only dry thing, a short sleeve t-shirt--despite the frigid night air--Lobo takes pity on me and lends me an extra sweater he was using as a pillow. I love this guy!

Jay, Alex, Lobo and Me
Jay and I with our awesome guides, Alex and Lobo

And so concluded day 2. For us anyway. Simon and Avi were not as lucky. Since they arrived first, they chose the tents set up closest to the trail, at the bottom of a steep hill that the rest of us had to climb to get to our tents.

That night, a storm hit. Their tent was flooded, all their stuff got soaked.

Traveler's Tip: Camp on High Ground.

Ironically, their tragedy would turn out to be one of the best things to happen to me and Jay on the hike. More on this tomorrow.


Hot Mama said...

Funny,funny, funny!!! You've inspired me to take the train!

Richard said...

What an amazing feet. But natives don't like it when you complain about things in their shit-hole country. I'll put down my shit cervesa, and fix things! You think I'm scared? I'll take their women and their painted eggshell economy and then put a Starbucks, Quiznos, Express, and CVS store on every fuckin' hilltop.

So buy American! And then when your American breaks, buy Japanese, Nicaraguan, Chinese, Indian, German, Mexican, and Korean.

BTW, Im tripping out of my mind uncontrollably. Thank G-d I'm wearing my floaties.

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