Monday, January 22, 2007

Inca Trail Day 3 & 4 - Making Friends, Real Beds, Slowpokes, and Macchu Picchu, finally

The Group after Day 2
Our Group Before Heading To Winay Winya

Day three was a lot more relaxed than day two. With only about 11 km to cover until our next campsite of Winay Wayna, we could move at a slower pace and got to actually know the other people in our group.

I ended up teaching a bit of American History to Kerry, who was on our trek with her husband (the other) Simon from the UK. "What did that George Washington fellow do?" she wanted to know. "What was that whole civil war about?" In her defense, I couldn't tell you the first thing about British history. I think I impressed her. Unfortunately, I didn't impress the Advance Placement board, which gave me a 3 on my high school exam (out of 5). But that was Mr. Winkler's fault for telling us we didn't need to know about anything past 1940.

But I digress. Kerry, for her part, taught Jay and I a wonderful English phrase, "Timmy Trots," in reference to a certain stomach ailment.

Another couple we got to know on our tour was Janette and Esmond, from Australia. The Inca trail was actually their third adventure in South America... they had come straight from hiking in the Amazon jungle for a week, and had been in the Galapagos before that. Janette very nonchalantly showed us where an unknown rainforest insect had bitten her, causing a fist-sized welt on her leg. She then showed us where she had gashed her leg before going into the lagoons in the Galapagos. "It was bleeding everywhere," she said. "And then I looked down into the water, and there was a shark coming right at me." Her husband, Esmond, who brought with him a professional grade camera, had apparently just stood by snapping pictures while his wife tried to avoid becoming shark food. "The photos came out beautifully," he said.

They were prepared for everything. They gave Jay an antibiotic so powerful it only had to be taken once (at this point, we'd take medicine from a witch doctor), and on day three, when blisters on my feet threatened to reduce me to tears, they produced special blister band-aids from their knapsack. They also must have had a stash of uppers, because they were always so cheerful throughout the grueling hike.

Day 3 Hike
Day 3 Wasn't All Puppy Dogs and Ice Cream

Midway through day three the group all stopped at a lookout point for a rest. Simon and Avi threw a raquetball around, which shortly bounced off the mountain. Two of the girls from the OC braided each others hair. The other one sauntered slowly up the hill with one of our porters, Oscar. That morning, when we had been introduced to all our porters, Jay and I commented on how all of them looked 20 years old than they actually were. Apparently chicks from the OC are into that, as we'd find out later in our trip.

A little after noon, we arrive at Winay Wayna. There's a small lodge with a bar, some showers, and the dirtiest bathrooms you've ever seen in your life, unless you've seen the bathrooms elsewhere on the Inca trail. Nevertheless, it's wonderful to have some semblance of civilization after two days of nothing. Jay collapses in the tent while I go to check out the lodge. There's a bunch of other groups staying in the surrounding campsite, including SAS, South American Explorers, which has a bunch of blonde girls from Holland or some place like that. I'm checking one of them out when Avi gives a nudge.

"Hairy legs."

I check it out. Sure enough, he's right. Yuck. Then again, after 3 days of hiking, I'm not exactly the height of attractiveness.

At that moment, Lobo comes by, dangling a key. "Simon, Avi. Here's the key. The hostel is right up this hill."

My brain does a double take. Say what? Hostel?

"There's an abandoned hostel up on the hill that they used to use for people on the two-day hike," Lobo explains.

Say what?

"Because our tent got flooded last night, they're putting us up in the hostel," Avi explains.

I go with them to check it out. It's pretty basic, but it's got some advantages...

A) It's indoors
B) It's dry
C) It's got beds

"Lobo... um... you think Jay and I can stay here too?"

"25 soles."

I never ran so fast in my life. I dash down to the campsite, and unzip the tent. Jay is tucked into his sleeping bag, looking like he's at death's door. "Jay! Jay! You won't believe it!" I shout. "There's a hostel, they've got beds, real beds and... WE CAN STAY THERE!!!"

"Let's do it," Jay says.

Lobo didn't want the word getting out, because technically, I guess you're supposed to stay in the tents. But everyone found out anyway. I admit, I felt bad getting ribbed about it by the OC girls. But only for a second. I got a bed, bitches...

For the rest of the day, most of the group chilled in the dining tent, trading riddles back and forth. Then at about 4:30 we went to the most impressive ruins before Macchu Picchu: Winay Wayna. After the group had a heated discussion on how much to tip the porters, cook, and guides, Jay and I explored the ruins for about an hour. Then the fog and rain and night rolled in, seemingly all at once, and we headed back to the campsite.

Tip Talk
How much do we tip???

That night we all chilled in the lodge, playing cards and drinking beers. Afterward, Jay and I went back to the hostel, having to climb over the numerous porters from other trek groups using the building's overhangs as shelter (not every Inca trail group treats its porters as well as our group did). Jay and I discovered that the hostel housed some of the largest insects we'd ever seen, but somehow got over it (spraying lethal amounts of deet helped) and we tucked ourselves tight into our sleeping bags, calling it a night. We'd have to wake up at 4 so we could leave and catch the sunrise over Macchu Picchu.

The next morning, it was pouring. Every group at the campsite huddled in the lodge a little after 4, waiting for the right time to depart. Our group was among the last to leave because, as Lobo said, if it's raining, then there's no rush.

Before we depart, me and Jay switch iPods and pump ourselves up. I select "Born To Run," and somehow, it's like Springsteen himself is injecting power back into my legs. Jay listens to Leaving Las Vegas by Sheryl Crow.

The final leg to Macchu Picchu sucks. Not only isn't there anything to see through the dense fog and misting rain, but the trail is a traffic jam. All during the hike we've barely seen other people, except at the campsites. But now, every Tom, Dick and Sven is in front of us, walking slowly. Using my best Madden juke moves (R button), I weave my way past the slow pokes. This causes some people to get upset. One man tries to trip me with his walking stick. Another yells "It's not a race." One woman stops to look at an orchid, and her fat ass is blocking the narrow trail. "Excuse me," I say, as I almost fall off the mountain to get past her.

"How rude," she says.

"You're a bitch," I say. It's Day 4. Don't f-cking mess with me.

I reach the sun gate third out of our group. Simon and Avi are long ahead. Just before the sun gate is a flight of stairs designed by M.C. Escher. I finally get to the top, expecting to see the view of a lifetime. Instead, I see this:

Beautiful Macchu Picchu

Nobody is happy. Four days, and all I get is fog?? Dejected, our group walks down to Macchu Picchu.

Then, the most magical thing happens. The fog parts, and the sun comes streaming in. Suddenly, Macchu Picchu is bathed in white light. It's the most magnificent thing I've ever seen.

Macchu Picchu
That's More Like It

Words can't really describe it. Pictures don't really do it justice. Kicks the Parthenon's ass, I can tell you that.

Every so often we'd see some day tripper--who had arrived that day by train, walking up a few steps in their clean shirt, clean pants, clean underwear, clean everything. "Ooh, I'm so tired, it's so hot," they'd say. I couldn't help but laugh.

Huyana Picchu?? Not a chance. We consider hiking up it, but when they say it's a long wait, we decide to head to the bus station. We get a little food once we're there. The first time we've eaten in 4 days. I have a hamburger. Jay has a panini. "Best panini I ever ate," Jay declares.

We take the bus to Aguas Calientes, a town that I can best describe as a tiny mountain town that had spring break vomited onto it. It's pretty damn touristy. But we did get to see entertaining signs like this one:

Restaurant Sign
A Typical Aguas Calientes Restaurant

Even though we knew it was like a municipal pool, Jay and I decide to take a dip in the hot springs. Peter and Belinda, an Australian couple from our tour, were already there. We chilled with them in the hot pool, until some young punks came and started doing chicken fights.

Aguas Calientes
Jay and I with Peter

On the train back, we sat with Alper and Camilla, another couple from our trek. Alper was from California, Camilla from Hong Kong. They had met online, and now Alper was considering moving to Hong Kong to be with her. I have to say, if they could survive four days hiking with each other, camping in tents, I think they've got a future.

There were some beautiful views from the train. Snow capped peaks, corn fields, tiny farming villages. I bought some giant-kerneled corn and snacked on it. Jay mostly slept. Upon arrival in Cusco, the train did about 4 or 5 switchbacks down the mountain, which took forever. It turned out the hostel where we had stayed before didn't have room for us, so they set us up at their "sister" hostel. We drove in a cab over to a very luxurious looking hostel... before walking a block to a hostel apparent located behind someone's chicken coop. It didn't matter. There was a hot shower, the first either of us had taken in days, and we were happy with that.

Sweet Dreams
Jay On The Train

Tomorrow morning, we'd catch the bus for Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

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