Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day Two

Sunday, May 24th

Day Two started after a night in our first campsite. Firstly, I have to tell you a funny story about what happened in the middle of the night. Typical Ashley...

Around 11Pm (or around 4 hours after going to sleep!) Ashley had to get up and go to the bathroom. It was very dark, very quiet and the bathroom (and by bathroom, we mean, hole in the ground with a shack built around it) was three terraces down from our tent. She couldn't find her glasses, and was in a hurry, so she just went out with a flashlight/headlamp and without good vision. Just as she was about to reach the bottom terrace where the Bathroom Shack was, she saw movement. She tried to shine light on whatever it was and saw two hind legs, a swishing tail, and two beady eyes reflecting the the flashlight beam. Not having her glasses on, she ran back to the tent to get Casey to escort her and protect her from what clearly was a Puma (the only really dangerous animal that lives in the Andes). With Casey by her side, they walked back down to find not a puma... but a small, miniature horse munching absentmindedly at some nearby grass! Apparently, our campsite butted up to a villager's farmland. Needless to say, the guides didn't let that one die.

After the night's adventures, we woke up to hot tea served at our tent and were cooked a delicious filling breakfast of porridge, omelets and toast (I told you, the porters were awesome). Then we began our hike. To be honest, and fair, we were forewarned about how the second day's hike could be very difficult. We could have paid the porters about 50 soles (or less than $20) but decided to "rough it" and carry our own packs. Immediately, it was a choice we regretted.

Just as we left our comfy campsite, we began the long, difficult climb to the highest part of the Inca Trail: Dead Woman's Pass. At 4215 meters in altitude (13,829ft), we were dizzy, dehydrated, tired and breathless when we reached the summit. Literally, every step for the first half of the day was uphill and sometimes, a sharp vertical climb. It was a test of both mental and physical endurance. Just as we could see the top of the Pass, I didn't think we would be able to finish it. The last 15 meters were practically a vertical climb up a rock ladder.

Needless to say, when we did finally summit, inch by inch, sometimes literally crawling, we took a much needed and well earned break to enjoy the breathtaking view from the top. Local tradition is to carry a small pebble from the bottom of the Pass and place it on top of the piles when you summit. We did this and then, sat down for a long, long while.

What we didn't realize was that, after the break; we would begin an even more difficult and harder descent into the valley below, where our campsite was being set up. What took us nearly 5 hours to climb, would take us another 3 hours to descend. I never knew that climbing down stairs could wear out your knees and legs as much as it did!

By the time we reach the bottom (which should have been in time for lunch but we reached it around 4PM), Casey had a migraine from dehydration and I was so ill and tired that we both just retreated to our tent and relaxed. That night, we camped in the valley below Dead Woman's Pass at an altitude of around 3200m. The photo at the top is the view from our tent on the morning of Day 3. We got to see sunrise over the nearby mountains.

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