Friday, July 13, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 7: Cloud Forest, the best Inca Trail day

May 9, 2012
Peru Day 7: Cloud Forest, the best Inca Trail day

Edwin said that today was "the longest day" on the Inca Trail, but after yesterday's insanity ("the hardest day"), I was ready and up for anything that didn't involve hiking up 1200m before lunch and peaking at 14,000 ft. :)

Getting ready to go, early in the morning. And Frank's butt.
Edwin and Jimmy, our guides
The fog initially was very thick...
Then started clearing out...
A few minutes later, our entire surroundings became visible

We got up at 5:30am and packed and had brekkie, which rocked. We had hot chocolate, bread, an omelet, even plantains!! Oh man so great. Right after breakfast, we "met" our porters. They were leaving very early tomorrow morning, so we spent time chatting with them (with people translating to Spanish and Quechua). Edwin explained that the porters were local farmers from the Sacred Valley area and were working as porters to earn more money for their families. The youngest guy (about age 20) was our favourite porter, this little dude with a mustache that was the pro at pouring hot tea for us at meals. He was awesome!! He was the youngest, and the oldest porter was about 50. Young, old, it didn't matter... they ALL eclipsed us many times over in fitness and agility! What an awesome group and it was so nice to share our feelings with them about how much we appreciated their help and support to make our trip all the more enjoyable.

Edwin introducing the porters to use. Luis (our chef) on the far left.
Everyone joking around and having fun
The little guy in the camoflauge hat was our favourite guy - he was a pro at the hot water pouring for tea and took great care with it! Awesome dude!!
Our group and guides and porters

And off we went! We started with an initial passport stamp location and they had a weighing station for our bags which was fun! I was excited to see how much I was hauling up and down the mountains. As it turns out, my pack was 11kg (about 25 lbs) with water. Not bad, I thought it was a bit less actually, I suppose the pack weight varies quite a bit when there is 3L of water in the Nalgene Bladder and when that water has been transferred to my own bladder during the day ;) We took off and headed up to the first pass, a total cinch compared to the insanity of yesterday. We went up for a while, clearing through the clouds and seeing some amazing views and an interesting inca site.

And off we go!
Hiking up towards an Inca Site
Learning from Edwin
Beautiful "cloud forest" views today
This was our campsite from this morning!
Frank chillin' at the Inca Site
Me and Frank
Inca Site from above
Rock and roll
Nice flowers along the way

After enjoying the nice view at the Inca Site, we hiked up further and stopped for a while to do a Coca Leaf "ceremony", where Edwin taught us the "real meaning of the leaves". He described the ancient traditions of the Incas, and how you would put your wishes into 3 coca leaves, representing the upper world, this world, and the underworld. After placing you wishes into the leaves, you blow on the leaves towards the 5 different mountain spirits. You also put your wishes into a single rock, and then place the rock on top of the leaves at the peak of the mountain. It was really cool to hear about all of the Incan spiritual ceremonies, and fascinating to learn this from such a great guide too. This was an awesome part of the trip.

Edwin teaching us about the Andean spiritual traditions, using 3 coca leaves to represent the upper world, the lower world, and the present world.
Frank and his leaves

We then headed downwards towards another Inca site where we stopped just for a short time before continuing onwards to lunch.

Next Inca Site
Stairs upwards
A view of our lunch spot, so close we can almost taste it!
Looking over the edge at the Inca Site
Learning and chillin' out
Beautiful valley
Walking away from the Inca site
Lunch time! (Not the llama, but this was our lunch location anyway)
We got to the lunch spot and had just a quicker lunch today. We started with a Barley drink and then for lunch we had barley, rice, a latke-y patty, veggie salad and eggs. They gave us a Yerba Buena drink for digestion that was minty and fantastic. And then we took off like hardcore - Edwin said if we hauled ass today we could fit in an extra little view at the end on an extra 30 min walk and we'd be able to fit that in before dark if we kept moving. We walked up to the next major campsite location (not ours, we were lucky enough to get one much closer to Machu Picchu for the evening), but this next one was supposed to be a 1.5-2 hr walk from lunch... we did it in 1 hr 10 min!! Crazy.

The dropoffs on this section of the hike were CRRRAAZYY. Looking off the side, it was like looking into the Abyss! It was cloudy over some of  the edges and just really nuts. In general I felt very safe and there was plenty of room, but this was why Edwin said we must ALWAYS walk "mountain-side" - because some of the porters carry very tall and heavy bags and we need to be safe and out of their way when they are walking quickly on scary spots like this. A couple of spots felt very close to the edge, though I still felt stable (thankfully), but WOW so close to the edge. There were 2 spots that were particularly insane, like a sheer dropoff with only a 2m-wide path or so! Crazy. At one point we got to the Inca Tunnel, and it was right beside an edge-y spot. People were talking, chillin' out, taking photos... I was like... let's MOVE ALONG and get away from this foggy abyss!!!!!!!

Whoa, that's a steep ledge
Frank at one of the most sheer sections of the cliff.
And this is why you stay "Mountain side" as Edwin told us we must do. The porters carry a lot of stuff, and you need to get out of their way safely, especially when you're in precipice territory like this.
And we continue
More scary ledges
Me at this small tunnel, right beside the most sheer portion of the entire trail. We took this photo quick and then I zoomed into the cave, wanting to get away from the edge quickly.
And we're done the first major parts of the day! Now for the steps...
At Phuyu Pata Marka, one of the possible overnight camps. But we still had another few hours to walk.
We made it to the Phuyu Pata Marka campsite fast. Soon after we got there it started clearing more, and the scenery was BEAUTIFUL!!! And now for... "the Gringo killer" - the name given to the next 3 hr section of the hike... over 3,000 steps, 3 hrs down!!!! The first part was very steep, and I had to use my walking stick a lot. There were some really gorgeous views here. WOW!!!

Down we go!
Glorious views
This Inca Site was awesome
Beautiful views today
So, many, steps :) This was called "The Gringo Killer" - descending steps for 3 hrs straight!
After 2 hrs down, we started to see some views of the Sacred Valley and it was getting pretty glorious. This part got a bit easier, less stairs and more just regular hiking trail paths which was nice. I spent a lot of time chatting with lots of cool new friends from the hike. We saw some really epic G-d rays :)

Can't argue with this view!
The walk continues, the steps are done for now, but still a steep-ish grade
This shot reminds me of a Guillermo del Toro movie, a bit Pan's Labrynth-y :)

Sun rays
We got to the fork in the road JUST in time to make it to Intipata... for the EPIC VIEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This was the view Edwin said we were going to love and it really was nuts. Holy craaaaap that was awesome. We got to see a huge view of the Sacred Valley and chill out and enjoy the sunset from up there.

Our rest stop before the last push to camp, what a glorious view as the sun set
Tired, happy, and loving the view
Kev having fun
Everyone enjoying the beauty
Edwin, legendary guide of the mountains!
What a fine group
From there we had a pretty steep hike down to our campsite for the night and we had to haul it to get there before it got too dark. We were cutting it close, it was starting to get quite dark as we were getting closer and I pulled out my headlamp for safety. We got to the campsite and dropped off all of our stuff - a quick unpack and journal and then head to dinner.

Dinner was AMAZING as usual: chicken, rolls, rice, mixed veggies, and... a BIRTHDAY CAKE for Mary's birthday?!?!! That was insane and unbelievable, I have no clue how they whipped that up while camping? Was one of the porters carrying an oven?!?! Who knows :) That was amazing and we all sung Happy Birthday and enjoyed the cake together.

Dinner time!
Somehow, I don't know how, Luis MADE A BIRTHDAY CAKE for Mary's birthday. Truly epic.

It was then time for the porter tip presentation. I did the calculating and collected money from everyone and divided out the amounts with my iPhone calculator, that was fun. We shook hands with all the porters and they were so happy. Edwin told us that we had given them a very nice tip, which is awesome. They were so nice and so hardworking, and really made our trip so much more enjoyable. What a great crew. As a final kind gesture they poured us tea after dinner and we wrapped up the dinner. Celebrating the end of the 3rd full day of the hike.

Just before bed Frank and I headed to the bathrooms and they were very busy since there were lots of people at these campsites and there weren't many bathrooms. One bathroom finally opened up and Frank and I did a "rock, paper, scissors" to decided who was going to go first. As we were doing that, a porter walked RIGHT BY US and walked straight into the bathroom that we were "rock, paper, scissor"-ing for!!!!! hahahah, we laughed so hard, cause I'm sure he had no idea why we were standing there right outside the bathrooms. Hilarious. And then off we went to bed after this, since we have a 3:40am wake up tomorrow!! Oh, what an awesome hike this has been. :)

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