Sunday, 31 October 2010

Inca Trail Day 3: Cloud Forest

Despite a 5 minute head start on the way down from Runkurakay pass the rest of our youthful group had soon overtaken Melissa and I on the trail and we caught up with them at the resting point at the base of the path up to Sayacmarca Inca ruin.

"Do you want to take a tour of the ruin?" Efraim asked as Melissa and I joined the group, "you have to climb a 100 steps."

Oh he had a sense of humor that Efraim!!

To be honest interesting as the Inca ruins are we'd seen more than our fair share on the 2 week trip and even though day 3 was much easier the last 2 days had taken their toll, so when Efraim gave us the option of a head start on the rest of the trail we grabbed it with both hands.

"We'll catch you up," said Efraim, but just in case he gave us the directions to the Phuyupatamarka campsite, where we were stopping for lunch.

From this point on we'd be hiking through cloud forest. This part of the hike was probably my favourite, but also the most anxiety inducing since it was the only part of the trail where I was extremely aware of being on the adge of a mountain and, well...heights are not my favourite. Not that you could see much since it cloudy, but the edge was evident about 3feet to my left. Ugh!!

Hmmm, steep slippery steps down into a dark hole. Inviting!!

Actually there wasn't much to be concerned about. No spider eating wasps or anything.

Moments like this where the edge wasn't concealed by foliage and there was little doubt I was on the side of the mountain scared the crap out of me.

Surprisingly for us - and them judging by their stunned looks when they walked in the dining tent - the others did not catch us up until we were at the campsite enjoying a cup of tea and waiting for lunch. I was certain that we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere as for the entire hike I was waiting to hear them behind us, but we were just speedier than usual I guess and arrived at the camp just after 11.30am.

Lunch was corn and vegetable soup followed by chicken stuffed with cheese and vegetables with fried rice and a Peruvian potato and corn dish.

The porters put mattresses out on a plastic sheet in case any of us wanted to lay down and rest, but it was chilly at that altitude (3650 meters; 11,975 feet) and most of us preferred the warmth of the lunch tent. "If I get down I'm not getting up again," said Roisin, "they'll be dragging me along the trail by my feet." Ha ha!!

It was downhill all the way after lunch, not Melissa's favourite. "I just want this day to be over," she kept saying, "I want to be in Cusco, drinking a Pisco Sour."

Miguel kept us company at a distance as we hiked in our usual spot behind the rest of the group. "My legs are shaking," said Melissa.

"Did you tell Miguel that?" I asked

"No, because then he'd have the porters come and carry me and that would be embarrassing."

"I don't know, you could pretend you're a queen and wave to your subjects." We giggled at the idea of that. It wasn't especially funny, but we were both so tired that the choice was to either laugh or cry.

Miguel mentioned something about the path turning to gravel in about 20-30minutes.

Gravel, hallelujah. The uneven stones we were walking on were really hard on my feet.

"I don't think he said gravel," said Melissa, "I think he said gradual."

Crap!! What I wouldn't have given to be walking on some nice soft gravel. It's bizarre how your priorities change on the trail.

On the way to camp we passed more farming terraces which we had the option to visit. "Side trip?" I asked Melissa.

"What? Are you serious?"

"No, of course not, I was being sarcastic."

"Good, because all I want to do is get to camp and have a beer."

"Beer more than a shower?" I asked in reference to the fact that Winay Wayna camp site would be the first opportunity we'd had to take a shower in the 3 days we'd been on the trail.

"Yes, beer first, shower second," said Melissa emphatically.

Finally, the campsite!!

This beer was probably the best one I've ever tasted. Machu Picchu tomorrow!!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Inca Trail Day 3: Work Whining & Photos

Do you ever have those weeks where you're working really hard and then all of a sudden you're like, that's it, I've given all I can give? No more!! The shop is CLOSED!!!!

I'm sure you have. This week was been like that for me. I've been working really hard these past few weeks for a deliverable that was presented to the clients today - it went amazingly well, we got a round of applause, which has never happened before - and now that it's over...well, I'm done, I feel totally depleted, except there's still a million and one things to do and I'm leaving for San Francisco in just over a week and....omigod I just have to get it together, because if I don't I'm going to be working the fricking weekend yet again and I just can't face it anymore. There just aren't enough hours in the day are there? How do people with children do it? Could someone pass the wine please!! Actually I'm trying really hard not to look for relaxation in the bottom of a wine glass, but dammit, it's so not easy under the circumstances.

To add insult to injury Ryan, the Dept. Head, had the cheek to send a stroppy email out to the group complaining about the spotty attendance at an 8am monthly meeting we have with our counterparts around the globe. He doesn't seem to grasp that when people are working until 9pm and 10pm at night the last thing they are interested in is sacrificing an hour's sleep to get back in for an 8am call, especially when these late nights are not one offs, but the norm.

"I'll bring coffee and donuts," he said beaming the well rested smile of someone who regularly leaves the office at 6.30pm.

I don't think there are enough coffee and donuts in the world to squeeze an early morning meeting out of the group at the moment, they look wrecked and if this situation continues much longer I think more than a few of them are in danger of voting with their feet, which is really going to put a crimp in Ryan's staff retention goal.

Anyway I'm going to stop chitter chattering about work shite and get on with posting about my Peru trip - good Lord, how long am I going to drag these blog posts out? I've been back like a month and a half now, but 3 continues.

The path down from Runkurakay pass was so steep that I'll admit it...I shuffled down the first bit on my bum. Thankfully Efraim had given Melissa and I a head start so the rest of the group weren't there to witness my less than dignified descent.

And down

The path ahead looks deceptively smooth, but it was steeper than it looked and those rocks were hard on the balls of the feet despite the heavy soled hiking boots I was wearing.

Yikes!! Steep!!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Inca Trail Day 3: Runkurakay Pass

At an elevation of 3600m (11,811 feet or thereabouts) the camp site where we slept on day 2 was the highest place we would sleep and also the coldest, nevertheless my trusty 3 season REI sleeping bag didn't let me down and I woke up refreshed at 5am to the cup of coca tea proffered by one of the porters; dressed inside my sleeping bag - it was too cold to be exposing naked limbs to the elements - packed up my stuff and trotted down to the dining tent for a 5.30am breakfast of pancakes and hot chocolate. Mmmmm pancakes!!!

The mist rolling in over the tents at the neighboring camp.

The first 2 hours of the day's walk were all up hill, but we were assured by Efraim that it would be a relatively easy day. Emphasis on the word relatively!! Still, the view of the mist rolling over the mountains was stunning!!

Looking back to the campsite we'd just left. The two red tents you can see about halfway up on the left are our Gap Adventures tents. The campsites are much larger than you realize when you are in them, since being staggered on the hillside like that means you're only ever aware of your own group and maybe the group next door.

Oh great....steps. Haven't had enough of those yet!! Not!!

Really bloody steep steps.

And more steps!!

The steps led to the Runkurakay Inca ruin. I counted the steps up to the ruin in an effort to try and take my mind off the pain in my legs and behind, although I was pleased to note that I didn't find that morning's uphill hike anywhere near as difficult as I'd been expecting, especially with a full belly of pancakes and hot chocolate, although a lot of other people, who didn't have the benefit of a 3 season sleeping bag - bought or hired - were suffering as a result of a sleepless night owing to the colder overnight temperatures. Approximately 450 steps later we arrived at the ruin.

Beyond the fact that Runkurakay was used by the Incas as a watchtower and resting place. I can't really say I listened too hard to what Efraim was saying about the ruin, because I was too busy fighting off the mosquitos that were dive bombing me. There were so many I had to wrap my scarf around my face and put up the hood of my windbreaker, so I was more than happy to leave, even though that meant...yes, you guess it, more steps. Ugh!!

The view of Runkurakay ruin from above

And up....

And up....

And up....

And up....

The view from the top.

And now down!!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Musical Interlude

I'll post more Inca Trail shenanigans this weekend, but in the meantime please enjoy Darwin Deez. His voice reminds me a bit of Mark Everett of Eels....

Actually now that I'm comparing it directly to Mark singing Novocaine for the Soul, I take that back, they don't sound alike at all.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Inca Trail Day 2: Continued - Downhill Is No Picnic

So at the rest stop I made the mistake of eating the small chunky chocolate bar that was included in the day's snack pack and I'd not been walking for so much as 15 minutes when I was beset by crippling stomach cramps.


My body didn't know whether to send adrenaline to my muscles or to my stomach for digestion. It passed after a couple of hours, but it definitely wasn't my best move, especially not on the steepest part of the trail. I had to hike even slower and take even more frequent breaks on the trail up to Dead Woman's Pass.

Our guide, Efraim, kept Melissa and I company on our slow hike and assured us our pace was good, telling us he has more problems with the younger hikers who don't listen to the advice to keep their pace slow and steady, but instead take the trail too fast and over do it. He certainly didn't have that trouble with me.

When Melissa first suggested this trip - I hold her entirely responsible for all the pain and suffering I endured - I did some research into the trail and discovered frequent mentions of steps and stone paths. Steps didn't sound so bad to me, not that I thought it would be a piece of cake either, but never did I expect that the steps would often look like this.

Would you classify those as steps? Me either, it's more like a haphazard collection of rocks and steps like these are not so easy to negotiate, you really have to watch your footing, but look, the dead woman's nose was looming larger, we were getting closer to reaching the pass. Eeek!!

Looking back on how far we've come. That's our guide Efraim in the foreground.

Looking at these photos a mere month later I've really forgotten how difficult this was - rewarding, but definitely not a breeze, however this brief YouTube video of a guy hiking up to Dead Woman's Pass back in 2008 really transports me back a month to when I was doing this. Check out how heavily he's breathing, that's how I was too, I sounded like a steam train, but that's how everyone sounds.

Looking ahead to the summit.

Stunning!! Apparently the rain we had on the first day of the trail is responsible for the sprinkling of snow on the peaks.

Getting closer!!

Yay!!! We did it. Good God it was hard!!

While taking a well earned break with our fellow hikers we spotted a condor flying overhead.

Time to start walking the 3.1 miles down to the camp.

While you don't experience shortness of breath that comes with walking up hill walking down hill is not without its challenges. It's brutal on the ankles and knees for a start, since the 'steps' - rocks really - are uneven and quite high, although I think it would have been worse without the hiking poles which go someway towards alleviating the impact. It can also be slippery if the rocks are wet from various mountain streams that trickle down the side of the trail, so you almost have to focus more on your footing on the way down than you do on the way up. The stones are also really uneven and after a while I started to feel it on the balls of my feet. I was lucky on the blister front - not one blister on the entire trail, thank you lovely Fox River socks - but the balls of my feet felt a little tender, almost bruised from picking over the rough terrain for hours on end.

The porters run downhill since it's less pressure on the knees, but your average hiker would be asking to fall flat on her face were she to do the same. I say she, because apparently a lot more women than men hike the Inca Trail, clearly proving outright that we are the stronger sex ;-)

Owing to my extremely slow pace going up hill - my stomach cramps had all but disappeared by the time we reached the summit - and Melissa's slow pace coming down - she really hated the downs more than the ups - we were about 2 hours behind the rest of our group. Not wanting to hold up the others from eating lunch, and not being especially in the mood for food anyway, we had Efraim radio ahead and tell them not to wait. He was quite concerned about this and it nagged at him that we hadn't got to eat lunch. It didn't bother me in the least as I still had 6 protein bars in my day pack and a couple of pieces of fruit from my snack pack, there was no way I was going to starve, but he radioed ahead without our knowledge and had one of the porters, Peter, come from the camp and meet us on the trail with a cheese sandwich and a guava juice box. Bless!!

We finally arrived at the campsite at 3.30pm and despite the cheese sandwich Efraim was insistent that we have some lunch. "Just some soup," he said when I shook my head, "you haven't eaten much."

"I've had a sandwich and a protein bar not an hour ago," I responded.

"That's not enough."

Goodness gracious, I didn't realize I'd accidentally packed my mother in my duffel bag.

"Efraim I'm a petite person, that's more than enough, besides dinner is in 3 hours and we have 'happy hour' at 5pm, I think I can hold out for an hour and a half."

He laughed and let me be after that.

Melissa and I collapsed in a heap in our tents which were ready and waiting for us and the porters brought us each a bowl of water and biodegradable soap. I had a wash and then lay bag in the tent and soaked my poor toes in the refreshingly cool water.

At 5pm we headed to the dining tent to join the group for happy hour where we slurped tea and enjoyed fresh cheese wontons, followed by apple wontons. Afterwards myself, Melissa, Roisin, Sarah and Jamie played cards with Efraim who taught us how to play SPOON, traditionally a drinking game, but we didn't drink anything stronger than chamomile tea. By then it was time for dinner - who ate all the pies - and pretty soon we were tucking into potato soup, chicken and vegetable stir fry with rice and a slice of pizza.

This was followed by....

CAKE!!! It was delicious too!!