On the afternoon of day 2 we had a steady downpour for hours. Walking in such conditions, my boots (and jacket) inevitably soaked through. I was wearing my fleece on top, so that kept me warm, even though the outside got wet. In retrospect I should have been wearing an extra pair of socks to delay the moisture getting to my feet. But I don’t usually like to wear two pairs of socks, as my feet get too hot!
Fortunately it was not raining early in the morning. José, one of the horsemen, woke us up with cups of coca-leaf tea in our tents, which made me feel like I was drinking Sherpa tea on Everest. Then we set off in a mist.
On this day the other horseman, Francisco, accompanied us with Rosalio, the “emergency horse.” I took that to mean if someone got injured and couldn’t walk anymore, s/he could be carried by Rosalio. Occasionally, when things got really watery, Rosalio carried Francisco. We hikers just had to pick our way around.
Because I was the slowest, at every stop our guide asked if I wanted to get on Rosalio, or put my heavy-looking (but not full) backpack on the horse. I was determined not to do this. On Kilimanjaro, once the guide took my daypack off me I felt like I’d lost control of my hike. I couldn’t drink water when I wanted to, and at that altitude and extreme of effort, finding extra breath to ask someone else for water is out of the question!
The other annoying thing about being slower is that you never get as much rest as everyone else. By the time I caught up, the others had already caught their breath, and started moving on. It was difficult to keep going but every time I paused, there was Rosalio, breathing his horsey breath down my neck.
Luckily, the weather stayed dry, and we could still see some of the glacier we’d viewed the day before. When I finally reached the top, Salkantay Pass, I made sure Alasdair took a picture of me still wearing my backpack!
We reached the pass about the same time as a Canadian family whom we kept bumping into on other days. We congratulated each other, and got a group photo.
It’s considered less safe to ride a horse on the descent, not that I’ve ever been into horse riding anyway (though horses are beautiful). So the guide finally stopped bugging me. In fact, I didn’t see much of him after that, though he was around to point out a couple of chinchillas.
It was all downhill from there, literally.
Even without rain, there was enough water flowing down the mountain that we often had to step in or across it. The novelty of “ford every stream” was quickly wearing off. Then I heard thunder, and the rain started coming down steadily.
|Even these horses were standing around looking defeated.|
As I mentioned, my fleece meant I was warm inside, even though the outside got wet. Crucial, because one can get hypothermia even at quite a mild temperature. I had to put everything back on to use the 1-sol toilet, which in this case was an outbuilding across yet another stream. Plus, I had to pass this dejected-looking Cerberus.
|Holiday calendar--guinea pigs in a happier state|
Tragically, our group lost a horse that day. We heard that it slipped and fell (just as well it wasn’t me!), and had to be cut loose from the other horses, though the gear was recovered. I’m sad that this happened to any horse but I really hope it wasn’t Rosalio. Because in his own way, he did get me to the top.
|Vaguely J-shaped piece of horseshoe, found on the trail and kept as a memento (mori?)|
The one bright spot continued to be the cooking—four or five dishes at every meal. Things were looking up by breakfast on day 3.
Of course, there were still my feet to deal with. I’d noticed a blister while I was climbing up the previous morning and slapped a “second skin” on it right away, which would probably have been enough, had I managed to keep my feet dry. Since my boots were still wet, the only thing I could do was put dry socks on, then another pair over those that I knew would get wet, and just hope that kept my feet dry enough in the absence of yet more rain.
|Speaking of feet--corn!|
This was no Kili, that’s for sure. At the second campsite we actually had an electric socket, so I could charge my camera battery. I knew we weren’t exactly trekking in the wilderness, but I didn’t expect so many rest stops (not to mention the campsites) to be people’s yards. Every baño cost a sol but there was variety among them almost as wide as the river. I found one, still only a sol, that had a seat, a sink with soap, and papel!
Everyone seemed to have a dog, too. Our guide told us that in many places, there are just a few families living, so the children have to go to school in the village. This was Sunday, however, so we saw lots of kids around.
|Our guide playing football with one of the little boys|
|This little girl thought all the mud was just delightful to squelch her bare feet in. Not sure Grandma was as pleased.|
I don't know if this is oral history or an anthropologist's theory, but either way, I'm skeptical. How can anyone alive today know what an Inca mother or father felt? But at least the guide talking to us meant that we were all together for once.
I was so glad I’d thrown in an extra pair of socks, but I still worried I wouldn’t have enough dry pairs to wear next to my feet. Then, blessedly, the sun came out!
I started having fantasies about hanging my socks on a clothesline and setting my boots in the sun to dry, and lo, these were about to come true. Just a little while longer of hiking by myself.
|Election posters--signs of a democracy|
By the time we made this decision, it was raining. Again. And my left foot was a wreck. But Josie gave me some of her tape, and the guide said if I really couldn’t do the next day’s hike, I could always ride with the chefs. (We’d left the horsemen behind and there was a road now.) We also decided that if it was raining the next morning we would all just go to the hot springs instead.
Somehow, just knowing I didn’t have to hike made me feel more able to do it. The next morning, it had stopped raining, and meanwhile I had dry socks and boots to get into. What could go wrong?