Now, three days into our trek, we were to hike on to Santa Teresa. We woke up to relatively warm weather; a first since our trek began. Willie graciously allowed us to sleep in until 7AM this morning. We heard birds chirping and the river roaring. It was just what our team needed.
As ususal, breakfast was awaiting us. This morning, we were greeted with a fresh fruit ¨cereal¨ coupled with strawberry yogurt as milk. It was really delicious, the breakfast of champions, I think.
We hit the road that morning, headed towards some natural hot springs in a nearby town. We continuted to follow the river along the mountain-side, climbing higher and lower like a rollercoaster as the trail hugged the mountain. Today, my right knee was incredibly stiff and sore, it was difficult to walk and I had no idea how I was going to make it through the day.
About an hour into our morning hike, we arrived at the campsite we were supposed to stay at. Thank god we didn´t stay there. It was full to the brim with other trekkers which would have left us with no privacy, less security, and no room for comfort. Hiking on, the trail rapdily decended to a giant waterfall, where a rope suspension bridge connected us to the other side. This morning, with Alin and I both in a lot of pain, we decided to take it easy, giving the rest of our team a great photo opportunity. We caught them on film waiving to us from the middle of the bridge with the giant roaring waterfall crashing behind them. They were kind enough to wait for us down below so Alin and I could get our photo on the bridge as well.
After crossing the bridge, we hiked on for another 45 minutes, climbing higher and higher as we reached the town that was home to the hot springs. The town was situated on a plateau, directly across the valley from the campsite we passed earlier. We watched the rest of our group from a distance enter the town and go to the far end, entering behind a building. When Alin and I finally got there, all we found was someone´s small farm where children were playing, chickens were clucking, and cows were eating. At the end of the farm stood Willie, waiting for us.
At this point, we hiked down a new trail that led us to a small hut below, next to the river. It took us about 20 minutes to traverse this portion of the rocky trail.
We reached the hut, where two locals sat collecting an entrance fee to make use of the springs. Apparently, a few locals discovered the springs and built a pool with the rocks around it. The springs filled the pool, then spilled over into the river it stood next to. To get to the springs, we had to cross a hand made bridge that consisted of three logs tied together covered in mud.
Once we got to the otherside, Alin and I began hunting for a place to change into our swim clothes. We climbed down a giant rock to position ourselves below the bridge. A local came by and yelled something in Spanish which we understood as you can´t get dressed there. We later found out that she was warning us for falling rocks caused by the mules passing on the trail above. All throughout this exchange with the locals, I caught a whiff of what smelt like human feces, but I couldn´t find it anywhere. That´s when I realized I was standing right on it. Someone decided to relieve themselves and cover it with a few leaves, lucky for me, I stepped right into it.
Alin and I made a B-line straight to the river where we could wash off our shoes and get dressed. After a few minutes, we were ready to hop right in. The water was hot, not scaulding, but hot enough to relax our aching muscles. It smelt of sulfer and the entire pool was coated in a thick layer of clay. The clay was said to replenish the skin, so Alin and I proceeded to cover our bodies with it. Unfortunately, no one told us to not let it dry. After about 20 minutes, the clay on our face appeared to prove resistent to water. We scrubbed, scratched and exfoliated with some smooth rocks, the clay would not relent. We finally gave up, hoping it would come off later in the day, it did.
As we were socializing with our fellow team mates, another group arrived. They were about our age, thin, and appeared good natured. They hopped into the springs and one of them climbed up to where the springs flowed and posed for the camera as a male model. The girls were disgusted. The others of their group sat back. One girl came and sat next to Alin and I and I tried to strike up a conversation. She gave short answers in a condesending tone. I asked her where they were from, how long they were staying, where they were off to. The girl said they were from Israel on the same trek as us. I didn´t think much of it, but this ended up having some relavence later on in the day.
Soon after, another group arrived. The group consisted of an older couple in spandex leggings and appeared to be sick. There were three others in their group, a short brunette who appeared to be their daughter, her asian boyfriend, and perhaps their son. We came to know the older couple as ¨The Swingers¨. I´m not exactly sure how they got that name, but a few others in our group became highly suspicious of them and feared being propositioned.
After about an hour in the Springs, we got dressed, had a quick snack and headed back out on our trek. This stretch of the trek took us through jungle-like flora and thousands of mosquittos. I came to hate them so. Alin and I drenched ourselves in bug repellent and apparently, it was simply not enough. By the time we got to our first rest spot, I was literally covered in bites. My legs ridden with red spots dripping with blood. The little buggers practically feasted on me.
About an hour of hiking, being passed by hordes of porters and their mules we arrived at our rest stop. It was a green field with a single hut, set beside a nearby river. There were dozens of other trekkers taking a break while enjoying the sun. The hut was like a variety store, selling fruits, sodas, etc. Willie got us a bag of passion fruit that Dom, Lisa, and Kiki seemed to enjoy very much. Alin and I were disgusted by the appearance of the fruit inside the skin, it looked like brains but apparently tasted very sweet. I bought an Inca Cola and sat beside Alin to share. After about 15 minutes, we were back on our trek.
As we started back up, one of the guys from the Israeli group asked Dom where he was from. Dom replied he was from London, and the Israeli said "Australia"? "No, London" replied Dom, then the Israeli said "South Africa?" Finally Dom gave up and walked off. The Israeli began singing some song about being from Londontown and we all just shrugged and walked off.
We marched on for another 45 minutes before arriving at our lunch site. Similar to the rest spot, this place was flat, green with grass, and situated near the river. This area had better shade due to the large trees that provided a sort of canopy over parts of the field. We were all very tired and thirsty. We all piled into the tent look for shelter. The cooks brought out some juice to cool us off. It didn´t last longer than 10 seconds as we swallowed every last drop in an effort to quench our thirst.
For lunch, the cooks brought out an two huge plates of food. The first was skinned Avocado halves stuffed with creamy potatoes and other veggies. The second plate was fried zukeni stuffed with avocado and assorted veggies. It was unlike anything we had eaten before on the trip and everyone seemed to love it. The cooks had an amazing talent for wowwing us with every meal. Each meal became something to look forward to at the end of each leg of our trek.
After lunch, we all laid back, lazily in the shade near by. We could hear a stream trickling through the field on it´s way to the river. A couple of dogs stopped by for a quick sip of water before continuing to play in the sun. Willie gave us till 2:45 before leaving.
When the time came, we quickly packed on our bags, drenched our selves in bug spray and made our way back on the trail. This time, we were to walk for three hours before arriving at our camp site. The camp site was called "La Playa" but had nothing to do with a beach. Alin and I were both tired and in much pain. We were tired of hiking but had no choice. We decided that we´d like to try and shorten the pain, so at every point where the trail slopped down we ran to the next crest. It was still painful, especially at the points where the downslopes were quite long, but it paid off. Willie had joined us for the time being and said we were making excellent time. After some time, we found ourselves about 25 minutes ahead of the rest of our group. That´s when Willie decided to wait for the rest of them and told us to go on ahead.
Alin and I continued on the trail, running and walking, all the way. We got to the town that the camp site was near within 45 minutes. When we got there, we weren´t exactly sure where to go. The town consisted of a few dozen houses along side a dirt road. Kids were playing futbol while horses stood eating in the fields beside them. We continued through the town, looking for any sight of our camp site.We finally got to a white sign that said "La Playa Campground". After a few more minutes, it was clear that the campground wasn´t within sight. We arrived at a little restraurant where I asked if they knew where the campground was. The local had a difficult time understanding my Spanish but finally pointed behind me and said La Playa. As I began to walk towards Alin, she screamed "watch out! Bear!" I thought "bear?" and turned around to find Willie trying to scare me. I couldn´t help but laugh since that´s all Alin could come up with to distract me.
We had finally arrived. We were well ahead of the rest of our team and Alin, Willie, and I sat waiting. Three little kids were intruiged by my digital camera and began to pose. We laughed and took pictures. Finally the other team mates arrived and Willie gave us two options. Camp here, or take the bus down to another site. We all agreed we´d rather go elsewhere.
When we realized the bus was a giant truck with an open bed, filled with more than 40 people, we started to have some second thoughts. Nevertheless, we all hopped in and to our great surprise, the Israeli kids were already there. Perched on a bench at the front of the truck bed, they sat there laughing and singing. The locals all standing in the truck, some old, some young stood there as we watched them having a good time.
They began asking the locals to wave to the camera as they took pictures and acted like we were all their entertainment. They asked their guide to sing them a song in Spanish, unamused, their guide tried to distract them with some U.S. pop songs. By looking at Willie, you could see he was becoming annoyed. The Israeli´s kept insisting, that´s when Willie jumped in. He told them that most of these people only speak Quechuan and that he´d sing a song for them. He began to sing a short verse and everyone in the truck began to laugh, everyone except for the Israelis. The Israelis didn´t say anything for the rest of the trip.
We took the truck for almost an hour, down the bumpy mountain side. We got to our site and hopped out. Within minutes we had set up our tent and had started a fire in the nearby camp fire pit. We sat around laughing, exchanging stories with some fellow trekkers also staying at the site, while drinking beer and sharing popcorn.
Our entire team was curious as to what Willie had said in Quechuan to the Israelis that shut them up. He explained that he had said a few words that the locals would enjoy while putting the Israelis in their place. This is when Alin and I learned that apparently Israelis have a bad reputation when traveling. When in groups, they carry with them a sense of arrogance and ignorance that does disservice to their families back home. Their flaunting of expensive clothes, speaking only in hebrew, and taunting of locals is supposedly reknown. It was the first time I had such an experience, and of the hundreds of other travelers I met on this trip, this particular group of trekkers was by far the worst. I only hope that they were the exception and not the rule.
We spent the next hour exchanging some humiliating stories from each of our pasts, while laughing at each others misery. Finally, dinner was served. Chicken fingers, rice and other side dishes filled our bellies. Shortly after, we were all off to bed as we had a very very long day and were exhausted.
More to come later. Ciao.