Sunday, August 13, 2006

We Did It! *almost*

We´ve finally arrived in the town of Aguas Caliente, just down the hill from Machu Picchu. What a journey it was. Alin and I are completely and utterly exhausted. I wish I had an opportunity to write about each day as it came, but unfortunately, most of our time was spent out in the Andes mountains, with no water, electricity, or toilets.

I´m going to have to break up our little journey over the next few updates, just so that I don´t overwhelm you and myself as I write it.

We started our little journey in Cusco at 4:30 AM. Willie, our guide, came in a van with his hired help to come pick us up from our respective hotels. His crew included Rodrigo, our head cook, his assistant, whose name we can´t seem to remember, and the horseman, whose name we can´t remember either.

The trekkers included Alin, myself, Dominick, Lisa (his wife), and Kiki. We all headed out in the van at the crack of dawn out to Mallapata, a small town in the mountains about 2 and half hours away.

Most of us fell asleep in the ride there, but when we arrived, we were greeted with beautiful sunshine and a small little restaurant, underneath a house, with the choice of American or Contintental breakfast, both of which were strangely labeled given what came out of the kitchen.

After breakfast, our trek started almost immediately. We took a couple of quick photos of the gang, picked up walking sticks for 2 soles, and walked straight out of town. Our destination for the day was Solepata, about 8 hours away.

We walked through the foothills of the mountain ranges we were about to enter, trekking onward and upward. We had no idea what any of us had gotten ourselves into.

We hiked from about 8:00AM till noon, curving up the hills, passing locals, cows, and lots and lots of horse poop. When we got to the lunch place, we were all tired and sweaty. Willie´s crew had packed some mules and made it up to a tent village, halfway to our destination. Lunch was on it´s way and we all spent 15 minutes trying to catch our breath.

Willie split off to talk to one of the locals and Alin and I went off to find a nearby stream to wash our face. We found Willie enjoying a small cup of Incan beer called Chicha, which was hand brewed by one of the few people who lived in the little village. He graciously offered us a cup, it stunk of corn. Alin didn´t like it very much but I thought it was quite refreshing and zingy.

They served us a three course meal, the first of many. Each meal started with a warm bowl of soup, in this case Tomato soup. Followed by fried fish, potatoes, and a plate of rice. Carbohydrates was a theme in every meal as we burned thousands upon thousands of calories over the next 4 days.

After lunch, we continued on our hike, this time through the mountain-side. The dirt roads were wide and well traveled. We were occasionally passed by other trekkers, mules, and locals. We hiked on this road, our feet blistering and our stomaches running on empty. Alin was in a lot of pain on this leg of the trip. She didn´t know quite what to expect, none of us did.

At around 4:00, we arrived in Solepata at around sundown. It was basically a parcel of flat land with one toilet in the middle of a grove of trees and a hut that sold water and other treats. The camp grounds were situated in a valley surrounded by 3 huge mountains around us at about 3800 m above sea level. The most impressive mountain laid directly ahead of us, capped with snow at high altitudes.

Rodrigo and co. had our tents all setup, food on the burner and warm tea awaiting our arrival. We all checked into each of our tents and made our way into the dining tent. Our feet and muscles sore, we laughed and talked about all that we saw during the day. Willie joined us soon after as dinner was served.

For dinner, we had a hot soup, chicken, potatoes, rice, and macaroni. We spoke of how grand it might be to have a deck of playing cards and Willie delivered. All throughout, we saw flashes of lightning and thunder crashing as the backdrop for our first meal together. Soon after dinner, Willie returned with an old beat up deck of cards that he borrowed from a fellow guide.

We spent the evening playing a card game called Spoons. As we played, the thunder and lightning turned into rain. Before long, our tent began to teeter left and right in the wind of the storm. Finally, parts of our dining tent would collapse as the pegs were torn from the rainsoaked ground.

As the night drew to a close, Alin and I returned to our tent to grab our rain gear. Alin and I had not gone to the bathroom in hours and the single toilet was too far, so we decided to go el natural nearby, in the rain. Alin is so brave to attempt such a feat, but she didn´t disappoint.

We finally got settled into our tent. The storm was blowing outside and the entire time we were wondering if our tent would be blown away. Lucky for us, we were spared. We went to sleep that night, cuddled in our sleeping bags, holding onto each other for warmth, but nothing helped. We were frozen by morning. I´ve never woken up from being cold before, it was insane.

The surprise we awoke to tomorrow was something to behold. But that´ll have to come later.

Ciao, it´s time for dinner. I can´t wait. Alin and Steve, signing off.

Hasta mañana.

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