Sunday, October 28, 2012

Salkantay, Day 2!

I survived our first cold night, and I couldn`t complain. I was so warm in my thermo sleeping bag, and also in between Johan and Marco, no cold got to me. I was awake before the man came with three silver glasses filled with mate de Coca!  It was just after five o`clock, and Marco didn`t feel like drinking this stuff with the leaves inside, but reluctantly did swallow when I told him that it will help for the altitude and give him good energy. Well, that was exactly what I was hoping for!

We deflated our matresses, rolled our sleeping bags, and then organised our day bags, with the absolute necessities, like snacks and water. We carried about a litre each, and an extra litre in our Dad`s bag! We could drink some of the boiled water, but we didn`t want to take any risk of getting sick. The boiled water reach boiling point at about 86 degrees, and I was too scared of what would be still alive in there. We did get the opportunity to buy some water at the lunch points, but being in the mountains, we had to pay almost four times more!Still it was better buying this water, than carrying the weight, so remember to take some money with.

A good breakfast was served, and amazingly I was so hungry and devoured what was offered. We were layered for the day. It was cold! We wore our gloves and our Alpaca beanies, and I followed the white spooky smoke coming from my nostrils. We slowly headed for the white snow mountain, and for the first time we used our walking sticks.

We were zig zagging up the mountain, crossing streams, stopping at a small lake. Our breaths were burning in our lungs, but no one seemed to notice. It was breathtaking, walking among these mountains, climbing higher, reaching the summit of the one, only to start with the next.

We reached a spot among the over towering mountains, and got rid of our back packs immediately. It was shocking how heavy even our water bottles got. A little girl was standing close to her father, selling some gloves and warm scarves to a couple of people with red noses. I caught her eye, almost got a smile, and I walked over to her. I searched my pockets for my packet of cookies  received the morning for my snack. I got my smile, a wide white smile in her brown little face, clutching the cookies to her chest. Marco didn`t get a smile, maybe because he didn`t share his cookies....

Our guide got us together in a tight group, and took out this plastic bag full of green leaves, and the grey chalky stuff. He shared with us the ritual of chewing coca leaves!  He took his time, searching for three perfect leaves among all, and slowly walked away a couple of paces.  He put the three leaves together at their stems, and placed them under a little rock facing south. It was his offering to Mama Pacha! (Mother Earth!)

Then he turned around, and it was our turn. He folded a bunch of leaves together, and among them the chalky stuff. I read that the grey chalky stuff is some lime, the inside of shells, and by using that together with the coca leaves, helps to release the potent alkaloids to give you energy, and to help your red blood cells absorb the oxygen.

We all needed all the help we could get, and Johan and Srie chewed away, like old coca chewers. They gave us black and green stained smiles up the mountain. Even Marco placed a bundle of leaves between his teeth and his cheek, and together with his saliva the flavor and juice was released. He managed to keep this new strange taste in his mouth for quite a while, before he spit it out. He prefered the coca candy I bought him.

Very slowly we progressed, heading for the 4629 meters above sea level, Abra Salkantay,the highest point on the Trek. It felt as if there was just not enough air, and even though I tried to drew in the oxygen really deep, I didn`t know how much reached my lungs, and I didn`t know how much crept into my veins. All I knew was that nothing reached my legs! But I wasn`t the only one struggling, a young man from another group was literally putting one foot infront of the other, really suffering.

The mules were the champions, they were walking these trails knowing exactly where to put their hoofs. They were passing us every now and then, giving us the opportunity to take a deep breath.

Close to the summit, Marco`s lips turned white, and his Dad got him to take it slow. A couple of minutes later he was smiling again, and reached the summit way before us all!

It felt good to be on top, and so quickly I forgot about the steep walk, when I stood there without words. It was breathtakingly beautiful! I still have my little blue Instamatic camera, and I surely hope that my photos will share a touch of this beauty with you.


We found a quiet spot, dropped our bags, and enjoyed being close to the white of the clouds, and the heat of the sun warming our hands and faces.  The white snowy mountain was so close, Salkantay! The Mountain God! While I sat there I could understand how people could believe it to be a god!  I felt so small, but so lucky to be there. We sat there, hardly breathing, listening to the sounds of the mountain. Every now and then we could hear a cracking sound, the sound of ice moving, breaking, echoing in the depths....

And then I heard it! A flute? Was it part of this God Mountain? The gentle sounds filled the air, mixed with the green and blue colors of the huge glaziers. No one was moving. Our eyes and throats filled with emotion, tears of being here. Tears of being touched. Jabu, our guide was sharing his gift with us! Thank you, thank you, thank you...

Slowly we got up, building our own altar, with the grey rocks, one for each one of us, and one for all! We followed in the steps of the Incas, admiring the huge builders moved to create a 4m wide path. Apparently messengers were running these paths!

The decend began, and I don`t know which was easier. Our knees and toes were having a hard time, and the walking sticks came in handy just to keep your stride steady.

Marco was so full of adrenaline. He was right ahead of the group, and together with Gordon they had a great time. They were flying down the mountain. When he heard that lunch was ahead of him, it sped him up even further!

And then it happened! I lost my concentration for a second, and I kicked my big toe straight into a rock!  It hurt! And while still sulking I did it again, and this time I felt the nail, and it didn`t feel good!  Oh no! Now I am going to have a black big toe at Carnival in Trinidad next year! That was my one and only thought! I knew that I had to carry on, and that this toe can`t see day light now! It was still a couple of hours down this mountain. But between you and me, it was sore! I tried my best to kick my foot back in my shoe to take the pressure from my toe...

The scenery slowly changed to more jungle, with trees and shrubs, and water streams running from the mountain. It was still down hill all the time, and hours later we reached our camping site.

We reached the flat area on our way to food, and for me, on my way for taking my shoe off! Lunch was served in a tent, like royalty.

We were all so tired, that we just ate, and were looking for a place to sleep just for a while! Sarah, was also complaining about stomach cramps.

Johan and I found a spot, and I took off my shoe. It was not a pleasant sight, but I decided not to think about too much, and I strapped it tight with some pink plaster. But I couldn`t get my foot back in my shoe, and I had to embarrass my whole family for ever. I was going to do the rest of the Salkantay Trek with my brand new baby blue crocs! (Johan insisted that Marco and I bought ourselves a pair of these ugly things as extras!)  By now a big blister was appearing at my heel!

Just before dark we reached our tents, and sat down for a candle lit dinner. But soon the moths were circling the flame, and a little bit later the rain started pouring down in buckets. We all sat there holding thumbs that our tents would be rain proof!


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