Inca Trail Day 2: Operation Touch the Nipple

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
Trip End May 04, 2007

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Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Bunking with Justin has been tons of fun so far. He is very easy going, and we had a great time last night watching part of "The Beach" (a movie made from a book about backpacking in Thailand for those who are not familiar--very apropro!) on his ipod. We were both exhausted and quickly passed out around 9:30. I woke up at 2:30 am, hot and sweaty, and tossed and turned for hours as the rain poured down on our tent and kept me awake. Thankfully, the rain stopped before we received our 6 am wake up tea (I thought Efrena was joking last night about waking us up with hot cups of tea, but he wasn't!) and had to pack and emerge from our warm tents for our 6:45 am breakfast. Breakfast was awesome--hot porridge, pancakes with fresh tropical fruit, toasted bread, and coffee. The porridge was made with quinoa, the "Inca grain," which is quite popular in
hippie-ville hometown Santa Cruz but with which not too many of my trek-mates
were familiar.

After packing up, we met our 19 porters and our cook. As I said before, they are mostly in their early twenties but there is one man who is 58! So impressive. And I suppose disturbing as well. He, as well as all the others, are incredibly sweet, professional, and so strong! I am beyond impressed. Peru Treks seem to treat them quite well too, which is of course very important. I can't even tell you how many Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum threads I have read about porter abuse, which companies are better in that respect, etc. After the porters introduced themselves in Spanish or Quechua, we all introduced ourselves in Spanish (or at least most of us attempted to), said a little bit about ourselves, and shook hands before setting off for the trail.

Today's hike consisted of climbing 1100 meters up to Dead Woman's pass (aka "the nipple") and then descending down a billion very steep, slippery and narrow stone steps down to our campsite, Paqaymayu (3500 m). Here is a nice diagram of what we were about to tackle , and a shot of me in front of the entire trail diagram. Don't I look psyched?! We left around 7:45 am, stopped at our second passport control (where those pictures were taken), and then did an hour of heavy duty climbing before our first snack and bathroom break at Tres Piedras (3350 m). The hike itself was harder of course, but it was much easier for me since all I had was my fanny pack and bottle of water. I was SO much more comfortable, even with my blisters. After our break, we hiked for another hour, almost all up massive stone steps. The scenery was a bit different--more humid, very lush (we were in a forest for part of the time), and there was a small river and some waterfalls. I was definitely out of breath, but I got into a groove and was the first one to make it to our lunch spot, Lulluchapampa (3850 m), around 10 am. Yes, a bit early for lunch but it was either stop now or keep going until we got to our campsite so our tour guide chose the former.

There was a huge difference in the weather today compared to yesterday. Whenever I was not walking (and even when I was at times) I was FREEZING and wishing I had brought my scarf and hat. It started pouring just as we entered our lunch tent, and we were all feeling quite fortunate to have had such precision timing once again (I am laughing bitterly at that statement right now). We enjoyed another tasty lunch of hot soup, beef and veggie stir-fry, spring rolls, veggie burgers, apple pie, and tea. I overate at breakfast and overate once again at lunch (so hard not too when the food is so good and when you are like me and just eat if food is in front of you, regardless of whether you are hungry or not). Needless to say, I was not feeling super energetic when it was time to start climbing again at 12:30 pm, especially since the rain was still coming down in buckets. I wish we had pressed on to the campsite, since it only took me two and a half hours to get there from the lunch spot. I was moving very quickly though, especially at the end when I was dying to get out of the rain and practically running down the mountain.

I walked with Justin after lunch, which was very enjoyable despite the freezing rain, wind, and difficulty of the hike. It took an hour to reach Dead Woman's Pass, and the hike primarily consisted of very steep stone steps (like most of the Inca trail). Here is a view of the trail curving around the mountain from about halfway up to the pass and a picture of where I was headed . We also encountered some llamas (or alpacas, can never tell the difference), looking at us curiously as they completely blocked our path and refused to move. Later on, during a steeper section, a llama came stampeding down the path towards us, practically pushing us off the mountain. Damn llamas. They really are evil animals.

I was pretty bummed about the rain. I was completely soaked--damn "gortex" jacket and supposed waterproof poncho and pants! I think at a certain point nothing except for rubber keeps you dry. It was just really sad to get to Dead Woman's Pass, our first and highest pass, and to barrel on over and down the mountain instead of celebrating as a group for having completed the "toughest"
part of the trek. It would have been nice to chill for a bit to appreciate the beautiful
views, but there was
nothing to see but pure white and the rain was coming down in sheets.  The weather also made it incredibly difficult to take pictures. My camera was pretty soaked despite being in its little case that I made for it and being underneath all of my "waterproof" layers, so I didn't want to take it out (and couldn't get to it very easily anyway). When I did take pictures the lens got rain drops all over it and of course my cleansing cloth was somewhat dirty and wet so cleaning it was not very productive. Nevertheless, I did take a pretty nice video just before reaching the top (featuring a lovely shot of the nipple, Justin, and one of the porters passing us) .

Although slightly disappointed, I was in fairly good spirits thanks to Justin. We had a great time joking, singing (great acoustics, on the way down at least), and being silly. Originally, Justin and I had planned on doing the extra fifteen minutes of climbing to reach the nipple (that part of the mountain was off to our left), but the rain was coming down with increasing force and we still had 1 1/2 hours to go so Operation "Touch the Nipple" was quickly aborted. However, we did hang out at the pass long enough to take some pictures. Here is one of me in my poncho in front of our *gorgeous* view looking like a starfish. Also, I had to wait for Justin as he was having some stomach trouble and had to use the there was none, he had to partially climb up towards the nipple. So I guess he got to "touch" the nipple after all (or at least leave his mark). It was hilarious--he was quite proud of the fact that he "shat on the nipple" and shared this with the entire group. They were all thrilled to receive this information, as you can imagine! :)

The last 1 1/2 hours of hiking was very treacherous, as it was mainly more narrow and steep stone steps which were extremely slippery in the rain and very hard on my knees. I was SO thankful that I decided to bring two walking sticks and had my mom's boots. I did not slip (although had a few close calls) and my boots were so thick and heavy that I did not feel the rocks all that much. I saw people walking in running shoes and was seriously afraid for them. The last hour or so I basically ran down the mountain, as it was raining SO hard and I was soaked to the bone and freezing, and arrived at the campsite around 3 pm. The thought of a dry tent and our 4:30 pm tea time certainly gave me some inspiration!

I crashed in my tent as soon as I arrived, soaked and not really sure what to do with myself, my wet muddy boots, or all of my other wet items that I would inevitably have to put on for teatime, dinner, and the following freezing morning (read: NOT FUN. Absolutely excruciating in fact). I managed to set aside a pair of socks, a sweater, two pairs of long underwear bottoms and a top, my fleece and a sleeveless shirt in my pack so that I would have some dry things to change into (for aspiring Inca trail trekkers, it is VERY important to keep a set of dry clothes, as nothing dries at altitude, especially if it is pouring nonstop as it was in this case, and it is beyond freezing the second night), but of course I only had one pair of pants that I had worn and even with all of my clothes on I was SO cold. Furthermore, we arrived at the campsite fairly early, so we had all this free time to explore the surrounding areas, take in the views, mingle with the other trekkers, etc but could not do any of these things since it was still raining...and raining...and RAINING. UGH!

After tea time, we had two hours to kill before dinner. I was feeling kinda sick to my stomach (too much chocolate, popcorn, and empanadas at teatime--punishment for being such a piglet!) and was (surprisingly) dying to walk it off a bit. The rain had let up slightly so Justin and I took a spin around the neighboring campsites, only to return five minutes later when the rain started up again. Everyone was hiding in their tents anyway. So much for that. We instead headed back to the meal tent, where our guides and some of the porters were playing cards, more specifically "Cabeza de mierda" or "Shithead." Justin and I snagged Paul's (the Irish guy) cards to keep ourselves busy. I hadn't played cards in ages--since music festivals in high school in fact--and had forgotten all of the games I used to know so well. Efrena taught us how to play shithead, and we played two rounds. Justin won both, but it was SO close and I WOULD HAVE won had Efrena not been coaching him towards the end, when I only had a few cards left and he had half the deck.

I felt increasingly sick after dinner, as I was an idiot and once again ate a ton of food when I was already feeling terrible. We finished up around 8 pm, and when Jubinal told us we could hire an unofficial porter for the third day if we wanted to I caved and gave him my 60 soles. I felt like a total wimp once again, but today was so wonderful, at least in terms of not having to carry all my stuff, and tomorrow is our longest day--18 km instead of 12 km of hiking, which translates into about 8 hours of hiking. I am praying that the weather will clear (even though we are going through the incredibly humid cloud forest) and that I will be able to appreciate what is apparently the most beautiful day of trekking.

Since it was still pouring, Justin and I went straight back to our tent. We sang along to songs on his ipod (not enough battery power to finish "The Beach" sadly) and had a great time serenading our neighbors--American and Australian idol as Heather (the Canadian) put it. We finally crashed around 9:30 pm. It had been a long, tiring day, and we had an even longer one ahead of us!
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