Getting high the old fashioned way: Peru, Day 5

Friday, June 22, 2012, Paucarcancha, near the intersection of the Salkantay and Inca Trails, Peru

Good thing today is pretty much all downhill.

Last night got interesting. After the sun set, Mark, Alex, and I sat around in the dining tent playing cards, while the cook and porter made dinner. Mark had bought a bottle of Pisco (Peruvian Rum) in Cusco, and we broke that out. Well, one thing let to another, and  before dinner was over, it seems the entire bottle got consumed.

Of course, after that bottle was finished, well, then – it turned out this will be our last night with this particular small group – tomorrow, we will hit the Inca trail, and there we’ll join up with a larger group for the rest of the walk into Machu Picchu.  So this serves as a handy occasion to have a drink with the cook and porter that will be leaving us – but wait, we have already killed the bottle? No problem! Out of nowhere, Alex pulls another bottle out, and the next thing you know, we’re toasting again.

…and that bottle somehow got killed. By this time, Alex is pretty animated. I’m definitely feeling it, but I’ve been nursing my drinks a bit compared to Alex and Mark, so I’m better off. And Mark, well, Mark isn’t feeling a lot of pain. In fact, when he tries to get up to go the sleeping tent, he pretty much falls over. The cook and the porter grab him underneath the arms and half carry him, half drag him into the tent.

I follow pretty shortly, but between the booze, Mark snoring and thrashing around in the tent next to me, and the cold, it’s hard to get to sleep. And it is cold out there – despite what Alex said earlier, this is quite a bit colder than the previous couple of nights. I’m to the point of wrapping my lightweight down sweater around my feet, in my sleeping bag, to keep them warm enough.

Finally, around 3 AM, I doze off – only to be awoken an our later by an urgent message from my bladder: “We have to go, now.”  But it’s freakin’ cold out there! I’m going to have to wriggle out of my bag, find my cold boots in the dark, put my boots on, find the entrance to the tent, unzip, struggle out of the tent, walk a little ways away in the pitch black and cold, without stumbling over a rock or a pothole, do what I gotta do, and then reverse the process. What a pain.

Maybe if I just ignore the messages from my bladder, it’ll go away.

  • 3:10 – bladder to Nick – “Didn’t you hear me? We have to go.. Now.
    Nick to bladder – oh, go back to sleep. It’s cold out there.
  • 3:20 –  bladder to Nick – “You think we’re kidding about this? Now means NOW.”
    Nick to bladder – But, but.. its really not worth the effort. Let’s knap a while longer, K
  • 3:30 – bladder to Nick – “WE ARE NOT FOOLING AROUND HERE. NOW. NOW. NOW!”
    Nick to bladder – “oh, fer Pete’s sake.. OK”

Out of the sleeping bag, into the hiking boots. Grope around in the dark and find the tent zipper – don’t want to wake Mark (not that I really have to worry). There it is. OK, up and out. Damn, it’s cold out here.. Stumble around in the dark, trying not to turn an ankle in a pothole or a rock.

Is this far enough away? Guess so..  “Ahh.. are you happy now, bladder?”

Holy Sh*t! Look at the sky! I didn’t know there were that many stars in the southern hemisphere. There’s the milky way  clear as day. Nothing like being at 13,000 feet miles away from the nearest large light source, in clear mountain air.

I guess a small bladder is good for something.

After reversing the process and crawling, teeth chattering, back into the sleeping bag, morning comes way too early. At least it’ll be down hill most of the way today.

After breakfast, and packing up camp, we head down the trail, following a small river as it meanders down the a wide, rocky alpine valley.  The sun quickly starts to warm things up, and despite the lack of sleep it’s still a lovely day to be out here.

A couple of hours later we come across one of the few human habitations we seen out here – a ramshackle farmhouse that I’m guessing belongs to the farmer whose herd of alpaca we passed grazing a little earlier. Skirting the farmhouse and it’s attendant dogs, we stop for lunch on a small hill, the farmhouse behind us, a view down the valley in front of us.  From here we can see our first real Inca artifact – a canal, dug by the Inca, that runs straight as an arrow down the valley.

Lunch is chicken and potatoes cooked in “Andean Oven,” basically a hole in the ground in which a fire is built and a bunch of rocks are pushed in. When the rocks are red hot the fire is extinguished, the rocks pushed in on top, the wrapped food put on top of the rocks, and the whole thing buried. Half an hour later the heat from the rocks has cooked everything.

After lunch and a snooze in the sun (apparently no one got a good night’s sleep last night)… we’re back on the trail, heading down valley. Pretty shortly the terrain changes, from high-alpine rocky grasslands first to more lush shrubbery, then into deciduous trees.

About 4 that afternoon we wander into our campsite for the evening – Paucarcancha, which is overlooked by the first major Inca ruin we’ll see, called Incaraqay. This is our first campsite with any real infrastructure – a toilet and shower (though the shower is unheated, and since the water comes off the mountain basically in the form of melted snow it’s cold enough to take your breath away). There’s also a control station for the Inca Trail  – from here on we’ll have to have a permit to hike the trail and will have to check in at control points along the way. There’s also a small “store” selling a few provisions if you need anything like sunblock or water purification tablets. The air is warmer, and definitely more humid here, and the landscape closer in, lusher, more green and more verdant. With the warmth and humidity comes something less welcome – bugs. No see ‘ems are all around, and they bite. Time to break out the bug repellent. I’ll bet the general store sells that, too.