What can I say about Day 2? It is the hardest day of the trail. It is the most rewarding day of the trail. It's they day I didn't think I would survive. It's the day I am most proud of. It's the day our probably bored and frustrated tour guide, Nestor, showed the patience of a saint. It's the day my friend, Michelle, showed she knows me well, she knew when to be encouraging and when to shut up. It was painful, frustrating, long, everything I was afraid of, amazing, spell-binding, exhilarating and everything I dreamed off.
We were woken up bright and early by the porters at our tent door with mugs of hot coca tea and basins of hot water to wash. Neither Michelle or I slept well last night. We were both nervous about today. Yesterday was hard on both of us, and we weren't sure we would survive today. Not to mention both guides, Lizandro and Nestor, are also concerned about how slow we are. Both of us had knots in our stomachs and made ourselves eat breakfast, so we at least had some fuel in us. Breakfast was actually delicious, as were all our meals. We had a selection of fruit, yoghurt, bagels and then pancakes. The fruit had strawberries in it and has I had no desire to had hives to my day, I was given a plate of baby bananas just for me.
By 6:30 am we were on our way. Because we had camped further along than most groups last night, we already had a head start for the morning's climb. I am glad we did that extra 3km yesterday. It would have made this morning extremely hard as opposed to really hard.
We mainly hiked in silence this morning, stopping for lots of rest breaks, water breaks, photo breaks, and let the porters pass, basically any reason to stop. Last night our campsite was at 3300m, and our break stop today was Llulluchapampa at 3850m. But we ran into our first llama just as we came into the Llulluchapampa. Literally ran into it. Michelle came around a bend and it was right there, right in front of her, not at all concerned that she was there.
At the rest stop we caught up with the rest of our group, who had waited about 30-40 minutes for us. We used the washrooms. Yep that requires a whole sentence or two or four. Do you know how difficult it is to use a squat toilet after you have just hiked uphill for 2 hours? The last thing your legs want to do is hold a squat position. All those squats at bootcamp payed off. It was also our last chance to shop. I'm not kidding. There was a stall where you could buy water, coke, Inka cola, and wine and rum and beer. I really wish I'd taken a photo. It was quite something to see. And the ladies were doing a brisk business.
Okay so we knew that this next part would be the hardest. This is the climb to Warmihuanusca or Dead Woman's Pass. At 4200m it's the highest we will go. Everything said it would be hard...wikipedia, our tour company's website, Lonely Planet, our guides Lizandro and Nestor, everything and everyone...
- This climb is known as the most difficult part of the Inca Trail
- Biggest challenge of the trek
- Leaves many a seasoned hiker gasping
We loaded up our water bladders, put our packs back on and started up the trail. Well Michelle and I did. Nestor stayed behind to talk to some guide/porter buddies. We could look back and see his bright yellow top for quite some time. I think he gave us about a 30 minute head start but caught up in 10! He's fast when he's not babysitting us up a mountain. The worst part? We could see the pass that we were headed for, we could also see the trail leading up to it, and it never appeared to get any closer. For the first half we both did okay, sure we were slow, we were taking lots of breaks, we were coughing and we were definitely short of breath but we were plodding along.
Then, well then things didn't go quite so well. I was slightly dizzy, it felt like someone was dancing on my chest, and not light on your feet ballet dancing more boot scooting, line dancing kind of dancing, and the stones on the path were shimmering. I could deal with that, I did once or twice ask Michelle "whose bright idea was this', and 'where's my llama ?" and "I don't know about this" and I think there was one but only one instance of "@#$%^&*()_+=".
Nestor was distracting us both by telling us about the flowers, the plants, the history of the area, the history of the Incas, his family farm and more. The guy is a wealth of knowledge, if I hadn't been hiking a mountain I would have written it down. He theory was actually working, he is very interesting to listen to. But then I started to feel nauseous. Apparently I didn't look to great because everyone on the trail had a piece of advice...
- take it slow, umm if I was going any slower I'd be going backwards
- drink water, that was part of the problem our water had electrolyte tablets in it, and I couldn't stomach the taste of it
- suck on a candy it will stop the dryness in your mouth. Do you have one? Ah he did, and he gave me two.
- drink coke. I did. It helped a little, something to do with the sugar and caffeine.
- take a rest. Oh I have been, if we rest anymore we won't finish this until next week
- keep going, not much further. You do realise I can see exactly where I need to go?
And then, and then I threw up. Sorry for the gory details, deal with it. Everytime I had a sip of water, it came right back up. Those candies? Same thing. Oh it was not fun. Michelle and Nestor stayed with me every step of the way, every cough, every upchuck. They were awesome. Nestor gave me some coca leaves to suck on. With very strict instructions to put them in your cheek and suck, don't swallow them. You swallow them and that will be bad. We will have to take you hospital to take your stomach out. I think he meant the equivalent of have my stomach pumped, not to actually have my stomach removed. So I sucked coca leaves the rest of the way to the top.
General consensus says it takes 2 - 3 hours to hike from Llulluchapampa to Warmihuanusca. According to the time stamps on my photos it took us from 8.56am to 11:57am. That's 3 hours and 1 minute! We were on the outer limits of the time but we did it.
From our tour companies website I quote "From the top of this pass you will be privileged with spectacular panoramic views. From this pass you can see your journey and admire your achievements." And we did. Despite feeling like crap for the last 2 hours, making it to the top felt awesome, and the views were outstanding. The high fives and the hugs from Michelle and Nestor made me cry. Not the 3 hours of hiking, not the 2 hours of feeling crap, not the hour of throwing up, nope didn't cry through any of that. But hugs from Michelle and Nestor? That made me cry. Nestor is going to be so glad to see the back of us when we finish this.
The rest of our group had already continued on, they were about an hour a head of us. So we didn't take too long a break at the pass. We took some photos, maybe a video or two, shortened our poles and started the trek down the other side of the pass. What, you thought getting to the top of the pass meant we were done for day? Oh no. Not so much. We still had to get down to the lunch site, then up a second pass and then down to the campsite. All before dark. We set off down the big stone steps at 12:10pm. Only 13 minutes after we arrived gasping for breath. Not bad. We recover quick.
The steps were easier than I expected. I guess after climbing up the pass anything else was going to be easy. I don't remember how long it took us to hike to the lunch site - Pacaymayo. A lot of other groups were stopping and camping here for the night but it was just a lunch site for us. And our group had waited for us. We thought they would have eaten and moved on, but they didn't. That was nice of them. Also Lizandro had sent a porter back to help us, he took my day back which helped quite a bit.
Lunch was... I don't know. I never got to eat it. I had been feeling much better as we came down to camp, I was even hungry but I could only stomach the soup then I had to leave the dining tent and go lie down. Lizandro brought me water with electrolytes in it, and tea and made sure I was okay. Nestor told me not to sleep because that would not be good. I rested while everyone else ate lunch. The rest of the group left right after lunch, Michelle and I took another 10 minutes or so. We had both Nestor and Lizandro with us. Lizandro said he wanted to walk slow for a while, that the speedy French couple were two fast. But we figured he wanted to stay with us and make sure we were okay before he left to catch up with everyone else. So much for wanting to walk slow but we certainly appreciated the concern. Just before he left us, he bribed me with wine. Yep, make it to camp and there will be wine waiting for you. He even took it out of his backpack to show me. He's carrying a glass bottle or two of wine up the mountain and I'm struggling with 2 litres of water in a water bladder. Pfft.
We had one more pass to hike up this afternoon. Runkurakay pass. Nestor continued to chat to us almost all the way up. He cut some reeds off and told me how they are used to make rope for bridges and how they are used for roof tops. We stopped for about 20 minutes at the Runkurakay ruins. I really wish I'd recorded what nestor said, or at least written it down because now I can't remember half of it.
- Inca is actually the title given to the king, not the name of the culture
- the Quechua people believe in duality - man and woman, night and day, sun and moon
- and trilogy/triads - mother earth, the sun god, apus (mountain gods)/ do not lie, do not steal and do not be lazy/Condor, puma, serpent
- this site was probably a resting place for runners in a relay system of passing messages
- The Inca and the Quechua did not right anything down, much has been lost to history
- Place names are relatively recent because the original Inca names are not known. Many names like Runkurakay are mispellings because the Quechua name was misheard by explorers like Hiram Bingham
Here he also showed us how to weave or braid the reeds to make rope for bridges or for roof tops. We started to get cold so we needed to move on, or we could have listened to Nestor for much longer.
After the left Runkurakay it took another hour to get to the top of the last pass for the day. Michelle powered on ahead but I struggled for the last 30 minutes. The dizziness and nausea returned which slowed me down again. Michelle and Nestor waited for me at the top of the pass, and congratulated me with hugs again.
Then it was right on down hill. By now it was close to 5pm and we still had quite a way to go before camp. We were in danger of having to hike in the dark. We passed more Inca ruin and the sun started to set. The valley was all shades of pink and orange. It was spectacular. Lizandro sent porters out to meet us with torches but we were actually faster in the dark. Don't ask why.
When we finally made it to camp, not only was our tent up (the porters pitch the tents) but our sleeping mats were inflated for us. Lizandro met us at our tent with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate and a plate of animal crackers. Animal crackers have never tasted so good.
We had about 30 minutes or so to have a wet wipe shower, and change into camp clothes and then it was time for dinner. Having not eaten much all day, I inhaled dinner. Soup, rice, potatoes, chicken, tomatoes and a big glass of the promised wine to finish it off.
Bed. Bed has never been so welcome. I took 2 tylenol in anticipation of some knee or ankle pain and smothered by dodgy knee in analgesic balm. The advantage of hiking so slow? No major joint or muscle pain. Although I did lose two toenails. Probably from going down hill and down the stairs, my feet were ramming against the front of my boots. That is the one disadvantage to hiking in Blundstones...they have no laces, you can't tighten the front laces to prevent your foot from sliding forward. Technically I only lost one total nail, half the nail on my left big toe and half the nail on my right big toe. Ooops.
We survived. Dare I say, we actually enjoyed Day 2. It was the worst day of the Inca Trail and it was the best day. It was worth every scratch, every lost toenail, every painful breath, every keep going, every you can do it, every panoramic view, every hug from Nestor, every hug from Michelle, every sucked coca leaf, every mouthful of gastrolyted water, every animal cracker and every piece of information that will one day help me win trivial pursuit.