Thursday, October 18, 2007

Crossing the Highest Pass

Day 7: August 28, 2007

High Andes

Got up at the crack of dawn as usual. Beginning to wonder if this is really even a vacation. Not so cold this morning (but don’t get me wrong, it’s still cold!) so the altitude is once again my biggest problem. No altitude pills or anything, they were all stolen. Coco told me what I had already suspected. In spite of the robbery, it was impractical to turn back. We had to go on and reach Ollantaytambo.

Had a bite or two of a pancake and a couple swallows of hot chocolate for breakfast. I can’t eat at these altitudes. Also this is a very different style of hiking than I’m used to. I don’t like long breaks for no good reason and I prefer to eat granola bars and peanut butter. Three course meals all the time slow me down. Isn’t the whole point of hiking to be on the trail? I feel like I spend all my time at meals just waiting for Coco to finish so we can hit the road again.

Anyway, the first part of today involved a climb through a 4,600 meter high pass. That was the highest point of the Lares trek. Made it ok. Great views from the top. We could see how steep the route we came up was and how steep it was on the other side. We were basically standing on a ridge line. On the other side of the mountain there was a medium sized lake surrounded on three sides by high mountains with glaciers. The glaciers are much smaller now than in the past, and some of them are almost melted away. Just goes to show that people should have woken up to global warming a lot sooner. After a brief break and a look around we went down the mountain and then over another pass, more like 4,300 meters. Then a lot of cruising through pampas grass covered highland hills. Saw lakes and glaciers from time to time. Lots of llamas, sheep, goats, etc. The animals graze all over the hills in flocks. They are both beautiful and calming.

The people who live in the Andes still live for the most part in primitive stone houses with thatch roofs made of grass. They are always filthy, both young and old, but they don’t seem to notice or mind. We would make small gifts to the children as we passed by – bread or pencils or clothes. Most people still wear traditional dress. Lots of bright red skirts and ponchos with fancy hats. Everything dusty. It’s quiet for the most part aside from the occasional bleating domesticated animal or the babble of a brook or small waterfall.

Made great time after lunch; downhill I’m fine and booked it faster than the guide seemed to want. Beat the porters by quite some time. Had I been left to my own devices I would have just continued on another two hours to Ollantaytambo, but instead we pitched camp on a farm on a soccer field where horses and donkeys were grazing. Up in the Andes the smell alternates between clean mountain air and large herbivore feces. After Davis, I’m ok with both smells so it wasn’t a problem. Seriously animal dung all over the mountains though. Saw a condor but not for long or very clearly. Really wish I had a change of socks/undies and my first aid stuff to clean/bandage my feet. Oh well.

There were some ruins of Inca houses near our tents so I explored them. Nothing exciting. The locals seemed to spend the afternoon whipping oxen to make them till a field. One of the oxen was recalcitrant and didn't seem to care about being whipped, he just didn't want to move. Further uphill, the people just do the tilling by hand with pickaxes. I still think it’s odd that only my tent was robbed and none of my rented equipment was taken, not even my walking stick which was outside and easiest to steal. Must investigate further. Ate both tea and dinner for a change. At 3500 meters I have a much better appetite than at 4000. Played some card games with Coco and did some riddles and puzzles with match sticks. I also found out Coco's nickname - Mata Gringos (aka, gringo killer). Lovely, just my luck. Good stars in the sky. Very bright and clear. Found some constellations including Scorpio, then went to bed.

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