Across The Andes By Prog (Saturday 29 October)

I cannot remember if I mentioned we walked 7km yesterday.  It would be longer today.  I know I mentioned the sun.  It was pouring with rain when we woke up.  Still, that was bound to just be a short shower, and definitely the last rain of the holiday.  We were not yet into the rainy season.

Still waiting for the sun...

Still waiting for the sun…

Silvia appeared at 0600 with some coca tea.  I had already been awake for some time and was packed up and ready to go.  I had very quickly eased into a system of only unpacking what was necessary, keeping a dry set of clothing, and packing up as soon as I had finished using things like my Rab Alpine 600 sleeping bag (which was excellent, by the way, and ably assisted by the Rab silk sleeping bag liner).  Breakfast was at 0630, some very sweet bread with butter and strawberry jam, and then scrambled egg which contained bacon, onion, tomato and potato.  We would be marching on our stomachs after that.  And more coca tea.  We left camp at 0730, and had a clothing stop at 0750.  That’s the thing with changing weather and layers – if the weather changes too much then you find you are wearing too many layers, and the weather in Peru did have a tendency to change abruptly.  Again, I found myself very fortunate in this respect.  I had my choice of red Berghaus Argentinium base layers, and as it had been raining when we set off I had gone for red top number 2 (long-sleeved, with zip).  On top of that I wore my blue Fitzroy jacket from Mountain Equipment – both windproof and waterproof, and it kept me at just the right temperature even when the weather changed.  So I was able to keep it on when the rain stopped, and if I started to get too warm I just pulled the front zip down a little.

A walk with a view

A walk with a view

Silvia told us about some of the plants we were passing which the locals used for medicinal purposes.  We passed a boy and his dog.  The dog then followed us, and kept on following us for quite some time.  I half expected the boy to show up again at any moment.  Further along the trail we found two dead snakes (not together).  It was obvious they had been killed by humans, but they were not dangerous snakes, being the equivalent of our grass snakes.  Silvia told us that the locals were very superstitious and believed that if you did not kill a snake when you saw it then you would have bad luck.  They had said this to her before when she had seen a snake, but she was not aware she had suffered any bad luck as a result of not killing it.  It seemed to me that it was the snake getting all the bad luck going.  Andy felt differently, but it was becoming clear that Andy was not keen on live animals at all, and definitely not keen on horses or cows.  And that reminds me of the general reaction of the animals we encountered along the trail – they backed away from us, or moved off the trail into a position away from the direction we were heading, which was a different reaction to any animals I have encountered during my walks in the UK, when they will usually stand their ground with an air of total indifference, or make a move towards you.

I had eaten one of my Nakd bars as we walked, and was taking regular sips of my water from my one litre Sigg water bottles, attached to the waistband of my daypack by carabinas, which worked really well for keeping them available.  At 0930 we stopped for a snack break (and toilet break), still at 3600m.  As part of our snack for today we had been given a Canonazo bar – bamta banada rellena con crema sabor a chocolate – chocolate covered rice krispie and biscuit.  It was delicious.  After our stop we immediately went uphill, and then found ourselves walking alongside the water channels.

The water channels

The water channels

It was interesting because so much of the countryside around us could have been straight from the UK, but then you would look up and see that it was overlooked by towering mountains which could not possibly fit within a view of the UK, or there would be something like these remarkable water channels, mini-canals bringing the rushing water down in a controlled manner.  At 1040 there was another toilet break and I took the opportunity to eat another Nakd bar.  They are such a healthy snack (they are a ‘raw’ food), and taste wonderful – you can buy them at Holland & Barrett or Sainsbury’s.  Now we were walking along some tight ledges and narrow walkways, with some big drops below us.  It all seemed safe enough.  We crossed a bridge over a waterfall at 1130.

Looking down into the waterfall

Looking down into the waterfall

The banter within the group was excellent – it was quickly decided that Minstrels are better than Smarties.  And Silvia does not really like chocolate, but she likes Galaxy chocolate.

We could see down into the valley below, and there was a very splendid looking lodge.  I wondered if that might be where we were stopping for lunch, as Silvia had promised proper toilets.  Now I am beginning to make it sound as though we were obsessed with or fixated on such matters.  We really were not, but I think it was the one real culture shock to hit us, and especially the women within the group, because, let’s face it, it is not such a big deal for men.  We walked past the lodge.  In fact, the morning had turned into constant walking, and that was no bad thing as we had put together a good rhythm.

Possibly the best photograph I have ever taken

Possibly the best photograph I have ever taken

Helena was at the back of the group as we walked towards the farm which was our lunch destination, so I dropped back to walk with her and we arrived at 1320.  And they did have proper toilets.  Lunch had been prepared by our cook and assistant cook, who had packed up after us in the morning, and then passed us on the trail, and arrived in time to have everything ready for our arrival.  It started with asparagus soup and a bread roll, and continued with a diced salad of avocado, egg, carrot, beetroot, peas, green beans and cheese, with a side of cucumber and tomato.  There was pineapple juice to drink, and pudding was two pineapple rings.  The whole meal was delicious, went down very quickly and very well, and was selected because it was all easily digestible.  We bought some more water to keep our supplies topped up, and continued our walking at 1440.

The walk after lunch was harder.  It was a tough uphill climb, but I found it to be nothing which I could not handle.  My fitness work and trekking practice leading up to this was paying off.  I walked with Helena as we pushed along.  We passed another group as we were setting off, and then they passed us with their horses, and we got chatting to one of them.  Of course, her American accent prompted the question of where she was from, to which she replied “Germany”.  She had obviously been asked the question many times before and enjoyed the response to her answer.  It turned out her parents are German but she had managed to pick up a North Carolina accent from the few years she had spent there as a child.  She had quit her job before coming over to Peru and had a working visa for Australia, so it sounded as though she had a few adventures ahead of her – I hope they all go well.  Her group turned to the left at our camp, and we were going to be heading to the right.  We arrived at our camp, Salkantay pampa, to Silvia’s high-fives at 1610 and were now at 4200m.  It felt cold.

Salkantay pampa

Salkantay pampa

We had walked 12km today and I had a slight twinge in my left knee, but overall I felt brilliant, and we had a communal stretching session to warm us all down properly.  I have to say I was very excited at this point.  The camp was in a stunning location, a valley leading up to the base of a huge mountain, Salkantay (standing over 6200m high), the valley also flanked on both sides by mountains which seemed equally as huge, and even the entrance to the valley seemed to disappear into mountains we had left behind.  I quickly changed from my walking clothes into my dry set of clothing, put on my fleece hat, got my iPod Shuffle, then went for a walk around the area surrounding the camp.

UFO – Rock Bottom (live)
Riverside – Hyperactive
Von Hertzen Brothers – Gloria
Godspeed You ! Black Emperor – The Dead Flag Blues

So, having spent all day walking, why did I take a further walk around the area, rather than just looking from a comfortable seated location ?  Partly because I could.  I was able to just walk around at 4200m.  It’s not often you get to do that, and an added bonus was that I was still lucky enough to not be feeling any ill effects from being at altitude.  I could walk around with no difficulties and I was feeling absolutely brilliant.  Yes, feeling emotional, and brilliant.  I crossed the streams which were flowing on either side of the camp, and clambered over the rocks lying on the valley floor, and essentially just patrolled the perimeter – I was loving this place.  I watched the horses rolling about on their backs after their day bringing all our stuff to this camp.  They had taken a different route to us today, but it was still fascinating to consider that in most cases they would follow the same tracks as us.

Galahad – Empires Never Last

Silvia was out of her tent and I told her I had not been able to resist just walking around, seeing more of this location, and I think it would have been impossible for her to have not picked up on my enthusiasm.  This was all building to a day which I had already built up to a great extent in my mind, and it was all feeling perfect.

The 6200 metre Salkantay dwarfing the toilet tent

The 6200 metre Salkantay dwarfing the toilet tent

It was 1740 and the light was fading.  At 1800 we had tea – popcorn (the cinema sort) and biscuits with coca tea, and some hands of Chase The Jack.  Then at 1945 it was dinner – noodle soup with vegetables and some garlic bread, followed by chicken with rice, potato, carrots, peas and gravy.  Once again the cooks had excelled.  Of course, I drank coca tea.  I had to be ready for tomorrow.  At this point I had no idea what tomorrow would actually bring.  At 2030 it was time to head for the tents.  At this point I still had no idea what tomorrow would actually bring.

And in all my excitement I have forgotten the phrase of the day, chosen by Sally :

Donde le gustaria sentarse ?  Where would you like to sit ?

At some time after midnight but before 0230 I heard a scraping noise outside.  Someone was scraping something off the outside of the tent, and in my sleepy state I thought that could only be one thing.  When I got out of the tent for a trip to the toilet at 0230 my thought was confirmed – the ground was now covered with snow.  I now knew what the tomorrow had brought.

You can see more photographs from the day here.

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