Friday, April 11, 2008

Choquequirao 3

Having visited Choqueruirao, the intrepid trekker still faces the return trip along the same trail, that being the only access route. Guide Eber and I left first to start descending to the river some 1400 vertical meters below. Hiking up that trail was brutal (brutal I say) but hiking down is just as bad, for different reasons. Not the lungs but the knees are protesting mightily against such abuse.

Pinky the campsite dog says good morning

After crossing the river we had to trek up the facing mountainside to get to the campground. This side was directly exposed to the sun. I added another layer of sunscreen to my 3-day unshowered shield of chemicals (DEET, sunscreen, mud, and sweat) and on we went. As soon as the trail started heading uphill, steeply, my mouth dried out within seconds. I kept drinking little bits but my water supply dwindled rapidly. There was no shade to hide from the sun, and the heat emanating from the dusty rocks made for a double whammy.

Immediately upon staggering into the camp site (the one where we had camped two nights earlier) I bought the good man´s supply of Fanta and water and rested under a nice shady tree while others trickled in. Gradually a story transpired to the effect that our guide Guido had entered a traditional competition with the other group´s guide Felix, where one races each other down the mountain after having a beer. Felix had won the contest, partially because Guido turned out not to be able to hold his liquor. He was drunk out of his skull and it was astonishing that he could even walk, let alone hike down that mountain. He behaved quite obnoxiously for the remainder of the day, even after Felix had tried to sober him up by putting him under a cold shower at the camp site.

I took a cold shower there as well. My first shower in over 3 days! All three groups then decided to hike up to the next camp site as it was still early in the afternoon. That was another vicious hike, but mercifully short by comparison, only taking 1 - 1½ hours (or 51 minutes as the case may be). There we all lounged in the sun, admiring a fantastic view of the mountains and the river valley way down below. We all agreed that what was needed was a piña colada.

Thus far all the drinks that our guides had served us were either tea or hot juice, because the water is unsafe to drink so it needs to be boiled first. So, little chance of that piña colada then. But lo, guide Eber pulled a rabbit out of his hat. He had a carton of pineapple juice! We all shared this new gift of the heavens. The universe had answered our request.

My accidentally striking a certain pose for a candid picture at sunset led to my being dubbed "Taytay Orjo", Quechua for "God of the Mountains". The Taytay Orjo then mercifully made the Sun disappear, because for centuries mankind has yearned to destroy the Sun.

Taytay Orjo

As the stars gradually appeared, what did I spot just above the horizon? The Southern Cross constellation! I crashed Jennifer and Jenny´s dinner because their guides served them something that looked delicious, but that Jennifer couldn´t eat because she´s a vegetarian. Thus enjoying a joint dinner a certain challenge was issued. The groups had discussed the starting time for tomorrow´s hike. Our group wanted to start at 7, but the others wanted to leave at 5:30 to avoid the Sun. It was conjectured that with the 1½ hour start I would still catch up with them. The race rules were thus drawn up: the others would start at 5:30 punto, on the dot, and I would start at 7 punto.

One can imagine that punto has a slightly different concept in the Andes than it does in northern Europe or north America. The other group´s 5:30 punto became 6:20, and my 7 punto became 7:35. We affectionately dubbed this "punto Inca".

Being Taytay Orjo I then decreed that there shall be no Sun hindering me on this trail pursuit, so it remained cloudy and foggy the whole day. Not distracted by any visible scenery I hiked up the trail at breakneck speed, aided by my phone mp3 player´s supply of The Who and Crystal Method. I passed mule caravans and local peasants as if they were standing still -- which most of them indeed were, letting me pass in bewilderment. At the summit pass I caught up with Elizabeth and Sophia, but pressed immediately on to catch Jennifer and Jenny. After all, there was a piña colada riding on this.

All that remains after the pass is those 11 innocent kms gently sloping down. I actually jogged down the mountain and gloriously caught up with the leaders at km marker 8. We hiked the remainder together with guide Felix. We even had a little picnic with some sort of citrus fruit that Felix had with him, and almonds that Jenny passed around. Fruits and nuts, now those are my kind of basic food groups! All I needed was some lemonade to top it all off.

Having arrived back in the village of Cachora I was invited to come over to the girls´ hostel pending the arrival of my own group. There I took a nice shower and, when asked for a bebida fresca, what did the hostel owner uncork? Yes, some lemonade. The universe had once again made things happen.

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