23 March 2015

Salkantay Day 2

5:30am, we were awoken to pouring rain and a nice hot cup of coca tea. As it was now daylight, it was easier to see the two mountains we were camped under: Umantay and Salkantay. After breakfast we headed off into the mud and rain. We all were wearing our bright green ponchos, and thus the rain stopped soon afterwards. Of course, the mud remained everywhere! Much of our hike was downhill. Our guide, Puma, pointed out local flora and fauna. He also took the time to tell us about local life and medical practices. Most fascinating of all were the uses of urine - everything from muscle soreness to washing hair!

Adjacent to the trail were a few local residences like the one pictured above. The building with the thatched roof would be used for guinea pigs and chickens. For warmth, the house has few windows, and the solar panel gathers enough electricity for a light or two. Behind this house was another building (not pictured) it was the local equivalent of a hospital/pharmacy. However, one does not see a doctor, it's just where locals treat and care for each other. They use natural remedies to cure most problems. Without access to modern medicine, the life span in this area is still 75 years old. I was quite surprised to learn this.

As we continued hiking, we saw locals working on the trails and even a few other tourists at a resort hotel that we passed. This area we were hiking through was known as the Cloud Forest. The vegetation is thick and lush and one begins to find more bugs and wildlife than in the upper reaches of the mountains. 

We had our lunch under a shelter in the small village of Colpapampa, at an altitude of only 9,087 feet (2770m). As we lunched, rain poured down, hitting the tin roof and stray dogs begged at our feet for some of the amazing food our chef had produced. Throughout the trek, I was always amazed by the quality and quantity of food served, especially given the "kitchen" conditions! 

After lunch, we said goodbye to our horsemen, Alfredo and Christobol. The horses would not be used to port our equipment any further. We would especially miss Alfredo and his infectious smile. Our planned route also deviated at this point. The rainy season in Peru is typically January - early March. During this time, less people hike and Alpaca Expeditions actually suspends treks in February. We were hiking at the tail end of the rainy season, and still it was raining a lot. Part of the trail we had planned to take was washed out due to mudslides, so we would have to go around via the road. We were also told that we would travel the first couple of km in a van with our porters. Off we set, 15 people in a 12 passenger van. The road we traveled was along the edge of the mountain. It was narrow, high up, unsaved and lacked guard rails. After about 15 min, we were dropped off to hike. Our porters remained aboard to travel the remainder of the way to our next campsite. 

However, less than 20 minutes later, we came upon our porters and the van, stopped at a bend in the road. Rounding the corner, we saw exactly why they were stopped, and why we too would have to stop. Water had washed out the road, and brown, powerful water was still rushing across it, destroying it further and depositing rocks (pebble sized to small boulder sized) everywhere. 

Honestly the sight was both scary AND amazing to behold. The driver and our porters were standing at the edge of the road, watching the water. We joined them. The water was powerful. A motorcyclist drove up and joined the group. Risking his life, he walked into the water with a shovel (where did the shovel come from?!??)to see if he could move rocks and fix the road to make it passable. Realizing the futility of his shovel, he walked back across. Luckily for him, he made it back to safety before the water sent massive amounts of rocks down from the mountain onto the road. The landscape of this washout was rapidly changing. As we watched the further destruction of the road, two men in hard hats arrived and shortly after their arrival, a backhoe appeared on the scene. 

The driver of the backhoe and the foreman assessed the scene. While they were doing so, a huge rock/landslide occurred, leaving in its wake a pile of rocks, 4-6 feet high. 

Once it was deemed "safe", the backhoe started to do its thing, moving rocks. Approximately 3 hours after we arrived, the road was "repaired". The standards of safety were not exactly on par with OSHA regulations, but it was to par with local standards. It was declared drivable. The reality was that water was still rushing across the road and washout, landslide or falling rocks could have happened at any point. Because it was after 5pm and we still had 3-3.5 hours of hiking ahead of us, Puma decided we would not hike, but rather ride with the porters to our campsite. Truth be told, I (and most of my fellow hikers) were terrified as water was still rushing over the road, and I know it doesn't take much to wash away a vehicle!

We made it and continued on the winding mountain roads. But not 15 minutes later, our vehicle was stopped again. This time we got out to clear fallen rock off the road. We cleared it, continued on. Not too long thereafter, we stopped again. All of the Alpaca staff got out, but we were told to stay in. More water was rushing across the road. The driver decided to drive through it, we wanted to get out, but the driver kept going. The water was faster and deeper than the first washout point. Once we got through, the driver pumped his arm in a motion that conveyed the expression of yeah! Made it!

The Alpaca staff walked through this water and got back in. We continued driving until we came to our fourth road issue. We had to drive across a wooden bridge, half of its guardrail was hanging into the ravine below. Luckily after that, the rest of our drive was uneventful and safe. Our campsite for the night was at Playa (7,217 feet / 2200m). We helped the porters set up camp when we arrived. Charlie, the 7th member of our trek (part of the group of 5 guys) had been sick in Cusco when we departed, so he joined us here. That evening we had the opportunity to take a hot (lukewarm for a minute, then ice cold) shower and relax a bit. Josè Cuervo came out, we laughed and enjoyed the evening. We also found out that the road we had driven in on, is one of the most dangerous roads in Peru. 

We didn't get to hike as far as we had hoped, we only covered about 10 of our 18km, but we did get to hike the most beautiful part of it. Quite a day! 

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