Friday, December 25, 2009

Lluvia de Muerte

We left Aguas Calientes with high spirits.  We had just had an incredibly lucky day, spending some time alone in one of the most populated ruins in the world.  We walked the tracks back to the hydroelectric plant with a skip in our step, feeling that nothing could stop us.  When we arrived at the plant, there was one combi (small bus), in the process of leaving.  And although it was completely full, the driver stopped when he saw us coming and got out.  He yelled arriba, arriba! (up, up!) and gesticulated wildly into the air.  This could only mean one thing - we were going to ride on top of the bus.  Five minutes later, we were wedged comfortably between our backpacks and sacks of potatoes, with sweet cool air rushing by.  As our road weaved by the raging Andean river to our left, I thought to myself: this is why I came to Peru.

Upon arrival to Santa Teresa, we asked the driver if there were any colectivos (shared taxis) to our starting village of La Playa.  He said no, but that he could take us for 50 soles.  More than our normal price, but seeing as it was Christmas Eve and he'd probably have no passengers for the return journey, it seemed fair.  We agreed and, after driving us to a house where we could buy some ridiculously fresh and cheap bread (20 sandwich rolls for 4 soles, about $1.50), he proceeded to round up his entire extended family to go along for the ride.  As we left town, he turned to me and said "Para peso" ("for weight") - apparently the road was steep and he needed more traction.  Suddenly 50 soles seemed like even more of a deal.

The family appeared delighted to take the journe, and gave our Spanish a test as we headed up the valley.  They also liked us quite a bit, it seemed, seeing as they tried to hook David up with not one but two of the sisters.  An hour or so later we reached La Playa, said our goodbyes, and found somewhere we could camp for free.  After a nice dinner, we used our trekking poles and our combined knowledge of knots to set up a freestanding tarp.  It was a pretty neat structure, kept us dry that night, and I'm quite proud of it.

We fell fast asleep under our plastic shield, and, apart from a dog insistent on getting in, had a restful night under rainy skies.  We awoke to dry weather, but our luck was soon to change.  After a frustrating encounter with a store-owner who didn't seem to get the concept of toll-free phone cards, we decided to hit the trail rather than wait for a combi, which might not even run on Christmas day.

There are two routes out of La Playa - the road and the trail, on opposite sides of the river.  Choosing to take the trail was the biggest mistake we made in Peru.  The village of Totora, our destination for the day, was already about 1400 meters higher than La Playa, and the trail didn't make that any easier as it weaved continuously up and down to avoid cliffs and other obstacles, adding hundreds of meters to our climb for the day.  I recall this being the worst walking of my entire life.  It was raining, I was hungry, and our trail couldn't seem to keep itself level for more than a couple of feet.  To make matters worse, we had frequent views of the gently climbing road across the river.  When we finally did stop for lunch, though, I had what I can confidently say were the best PB&Js I have ever eaten.

David walking on probably the flatest part of the trail.  As you can see, he's wearing his rain pants with no shirt - a style that we both adopted for this day, and a very comfortable one for rainy days that are too warm for a rain jacket.  Even better would've been to wear my rain pants with no shorts underneath, which I did on every other day of the hike.

Shortly thereafter we made it to the confluence of the rivers Santa Teresa and Totora.  After crossing the river we walked up a ways until we encountered this:

I walked up to the edge and looked down, of course, and this is what I saw:

Yup.  100 feet straight down to the raging River of Death (RoD).  Looking back, we saw an alternate path, clearly very new.  Though slippery with mud and very exposed, it led up the hillside to the village of Ccolcopampa, from which we could continue the trail.  With Totora reportedly just two hours away, we headed out on what was one of the prettiest sections of the trek, with many waterfall crossings and sheer drops.  The rain even let out for us, putting a nice end to a rough trek.

Upon arrival in Totora, we found a family that would let us sleep on their floor for 2 soles, and eat meals for 8.  We decided to stay there the next day to recover, and since we didn't have enough soles on us to pay for every meal, we cooked up some ramen with tuna for the night.  After dinner we began to drink with the guys (it was Christmas after all) and found out they had a guitar.  David played a few songs, and I played Rocky Racoon (of course!) to mixed reviews.  We passed out in our sleeping bags on the floor and slept well into the morning, drifting briefly into consciousness for the call of the rooster.

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