We got into Cuzco tired (as usual) and curious as to the next chapter, the final chapter really, of our adventure. After we got settled into our rooms one of our guides for the tour (Carlos) came and introduced himself and told us what to expect. There was an element to the briefing that felt like he was saying, "Are you sure you want to do this? It's hard!" We expressed our excitement, regardless of how much we had to muffle our concerns. We went to town and bought a few things for the four day adventure (flashlights, snacks etc.). I tried to go to bed early, but my mind wasn't having any of that. So the morning came extra early.
We got into the van and began rounding up the other 18 or so from their respective hotels. The morning was cold and this validated my packing of almost exclusively cold weather gear. Cuzco was warmer than Puno (shit, Antarctica probably is) but I didn't know what the trek would entail and better safe...yada yada yada.
After we gathered the other trekkers we set off for a few hours up hill. We stopped briefly for breakfast, where we began to warm up our social skills and introduce ourselves a bit. It's a good group, friendly and excited. At first glance I suspect they're all Lance Armstrongs.
Eventually we get to the top of the mountain at 14,100 feet above see level. We're in a cloud and it's so cold my fingers can't move (and I need them for a thing called breaking). We eventually get all of our safety gear on and begin the 36 mile bike ride.
At first everyone is nervous and tense. What are we doing. The safety briefing was basically, "Don't be dumb and you'll live." Comforting. As we began to ride the wind on our hands stiffened our already cold and numb phalanges. However, the cold of our bodies relented to the magic of riding bikes through the Andes mountains. It's breathtaking! I want you all to have my eyes, because there is just too much to photograph or describe. The wisps of clouds linger around the peaks and lush jungle canopy and forest densely drape the landscape in all directions. Small waterfalls provide contrast and background music to the overwhelming aesthetic. As we descend, the sun begins to break through the clouds providing warmth and illuminating the already gorgeous scenery. Wow!
Dylan, who was perhaps the most nervous at the beginning expresses, "This is AWESOME!". Yes it is.
We take breaks every 10 miles or so we can take pictures and get a collective sense of how everyone is doing. I'm cruising. I'm having no problems with this ride and I'm loving it.
As we get slightly past halfway, there is a small stream that is crossing the road. I make the brilliant decision to try and do a little bunny hop with the bike to avoid some of the water spray. I'm going a little too fast and a little to sideways when I make this decision. The bike slides out from under me and zooms to the edge of the road and then into the cement drainage. I tumble, roll and stand up, slightly skinned up and bruised. I'm okay! Whew, that was dumb. And I was worried about Dylan...
My confidence is slightly rattled and my bike isn't as tuned as it was. I continue the ride with a much slower pace and with less unhinged joy in my heart. At the bottom, we all share how awesome it was and large smiles and bright eyes have taken over everyone's faces. It's a great start to the day.
We get shuttled off to a restaurant for lunch. Chicken, rice and french fries...this will become a motif.
After lunch, those who signed up for rafting follow their guide. The rest of us (the majority) head of for a "little" hike to our cabin.
The description of this hike leads us to believe it will be 45 minutes or so of tromping around. I guess that would be the case if you're a sherpa. This hike is so vertical that it seems like we should be using ropes and harnesses. It is NOT no problem. This is definitely a problem. There are approximately 1 million switchbacks up the hill. Each one seems to require a short breather. About half way up we get to a house where we can rest a minute. Luckily, there is a monkey fucking a bear and that entertains us for 10 minutes while I get my breath back. Also, turkeys and ducks walk around looking at us like we're foreigners. Smart ass turkeys. Waite till November bitches.
We continue our 1 million switchback hike straight up hill. I fall behind a bit and get confused at a fork in the road. I was taught if you come to a fork in the road, take it. Well, I take the wrong path. I realize this quickly though and return to take the other wrong path. Through the process of elimination I get righted and Carlos finds me. I'm out of breath and somewhat daunted by the difficulty of this hike. He is so cool! He asks me, "Do you have to be somewhere later?" Knowing I didn't I began to relax and understand that my pace was fine. After what seemed like forever, we get to the little villa where we will stay (who builds a house here?) I have an acute case of runners high. I am overjoyed! My smile is as big as the Andes and I feel like a super-hero. Dylan is wound up like an 8 day clock. Everyone is his friend and he's working his 9th grade A material on these people. They are so polite and nice. He's probably a little high too.
After a couple of hours, the rafters show up. It's dark and they had the same hike, but without the pleasure of seeing in advance how fucking high and far they'd be hiking. There is some chatter about the hike but most agree, we feel great!
After dinner we are given a history of Quechua (multiple spelling options) and their religion. It's a nice story about the moon and the sun and their divorce and how the coyote got mixed up in the middle. Everyone is tired though and attention spans are thin. Eventually the story ends and there is a mad dash to bed. Tomorrow, 6 plus hours of hiking the Inka trail. (they keep saying it's the easy day). Ugh!
Viva mas amigos