(My offering to Apus)
The following morning was much warmer when the cooks tapped on our tents. What followed was soon to be a daily morning ritual, cups of hot cocoa tea in our tents (for energy and to help our bodies adjust to the altitude) followed by a carbo-loaded breakfast (food was okay, much better than what we ate in Cuzco). Actually I guess you can't call it a ritual if it only happens three times. With our bodies rested from the previous day's brutal climb and the sun halfway up the sky we finally took in all the scenery around us. Something you can afford to do when your body isn't busy shivering trying to keep you from freezing to death.
While everyone packed for the day's hike, I ran over a nearby ridge to our 'toilet', a small vertical tent pitched over a hole. Brought me back to the days of Loveboat when everyone on the trip did their best to avoid the squatters so prevalent in Taiwan. The zipper to the tent was broken and I would have allowed the flaps to fall, baring my incredible squat position to the mountains, horses and birds if not for the hikers camping half a mile back. At the end of the previous day when Kevin and I were somewhat delirious, we started getting excited and walked towards the first pitched tent we saw before Lynn's horseman pointed in the direction of our camp ground. So as I stood with my hiking pants around one ankle hovering over the open earth I knew exactly where the other group was and at that moment I was sure they were doing what we were doing. Packing up and making their way towards the path right by our campsite. As luck would have it, I was done way before the other group made their way towards us. In fact we were halfway up the trail before we spotted any of them coming over the ridge towards the pond.
With Siete Culebras (the switchback from hell) and the Soirococha pond (our campground) behind us, Enty warned us that the first hour of the day would be just as tough as the day before. Properly warned, everyone was mentally prepared as we tightened up our straps and followed Enty up the trail avoiding horse droppings and rolling our ankles on the rocks with every step. With the knowledge that the hike up would only take an hour or so, we were in good spirits even if we were breathing a bit hard. At the highest point of our trek (4600m) is a pass known as Apacheta by the locals. Here the locals and tourists offer cocoa leaves (covered by soil and held down by small rocks) to Apus thanking him for a safe trip.
A word about our guide, Domingo Enty Atao, a modern day Renaissance man. He was our translator (spoke English, Spanish, Quecha, Japanese and a few European languages), botanist, geologist, historian, cultural guide, medic and among other roles our drill sergeant. This guy knew it all and was also a Hollywood buff. During the first day when we were introduced he immediately gave Kevin and Elmo nicknames (Costner and Spielberg respectively).
With the peak out of the way, the group proceeded downhill towards the forest where we would camp that night. Along the way we had lunch in a wide clearing before entering the forest canopy. First time I experienced a siesta, don't remember much about the food, but it was probably the best nap I ever had even if we were surrounded by... you guessed it, horse poo-poo (Enty's words). For entertainment there was a family of pigs (parents and a piglet) that kept running around the lunch site searching for scraps. At one point we were egging them on to run into the toilet tent while Kevin was using it.
The rest of the day was a blur, the usual insanely awesome scenery (when you could take your eyes off the rock and crap infested trails) where I'll let Kevin's photos do the talking since my descriptions will never do it justice. Our camp grounds were at a three-terrace cutout on the side of the mountain. Looked almost like a warm up to the terraces at Machu Picchu. After dinner, Enty built us a small fire so we could roast marshmallows and wolf down some smores while staring up at the stars in the sky. Sleeping that night was much easier, the temperature was just right and the tents were roomy. Kevin and Lynn took the smaller 2-person tent and I joined Elmo and Tyler in the 3-man tent. Elmo has a knack for shadow puppeteering.
Photo Gallery: Day 2 by Kevin Boon aka Costner