Day 6 – Wednesday, January 22nd

Oh, I forgot to mention that Emily also rented a small air mattress pad to bulk up her other pad and sleeping bag.  I didn’t want one because I was fine, and not bragging, but Doshi also rented one of those air mattress deals too.  That is all.

I woke up before some of the others in our group, before the sunrise, but not before all of the porters already up and making breakfast.  I figured it would be the perfect time to venture to the bathroom before the hardest day of hiking on the trail.  I knew I wouldn’t mind what I couldn’t see in the dark.  I won’t go into specifics, but I’ll just say that at the bathroom I felt like I wasn’t alone.  It was pitch black on the inside, and all I could see were shadows from underneath and outside the door of someone walking back and forth.  I said “aqui” to let them know that I was in the bathroom and also that el baño was occupado, but the figure kept on pacing at the door.  After I opened the door, I realized I had been talking to a couple of roosters who were manning the bathroom doors, like farmland security.

Everyone was rested at breakfast, and we met with all of our rain gear on for the brief meeting with Odon before our first steps of the day uphill.  Yep, it was raining again, as it does in raining season.  He told us we had about 8 miles for the day so we had to get moving at first daylight.

Dorothy and Cliff took the lead to get ahead of everyone at first.  It didn’t take us too long to get to the 2nd day checkpoint and get our passports stamped again.  With water falling all around, and everyone moving slowly through the passport stamp line, I made a break for a spot behind the building to pee (being that I knew there wouldn’t be a bathroom break on the narrow hiking path for another hour and a half).  Emily, again, looked at me with a smile and said, “Did you just pee outside?  I hate you.”

Without a smooth transition, we entered deep jungle for the next portion of the trail.  There were parts of the 3 foot wide trail where we could see the mountains up ahead to where we were eventually going to walk (we were guessing at that point with the group space to walk at our own paces- Odon at the very back and William far in front).  Then there were parts where we were totally surrounded by thick trees that reminded me of the rainforest and made me feel like I was in the movie Ferngully.  Our fierce-some foursome stuck together somewhere in the middle of the pack.  We were way behind the fast-paced and out-of-sight youngsters, but it was refreshing to take our time, enjoy candid conversations, and move along at a healthy rate – able to calmly step aside for all of the porters (Note to self- It is customary for anyone spotting a porter coming up behind the pack to yell “Porter!” so you can get out of their way.  Special note, always stay on the mountain side because they are carrying big loads on their back and might not see how close you are to the edge of the trail and mountain if you aren’t careful.).  But, at one point, before we made it to the halfway point of the hike for the day, we had a portion of the trail that was open and gave us a perfect panoramic view of where we had hiked since that morning.  And somewhere in that panoramic below, now accompanied beside Jayne and Graham, we all spotted Dorothy and Cliff walking steady and slow.  Everyone yelled “Dorothy!”, and then I yelled “Cliff!”  I don’t think they noticed, like when I yelled before in the city, but it felt good to cheer aloud for the team morale. 

It was starting to get tough.  In the jungle portion of the hike, the path was steep and winding.  It was not straight up the entire time, but it was pretty darn close.  We ran into a few of the same people along the way, not in our group, as we kinda passed each other back and forth the whole morning.  Not hiding anything, it was refreshing to see others hurting too, but it was still disheartening for healthy people, such as ourselves, to watch the porters scale the trails like pros.  Actually, they were/are pros.  But we didn’t let their success pass us by in vain.  We took the time to follow in their footsteps and the not so steeper steps that the porters took. We learned quickly that they often went a little off the main trail or took the gradual elevated land versus the big stoned steps to lessen the height of raising their feet for each step up.  Mama didn’t raise no fools with us, no sir.  We were doing it!

We made it to the predestined meeting point halfway up the mountain at a good time.  The rain had stopped, and the sky was clear and sunny.  Odon was there to greet us, alongside the four youngsters that had been there for about a half hour already.  It was crazy how the rest area was, not only what appeared, again, as someone’s farmland, but that there was a mini-open-market, fully functional, that might have appeared as an oasis in the desert to lesser people.  A handful of local ladies, some who had passed us on the hike as quickly as the porters, with goats and supplies in tow, set up a place where they were selling hot meals, snacks, and drinks for travelers.  Odon said they, like several of the one-stage porters, do the trip up and down the mountain with supplies every single day.  Talk about humbled and feeling like opening a bookstore down the street from your house is practically nothing after hearing that fact.  We all used the bathroom, grabbed snacks out of our packs, and drank water … but none of us took a seat.  Odon had told us that if we were to ever take a seat at any point of the climb uphill, we would be done for the day.  We decided wisely not to test the opposite of his theory.

Here is when 2 amazing things happened:

1- When Dorothy and Cliff made it and everyone was present, we all cheered like porters for them.  I told Dorothy to click her heels so we could all instantly be home at the top of the mountain.  To that comment, Cliff smiled, jumped in the air, and clicked both his heels all at once.  As mentioned above, it was amazing.

2- We realized that we were halfway up the mountain, but we had another half to go.  Although Odon told us the roughest part was behind us, we still had to climb another 1200 m in less than an hour, and the air and altitude could change our moods quickly.  The amazing thing here to note is not the distance change, but for me the amazing insight we made was that it had nothing to do with going uphill.  All in all, we basically covered 5 miles straight UP-mountain instead of uphill.  It was no joke.

The youngsters took off early again in the lead, and we grabbed another snack and Gatorade from the market before taking our final stretch to the top.  Eventually, we got moving, the four of us together, again in the middle.  We didn’t know it at the time, finding out a few days later, that Doshi had had a bloody nose the first day in Peru from the altitude change.  We soon found this fact out because we managed to start passing and get passed by a young boy around 13 or so from Spain (We’re no Sherlock Holmes, but a man that appeared to be his dad was always a few steps in front of the kid and encouraging him not to stop in Spanish while wearing a Spain t-shirt).  This particular boy appeared to be very lethargic, meandering around us and sitting down at times.   When he stopped to stop a bloody nose, Doshi quit walking to make sure the boy was okay, from afar, because he knew just how serious something like that, especially combined with other factors, could contribute to illness and possible death.  The kid got up after a minute, and everyone continued onward and upward.

About halfway up the halfway point, the air was starting to get to Doshi.  It was about the same time I looked over and saw what I envisioned as the perfect Irish Springs commercial- crystal clean water coming out of the mountains and what I can only guess was a Llama lounge in the flat, grassy area where the water flowed (with several llamas basking in the sun and rolling around like my dog at home in the backyard).  Doshi had a throbbing headache and starting to constantly get out of breathe sooner and sooner.  It, like someone yelling “Porter” on the side, was welcomed by the rest of us to rest.  We more than gladly looked forward to setting motivational markers ahead as goals to walk about twenty or so yards towards before stopping again to catch our breath.  In fact, we also took great enjoyment during said breaks to ask Doshi to crank up the music on his phone so we could have small dance parties.  The music and the dancing helped bring us much needed energy to have fun and forget about the thin air.  Plus, a lot of other people passing the dance parties openly appreciated the music as well.  The Spanish dad danced to Funky Cold Medina, some other girls laughed and moved to Call Me Maybe, and one lucky porter, not caught on film, turned around, smiled, and did a little dance move too!  I can’t remember what the porter danced to, but that’s not the point.  We were all moving and hitting our groove.

Before we knew it, we were only a few dance parties away from the top!  In a mere two days, we had gone from sleeping in clouds to walking through them!  I was rejuvenated to the limits.  Emily asked me how I was doing it, and although I can’t explain it or say that it sounded good, I was actually singing to myself on the final ascent.  Appropriately, I had graduated from Step by Step to The Pixies.  Where was my mind, you say?  Well, in a matter of the last ten minutes of climbing, I went from Sublime favorites to The Polyphonic Spree classics of Hold Me Now and Light and Day (remembering these words out of the blue after not singing either in years).  I guess it was something like climber’s high, and I was totally diggin’ it.

Here is 1 thing that never actually happened:

1- Because Doshi only had access to his own downloaded songs, he didn’t have this song on hand by Patty Griffin that I wished I could have played for Emily climbing that mountain with me that day.  It’s been a great theme song for our long hike the last few years together, and that would have been nice to have shared it in the mountains.  Not much dancing involved, but it was a good thought to mention out loud.  I knew she knew where I was coming from and where we were/are.  Here is the song for you to imagine us all listening to together on top of the mountain.  This pretty much described the consensus feeling of reaching the top perfectly- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA6Q5-Ap3o8&feature=kp.

9837_10153726428470697_501942860_nAt the top, the youngsters were already gone, headed for the base camp down below.  We decided to show respect for the mountain by finally sitting down and reflecting on what we just accomplished.  The cool winds rolling over the apex dried off the sweat it took to get to the top, and we were able to catch our breath and thoughts.  After I had mentioned Ferngully and the forest, Maggie said she was thinking about The Neverending Story where Artax, the horse, sinks into the swamp beside the trusty Atreyu who was trying to pull him through.  And to that, I thought, sometimes you’re the horse … sometimes you’re the hero.  Today, this day, on top of the mountain, we were all horses that became heroes for never giving up or letting the hard times pull us down.  Or, as Odon called everyone who hikes and works together as a team of brothers, we were all WAYKI (pronounced “why-key”).  It was a very cool moment.

And speaking of cool moments, like volunteering and cheering on people during endurance races, it was great to sit at the top and applaud the people we had seen throughout the day, and maybe didn’t know or even talk to at times, make it to the top and cross their personal finish lines.  Jayne and Graham made it, and they told us about a blonde girl who was almost sent back home because of sickness at the halfway meeting point by her own guide.  She had been crying and begged of herself to keep going.  Her and her husband made it to the top.  There wasn’t a dry cheek on any of them.  We applauded and yelled.  And then the little Spanish boy made it after them.  We cheered alongside his family that we now came to somewhat know (how could you not know someone who you dance to Funky Cold Medina with?).  Odon finally made it, helping support Dorothy and Cliff, and we were all laughs again- no heel-clicking though.  We broke out more snacks, took some group photographs, and were happy.

We looked to the other side of the mountain, and the porters, the same porters that passed us while we were sitting and basking in the sun, were well on their way to running … I repeat, RUNNING down the mountain with packs on their backs!  Odon said it would be another hour or so for us to go downMOUNTAIN to the camp site.  We didn’t want to waste the daylight.

The down-mountain was actually harder than first thought.  I would have appreciated rolling down the side, but there were cliffs, waterfalls, and other dangerous points beside the path.  It was even better to have the hiking poles walking down, to brace the sharp, steep steps, as it had been to push our way up the first side.  The difficulty of the day’s hike can easily be explained in degrees of pain and pleasure.  The pleasures are the continuous, breathtaking views all around you at all times.  The pain, at least for me, was on the muscles on the uphill and transferred to the joints on the way back down.  It was pretty jarring and tough on the most able of bodies. 

No bathrooms around, I walked ahead of our pack, around a turn, and let out some water.  Emily caught up and, still smiling, said, “Did you just pee again?  I hate you.”

After about an hour and a half, we saw tent city, Peru style.  The camps were side by side and pretty much on top of one another, but we were lucky, as always on this trip, to post up near the back.  Basically, when you crawled out of our line of tents, we had an unblocked view of the woods, the clouds, and the mountains ahead … no tourists.  Amazing!

Again, the porters stood beside our tents and gave us standing ovations for doing what they do on the regular.  I had had enough.  I didn’t take their congratulations without response.  I openly started thanking each of them in Spanish and shaking their hands.  That made me feel a little better and definitely more grateful.

We had a late lunch, and it felt like 5 pm instead of 2 for most of us at the table.  We honestly did more eating than talking because of being so tired.  At the single bathroom line, it wasn’t so refreshing to find out that it was a squatting, open-aired toilet minus the toilet waiting for us at the end, but it was refreshing to witness one middle-aged hiker walk up to the group in waiting and ask where the hot showers were with his shampoo, soap, and towel in hand.  I guess his guide or another group told him there was a basement at the Alamo too, but everyone else present got a good belly laugh from the mishap.  He should’ve known better.

Then, after the bathroom experiment, I had a second to baby wipe shower (not so hot at all) and rest.  I never nap, so it was fitting with the trip and exciting for me to have enough wits and no throbbing headache about me to read.  I brought my latest favorite book by Nashville author Lydia Peelle, appropriately titled, for this adventure especially, “Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing.”  The short stories, characters, and prose are, like the Inca Trail, other-worldly. I highly suggest you give it a chance.  Come to my bookstore and get a copy while you can.

After the special reading, Odon had the porters cook up a pre-dinner snack of homemade popcorn.  This is another one of those moments, like most described here, that words can’t fully describe how happy I was, and I wasn’t alone, in having homemade popcorn.

Dinner was filled with more food and positive group reflection on the day’s events up and down the mountain.  Odon briefed us on what to expect the next day and how proud he was of everyone making it through the second day.  He mentioned that there were bears up in the mountains, but I’m pretty sure he was just talking to us like some of my uncles would.  Either way, everyone was ready for some good sleep.  It was an early evening to the tents for all.  A few people had headaches that put them to sleep, and others were up playing games in tents like 20 questions and thinking we couldn’t hear them play or they couldn’t hear us whisper the answer they guessed out of the blue right from the first four questions (Can you tell that I think Doshi cheated?).  We earned our sleep and dreams through this night, bears or not.

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