August 1, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 3)

I woke up at 4am to grab the last shower I would have the the next few days. Right on schedule, Hugo and our driver was there at 5am. After picking up our horseman Rubin and our cook Anjelino, we were on a 2-hour drive to Mollepata.

I fell asleep during the first hour and woke up to a narrow, rocky road that hugs the hillside as we climbed higher and higher. We finally arrived at a small local eatery in Mollepata for breakfast.

Hugo asked if I would like to have pancakes or a local breakfast. As usual, I'd much rather sample some local cuisines if offered.

Fresh papaya juice, coffee and tea were brought out, plus chicha morada - a Peruvian drink made of red corn that is very fruity in flavour and can be served hot or cold. We started with some bread, butter and jam, followed by large bowls of chicken noodle soup. Peruvian loves chili (similar to salsa) and I followed Hugo's lead as I could eat pretty spicy. We finished breakfast with some fruits. I'm listing this meal as there will be consequences to come...

After breakfast, it was another 30min on another rocky, narrow road until Hugo and I were dropped off seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This was where our hike began.

High up on the hill, there was a pair of fairly large bird. They were Andean Condor!

They were too high and way beyond the limits of my camera. This is cropped from the photo above.

But soon I was treated to the first glimpse of what's to come.

We were following a trail beside a small canal that divert water to villages. Some of these canals traced back to the Incas. At this lower altitude, trees were common and many plants were pollinated by hummingbirds. We saw many of them but they were too far to photograph.

Hugo spotted an Andean Mint plant. He gathered a bunch of leaves and handed some to me. Rubbing the leaves between my hands, the juice was released and I inhaled the minty vapour deeply. Apparently, it is helpful against altitude sickness.

After 2.5 hour of hiking, we finally arrive at the valley of Soraypampas where our first night camp was located. The mountain to the left is Humantay. The mountain in the center is Salkantay.

Because a single standard frame couldn't show the grandeur of the landscape...

We arrived at camp where Rubin had already set up the tent for me, and Anjelino was already hard at work preparing lunch.

It was during lunch that I felt something was off. I didn't have the usual appetite and my stomach felt a bit bloated. Thinking it was just the high altitude, I thought nothing more of it.

After lunch, Hugo suggest we take an hour break before hiking to Lago Humantay, the glacial lake at the base of Humantay. I took a cat nap and spent time to sort out the warm clothing in preparation for the cold night.

At around 2pm, we began our ascend toward Lago Humantay. My body was still trying to adjust to the higher altitude. We were at 12000ft after all. Although I didn't feel any serious ill effects, I could tell the oxygen was thin and it was more labourious climbing up.

I love being in places that make you feel small.

My stomach continued to feel bloated, and now it was affecting my hike. I continued to think it was just the altitud eand hoped it would resolve once I descend. After a grueling hour hike where we climbed to 13500ft, we suddenly popped over the hill and got the first glimpse of the lake.

We follow the ridge back trail in the photo below to get down to the lake. Most of the tail required single file travel.

The landscape was so massive. I tried combining three sets of panoramic photographs, but it was a huge challenge as the exposure was very different between each set. This was the best result I could get.

At the lake, Hugo explained it was Aug 1 and it was New Years Day for the Quechua. On this day, the Quechua give thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and ask for wishes. He took out three sets of three perfect Coca leaves, the most important plant to the Quechua, and a candy. He clasped them in his hand while gently blowing into the bundle, carrying his thankful messages and wishes in the air he blew.

He invited me to participate as well. I felt very lucky to experience in this local custom. I was wishing that Pachamama can give me strength to face the hike in the coming days.

As we descended, many other people were ascending. I had a glimpse of all the other trekkers on this trail for the first time. There would be about 100 trekkers from various tour companies, not including their supporting crews, during my hike, plus a couple groups of unguided backpackers.

At dinner, I knew my bloated state was not simply due to altitude. Anjelino prepared a great meal but I had to apologize that I could only have rice. This was just a part of the meal.

It may have been the raw preparation of the chili, or the fresh papaya juice, or the cut orange slices. Something had put a bug in me.

Hugo asked Anjelino to prepare a hot water bottle to keep me warm that night in my sicken state. I went to bed pretty early and was dressed in 4 layers of tops and bottom, in addition to the -20C sleeping bag that was provided. Although my head was hot, I was shivering. I'm pretty sure now that I had a fever that night.

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