The day starts early with a wake up call from our guides and room service at our tent doors! Buenos Dias! Would you like a cup of tea? How do you top that in one of the most beautiful parts of the world?
I’ve been awake for a while… the sound of donkeys, roosters and dogs (and the sound of Ian snoring in the tent next door) have shaken me into the land of consciousness about an hour before our room service call. I actually don’t mind as I’m an early riser in any case. Laying there in the darkness waiting for the day to begin is often my time of reflection and this occasion was no different. Thoughts of the day before cross my mind.. How the hell did I get here? Am I really sleeping in a tent in the middle of some farming community in Peru? What will today bring? Will I make it to Dead Woman’s Pass?
Back to the room service… Our guides Paul and Omar and a couple of the porters are moving about in front of our tents with little tables, cups, hot water and coca tea. They’re also delivering bowls of hot water for each of us to wash our faces etc.. I’m blown away by this simple gesture. It’s a welcome treat as you’re fighting your way out of your sleeping bag, looking oh so glamorous… Coca tea has become my wake up call to the world in this high altitude. It makes everything better… well at least I think it does!
There is a flurry of activity in the camp as we all go about our business, packing up our belongings and dropping our duffle bags in a pile for the porters and getting ready for breakfast. We collect our snacks for the day and stuff them in our day packs. Breakfast is quinoa porridge and some kind of pancake.
There are discussions about sleeping patterns the night before. Some of us have managed a few more hours than others. The toilet trips in the middle of the night are always good fodder for conversation… even at breakfast.
I’ve decided that today is the day I’ll be chewing those coca leaves… all day. Day 2 has a reputation for being the hardest and I’ve got to say, I’m a little nervous about the altitude we’ll reach. It’s 5 and a half hours of steep climbing until we arrive at Dead Woman’s Pass at 4215 metres above sea level. Nobody knows how their bodies will react. We just have to wait and see.
We set off after breakfast and immediately come into contact with another trekking group who settle into the trail in front of us. It’s a little crowded at first but we find our rhythm and start to separate. It
wasn’t long before we reach another check point where our guides deal with some paperwork. We rest for a few minutes while this is sorted, then we are off again.
There’s a group of about 75 students on the trail, who pass us at this point. All young boys from a school in Cusco, completing their rite of passage. They are dressed in all sorts of get up, some carrying packs, others not so much. Some look exhausted already, others are full of energy and bravado… time will tell. This won’t be the last time we come across them.
As we begin to move on up the trail, Paul has brought out his stop watch and implemented 12 minute walking intervals with rest periods between each. As he explains this, I’m thinking to myself that it sounds like an awesome idea considering we’re all breathless most of the time we’re climbing! It’s a psychological ploy to chunk it all down and make us feel as though it’s achievable. Or maybe it’s a physical necessity… either way, I’m more than happy with it. Bring on this mother of a mountain!
We climb. We rest. We climb again. We rest. It’s the order of the day, interspersed by snack stops, photo stops, passing porters and passing students. The scenery is majestic… unbelievably stunning. I am regularly stopped in my tracks in awe of the mountains. I have never seen anything like them… It makes me feel insignificant and empowered at the same time. A weird combination I know, but this place is having such a profound impact on me, I’m in a constant state of confusion with my emotions. I still don’t feel like it’s real, yet I’m putting one foot in front of the other and climbing this monstrous mountain, looking back on the tiny village we left below. Breathing heavily and conscious of the lack of oxygen, I retreat into my mind and think about home. My life. What is my purpose. How fortunate I am to be in this place,
contemplating my future. How fortunate I am to be achieving another personal goal. Gratitude overwhelms me and I get a little teary. I never lose sight of the positives in life and this is one big fat positive, right here, right now… and I breathe.
I’m feeling so good, no altitude sickness at all, no headache. I’m amazed. Some of the boys, Ian and Slava, and even Galina take turns at carrying the packs for a few of the girls who are struggling with the weight. It reminds me of Kokoda. The mateship has kicked in and we are coming together as a team. It’s Team Haku and I’m getting a little misty again! We are all different, with varying packs and weights and fitness levels, but the humanity shines though in our lot, it’s all about getting to the top together. It’s what I love the most about
trekking, when the intrinsic human traits start to make an appearance. It’s not about the individuals, it’s about working together and helping each other. It’s what makes us tick and I am so proud of our team today. Individuals from all over the world come together and unite. Bloody awesome as us Aussies would say! Team Haku rocks!
We finally reach Dead Woman’s Pass and you can see the elation on all of our faces as we take our finals steps towards our porters who are waiting for us with a cuppa and a sandwich… We made it! You bloody beauty!
It’s fairly windy and bitterly cold as we settle in on the side of the mountain for lunch. The coats and gloves are coming out. Some of us are heading up to high points to take some photos, others are munching into the sandwiches and downing the cuppa. It’s an emotional moment. Achieving milestones like this always are for me, but I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
We hung about at the top of the mountain for a while, taking photos and relishing in our success. I stood there and looked at the other side… the downhill beckoned. A huge valley below with a tiny winding path that could be seen for miles. I got a little bit excited here… this was my specialty. I absolutely love the downhill stretches. It’s almost as if I grow wings. It’s all a matter of comfort, and the faster I go, the easier it is on my body. I worked that out in Kokoda. However, I was in good company… Paul was an absolute master at the downhill, I could barely keep up with him and he didn’t even have walking poles!
So off we went, pounding down the steps. It wasn’t long before we started to leave the rest of the group behind. I was following Paul and Ian was close behind me. The three of us found our own pace, bouncing along the jagged rocks and blocks of stone (original steps by the Incas) stopping occasionally to look at hummingbirds in the trees, waterfalls and the ever changing mountains. It was a mesmerising rhythm which took a great deal of concentration. One wrong step and it wouldn’t have been pretty. We passed some of the students who were looking a little worse for wear, but still moving all the same.
Paul decided to wait for the rest of the group so Ian and I made our way to the bottom of the valley. We eventually reached our trusty lead porter waiting at the turn off to the camp with the Condor flag! There were other porters from other travel companies there too, all waiting for their groups to arrive. We sat down and enjoyed a little rest while we waited for Team Haku to arrive. It wasn’t too long before they started to appear on the side of the mountain, little specks making their way down in a line. Kinda like ants!
We re-grouped and headed on into our camp at Pacaymayo, following our porter until we came to the edge of the mountain where our tents were constructed in a neat little row. What a view… Camping above the clouds, would have thought. A perfect end to an amazing day.
The woolly hats come out, but it’s not really that cold tonight. We gather for dinner and chat about the day. We’re all a bit tired and I’m feeling a bit under the weather with stomach cramping so I decide to head to bed early. It’s those damn skins, wearing them day and night. It’s time for a break. Tomorrow will be another long day, but without so much uphill. I fuss around and try to make sense of the mess that is my side of the tent in the darkness and eventually give up. I wait for sleep and it arrives quickly.