Cozy colorful rooms
My sleep patterns have dramatically reversed since I´ve been traveling. I was up at 5:30 in the morning ready to have some breakfast and get on the trail. We were served a large lovely pancake with strawberry jam and hot mate de coca tea. The fresh squeezed orange juice was excellent too, as it is all over South America. After packing up and saying farewells to the nice couple we were on our way. The first part of the hike took us up a small side valley where we walked parallel to an irrigation channel running with swift cold water to the village below. The terraces on the hillside were bursting with fruits and vegetables. Jaime pointed out prickly pear fruit, avocados, apples, mangos, papayas, passion fruit and pepper.
Cactus for cochinilla dye, not fruit
That was interesting to me, to see where pepper comes from. He crushed some peppers in his palm and the air filled with the pungent scent and some of us sneezed. We thought the prickly pear cacti were planted for their fruit, but Jaime showed us the chochinilla parasite that grows on them and again crushed some pods into his palm. A dark red dye ran out and he told us that this is still the prefered dye for coloring textiles and that it´s very expensive and much more lucrative than the fruit that grows on the cacti. It´s not worth it for the villagers to harvest the fruit for the small amount they would recieve for it. So they sell the cochinilla instead.
We crossed over the rushing stream on an old rickety bridge and then continued up the other side of the hill and eventually emerged on top and continued to the village we had seen from the opposite side of the canyon yesterday.
The old bridge
We met some old people and Jaime chatted with them in Quechua. We asked how to say hello in Quechua and I practiced it until we encountered a very old woman walking towards us. When I greeted her in Quechua she responded, ¨Buenos dias.¨ Everyone had a laugh over that. This village is half deserted as most of the young and middle aged people have left for Chivay or Arequipa for education or work. Nevertheless, the government built a large plaza a couple years ago. It´s only used three times a year for Christmas, Easter and the principle feast of the village. Jaime lamented how the goverment does what it wants and doesn´t listen to what the villages really need. He said that the money would have been put to much better use for a hospital or clinic, or for a school.
New plaza in a quasi-deserted village
But those cost more money, and the plaza is an easily visible sign of something new.
The last part of our hike took us further along until we came in sight of the oasis below us and we headed down towards it, ariving in time for lunch and a swim in the pool. The sun came out long enough to give me a bit of sunburn, even though the air was cool. Being up so much higher and in a thinner atmosphere, the sun is more powerful and can burn easily. This is why the natives that live up in the mountains are so ruddy and dark in complexion, and why hats are a necessity. Just before lunch, a young guy and two young girls arrived from the path down and he said hi with an American accent. The blonde girls were certainly European I thought.
Sure enough, they were French sisters, and the guy was from Lakewood, on Kenilworth Ave. We talked for awhile about Cleveland and it turns out that his brother used to be a barback for several years at the Fulton Bar. I´m getting used to these coincidences thousands of miles from home! The younger sister had on a Lacoste polo shirt, sneakers and a light sweater draped over her shoulders. I remarked that she looked like she was going for a walk in the park, and not a three hour trek to the bottom of a canyon. She said that a walk in the park is a ¨promenade de dimanche¨and that it was Sunday so she was dressed appropriately. That made me laugh..touche! When we met them later at the top, they told us that they had hired mules to take them back up.
I don´t blame them. Going all the way down, and all the way up in one day is tough even for a native.
After the mediocre lunch of cubed chicken tossed with onion and tomato and no seasonings, plain white rice and a couple slices of avocado (there was a nice dessert of sliced banana and passion fruit drizzled with yogurt), we set off for the top. It rained a bit on the first hour, but then stopped and the sky remained mercifully cloudy as we sweated our way up the steep canyon wall. I prefered to stop to rest and catch my breath more frequently, for a minute or so, before continuing on, than to stop less often for a long time. So the group broke up a little bit, as Greg and Matt went on ahead, and then later I did too.
Boy and his donkey and dog
I took out my iPod and put on some music, Copeland´s Appalachian Spring, that I thought would be appropriate to the mountains we were in. The music helped immensely by taking my mind off of the grueling work of putting ffoot in front of foot and trying not to look up to the top. The view down was much better, as we could see how far we had come. I prefered that view. By the last hour, I had gotten a second wind and it seemed easier than before. I needed fewer breaks and I had a spring in my step that wasn´t there before. I´m sure the cookies and water helped to spike my energy. By the time I reached the top I was exhilirated and immersed in the euphoria of the climber´s high that I was experiencing.
It felt amazing to look down to the canyon bottom and know that I had walked straight up the face of the canyon to the top. The views were even more glorious knowing I had to work so hard for them.
The walk back to the village was very easy. We traversed some fields of purple corn and hopped over some streams and we were there. It had grown quite cold and the humidity made it seem even colder as the sweat cooled on our clothes. All we wanted was a hot shower. Unfortunately, all we got was a lukewarm quick shower of a minute before the water started turning cold. I wandered down the street and stopped in at a small pizza place where the young guys were outside talking. They were starting the wood fired oven and I sat with them and chatted.
The younger brother of one of them, a kid of maybe 12 years old, brought out his notebook and began asking me questions about how to say this and that in English. I humored him and sat there for a little while teaching him English. Then I went back to the hotel for dinner, a bowl of soup and a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce. The Oscars came on and we stayed up a bit watching and commenting before the exhaustion hit us and we went to bed. I had to take an extra wool blanket off the bed next to me and sleep in my pants, socks and shirt just to stay nominally warm. The cold, combined with the dampness, was bone-chilling. When I awoke, my neck ached and my muscles were all sore. Ahh, for a hot bath!!