Feeding the livestock
It was chilly when we woke up but nothing like the night before. The same mate de coca still tasted wonderful after another night in the tent. We had breakfast and then started off deeper into the valley and a mostly downhill walk. Crossing the bridge next to the camp I was surprised to see so many broken boards that were not repaired. Juan later told us that someone had fallen through a few weeks ago and broken their legs and that the bridge was closed off afterwards but that someone removed the caution tape and it was open again for anyone to fall through and potentially very seriously hurt themselves. No surprise there, this is Bolivia. It’s the same in Peru and I would imagine most of Latin America. Anyway, we crossed and started down the valley, over muddy spots and then dusty trails.
Geraniums for breakfast
We paused before making a more steep descent and Juan explained about the terrain and microclimate of the area. We would be much lower by the afternoon, in what you could call the higher tropics. Our route led across rushing mountain streams and then took us along a river we’d follow for the rest of the day. The scenery was beautiful and we saw so many varieties of orchids that I lost count. Juan told us that there were over a hundred varieties in that valley. We stopped for a break and ate some passion fruit that was sweet and delicious. The usual mangy emaciated dogs nosed up for scraps and I gave them most of the “energy bar” that we had been given. It would have been good as insulation for a house and I declined to eat flavored Styrofoam, thank you.
Another couple hours took us lower and then into a small village where the soccer field was occupied with drying coffee beans. The little kids ran up and I had collected everyone’s red corn candy for this very reason. I was delighted to hand out as much as I had to the smiling children. Unfortunately I ran out before everyone got some. Just a bit further brought us to the lunch stop and swarms of little biting insects that they called “mosquitos” but were more like gnats that bit like mosquitos. I don’t know what their scientific name is but I’d think that “Devil’s Spawn” in Latin would accurately describe them. They were everywhere and the bug spray wasn’t cutting it. We were served an excellent asparagus soup and then some chicken in an Asian soy sauce that was also very good.
Juan negotiated for a bus to take us the hour ride to Santa Teresa and I grabbed a couple cold Cuzquena beers for me and Mark before the bus took off for a ride through plantain and banana groves, past abundant coffee bushes and brilliantly colored flowers. Halfway there we met an obstacle on the one-lane dirt road in the form of another truck and at the same time the driver discovered we had a flat. He changed it with surprising agility but we weren’t encouraged by the replacement that had a big hole in it. At least it wasn’t completely bald like the one that got the flat. The truck we were confronted with was filled with school kids on their way back from the morning session and they were having a ball shouting out to us the little English that they knew.
First light over the campsite
They also realized the opportunity to make some money, asking for a tip anytime any one of us took a picture. I was experienced in this and by taking group pictures denied their request. You can’t hand out a tip to every single person in the picture and they knew it so I got off. They were really funny though and their English sometimes made no sense at all.
We arrived safe and sound at Santa Teresa and put our things down in the campsite. There was a house and dining area next to where we pitched the tents, as well as some wooden stands that were to open up later and sell the necessities: alcohol, juice, sodas, cigarettes, candy and not much else. As it turned out later that night, the stands came in handy, especially for the first item.
On the trail
The bus then took us through the small village and down the river to the thermal baths. There was construction in progress and the area was very nice, featuring lamps near the neatly paved walkways, a modern changing and shower area and a place for refreshments. We changed and went over to the water and quickly jumped in, but not before the spawn of Satan attacked us on our virgin legs and bit us to smithereens. The water was deliciously warm and we just lay back and relished it. A waterfall nearby flowing off the hillside intrigued me and when I saw that it was icy cold I just had to plunge in. The shock of that water made jumping into the hot bath again all the more pleasurable. Soon the other group arrived and more groups after them and everyone was swimming, soaking, chatting and in general letting the last three days of walking wash off them.
Rushing mountain stream
It was the perfect antidote. All that was missing was a massage and I wanted to call in the promise that Megan had made up on the Salkantay pass. But the water was good enough and we finally gave in to the call of hunger and thirst and got out of the water, suitably wrinkled. The gnats had another feast on our way to the changing rooms but by now we had gotten used to their insistent bites. What did it matter to be bitten another twenty times? We were already itching up a storm. We all sat down and ordered some icy cold beers and some brochettes of beef that were so satisfying.
Back in town, Juan stopped the bus and we went in to a licoreria to snag some pisco and sprite and limes for pre-dinner aperitivos.
Andrew at waterfall
At the camp we sat down and mixed drinks and then toasted. After polishing off the bottle the dinner call came and we went to eat. The cooks were obviously scaring up their best meal of the trip. We got a piece of chicken, a stuffed hot pepper with melted cheese on top, rice and vegetables. The alcohol had begun to take effect and we were acting silly and not eating much. I think the general consensus was that it was time for more drinks. A bonfire was started and we went over to it and took over the space. Claire started up a game of “I Never” and after a few rounds I got out of the game before it became a little too revealing. I couldn’t get the hang of it either because each time it came to my turn I could only think of things I had done, and that’s not the point.
So I went up to the dining area where the other group had a serious dance party in progress. One of the stalls was playing reggaeton and some of the group was cutting it up. Maury was the only Israeli dancing but he made up for the others. In fact, he was a very atypical Israeli in that his Spanish was quite good, he was outgoing and friendly and in general did not act like the others who just watched almost sullenly from their seats at the table. Katherine, the Scottish lass, Megan and Rupert, Kery, a drunk and getting drunker James and various others had formed a circle and were busting a move one by one in the center. A few local boys were having a blast laughing at us until Maury got a hold of them and hustled them into the center.
Walking through the valley
They kept trying to break free but Katherine got in on the action and the boys eventually moved around a bit before fleeing the scene. James kept drinking until he became the center of the party and comments. I was hurting for him, thinking of how bad he was going to feel the next day, and having to walk for hours at that. We were also worried that he might hurt himself. Eventually the parties started to wind down. I put in my earplugs and fell almost immediately asleep, but not before filling my water bottle and adding a purification tablet. I knew I’d get thirsty during the night. I didn’t have that much to drink, but enough to become dehydrated. As it turned out the next morning I felt fine.