Me on the mule
Finally a good nightâ€™s sleep. I had a good mattress, even though it was on the dirt floor and with my earplugs to block out the roosters crowing when it was still dark, I was able to sleep up until breakfast. The orange juice was the best Iâ€™ve ever had in my life. Right from their trees in the back of the house, it was thick and tangy and incredibly fresh. Then some fried bananas also from their trees, fried yucca and a fried egg, with fresh brewed coffee. The whole breakfast except for the bread came from the earth less than 100 feet from where we sat. That was an experience in itself. Well-fortified we got ready as the guides saddled the mules that were to carry us up up up from the Congon river valley at almost 2,000 meters to the Yumal pass at 3,200 meters (contested by Steve and agreed by me.
We both thought it was at the very least 3,600 meters because of the tree line and other factors.). I chatted with Ashley for awhile as she debated leaving with us, but then decided to pass the day quietly doing nothing, as an exercise in learning to be peaceful and tranquil.
Somehow I found myself in the lead and we started off. Steve had professed his dislike of riding horses and wanted nothing to do with the mules so he got a couple hours head start on us. The first part of the route was up and down the low hills. We encountered swarms of butterflies that would flit away in clouds around us as we rode through them. What an ironic contrast there is between the spectacular beauty of the butterflies and the fact that they feed on excrement.
Starting up the mountain
I thought about the balance of nature and the contrasts in it as we rode. We passed through more brilliant flowers and lush vegetation over the sometimes clay and sometimes stone path. After a couple hours I asked our mule driver if we could stop and just up ahead lay a nice wooded spot that widened out into enough space for the whole group to stop and the mules to eat plants at leisure. So far it was fairly easy to keep them going. They would plod ahead occasionally tearing at a vine or branch to strip the leaves and chew as they were walking. We didnâ€™t have to prod them much, although we learned what sounds to make to make them go and make them stop. A kissing sound gets them to walk and a â€śshhhâ€ť alerts them to stop.
The mule drivers (now I realize why that is an occupation after seeing the stubbornness and laziness of the mules) would shout â€śmula, mula!â€ť or â€śhey, macho!â€ť and whip at them sometimes although the sound of their raised voices was usually enough to get the mules to get going again or pick up the pace.
After the sheltered clearing the path began a much steeper climb for the next hour and I wondered about Steve. Eventually we crested a hill and there he was waiting for us. He said he had been waiting a good two hours but he had a good two hours head start which meant he had kept up the pace of the mules, even in the steady, fairly steep uphill in the last hour. He was waiting up at the top because there was another ruined city to explore there, and that was where we were going to eat lunch.
Butterfly on mule
Dark clouds threatened rain and most of us had already put on heavier jackets or fleeces, especially as we got higher up. Carlos decided to show us the ruins but to abbreviate the visit in case it started to rain harder. This site was only discovered recently and fewer than 100 people have seen it. It was discovered when a couple from Cajamarca
, who had arrived three years ago to build a house and farm the land at the top of the crest, were clearing more land and came upon stone ruins. There was a watchtower a kilometer or so at the other end of the woods that overlooks the whole valley but we didnâ€™t have time to go see it. We just looked at the closer end of the site and saw how overgrown it was, in effect hiding any trace of the lost city.
The Cajamarcan couple served us a lunch that started with a nice cabbage and potato soup, although it could have used bacon or pork fat as I make it, but it was good all the same. Then a green salad with shredded carrots and celery. Carlos opened up some cans of tuna and I was content to make a meal of the salad. I think I was craving fresh vegetables and the rice and glop on the plate didnâ€™t exactly get my salivaries working. I had a rude surprise when we remounted our mules to start the second part of the climb. The lead mule wasnâ€™t moving and was resisting all attempts of the boy to get it going. He told me to go around it and as I was trying to pass, the mule kicked and caught me in the left ankle.
John and Carlos
OUCH!!! I slumped off my mule in pain and hobbled over to where I could sit down. Nothing seemed to be broken but the pain was intense and there was even some blood. The plan to walk the rest of the way with Steve was definitely out of the question now, and even the rest of the way on my mule was painful, but there was no alternative. The route up to the top was now more declivitous and I wondered how Steve was faring on the steep rocky slopes. I would have been tired out quickly but he kept the pace the whole way with us until a good two hours later we reached the top of the pass and emerged to a spectacular 360 degree view of two valleys. Pierre-Luc and Suzanne, the Canadian lady that was sick the first day, met us at the top.
Andrew and Carlos
It was a relief to get off the mules and into the van that took us a short way to the village near Kuelap where we were going to spend the night.
By now it had become very overcast and we arrived in Maria village at dusk, to the report that electricity had gone out that day. Carlos arranged rooms for us and I was the last one to have a room assigned. He asked me, â€śYou have two options, a single or a double, which would you like?â€ť And I said, â€śA single.â€ť He said, â€śbut if you have a double, you might sleep with a woman,â€ť and I replied, â€śbut Carlos, if I take the double, I might have to sleep with you!â€ť So a single it was. Carlos is always the practical joker but I got him on that one. As night fell without lights the sense of isolation was palpable.
Darkness and cold in a tiny village in the mountains seemingly thousands of miles from anything. I felt a twinge of loneliness but it passed when we got together for dinner in the common room that was lit by candles. Then the lights came back on and I was disappointed because the atmosphere with candles was so nice! Dinner was again forgettable but I didnâ€™t have much appetite anyway. I was sitting next to Carlos after dinner and he waxed philisophical. He was commenting on his disappointment at some of the Canadians in our group, that they lacked life and passion and spirit (although to come close to Carlos' is a tall order!) and he began talking about living the moment, that the here and now is the most important thing.
All of the sudden he developed a saying, "my ayer, y mi manana, me ayuden a vivir un ahora mejor." which could translate as "all my yesterdays and tomorrows help me to live a better today." He was quite pleased with himself on that and I agreed that it was well-said. Afterwards Carlos had the tables moved back and local cumbia music put on. He grabbed a lady but many of the others were tired and didnâ€™t participate or went back to their rooms to sleep. I would have danced but for my bad ankle and it was hard to watch others dancing without joining in! The proprietor brought out some homemade blackberry liquor that was delicious and we toasted and sipped and danced. After that, a game of music chairs was organized and as each person dropped out they had to undergo a â€śpunishmentâ€ť, which included a belly dance, a mock striptease by one of the Canadian boys for Carlos, and when Carlos was the last one out, a limbo dance under a broomstick. It was great fun.