Peru Travel Blog: 29th September 2011: Inca Trek Day #2 (part 1): The 39 (MILLION) Steps‏

I was awoken by a big c0ck – thankfully not the Texan old-timer!  The rooster for the farmyard next door had heard, as I had, the roosters in neighbouring areas (I counted 5) declaring that they day had begun and decided to join in.  Funnily enough where the other roosters gave their all, ours seemed a bit lacklustre: he did the c0ck-a-doodle bit ok, but seemed to sigh rather than “do”.  I worried if he might be depressed – being henpecked and all that.  The roosters (no more c0ck jokes) might claim that the day had begun, but my watch said 0400.  I had slept quite well and I was nice and warm in the sleeping bag, so I stayed in there until the porters came round with the coca tea.

 Climbing out of the tent into the half-light that was a cool and fresh morning with a steaming cup of coca tea was lovely.  I don’t consider myself a “morning” person, but the cool fresh air really made me feel awake and alive.  I also noticed that my plan to shave most of my hair off (so no need to try to style it) had backfired a little, as my head was really feeling the chill even under my woolly hat.

Can you spot my laundrette bag (trek pack)?

This is the day that all the trekkers dread: day 2 is notoriously difficult due to the large number of steep and uneven steps and the much higher altitude and thinner air.  Rather than be nervous or worried, I was now relishing the challenge.  I had done a few stretches the previous night, so I wouldn’t cramp or stiffen during the night (remember, I said no more c0ck jokes – now you’re just making your own up) and I stretched and loosened up again today.  Knowing we would need the calories (or is it just because I am greedy), I ate well at breakfast.  One of the guides did comment to me on the trek that I eat like a Peruvian in that I eat fast and I eat everything…I took it as a compliment!

 After breakfast we had a little introduction exercise for the group, including the porters and caterers: we all stood in a circle and then took turns to say who we are, where we are from and how old we are.  The trek staff also told us how long they had been working the trail which was very interesting, as were their ages – I guess I would look a little older than I am if I was hiking up and down this trail every week.  We then did a massive handshake walk past and there was plenty of applause and a good atmosphere.  The guide said that we are all now his family and I think we were starting to bond a little bit more as a group.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re not making friends for life here, but I think we started to establish people’s characters within the group…naturally, I was the funny, good looking one…or was that good and funny looking?!  

We are family

With the introductions complete we got ready for the trek.  I was suitably warmed and psyched up to begin.  A reasonably steep walk took us up to another check point.  No need to show our passports here.  Ominously, the officials were more interested in checking that the guides had sufficient first-aid kits.  Once through that the trek becomes steeper and steeper.  It’s a winding path that leads you through lots of vegetation and reasonable views.  It was warm and felt quite humid.  All of the steps are pretty random: random heights, widths and distances between make each step unique.  It certainly works your muscles and at this altitude you are breathing heavily from step one.  The guides explained that the key to breathing is long deep breaths, something that I was already doing naturally.  Apparently short shallow breaths are the road to ruin.

Onwards and UpwardsThe Hills will work Thighs

We trekked as a group, although we did spread out I don’t think anyone was left walking with no sight of others in our group and the guides positioned themselves well to ensure everyone was ok.  Sweat was pouring out of me and I was grateful for the versatile Buff High UV Protection Headwear I had with me.  It served well as a neckerchief to keep the sun off the back of my neck and also as a headband for the sweat.  I can’t recommend having one of these highly enough.  We stopped quite regularly to take on water and perhaps eat snacks that we had been given at the start of the day.  It was a long and arduous climb to get to a point where we rested further and there was even a stall selling water and the like.  I think at this point we were possibly one third of the way to the highest peak we were aiming to traverse that day.  The views were spectacular and although we were all breathing hard and sweating profusely, it looked as though we were all enjoying the experience.  I had been very steady with my pace so far and I felt like I had lots of energy in reserve.  I figured that as long as I kept plodding along, I’d have no problems.

 The next phase, which I think took us from a third of the way to half way to the summit, was more of the same grueling steps.  I could see more people altering their pacing to suit how they felt – it’s tempting to say that they were struggling, but I think that would be harsh on them.  I was lucky in that I seemed to naturally settle into a nice pace that suited me and that pace hardly altered during this phase.  So upon reaching the halfway point (to the summit, not of the day) I was closely following the guide and one other from our group.  I’m not usually into the high-five thing, but it was good that the guides high-fived everyone when we reached particular points of the trek, as it did give you a sense of achievement. 

 Upon reaching this part of the trek the views opened out and gave a better ideal of the scale of the trek on the mountainside.  It was spectacular, especially when I could see the trail of where we had been and also the very steep trail of what was yet to come disappearing around the mountainside.  Although, I was breathing hard from step one, my recovery time was very fast.  People were still selling things even up here, so I got myself a PowerAde and a Snickers bar (it was probably the nicest Snickers I have ever had!) and then I was ready for the next phase.

 The next phase was longer, steeper and at higher altitude and would take us to the summit of Dead Woman’s Pass at over 4000 meters above sea level.  We’d been warned by the guides that this was going to be the toughest part of the entire trek.  I was focused, felt good and was ready to face the challenge!

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