Peru: The Trek pt. 3
With the workers and corn fields behind us, we turned left on a path that angled us into some woods. The day wasn’t hot, but the shade was refreshing. Tall, thin trees shot up from the valley below, passed us and stretched high above our heads. The path began to climb, and we started to surmount our first mountain.
Through the vale of flora, the fields of crops continued past us, washing down the valley in a flood of leafy green. Thin brown strips marked property boundaries and modest houses peppered the area around the village, but were more sparse farther down.
We found our way through the patches of woods. Felix stopped after a hill and asked if we wanted to take a break.
“No, we’re good,” we each echoed. Felix stopped anyway and began to tell us about a plant along the path. It was a sort of mint that, when the leaves were rubbed together and smelled, helped altitude sickness, apparently. It did smell minty. Adrian joked that Felix could have just made it up as an excuse to stop. Regardless, it was good to see even the veteran hiker needing to stop. Though, I suppose our enthusiasm was carrying us farther than normal. For him, the routine probably wore early.
Continuing, we walked along the path that snaked counterclockwise across the mountain. It wasn’t especially huge, but the steep draws and spurs were enough for me to crane my neck to take in. What was trippy was the cows and horses grazing on the slopes. How’d they stand up? Must have one set of legs shorter than the other.
After a time, I heard water in the distance. “Is that the river we’re going to cross?” I asked Felix.
“That? No,” he said, laughing.
A few minutes later I laughed too. The rushing torrent I had predicted in my mind turned out to be a modest stream, gorged with rain, plunging down a nearby draw, with a small 10-foot bridge crossing the small divide. The river I had anticipated was much farther away.
Eventually we started to break free of the forest and reached higher ground. As we rotated around the faces of the mountain, we saw more of the neighboring range. The valley fell away farther below us and blended into the distance. Clouds slowly marched through the range, hitting peaks and shifting.
Looking back, I don’t remember the minute-by-minute weather. That’s an unfortunate side-effect to waiting to write. Overall, it was perfect for hiking. The days usually started a little chilly, the nights cool enough to warrant the sleeping bag or long pants but nothing to cold. As the morning grew, there would be some drizzle, sporadic rain and mists. There would be a break around midday, with some clearing of the fog. In the afternoons there would often be another spell of drizzle, enough for a poncho on occasion. Then, in the late afternoon and early evening, things would clear off enough to see the landscape.
I do remember on day one wasn’t overly socked in with clouds. I fancied myself like an adventurer in Tolkien literature, walking and marching for days and weeks, passing the uncountable miles with just a song in my head. Then I fancied myself like an actual adventurer, soldiers or natives of old, traversing mountains and nations by foot. I was struck by how much of our lives is full to the brim with activity. That the prospect of taking days to walk somewhere is so unpleasant. The silence is a hard sound for modern man to hear.
There’d be some jokes, but a lot of the trek that day was left to each of us, our own thoughts and our own experience. I was relatively pain free that day–more would come.
Things began to get a little rocky. It was still relatively flat–obviously climbing, but nothing that drew too much heavy breathing. We got to a couple of lookout points, and Felix talked a bit about the apus and the worship of the mountains. The lookout spots had stone benches and covering, which we used to escape the drizzle and drink some water. Felix pointed to a very distant outcropping and said we’d stop there too. I could see the pavilion-type cover of another lookout point.
Centipedes. Lots of centipedes. They enjoyed the red dirt, apparently. They crossed the path every few feet. For the most part there weren’t too many bugs. Felix said there would be some biting flies closer to the river and our campsite, but that there weren’t too many bugs on higher ground.
We got to the second lookout point and stopped. Felix looked far into the distance and pointed out a stone wall, barely visible. “There. See that? That is Choquequirao. That is where we are going.”
Wow. I could see we were on the wrong mountain.
Looking ahead of us, I saw the path suddenly plunge in a series of sharply cutting switchbacks. Back and forth, back and forth, the dirt path cut a zig-zag swatch through the tall, waving grasses of this face of the mountain. It was serene, the breeze and the shimmer of silver from the lighter heads of grass as the wind sighed against the slope. The path eventually curved left and out of sight.
“There’s the river we will cross,” Felix said.
Sure enough I could hear it, faintly, as loud as the stream was when I first noticed the sound earlier, but, as we were much farther away from the river, I figured the sound would grow a bit louder.
Looking way down the river, I could see a tiny splinter of black crossing the water.
“Is that the bridge?” I asked.
“Umm, yes very far,” Felix said. “We will camp a little higher than the river, to keep away from mosquitoes. Then, tomorrow, we will climb down to the water and cross.”
I visually traced a path from where the bridge hit the far shore and noticed a similar dirt path, going in a zig-zag up the mountain, just like the pattern we were about to walk down on this side of things. I started to count the switch-backs on the far mountain. One, two, three, five, nine, 12, 17, 30. Then I lost sight. It’d be a ways.