Monday, April 10, 2017

Peru Trip: Rainbow Mountain

Today we hiked rainbow mountain (elevation 5,100 meters, 16,800 ft.). It is the highest hike I have ever done. We have all been psyching ourselves to complete it. It is a strenuous 11 mile hike with an 800 m ascent across very muddy terrain. We were uncertain as to whether the effort would pay off or if the skies would be cloudy or worse at the end.

It wad a gamble and we took it. It ended up being extremely difficult because of the high altitude, but the weather held up (until the Whitney's and us got back to the bus at least!). Others, more slow that us weren’t as fortunate.

We started our morning at 2:50am and were picked up at 3:30am at our hostel by one of our tour guides named Carlos. He is a 23 year old who was born and raised in Cusco. Our second tour guide was named Gabriel, or Gabo translated into English.
Our group was.made up of 10 people. The four of us, two girlfriends from London, one guy from Spain, one Argentinian, and another couple from Colombia. This last couple was completely unprepared for the hike. We had to wait 20 mins in the bus for them to leave their hotel, because they weren’t ready. When they finally came out the were not wearing hiking clothes, just jeans, fashion Sneakers with no socks, a top and a medium weight jacket. No extra water or sun screen or any type of layers.

Our driver, like several others we have had, was pretty scary. I am sure he is familiar with the road since he drives the route daily. He took us full speed though bumpy unpaved roads that twisted and turned to following the raging river below us. I was sitting next to the window and there was never a shoulder visible between the bus and the cliff.
The drive took approx 3 hours. Shortly before we arrived at the starting point of our hike we stopped for breakfast at a small village. A table for 20 people was set up inside a long rectangular room in a humble residents home in the village. At one end hung a curtain separating us from the kitchen. The guides helped the family who ran the establishment bring out the food which consisted of herbal teas like tea de anis or mate de coca, and chamomile which the locals drink to diminish the effects of high altitude (nausea, headaches, difficulty breathing, dizziness).

We were also served bread and strawberry jam and encouraged to use the facilities.before beginning our 6 hour hike. The bathrooms were built as a separate unconnected structure similar to an outhouse. There was running water to a faucet outside the facility and only pluming connected to the toilets. People are expected to fill a bucket with a quart of water and take it with them into the bathroom. In this case, once I closed the wooden door the tiny room became quite dark. You are also expected to have your own toilet paper, as with everywhere else we have been. Once finished, you dump your bucket of water into the toilet to flush. Toilet paper is not allowed in the toiled and must be disposed in the waste bin placed in the bathroom. Sometimes, depending on where you are, you are actually expected to pay 1 sol to use the bathroom. If you are a patron of an establishment bathrooms are usually free, but most still do not have toilet paper. The only trash cans are the ones inside the stalls, there are none for after you was your hands or to dispose of other things.
Approximately 15 minutes after leaving breakfast we arrived at the base of the hike. From there we started hiking through marsh and mud the best we could to reach the rocky part of the trail. Todd pointed out that some grassy mounds looked more like moss covering a rock than grass. He was correct. So we began a game of leapfrog hopping or stepping on the mounds to get across. Something else we got good at was distinguishing between wet and dry mud. Sometimes the two would be next to each other but one could sustain you vs the other that would absorb your shoe. After a few minutes we were out of the initial mud and to the rocky ascend. This lasted for another 15 strenuous minutes until we reached a leveled area where natives were offering to carry the hikers on their horses for 70 soles (a steep fee).

We have been keeping track of all the methods of transportation we have used on this trip. So far we have ridden on planes, boats, cars, sleeper buses, train and a canoe. Claudia decided to add horse to her list by riding one on the hike. She still had to hike the harder spots since the animals can’t handle the strain.  The next 40 minutes were mostly flat and everyone felt relieved. Then it was steep in parts followed by flatter areas.
The last 30 minutes were the hardest. We could see where we were going. It seemed to be straight up and then a sharp right turn and the another climb for 100 meters along a mountain ridge.
Baby steps and deep breaths helped me get there. By that point I was wheezing, not from exertion but from the lack of sufficient oxygen. A few minutes of rest helped me recover. Todd and Jordan came up shortly behind me and they too were struggling. Jordan was dizzy and all of us suffer from headaches. This makes the hike sound horrible but conquering something really difficult makes it all the more special and that is the way I feel about Rainbow Mountain.

We spent 20 minutes taking pictures on the top and then it was down again. The hike back was much quicker. We were done in half the time. I found that if I sat down and rested my head would start hurting so I booked it back and set the pace for Todd and me.

We made it back just in time to avoid the big rainstorm. We waited on the bus until the last person made it back almost an hour later. The last person back was one of the girls from London and the altitude really got to her. The guide had to find her a horse to ride back, she was caught in the heavy rain and still had to hike some of the most difficult parts.

By the end Carlos was literally dragging her by her wrist behind him. Once we left in the bus she felt so sick that we had to pull over so she could throw up.

Lunch was served in the same place we had breakfast. We were offered soup, agave juice and coca tea. The food consisted of alpaca cooked with onions and fries served with a side of rice. It was surprisingly tasty.

Our way back was crazy too. The driver was rushing back the whole way. Once we pulled into town we learned that a procession was scheduled for Holy Monday. The bus couldn't get to our hotels so we were dropped off on a side street and told how to get back.

The flow of people heading towards and walking away from downtown was incredible. Everyone was pushing, shoving, and squeezing around us. It reminded me of how I envision black Friday lines to be at Walmart. It took us one hour to walk four blocks. We were trying to reach the main square to pick up our bus tickets for our next trip later that night but we decide to head back to Ecopackers, our hostel, instead and wait for the crowds to die down. Eventually we connected with the travel agent who was helping us and got our tickets.  We boarded a sleeper bus and left Cusco heading towards Puerto Maldonado that night.