Wow!  What an amazing day!  Saturday 11/8/14

So today was the start of the trek to Machu Picchu.  We are staying the night in Huchoy C’osqo (think I spelled that right), which means “Little Cusco”, in a primitive little settlement, right next to the Inca ruins of the same name, still pretty high up above the Sacred Valley (I guess, a 4 Km walk down some pretty steep trails).  I am currently sitting in my sleeping quarters being totally grateful for the backlighting of my iPad, as I am typing by the light of one candle.  And the bano, or Jisti’wana, in Quechua, is up some very uneven homemade stairs and across a little courtyard, right next to where they are raising the guinea pigs, or cuy (for dinner FYI). ????  and the bano on the trails?  The great outdoors!  ????   Or, as Rolando, our trail guide said this morning with his giant smile, “it’s back to nature!”  There are 5 of us total on the trip.  Kristina is the travel agent at Worldwide Exotic Travels that I booked the trip with, down in her office right across from Maximo Nivel, in the same building.  And she and her mother from Holland are on the trip, as well as another volunteer named Patrick, from Toronto, Canada.  Rolando, the guide make 5.
Once again, it really was an amazing day!  Beautiful, sunny, warm, with crisp puffy white clouds, and not one single raindrop where we were at any time today.  I couldn’t have ordered better for our 9 hours of walking with 1.5 hours of siesta after lunch today.  We started in Chincherro, and I, of course, was the only one with 2 day packs, because all of my warm jammies, and food, and jackets, would not fit into one bag with everything else.  So I was the nerd with a backpack on my back and a small daypack on my front.  This later came in handy as a windbreak when we were near the summit and going down the other side.  So that probably makes me even more of a nerd, since it really was helpful in the long run.  And I wore all of those jackets tonight, and underarmor, and a fleece vest, and gloves, as we were nearing the end of our trek in cold windy shaded areas.
Going up was tough.  Slow and steady was the name of the game, and apparently always is here in the Andes, for all of the possible treks that you can do here, because up so high there just isn’t enough oxygen for the average body to be able to climb much faster than we did.  “Poco a poco” and “Un pie en frente” (one foot in front) were our mantras, as we put one foot in front of the other, slowly ascending to a summit of over 6000 meters (I don’t think I even want to know how high that is in feet).  Of course we started pretty high too, but I am told that we ascended almost 1500 meters in just over 5 kilometers distance.  As of right now, this evening, I can tell you that that is a lot!  I totally understand where these small Peruvian people get their barrel chests, as I was breathing so deeply, and using every accessory muscle in my body, to get good deep breathes.  And then we descended even further down in just under 5 kilometers.  That was a lot too, and on rocks and through river beds.  My quads were quivering a bunch!
And yet, it remained a stunning blue, sunny, mostly warm day in The Sacred Valley, where we were.  Wonderful!  The wind at the top was bone-chilling as it came off the snow-capped Andean peaks (ok, yes, for my precious wimpy So Cal bones), but as we sat on the big stone peak at the summit, I felt like I was baking in the intense sunshine.  So, yes, of course I reapplied sunscreen and kept my cool new Peru hat on my head.  We ate sack lunches of 2 plain cheese sandwiches (yay for plain!) made with hamburger buns that were like wonder bread (really soft and squishy and exactly right for carbs and a bit of needed protein at the time), an apple, OJ, a honey and grains bar, and cookies.  Then we leaned back on our backpacks and took a bit of a siesta after lunch.  It was delightful, except for the bruise that it left on my left hip bone cuz I fell so dead asleep for about an hour!  The after lunch part of the day was all downhill, over very uneven terrain, and was nearly as much of a challenge for the quads as the going up part was for the lungs.  Good thing I’ve been running stairs in San Blas! Or I may not be able to walk tomorrow.  I may lose a big toenail though cuz that coming down was rough!
We arrived at Huchoy Q’osco at about 4:30 and then toured around some of the ruins until we were all so cold and shaking that Rolando had to take us up to our homestay.  The Señora greeted each of us with a kiss and flower petals showering over our heads (I bent down considerably for her to reach over my head), while her husband blew the conche shell, and her probably 10 year old daughter came and took some of our backpacks.  We sat on fuzzy llama skin covered wooden benches until they had sorted out our rooms and then each of us went to our respective rooms to clean up and prepare for dinner.
There wasn’t that much preparing to do, as I was not about to go strip down and get underneath the cold snow run-off that they use for water here, especially since the banos were across the little courtyard a good 50-70 ft away from my room.  And no electricity, so no warm shower pumps.  There was a single solar panel up on a plywood platform that was hooked to some random-looking wiring, but we were told that it had worked to power a small radio and a lightbulb at one time, and then had stopped working a few weeks ago, and he didn’t know how to fix it.  So….  We went through the dark cooking room, where our meal was being prepared by the mom and her daughter over the open flame, with guinea pigs running around the room too, and sat in the dark candlelit diningroom next to it, with large bench table and seating covered by traditional woven cloths of many colors.  There was appetizer of baked salted corn kernels–they are larger than our corn nuts–also of many colors, and hot water with a variety of things available to put into it, like teas, instant coffee, instant milk, raw sugar, and Milo (the Peru crystallized variety of Nestle’s Quick. Yay!).  We drained the rather large bowl of corn kernels as well as 2 large thermoses of hot water, and probably nearly drained the Milo and instant milk, while sounds of grinding stones and cooking were plentiful in the kitchen, as well as the Quechua music from a battery operated am/fm transistor radio with questionable reception.  Our first course was a large bowl of thick corn soup with haba beans in it, very hardy.  I could have stopped there, was nice and full and warm and sleepy by that time (almost 9:00).  But then they brought our main course to us individually, and they had cooked me a veggie omelet special, to go with my white rice, as everyone else had beef cooked with tomatoes to go with their rice.  The dessert was baked peach and apricot, one of each, both very small, and in a bowl in their own syrup.  It was really lovely and was served very traditionally, but I was just so sleepy and hoping to get to bed ASAP.
When we had talked to the family some and thanked them profusely over and over again, Rolando led us each back to our rooms with a candle, which he used to light the single candle in my room. That was nice since I had opened the small box of matches to light my candle earlier, and they were all burned, and then replaced in the box. ???  I went across the way to brush my teeth, and wound up doing so in the courtyard while looking at the spectacular full moon.  It was amazing, huge, and very bright, so only the brightest of the stars were visible, then I used a flashlight to see in the bathroom, and a flashlight to see my way back to my room.
   

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