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Jun. 18th, 2013 @ 06:07 pm Day 18 - Salkantay Trek (44km in)
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I didn't sleep.  I don't know whether to blame the aggravating insect bites, the lack of a shower, the hot chocolate, the altitude or the maté da coca.  Take your pick.

I lay for a while, read a bit of "This Thing Called Darkness", lay a bit more, read a bit more, lay, finished "This Thing Called Darkness", had no brain for "Telegraph Avenue" and so I lay in the darkness listening to the noises like human screams that were probably animal in origin: mules, horses, maybe a puma.  Or an elephant.

6am wake-up call: each tent received a cup of maté da coca.  I repacked both rucksacks so that I could use my own and send the borrowed one with the horses.  This meant that I had to carry all of the snacks, not just a daily ration.

The shorts and top I washed last night were not dry.

Breakfast was pancakes and rolls, with hot chocolate.

The trek started gently enough; it was uphill, but not steeply.  As the trail continued, it became steeper, until it zig-zagged up the mountainside.  By then I'd fallen into a slow, but steady, rhythm that I could keep up for hours and I Zen tranced my way up the mountain with hardly a pause.  This meant that I also missed a little of the surroundings, but it's usually a choice between pushing and dawdling and on a hard day of hiking driving takes over.

And it was hard: 700m ascended, then 1600m descended, over around 22.1km.  Of course the killer headache didn't help.

So yes, we got to the top of the trail, the peak of the pass between Salkantay and Othermountainay, but it was still around 4600m above sea level.

The ground of the 'plateau' is littered with, well... tourists and rucksacks, but behind or under those are stacks and stacks of rocks: cairns, caerns or prayer-piles, left by generations of locals, knocked over by clumsy tourists and rebuilt badly by tour guides and less enthusiastic tourists, who also stumble over the existing cairns, thus providing materials for the next set of tourists to pillage.

There were queues to be photographed by the sign showing the altitude.  On the far side a group sang Happy Birthday.  It was good to be back to nature.

While I was looking around, the fog rolled in, first obscuring the snowy peaks, then cascading into the valley.

The wait at the top was quite long.  As the views dissipated in the fog, so too did the crowd.  It became a priority to get off the mountain and descend to lunch.

Unfortunately my head was killing me and after snacking, hydrating and exhydrating I was alone on the mountainside.  I dislike descending at the best of times, but when every jolt resonates in your skull, it's unpleasant.

The mind plays tricks on you: rocks look ugly when you're alone; their faces jump out of the fog; paths are uneven going down.  Cloaked strangers lurk on each corner then disappear as you look directly at them.

Finally I reached the group on a flat area, with a great view of a wide vista of fog.  I'm sure that the view would have been unbelievable without the veil.  It reminded me a lot of Roraima.

I fell behind again on the next leg, but once i cleared the rocky slope, the land levelled off into a bleak plain, criss-crossed with weaving trails of mud and winding rivers and streams.  It reminded me of being stranded on a salt marsh.

When I reached the group again, I was given a branded painkiller by a kind Australian family.  We then marched to the lunch stop, where I had two servings of soup, and a full plate of carbs and stuff.

I then staggered off and lay down in the lee of a rock and closed my eyes.

Meanwhile comic situations were unfolding: the toilet apparently had a toll of one Sole, but the attendant also was serving from the kiosk, so he'd sometimes have to run away from customers to chase down tourists exiting the toilet, who were trying to slink away without being seen, but with the cash in hand.  It's probably funnier as a direct spectator.

Despite only really closing my eyes and not really drifting far, the combination of shut eye, food and painkiller worked wonders.  The descent, while wet and muddy had a certain gentle softness underfoot compared to the unforgiving nothingness of the higher slopes.

The cloud, while seeming to follow me down earlier, coyly parted, revealing the private ravines with gushing cascades that growled with liquid energy.  The overgrowth of alien trees flanking the fluid depths, verdant, drooping under the weight of weeping foliage or clumped parasite.

And so we were borne to the campsite, a freezing shower with a head made from a punctured water bottle and sleep.
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