Mind-beam B

The Veterinary Magician

"My behemoth breaked.  It doesn't work."

"Have you tryed giving it new shoes?"

"It beed working yesterday."

"Call the zoomancer."

"Can I borrow your pad?  Mine bes not working.  Some problem with the wibbly-wobbly."

"What bes the wibbly-wobbly?"

"How should I know?  I ben't a aeromantist.  Just give me your pad, Maff."

Maff's behemoth spinned its glassy eye.  Maff handed the pad to Riss, then saddled the great beast.

"The entire team bes ready.  We be going.  You need to hurry.  If you cause us to miss our quotas for this quarter, you will be fired."  Several behemoths lumbered off towards the enormous pile, their drivers, seemingly like mosquitos on their backs, deftly handling the controls with a skill that showed long practice.  In the distance, another work party haved already started gathering large lumps of the stuff and carrying them to vast hoppers, where they would be processed.

Riss prodded at the pad.  "Help Call" beed hided deep within it, but eventually he finded the right pictogram.

"How may I help you?" played cheerily from the pad.

"I be needing help with my behemoth.  It bes not working.  It haves not even awoken."

"We will send a vet to you immediately.  Do you need a replacement behemoth?  We can provide you with something temporary."

Riss beed unsure if he wanted to have to learn how to control a new behemoth, but he could not afford to wait if his current behemoth could not work.

"Send one."  Worst case, it would have to be returned.

"One haves beed dispatched.  The vet will be with you shortly."

Riss paced fitfully around the motionless behemoth, occasionally kicking it, because he haved heard that that could help.

The human-sized door within the hangar door opened and in stepped the vet, muttering something into his pad.

The vet weared a pristine overall.  "I'm at the place.  It's another user problem I'm sure... and he's wearing one of those shirts."  The vet's accented Old Speech was hard to follow.

Riss looked down and suddenly realised that his t-shirt beed emblazoned with "Veterinary Magician".  He'd buyed it, like everyone, for the irony, but now it felt stupid.  It didn't help that over half of the other behemoth drivers were wearing the same shirt.  He pulled together the front of his waistcoat under his antique military jacket.  The vet couldn't help but notice his defensiveness.

Bristling, Riss strode forward and tryed to keep his voice brisk and business-like.

"Thank you for coming.  My behemoth here just refuses to do any work.  I'm sure that I need a new one."  He could hear the tone of irritation and embarrassment in his own voice.

The vet ignored the tone, but raised an eyebrow at the words as if hearing this gambit for the first time, as if every behemoth operator since the dawn of time hadn't tryed this tactic at least once in their career.  Even from a glance he could tell that the behemoth had been mistreated.

"I need to authenticate your identity sir or ma'am"

"My pad be broken."  He waved it at the vet.  "You can fix this too?"

The vet wondered why anyone would assume that behemoth veterinarian and pad magician were the same in any way, but the tragedy was that he haved the goodest chance of diagnosing the fault.  The vet haved never met a behemoth operator, or anyone outside the engineering cabal, who could think logically enough to find even the simplest problem, let alone concoct a strategy for repair.

Fortunately a hard reset cleared the pad problem and after some tinkering with the support request, Riss's details were confirmed.

The vet approached the behemoth, readed the tag that hanged from its neck.  Riss haved haved the behemoth for under a year, but it was showing the signs of the hard life to which the operators subjected the behemoths.

The first job beed to sedate the behemoth and inspect it more closely for major physical damage.  The next would be to clean the visible wounds, scrape away the external parasites and administer an emetic and poison regime to clear the internal parasites and any of the multitude of other infections that a behemoth could be exposed to, particularly if the driver was sufficiently incautious.

The vet haved no problem putting the behemoth into a sleep state and the behemoth showed no signs of structural damage: the wounds beed superficial, routine.

A huge rumbling roar indicated that a vehicle had arrived.  The vet recognised the sound of a delivery vehicle.  He met the eyes of Riss expressionlessly before returning to his work.  The vet knowed what would happen before Riss doed.

Riss walked to meet the driver.

"We have a delivery."

Riss handed his pad to the driver to authenticate the transaction.  The replacement behemoth was leaded into the work area.  Riss could see that it was younger, sleeker and more powerful than its predecessor.  Clearly the behemoth breeders beed working wonders breeding each generation of behemoth to be gooder than the last.

Riss looked at the vet and at the visible damage to the inferior behemoth.  A cynic would claim that he appeared to be calculating the hourly rate that a chartered veterinary surgeon would charge multiplied by the work required compared to the cost of depreciating a behemoth and the achievable additional work and creating the answer that he wanted and a story to sell the idea to his boss.  The cynic would be correct.

The vet beed such a cynic with the additional experience of having seed this many times.

“What do you want to do with the old one?”

“Dispose of it, please.”

The vet shrugged, retrieved the form to scrap the behemoth and handed it to Riss for authorisation.  The vet brightened a little.  He could take it home for his daughter.  She haved beed complaining that her current behemoth was too old and that she needed a stronger one for her schoolwork.  He could take it home, clean it and it would be more than good enough for her apprenticeship.  Gooder still, maybe they could work on it together.  Maybe he could develop an interest in her in anything from the cabal or related fields.  The list beed extensive: vet, doctor, communication aeromantist, structural engineer and so on.  Anything more than just another behemoth driver.
Mind-beam B

Earning His Stripes

The youth sniffed: the stink of the beast musked the still air.  He breathed deeply, trying to push his fear out of his shoulderblades, gripping the broad-bladed boar-spear tightly in his hands, the crosspiece recently repaired, the last loving gesture a father could make for his eldest child.  He touched the lashings that bound the wood together and summoned his father’s image for reassurance and recrimination.  Slightly heartened he tottered forward, eyes darting around rather as prey than predator, until his eyes fell upon the beast.

Peter Owenson sat at his desk in Whitehall, the latest draft of a resolution skulking in front of him.  He’d used all of his wiles to persuade the appropriate people that the measure was necessary; he’d had the statisticians knock together some fake numbers that sounded sufficiently scientific.  He’d bought the right journalists to address it as if it were a countryside issue that townies couldn’t understand, he’d thrown mud, figuratively speaking, at his opponents, and stood his ground against the nay-sayers and those that clawed at his back and bayed for his blood.

The youth, transfixed, could only admire the sleek grace of the beast in front of him: not quite as large as a bear, but as wily and strong; smaller than the boar that his father had bested in fireside tales, but no less ferocious when its blood was up.  Brock, guardian and mother, keeper of forest wisdom, whose misfortune it was to be the youth’s trial, although at this stage, it was not clear whose misfortune was greater.  There would be no easy headlong rush, the beast impaling herself on a well-set spear, this would be a battle of wits.

Peter leaned back on his chair, and rocked slightly, his legs flexing to bear the weight.  It was a job well done and he should go home.

The tip of the spear juddered in the cold air, the glint of the polished edge mesmerising.  With a jolt, the youth shook sense back into his head, planted his foot more firmly at the base and tried to relax the clench of his terrified fingers.  The clatter of brush, the trickle of sweat, the prickle of hair, all tried to distract him, but some mutual resolution was perceived as the eyes of the unwilling opponents met.

Peter headed out of the main entrance.  The media circus was there, waiting for answers.  Peter only smiled at the microphone jabbed at his face.

They circled, or rather the youth was the earth and the beast the sun that orbited him.  A lunge, the spear nicked the thick muscles of the shoulder, someone shouted and snarled.  The orbit reversed, another lunge, the spear batted away.  A leap.  A roll.  Breath harsh condensed.  The butt flying free, bludgeoning nostrils.  A spin, a twitch, the mass off-balance, plunging around the point, stuck between shoulder and neck.  Clinging to life and the haft, dying unless quick, the cross-piece bearing the weight, keeping distance from the maw, claw clubbing forward, raking flesh and cracking bone.  More screams, knife drawn, ducking under, first stabs grazing astray, footprints in blood, red flecks on white stripes and rolling eyes.  A desperate plunge and another and another, strength fading, breath ragged, falling in each others arms as blackness obscured sight, ears straining at the last for some whisper of wisdom.

Peter dodged the first few questions, impatiently batting them away with a gesture.  From the right came a question more to his liking, he locked his eyes on the inhuman lens and unleashed the full force of his cunning.

Relief flooded in with the light, the lumpen mass making a sigh impossible, but wriggling and squirming allowed the young man to emerge anew from the tussle.  He followed the ritual forms of thanks and dedication with tears on his cheeks, before skinning the pelt from the creature.  This would form the robe that he would wear henceforward, marking him as a man and leader of men, second only to his father within the tribe, for the time being.

Peter walked away from the interview, the power of life and death reinforced within him, he’d struggled in the mud, got his hands dirty with policies, pulled their own wool over the eyes of the sheep and he’d emerged the victor, signing away the lives of two thousand creatures.  Truly he had proven himself a leader of men.
Mind-beam B

Day 21 - Machu Picchu

Woke up on time, faffed a little bit longer than I expected and decided to grab breakfast, since the ho(s)tel provided it from 4am.  I'd decided what I knew all along: I wanted to climb the steps.  It made little sense to walk all the way to the doorstep Machu Picchu and then do the last bit by bus.  On the other hand, I was going to have to hurry or risk having to catch the bus just to get there on time.  The queue for the bus was already pretty long as I passed it.

Fortunately I felt pretty good and set a brisk pace that overtook a lot of people.  It was slightly eerie, retracing our path in the darkness, walking through a garden on the way to the bus depot, then following the unlit road, with only pools of light and hunched forms.

When I arrived at control booth, the queue had started to move, but I was not the only one from my group there: the two Canadians were sat by the road, one of whom, Trevor, was horribly ill.  I lent them a head-torch as they had no light, but then joined the queue.

Once I was through the passport control, I could cross the Urubamba to the bottom of the steps.  There were a few people around that I knew, but the ascent was purely alone despite the crowd.  You'd think that with four days of intense hiking under my belt, plus several other hikes in the previous week, all at higher altitude than this, that I'd have little problem.  The problem is that the steps aren't designed for walking up: each is around a foot high: the Inca jumped up them like freakish bipedal mountain goats.  I had not run along the Salkantay trail in leaps and bounds; I had not spent the last 6 months doing step aerobics: I was, in short, unprepared.

The trail itself goes almost straight uphill for much of it, with some bends as you get closer to the top.  The path intersects the road on which the buses drive up: the road heads back and forth, providing handy rest-stops with a chance of accident.

Doing all of this in the dark is still a strange experience, the main sensory inputs being touch, proprioception, and sound.  The stamp of boots on steps, the heavy breathing, the strain of calf muscles, the bursting lungs trying to filter the thin air, the crunch of dirt road as you reach a break-point and the roar of headlamps as they pass.  A head torch allows you to focus on the step ahead of you: inattention still leads to tripping.

In places the steps were probably original, protruding from the wall like rows of jagged incisors, rectangular in cross-section, with roots deep into the side wall.

As I approached the top, the crowd and the darkness thinned out, the sky lightening as both I and the sun climbed higher, until I reached the top of the path: the sun had further to go.  Unknown to me, so had I.

I found our party and we waited to get the group together.  Then we had to go through the turnstiles, showing our passports and tickets.  The crowd was thick in the space, but still quite small relative to what I'd feared.  We were probably quite fortunate that the train had not been running the previous day; it probably meant that the number of people that had reached Aguas Calientes was reduced.  Also, it was still fearfully early.

After the entrance, we were told to climb up for another ten minutes... I may have screamed.  My legs certainly seemed to, but I pushed on regardless.

Machu Picchu is one of those iconic locations, instantly recognisable.  The thrill of seeing it with nobody in the city, during the golden hour, just like the photos that you might expect to see on postcards, was unmistakable.  Bear in mind also that this was a place that I'd wanted to visit since I was 12 and I'd managed, by inattention, to be present and about to witness a sunrise on the winter solstice; of such significance to the sun-worshipping Inca that it literally was the beginning of their year.  You will have to imagine my excitement.

I walked up to the watchtower, which is the only building that had been visible from various places on our trek, for obvious reasons.  The city of Machu Picchu lay before me and beyond it the towering Haina Picchu, for which I had no tickets and, frankly, no strength to master the ascent.  As I stood there, lost in the eternity of stone and laboured exhaustion, the clusters of people dispersed, seeking the illumination of the sunstone by the first rays of light to clear the mountain, altitude, a window or a temple: wherever they were led to believe would provide the best view.

I found the guide and the remains of our group and followed, listening to the fantastic stories of rediscovery and daily life.  We circled the plateau until we reached the temple with three windows facing the east, fancifully entitled the Temple of the Three Windows.

There a group of people had already gathered, arrayed in an arc behind the altar.  Beyond the altar stood a monolith, the three windows, the plateau, the river valley, a ring of mountains and the brightening sky.  Behind us, the shadows of those mountains crawled across the red-gold bathed slopes of the Salkantay and its peers.

The people were engaged in callisthenic activity, led by an instructor, who called out the changes of the exercise in spirituality.  I reminded myself that if it makes them happy then that is enough and does not make them look ridiculous.  I even tried to believe it.  I know that activity, keeping the head tilted back and certain sounds, fills the human body with euphoric chemicals: I begrudged them not those chemicals, nor even the inexplicatory, inexplicating, incomprehending certainties that come with them, only the intrusion of their mental engagement into my psyche.

Sunrise is such a special occasion; seldom appreciated, quotidian, but breathtaking when given your full attention.  And so, in a combined sense of wonder, gratitude, beatific beauty at a golden event significant enough to require no extra gilding, losing ourselves in the bright, obscured edge of an otherwise unremarkable star painting the land, the works of man and our retinas with the life-giving product of intense fusion.

Once the sun had cleared the mountain range we made our way onward, around the structures that adorn the site, constructions intended to show the form of the buildings of antiquity, but with none of the graceful interlocking symmetry of the genuine article.  Even so, there are still some exposed gems amid the fictive replication: the stonework of the … is incredible; the mirror pools; the rocks of the condor and puma, while perhaps fanciful in interpretation of the erratic, are too enormous to be anything than original, predating human occupiers.

And so we were guided around the main bulk of the archæological site, listening to the narratives contradicting each other, until we reached a point where the fellowship was finally broken, goodbyes exchanged and I could finally hasten out of the site to find the toilets near the entrance.

At that point I had a quandary.  My train was not until after 4pm.  Despite how late it felt it was barely after 10am.  I headed back into the site and headed for the Sun Gate, which turned out to be a reasonably long walk up the side of Machu Picchu mountain.  At the top of the climb was a large structure, with a number of people sat around, including some of the group.  I sat and enjoyed the view, then headed back down towards the next diversion: the Inca bridge.  This was much closer, but involved following a much narrower trail along the side of the cliff.  It offered great views of the hydroelectric dam, the railway bridge and the plumment adjacent to the path.

While we were there, I was shown the face in Machu Picchu.  Mind blown.

After that I headed back to the main area and explored a load of side paths and buildings that I hadn't yet seen, some of them quite vertiginous.  I did another full circuit of the plateau, taking a slightly different route, then finally plunged into the medina to find a load of stonework that I would have missed otherwise. 

And thus it was 2pm and the number of tourists had grown: it was time to head for the bus back to Aguas Calientes.
Mind-beam B

Day 20 - Salkantay Trek - Aguas Calientes (71km in)

Woke up feeling good at a sensible time, which is just as well, as we didn't get an alarm call and tea this morning.  I suspect Edwin had a few too many Pisco Cokes.

Breakfast featured avocados, which was good, and there was cake!

I packed everything I could in my main rucksack, which left the reserve holding a coat or two and some camera stuff.

We got the bus to the zipline place, dumped our gear and picked up a harness and helmet.  Then we got taken to the bottom of a path and had a climb up the side of the valley.

The ziplining was fun: the hardest bit is the departure.  Fortunately it wasn't the only line.  We had a number of lines to go across so the thrill of the launch was fresh each time.  The last line was a little unusual: we zipped down the line to a really unstable platform, then rapelled down to the ground from the platform.  So it was good fun and a nice social experience of terror.

Of course, one of the main draws was the avoidance of walking along the road for a couple of hours.  Once we'd finished, we caught a taxi to the hydroelectric plant, passing our group on the road.  There were a whole load of outlets and waterfalls from the cliffs, so i ditched my stuff and wandered back around the industrial site to get a decent view of one of the nearest ones.

By the time I got back it felt like lunchtime, but it was only just after 10.  We then made our way along the train tracks that lead to Aguas Calientes.  Apparently no trains were running, though, because there had been a landslide across the railway.  This boded ill for the people that had sent their kit with the cooks.

Anyway, walking along the train tracks had its own challenges, particularly those bits where the railway was the only bridge, so we had to walk on the sleepers.  Not so easy when you can't see your feet.  ObStandByMe.

From the valley there were a couple of places where you could see Machu Picchu, or one of the buildings and some of the terraces, in any case.  We were walking below it, along the river that almost encircles it, the Urubamba.

After too long, and with some assistance, we finally made it.
Mind-beam B

Day 20 - Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Peublo

I have been roughing it for so long, but I'm sat in a modern hotel restaurant, with complementary, or included, same difference, dinner with two glasses of Pisco Sour, although philosophically one is no longer a glass of Pisco Sour, and the taste of bread with herb butter has sent me into trembling palpitations.

I may be thoroughly corrupted.  Food that is a sensory delight, rather than refuelling.  I'm a sensual creation as well as practical, perhaps more so as I age (rather than ripen or mature).

Ok, the third Pisco Sour must be strong, I'm falling in love with the world again.

I have to get up at 4am tomorrow, or earlier.  Strictly speaking I need to be walking at 4:30, if I decide to walk to Machu Picchu, rather than taking the bus and, despite my feet, I'm inclined to (inclined, geddit?).

Maybe having a fourth and fifth cocktail (it's Happy Hour) isn't such a great idea)  I can't even punctuate properly.

On the other hand I can still feel my legs.

On the other leg, they managed to take me to the bar where my voice colluded into ordering another two cocktails.  This is going to end well!

As long as I manage to collect my ticket!

The next course has arrived: tasting the mashed sweet potato, blended with he juice of the pan and the juice, almost made me weep.

My next conundrum is, can one cook in the field, or in a field and I mean cook; not just create sustenance, but also sensation.

I'm schizophrenic, seeing double, seeing the then and the now.
Mind-beam B

Day 19 - Salkantay Trek (58km in)

My left big toe is purple.  Not sure what to do about it.  I don't know whether I should puncture it or leave it.  Other than that I have a heavily blistered fourth toe on my right foot, but otherwise there is no external sign of foot damage.  My legs are covered with recovering bites, mostly from the first day, but with reinforcements since.

The walk today was pleasant.  Only about 14km of undulation, we crossed the river and followed a different valley upstream.  The weather in the morning was nice, there were a load of wild strawberry plants to forage through and other interesting plants, including coffee, avocado and orchids.  There were also rivers to cross with waterfalls and cascades.  It was all jolly nice and sociable.

I felt good, but didn't feel comfortable walking with lots of people and we kept overlapping with other groups, so while I stayed at the front to start with to maximise wildlife encounters, I dropped further back each time I felt crowded.

There were a few stops too, particularly a nice rest stop with a pig, chickens and ducks wandering around.

After a few hours, it became clear that there was a decision point ahead: if we reached this point and the buses were there we'd take the bus, otherwise we'd have to walk to lunch along the road.  Fortunately the buses were there, but they had an unusual proposal.  And so I found myself climbing onto the roof rack, with my bag safely stowed in the minibus, with four other people and assorted luggage and I rode to the town on top.

In another stroke of fortune, we arrived at the lunch stop and sat at the table just as the rain started.

Lunch was basic, but the place had almost frozen beers.  We had a mixture of dishes: a mushroom ceviche, various salads, rice and so on.

We then boarded the bus again, properly this time, and rode to the campsite in Santa Teresa.

There's something perverse about camping in the middle of a town.  It just seems masochistic and inflexible, somehow, and largely pointless.  I have no problem with camping when there is no alternative accommodation available, but to do so in a place with a surfeit of buildings?.  Ridiculous!.

Still, we stood around wating to be told what was happening next.  Of course, when we finally found out, it was suddenly a rush again.  Anyway, this afternoon was probably what we'd all been dreaming about: we were going to a hot springs.

And so we prepared, got back in the bus, which took us to the hot springs.  We then paid a pre-determined price for the ticket, which seemed variable depending on who you were or which group you were with, changed into swimwear and then headed for the water.

Absolute bliss.  There were three pools, two cooler, one hot, with views of the sunlight moving across the mountains.  There was also a more concealed fall with unheated water from the mountain, which I popped under a few times.

The whole experience was just plain nice: washing away the accumulated grime and psychic distress of the past three days.  Ok, it couldn't wash away the scratches, bruises and chafing, but it certainly didn't exacerbate them.

And so we spent time paddling around, chatting gently and watching the light of the setting sun.

And so, we reached the end of our time, washed our hair with detergent in the outflow of the hot pools.  And then I dressed in soiled clothes, with the weight of the hiking boots on my feet, but refreshed and rested.

The campsite was full of people: it was the traditional campfire of the third night, people let their hair down, drank too much, danced badly to bad music and generally had a great time.  I watched from the sidelines, exhausted, and chatted to the other wall.

I am not looking forward to tomorrow.  I've agreed to go on the zip-lines, mainly as a way of reducing the walk, but I was still going to have to walk for a few hours and, due to a poor set of communications, it had now become clear that I would have to carry both packs, or pay the cooks to take one to Aguas Calientes.  The latter option seemed complex and prone to failure, so I decided to carry them, but I wasn't looking forward to the prospect.

Shorts and top still not dry.
Mind-beam B

Day 18 - Salkantay Trek (44km in)

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.
Mind-beam B

Day 17 - Salkantay Trek (22km in)

So the hike is going well.  I am definitely fast on the flatter sections and most of the walk today was on road: easy walking, but long.

The hard bits were the "short cuts", where we truncated zig-zags to save some distance at the cost of a steeper and rougher ascent.  I'm a bit concerned about my performance on these trails.

Tomorrow is the hardest day.  As our guide put it, there's just one short cut tomorrow: all the way to the top.  We're starting at 6am-ish.  The ascent: around 700m (2200 feet) over four kilometres and ten a long descent.  Tonight is the highest campsite of the trek.  In total we're walking for at least ten hours.

The group was a but stilted at breakfast.  I guess the 4am start may have had a little to do with it, but it's warmed up and we had a lot of laughter this evening.

The pickup was early and everyone seemed to have slept badly last night.  We've all turned in.

The stars were amazing.  The Milky Way, Southern Cross and Scorpio were staggeringly clear.

Lunch was large: quinoa soup, chicken and rice.

Dinner was a bit confused.  We were dragged into the tent "for tea" to find crackers, hot water and hot chocolate powder.  Then came huge plates of popcorn, like a dinner arranged by a five-year-old.

Eventually dinner was announced for half an hour.  We played Uno until it arrived.

The scenery has been great.  We've left eucalyptus tress behind as we've approached the snowy slopes of Salkantay et. al.

Someone at the other end has just said "Have you seen Brokeback Mountain?"

It's very cold.  "Esta frio para caralho, pendejo" got a laugh.  I kept the clothes off while hiking, but changed straight into the warm stuff when we stopped.

I foolishly washed my Spandex/Lycra/whatever-it-is (like I know the difference) garments.  My hands went numb in the cold water.  Otherwise I've been toasty in good clothing.

We had to bring the boots into the tent so dogs don't make off with them.  I should sleep.  Early start tomorrow.
Mind-beam B

Day 15 - Lima to Cuzco

Not much to report.  I'm in Cuzco waiting for a meal that may never arrive.

I woke up early this morning, grabbed a quick breakfast, then took the taxi to the airport.  We went a slightly different route to before so I saw a few more colonial buildings.

I actually wrote a lot more about what happened this morning, it was full of hilarious anecdotes about what I'd seen on the way to the airport and afterwards, but my laptop crashed with no autosave, so I lost it.

A bit later someone stole my wallet with a load of cash and a couple of cards.  Basically, because I'd been flying, I'd moved my cash from the higher value target to my wallet for safe-keeping, but hadn't gotten around to transferring it back, so they acquired all of it: pounds, euros, dollars, soles.  I was even super-paranoid, but the scam is simple: throw dirt at the mark's back, help them brush it off, pick pocket.  The urge to react is so strong that it takes both of your hands.  I even knew about how it worked, but was just a second or two too slow putting it together.

So I wasn't really in the mood to retype it all.  In fact, once I'd made the necessary calls to cancel my cards I wasn't in much of a mood to do anything.

Mind-beam B

Day 14 - Cajamarca to Lima

Not much to say.  I got up, packed, had breakfast, caught the transfer to the airport, caught the plane to Lima, caught the taxi to the hotel, walked to a local restaurant for an afternoon meal, then went back to the hotel and relaxed/passed out for the rest of the day.