I'm woken up at 06:30 to Coca Tea and frozen tents. It's hard getting up in the cold - and it was still cold by the time I leave at 09:00.
It turns out I pushed myself too hard yesterday, racing ahead with John - for today I have no energy and lag behind. I let the super fit charge ahead, while I amble along at my own pace.
The morning sees us over a pass next to Salkantay mountain itself. At an altitude of 4,600m it is the highest our trip to Machu Picchu will take us. It's a good height and is much talked about in conversation, but having recently ascended 1½ km higher, I find it difficult to join the enthusiasm!
Nearing the top I pass Patricia and again slow for a chat. She had plenty of rest last night and drank lots as per my advice and today she looked (and felt) a whole lot better. Seeing her water bottle swinging by her side I knew I had lost my carabineer for good, but happy it went to a good cause!
At the top of the pass I meet the fitter half of the group and wait for the un-fit half. (I guess I'm in the middle!) There is much celebration when they do for it's the highest most of them have ever been. I brake out a Hip Flask of whiskey and hand it round. One of the Americans, bemused by the tradition, says, "Man, I love you Brits!" I took it as a complement
Salkantay is a large icy peak, our guide tells us no one has yet climbed it. He said one European team attempted it some 15 years ago but an ice avalanche wiped them all out. As he spoke there was a thundering crash on the mountain, an obvious avalanche sound. But the mountain remained still. Apparently it's common, for what we see of the mountain is just an icy coat on the outside and the dangerous avalanches occur underneath, where we can not see.
Fog rolled in obscuring all views as we descended down the other side. The damp mossy rocks were complete with wet woolly sheep. I swear I could have been in Wales! We followed a path along the side of a valley to reach our next camp. This one was a little settlement of farm houses so come evening we were even able to buy a bottle of beer! Correction - I was able to buy a bottle of beer! No one else was interested.
That night it comes to the guides' attention I have a large stash of Bolivian Coco leaves in my possession, which turns out to be big breaking news. I'm not in trouble, far from it - in fact they're all eager to try some because they've never had Bolivian before! I heartedly hand it out piles of leaves and they all munch away before reaching a unanimous decision that it's not as good as their locally grown Peruvian stuff. I think it was a bit of national pride coming in to play for personally I couldn't taste any difference!
Posted by Steve Eynon