Day Two dawned grey and drizzly. I had not slept well: Our tent was not quite long enough for me to lie down, so we had to sleep diagonally which, with the incline we were on, meant that Brett kept sliding down and pushing me into the corner. So, when the porters came around with hot tea at 05:30, I was already awake and keento get moving.
It seems I wasn’t alone and, after packing our gear for the day and performing the morning ablutions, I joined the group of glum-looking hikers huddled under the farmhouse’s balcony, sheltering from the rain and waiting for breakfast.
The rain cleared during breakfast and before we set off, Felipe called the porters together and introduced them all to the group. Age and marital status (including how many wives/children each one had) seemed to be the key information. I wondered at several of them having two wives in what is allegedly a quite Catholic country. Our earlier tour of Cusco, though, had underscored quite how much the “unchanging, universal” church had adapted to fit local culture in order to baptise the Andean peoples.
When you research the Inca Trail, the second day seems to be the most talked about. It includes the steep climb to the trail’s highest point; 4200m at Dead Woman’s Pass. For a person who is reasonably fit and acclimatised to the altitude though, it doesn’t really pose a challenge. Brett and I both found it comfortably doable, albeit slower than we might otherwise have gone, as we had to go at the speed dictated by our lungs’ ability to extract oxygen from the rarefied air.
The drizzle was quite a welcome coolant on the trail as we hiked up the ascent surrounded by the clouds. The sky did begin to clear as we reached the pass though and, while we didn’t get much of a view from the top, we were at least able to see each other and take off the ponchos. We were treated to tantalising glimpses of distant peaks as the mist and clouds were constantly shifting and, not for the last time, I wondered how spectacular the views must be once the dry season gets started in earnest and the cloud clears away.
One of our group, Richard, had been unwell overnight. It sounded more like a milder version of the food poisoning that had taken out his colleague, but at the top, he took a few hits from the oxygen tank Hans was a carrying to clear his headache. Once the others saw it though, the mask was passed around several in the group.
The landscape on the far side of Dead Woman’s Pass was noticeably different from the climb up to it. The air was warmer and the previously constant sound of rushing water was replaced by the tranquil croaking of frogs. The hillside reminded me a lot of the Scottish Highlands, with coarse, low-level vegetation and a lot of brown with the green, broken by the occasional rushing stream-come-waterfall.
As it turned out, the descent was more arduous than the ascent; the long runs of irregular steps were very hard on the knees, even with the support of trekking poles. We were very grateful to reach camp and be able to sit down and take the weight off our legs – although that did involve us unpacking our duffels and inflating the air-mattresses first.
Still, we were a reasonably happy and chatty group at dinner after we’d taken on the afternoon’s load of sweetened tea and popcorn. After dinner, instead of tea, Felipe passed around a local drink (whose name I didn’t remember to record) which was very drinkable. He also produced a bottle of rum which everyone used to augment it. A very pleasant evening was had by all…
The drinking did come back to haunt me though as, after settling in to sleep, I had to get up twice through the night to pee; a not-insignificant task when camping! The silver-lining though was that I got to enjoy the bright, silent moonlit night; no stars because of a light cloud layer, but plenty of moonlight shining on the mist-filled valley below us. Quite surreal and lovely.