Today´s theme was–descend! In fact, we descended from 12,000 to 9600 feet today, leaving the alpine terrain of the mountains to follow the Salcantay River down into the Cloud Forest. Conditions couldn´t be better: cool, slightly overcast and not a drop of rain all day.
After we left the comforts of the Wayra Lodge at 8:00, Dalmiro took us on a unique and fascinating side trip to the home of doña Maria, her husband and three sons. There we saw how Andeans truly live, in many ways exactly as they have since the days of the Inca. Her home looked like it could withstand a hurricane–made of stone, wooden beams and a thick, thatched roof. Built on two levels, the Andean homes have a living space below and storage above, for potatoes (the miracle food of the Andes), quinoa, corn and beans. The hearth had a spirited fire going and a pot of delicious little potatoes cooking. But the real surprise was the home´s other inhabitants–cuy, known to us as guinea pigs. These little guys were everywhere, especially around the stone hearth, and our guide took pains to inform us that they aren´t pets, they´re food… After a tour of the home and yard, we offered some gifts to Doña Maria and then headed on down the pass. In our gore-tex, backpacks and trekking poles, we wondered if she was thinking she´d just been visited by aliens from another world. Well, she had…
The 5.5 mile trek today was a welcome respite from yesterday´s grueling climb–almost all of it downhill on a good trail that had been wetted by rains last week and was completely dust-free. We saw bromeliads (air plants), hummingbirds, cantu (Peru´s national flower), caracaras (big black and white raptors), and a million butterflies. It was an amazing transition to a whole new biozone. We reached the river bottom by 1:30 and crossed the rushing Salcantay River, then a spirited hike up to the next lodge: Collcapampa. There, we were in for an epicurean treat–a traditional Andean lunch of lamb, cuy, chicken, pork, squash, plantains, and four kinds of potatoes. All of this was layered into a pachamanca (and Andean earth-oven) with oven-hot rocks, covered with wet leaves and buried for 45 minutes. We all agreed the resulting feast was the best meal we´d eaten yet, which is saying a lot.
A relaxed afternoon, a dip in the hot tub, and a light dinner and everyone was headed for their feather beds by 9:00 pm. OK, so we´re not technically ¨roughing it¨…but someone´s gotta do this!
Tomorrow: 9.5 miles into the jungle.