Day’s Theme: I think I hate the Inkas. I definitely hate their trail.
Having survived Dead Woman’s Pass without actually physically dying, being treated to banana flambe and pisco sour by our lovely cooks, and camping in the looming shadows of snowcapped mountains next to gorgeous waterfalls, I felt totally ready for day Three. Then I learned its nickname: Gringo Killer.
No, really.

We begin with an hour and a half or so of uphill, and while sore from the day before, its a new kind of snowy, wintry landscape, we see aguave plants and wild pineapple plants, fog rolls in before you can reach for your camera to snap a pic of the ruins you just passed (why are they called “ruins” ?? I think they are fabulous. They are not ruined at all, just no one is living in them at the present. I think we should call them “magnificents.”) Its really cool. We stop at one Magnificent and learn about the history of it, how the Inkans spent almost a century constructing the sacred trails along natural springs, but when the Spanish conquerers moved into the Americas, they all but abandoned the sacred cities and fortresses, destroying most of the pathways, to keep the Spanairds from discovering the valley. Its tradition to pick up a rock from a certain site and place it on top of the third pass, where you will find dozens of rock formations, to make a wish and leave it in the care of Pacha Mama, Mother Earth. We all hike up to the tallest formation and make our secret wishes, its a special moment.

The climb doesnt seem so hard….then we start the Gringo Killer portion….three thousand steps...aaaaaalllllllll downhill, with an option to go see another ancient Magnificent that will extend your hike by an hour and a half or so. Natasha and I decide that we didnt come all the way to Peru to skip out on a ruin, and decide to go for it.
O. M. G.

They are not kidding about the Gringo Killer. I feel like I am being slowly tortuously killed, starting from the quads down, with a small but powerful hammer whacking each knee with each step, and puppet strings slowly pulling my calves up and up away from my ankle bones. Each step downward makes me a little more wobbly, a little more unstable, a little more delirious, and the walking stick is the only thing saving me from tucking into a ball and rolling my way three thousand something steps into camp. Meanwhile, no one else from our group is in sight, and porters are literally sprinting past us, skipping down the rocks like gazelles. Natasha and I both stop behind large rocks (hopefully not sacred symbols?!) to pee a few times, and finally make it to the Magnificnt, which we have almost to ourselves, to contemplate the craziness that is a civilization that somehow mananged to live hundreds of years ago on these steep mountainsides.

The great thing about day three is that you get a (supposedly hot) shower! Waiting in line for an hour or so is nothing compared to the thought of being clean for the first time in three days, even if its only to get back into disgustingly dirty clothes. All the groups that have been hiking the trail are at this campsite, which boasts a small restaurant and bar, and two lukewarm to freezing showers, and Tash and I grab a beer and a shower ticket and wait, getting colder as the sweat from the hike cools, listen to some Irish guy give instructions on how to make the shower hot, which involves standing on a chair, pulling some black and white wires, and testing the water’s temp at the same time, so basically getting electrocuted….and finally its our turn and we get to stand under the trickling shower! Cleanness!!

Unfortunately, I think the overall theme of being dehydrated, physically and emotionally exhausted, and many temperature changes got to Natasha too quickly, and she had a little shivering panic attack. We packed her in her sleeping bag and piled on clothes and tried to warm her up and stop the trembling. The guides brought water bottles with boiling water in them, which seemed to help, and she finally recovered before dinner. After dinner, back at the tent and thirsty, I mindlessly grabbed one of these boiling water bottles and drank from it, only to be informed later that the bottles had come from the garbage can, and that I had probably just inadvertently given myself a disease, Natasha guesses herpes. I am shocked into silence for the remainder of the evening.

Its our last dinner with the 19 porters and cooks we have on the trip, and they somehow, at 13,000 feet, with no equipment, manage to bake a birthday cake for Natasha and serve us sangria and a delicious meal. We collect the tips for them and I’ve been volunteered by the guides to give a small Thank You speech in Spanish, so about 30 of us are piled in the tent and we’re asked to sing a song, and in panic on the spot we end up with “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands,” and then they sing us a cute song in Quechua. Then it comes time to say goodbye, and our guide lines all 13 of us girls up along one side of the tent, and tells us that the tradition is for the porters to walk down the line, and we give them each kisses on the cheek. So a stream of five feet tall Peruvian men, rubbing their hands together with gleams in their eyes, get 26 kisses each (except for the 18 year old, who ran away from all the overexcitement), and then we are told that this is NOT tradition, they’ve never done it before, and our guides can’t stop laughing at us. But it was pretty cute, kissing the wrinkly, weather beaten faces of some of these old timers who’d been working the trail for years and have been carrying our world for the last three days.

Tomorrow’s wake up call is 3:40am to hike it to the Sun Gate for sunrise! Yikes!
Love you miss you wish you were here
Raquel

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