I have some bad news to start the blog with… I reached capacity on my iPad today. That means I’ve filled the 16gb memory on this thing with photos & I can’t load any more on now until I get home & download them all. So from here there’ll be no photos – which is a shame because I’ve not reached Machu Picchu yet or been to the Amazon šŸ™ Nevermind – if can’t work out a way to upload them without using the iPad I’ll upload them later. Sorry šŸ™

Anyway, back to business…

Although a quieter night, it was a very, very cold one – & to top it all (a) I couldn’t find my sleeping bag liner, & (b) my inflatable pillow had a puncture! So I woke up at around 2:30am cold & with a stiff neck, although Mike had very kindly lent me his little pillow but it was a bit ‘flat’ – but not as flat as mine! I had to fold it in half & in half & in half to get my head at the right angle, then when I moved in the night it sprang back flat again so I had to fold it up again – this happened every time I moved… it was a long night!

I spent the next couple of hours tossing & turning in my sleeping bag, wrapping my arms around myself trying to generate some body heat & pulling the drawstring so tightly around my face that it was barely a slit. It worked a little but by 4:30am the old body clock had started working again & it was time to abloot anyway!

I don’t know how many of you rememember the detailed description I gave of the loos on the Everest blog – but the loos while we’ve been on this trek have been exactly the same, with the exception that they’ve been outside & have been absolutely disgusting! Everyone uses the same loos – even the porters – & all I’ll say is it’s no wonder Peru lost 2-1 to Chile the other night, their aim is appalling!

Still, I’ve managed to keep hold of the loo roll this time – none have got away from me. I think my calf & thigh muscles must have come on a bit too since Base Camp as I haven’t fallen over either šŸ™‚ I have a great system going… as it were šŸ˜

Anyway, thought you might like a little toilet talk. Back to the serious stuff šŸ™‚

“Morning tea” came again at 5:00am – in the form of coffee again. Breakfast at 5:30am – jam on toast, pancakes (!) & a hot chocolate šŸ™‚ Water bottles topped up & back on the trail at 6:00am. Today was set to be a lot easier on the muscles & lungs than yesterday – but I wasn’t holding my breath (see what I did there?) boom boom. Just climbing the 12 or so steps up from the toilet block first thing this morning about finished me off, so I wasn’t even sure if I’d get out of the camp!

Update on the poorly people by the way – John & Ruth are cured & back on track (see what I did there?!), however Anna has woken up this morning with sickness & headache. Prayers went up again – God’s certainly got his hands full with us lot this trip!

Today is the longest distance we cover in one day – 16km in total. Yesterday we reached the highest point on the trail – Dead Woman’s Pass – today we will reach the second highest point, Runkuraqay at 3998m (13193ft), where hopefully (weather permitting) we’ll get some clear views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba, a small range of the Andes Mountains extending about 160 miles. There are three passes in total today but nowhere near the verticals of yesterday – Runkuraqay, Sayacmarca at 3600m (11880ft) and Phuyupatamarca at 3700m (12210ft).

After the energy draining, muscle sapping day yesterday, there were very few of us without aching bodies this morning – & everyone’s knees were creaking! But as we walked, everything seemed to loosen up & with a steadier pace, more consistent pace – & at times a far more ‘balanced’ gradient – we were able to take in far more of our surroundings as we walked.

The trail up to lunch time took us through the beautiful cloud forest – so named because the forest is so dense with trees, bamboo, grass etc that the humidity is really high. The effect of this, with the firesy being nestled in a valley too, is that huge clouds form all the way through the forest giving the effect that we were walking through the clouds as we followed the trail. At some points the cloud cleared a little & we were able to see over the edge of the path we walked – the drop was sheer, & huge! It made me slightly nervous of my footing as I walked along the narrow, original Inca path, made of uneven, wet, rocks… one slip & I literally would be gone. It was made worse by the fact that I was walking on my own (I quite like it that way) & really, no-one would have known until the next checkpoint! Anyway, I didn’t, & all was well. It’s amazing where your mind goes as you walk…!

Emerging from the forest by lunchtime, the food & kitchen tents had been set up ready for us. The toothless smiles of the porters greeted us as one by one we arrived. Lunch today, yet again, filled us with awe as after the asparagus soup starter came a buffet! Dish, after dish, after dish kept appearing from the kitchen tent – there was chicken in sauce, crispy wontons with cheese inside, fresh salad in a beautiful spicy dressing, potatoes, rice, a sort of ham/chicken/pate type pie, mashed potato… it was just amazing – & very tasty too. Pudding – have a guess? Jelly! Strawberry jelly! It was just great. The thing that just topped it off for us I think was as we sat eating, a mother Llama & her 2 cria (baby llamas) came & walked up to our tent door as we were eating, had a look in, then walked on past & stopped to graze just outside! Surreal.

Needless to say, nobody wanted to restart after lunch. Anna had crashed, a couple of others were nodding & John, of course, was asleep šŸ™‚

But, the ‘Gringo Killer’ was waiting for us, & we were to see exactly why yesterday’s descent had only been the ‘tickler’ for today. I think the descent’s name refers to the gringo’s (us) knees… not literally us getting killed! So called because it is a 1000m (3300ft) descent, with no breaks (other than bones! Lol). If you need a breather, you teeter on the edge of one of the thousands of original Inca steps, draw breath & then resume. Concentration needed to be 110% – anything less & we’d have been over & at the gradient we faced I don’t think any of us would have stopped rolling for a while either, especially John!

The descent took about 2 & a half hours – & it was constant. Owen will often present to me ‘which is worst’ scenarios – like “which would you rather be: really good looking & skinny, or really ugly but have big muscles”. In that particular scenario the choice has already been made of course, but in others it may be really hard to decide – & today Owen could have asked me “which do you prefer: hard climbing up or hard climbing down?” & I have to say in all honesty I just don’t know! The obvious choice for all of us I guess would be downhill beats uphill every time – but I gotta tell you, the jury’s out for me!

At the end of the descent, Henry had given us a blue pill red pill choice – where the road forks we could either (a) fork right & take a nice leisurely gentle shortcut down to the camp at Winaywayna or (b) fork left & face more steps going up & down, taking a longer route to the camp, but enjoy some great views of the valley, the Amazon basin, & see some Inca terracing up close & personal. Well, I chose the red pill of course didn’t I – more steps & a longer route! I figured, walking’s what I came here to do – it’s not as if I’ll ever get to this again! By now Francis, Coral & Brianna had caught up, so we all took the red pill together.

We were not disappointed. The views were incredible. Of course we took the obligatory photos of each other with the huge landscapes in the background – but they really were vast. Huge mountains pushing themselves up out of the earth, forming the deep deep Urubamba Valley in between, each mountain peak disappearing into clouds – & behind them huge snow covered peaks of the Andean mountains – & so green! Trees & vegetation everywhere – every inch of the mountainsides & valleys beneath carpeted in green. How can mountains this high be covered with such life? Boggling.

From our viewpoint we could see the campsite on the other side of the valley, sat on a series of shallow terraces. Little spots of red on an otherwise green mountainside, they seemed quite out of place – but very welcoming šŸ™‚

The walk across to them took a very short time & very soon we were sat in the doorways of our tents with our feet in bowls of warm water, prepared ready & waiting for us by the porters. Our heroes šŸ™‚

Anna had taken the blue pill at the fork & was already at camp, but she looked far better & was feeling better too. Another prayer answered šŸ™‚

A 6:30pm dinner followed our 5:00pm popcorn tea & everyone was eager to get to bed early in preparation for the early start the next day. It seems a bit of a blur now – & as I write this everyone else has crashed out in bed so I can’t ask – but I think our ‘last supper’ was soup followed by chicken… it was very nice whatever it was, but after being awake now for some 20 hours non-stop my brain has just deleted that snippet of info. I’m sure you don’t mind though do you? If you do, email me & I’m sure someone will remember…!

Before dinner I somehow became treasurer & it was up to me to collect everyone’s tip money. It’s customary in Peru to tip for just about everything. Tour guides & porters are no exception, but I have to say, we all felt more than happy to thank them this way for all their hard work, their smiling faces & their willingness to please. So after collecting it all in I split it up (as recommended in the guide book) & after dinner all the porters & the 2 chefs were asked to join us in the food tent. It was a very tight squeeze & by the end a very fruity aroma had joined us in the tent too!

I had asked Miguel (Spanish for Michael) to say a few words on our behalf as he is fab at speaking Spanish, which he did brilliantly. He then presented Marco with our tips, which we had put in an envelope (they would share it out accordingly amongst themselves later) & we each took the opportunity to thank each one of them for their work. It was great šŸ™‚

Anyway, bedtime beckoned & we headed off. 3:00am was to be the wake up time in the morning, hoping to leave for the checkpoint (a short five minute walk) by 4:00am. Although the checkpoint itself didn’t open until 5:30am, we wanted to be first in the queue as the trail after that point would be narrow & difficult to overtake if we got sthuck behind a slow walker.

After I’d managed to locate the large stone that was sticking in to the base of my spine (by getting out of my sleeping bag, going outside & sliding my walking pole underneath the tent and giving it a good jiggle/scrape – which I’m sure would have been an interesting view as I squatted there in my skin tight thermal tights & my walking boots), & folding Mike’s pillow into eighths for the umpteenth time… I nodded off.