Friday, June 28, 2013

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 8 – Inca Trail from Pasaymayo to Intipata

[My Honey reminds me that just because I become comatose at night, she does not share this useful trait, and that for the last two nights she has been “called” by the full moon to dance in the middle of the night in her birthday suit. Fortunately she is a big girl and has quashed the commands of the full moon at the expense of her beauty sleep.]

I was thinking that permanent damage was unavoidable, as I limped to the mess tent for a cup of coffee. Every muscle was hurting, and my ankles felt like they were made out of rubber. Amazingly we all rallied and after a few warm up steps were kind of ready for the day ahead. According to Eder all the difficult parts were behind us, and the way ahead had easy ups and downs (easy for him to say!). However, we had to make for the distance lost in the first two days, and the goal was to cover 15 km from dawn to dusk.

It was not as easy as Eder had claimed, and I had to tackle every uphill with the old technique of walking 50 steps and then stopping for a little rest. I was back to carrying my backpack, and so was Tita, who alone of all of us carried her full load for the full trip (Brava!).

The road was very beautiful, and once we got on our stride, we actually enjoyed ourselves very much. Our dear Aussies, being full of youth and energy, soon disappeared behind the horizon, but Annie, Tita, Tom, Eder, and myself stayed together as a group, which afforded us a good chance to talk.

Eder is a very smart young man, who studied Biology in high school of JC, worked as a porter for a spell, and then studied and passed the examination required to get his license as a guide. He is now studying Environmental Engineering, and I have no doubt that he will eventually realize his goal. He is in true love with Peru and its ancient cultures, and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Upon knowing that I was a geologist he asked me all sorts of interesting questions about the rocks and the origin of the mountains. (Andrew, one of our Aussies, also asked me a couple of questions that required a long answer, and he complimented me by saying that he had never learned so much from such a short conversation).

Along the way we visited two or three Inca sites. Each is amazing in the scope of its engineering and architecture, and I wish  had the words to express my admiration for these fantastic engineers and agronomists. For example, they had terraces that extended over a 100 m altitude range. They would plant thousnads of low elevation plants (say potatoes) in the lowermost terraces, waiting for only a handful to survive. Then they would plant the potatoes from the survivors at that same elevation, and pretty soon they had a strain that would thrive at that elevation. Afterward they would transplant a few thousand plants to the higher elevations, and again only two or three would survive. The survivors were selected and planted again, until a whole new generation was “created” that could survive the high elevations. In a similar way they adapted many of their basic plants from the lowlands to their preferred high mountain environment. Pretty clever folks, those Incas.

We had a long but pleasant day, and were happily trudging along, until we realized that its was 5 in the afternoon, and we still had 5 km to go. Now, up here where the atmosphere is thin we have a very short dusk, so all of a sudden we were facing the prospect of a night walk.

Meanwhile, our Aussie friends were already in a site that is close to the campsite, and they were all alone, and the moon was rising early, and they are slightly insane, and their insanity led them to take off all their clothes to do the ol’ dancing under the moon. And a fine spectacle they did of themselves when the camera went off!

Night did come upon us, together with a light drizzle. Now, our amazing Eder, who is some kind of Peruvian McGyver, pulled out his poncho and insisted I had to wear it, so soon I was encased in this tube of plastic, which in no time whatsoever raised my temperature to sauna levels. Annie took the lead, with her powerful REI headlamp; behind followed Tom, who had no headlamp but who has a good night vision and could follow on Annie’s footsteps, then came Tita, me (sweating like the proverbial pig), and then Eder. After about 5 minutes Annie’s mighty REI lamp took a crap, so Eder exchanged lamps with her. As they were doing this Tom spotted a little snake across the road and started playing with it. Eder froze as he warned Tom to leave it alone, because the little guy is one of the most poisonous snakes in this region. Annie had just stepped over the viper, and when she heard that she almost fainted (have I told you that Annie is snake phobic?). So Annie refused to stay on the lead, which was taken by Tita, and I was ready to faint inside my personal sauna, so I had to get rid of it, and in that sorry way we made our way down to the Intipata campground, at 3,250 m amsl. Our excellent Australian friends cheered us in, and broke open the victory beer they had been carrying since Cusco, so we could all toast to “all that ends well is well”.

That night we talked about the origin of llamas and alpacas. It is an interesting story so let me repeat it here. Camelids evolved in North America, and were quite abundant during the Pleistocene, about 5 million years ago (Ma). Then, about 3.5 Ma a group of islands detached from southern Mexico (imagine a long island group like modern Cuba-Santo Domingo-Puerto Rico) migrated southward by plate tectonics and plugged the opening between North America and South America, to become Central America. All sorts of things happened because of this joining of the two continents: Dolphins could no longer swim between the two oceans, so two distinctive groups of dolphins evolved only a few kilometers apart; the circum-equatorial current could no longer follow the Equator, and the Gulf Stream was born; the warmth and moisture of the Gulf Stream brought much rain and snowfall to the northern hemisphere and the Ice Age got on its way; and … the camelids were able to migrate first to South America, where the guanaco served as evolutionary stock for the llama, and the vicuña served as evolutionary stock for the alpaca. Once the Ice Age got on its way sea level dropped, and the North American camelids (and the horses) were able to migrate through the Behring land bridge into Asia, where eventually they gave rise to the dromedary and the camel. Paradoxically, camelids (and horses) became extinct in North America by the middle Pleistocene, about 1 Ma ago. Who would tell the presence of the cute llama bears testimony to the vagaries of plate tectonics and evolution!

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