Monday, January 21, 2013

Day 129 Flurries in the Updraft

Just as I climbed into the uppermost bowl of the high valley, the clouds parted to reveal the heavenly blue sky and the warmth of the sun.  The panorama of the rugged Andean arêtes dotted with grass-roofed stone huts would chime yet another successful advertising campaign.  It lasted moments and then the wind blew more stinging flurries in the updraft of the deep pastural valley full of lakes and llamas and I was again enclosed in the billowing white clouds.  Altitude (5,000 meters) trumps latitude (12° S), even in summer.

In this mining district, the ground littered with sparkling pyrite and chatoyant cuperiferous minerals, I chose to pass through the last of the high ranges toward Lima by way of the railbed rather than the muddy highway ladened with oversized haulers, tires taller than myself.  Snow falling and in the company of late-season snowmen, the idea of walking the last kilometer through a rail tunnel rather than take a few hours to scale another arête on a narrow trail was marginally appealing despite the obvious dangers... hot soup and coffee with three outpost workers responsible for the tunnel stalled the decision until it presented its resolution with the arrival of a service cart just as we finished the midday meal.  Motorized rather than operated with the hand pump depicted in old cartoons, it was still a bit of an adventure passing through the long, dark tunnel in a tiny open cart, and much safer than passing through on foot to the arid environment on the Pacific side.

An astounding 16,000-foot descent to coastal Lima in little less than 130 kilometers - 3 days on foot, in the updraft snow above and cold rain a bit further down, into the coastal fog.  Steep and rugged the mountains, deep and narrow the valleys, phenomenal the engineered hairpin turns and pigtail loops for both road and rail... and lovely little villages compelled by curiosity to help a pilgrim.  I'm always well received.  Again, I appeal to pilgrims: flock to Peru, shrines, history, chewy meat and Incan trails await.

Lest I oversell, the reality includes a dearth of showers, or even hot water, or even any water for washing except the cold streams, and of any source of heat.  The last ounces of excess body fat burned of long ago and up above, I shivered myself to sleep under piles of weighty Alpaca blankets most nights.  The locals, accustomed to the year-round cold of the high country are heavily padded by adulthood and wear layer upon layer of Grandma-knit wool sweaters - rarely idle are the hands of the country woman of Peru.  They scoff at my thin synthetic clothes, which keep me warm as long as I'm moving but do little when I'm sitting still; yet, bulky sweaters don't fit so well into a backpack quickly headed for vast tropical jungles...

Northward now, back into the cooler high country and colorful cultural history... Ecuador in 3-ish weeks, with fresh soles on my hiking boots =)


Amy R said...

Pigtail turns - sounds so pretty to look at. And hopefully fun to walk, as well.

It has been ten long days between posts! Hopefully we will hear from you sooner next time.

Finally taking down our Christmas lights tomorrow or the next'll be 67 degrees in Denver on Wednesday, they say.

Margaret said...

16,000 feet in 3 days!!

My husband says it's not a walk, it's an abseil!

The Solitary Walker said...

Tremendous journey... I am green with envy.

Having accumulated rather too much body fat at home since my English coastal walk in November, I could do with some extreme weight loss.

With you in spirit, as ever.

Sheila Phelan Wright said...

I think you can make anywhere sound beautiful. It's about that shivering about getting one of those sweaters or blankets for just a few days? Hope someone tries to put some meat on your bones along the way.