Day 8: Civilization!
I woke up around 7am. It was eerily quiet outside. I remembered that we found an isolated spot to set up camp the previous day and I realized that I had slept almost 16 hours since. I sat up in my sleeping bag to test out my body and it felt surprisingly good. The loperamide I took before bed had worked.
I put my clothes on, trying not to disturb Tricia who appeared sound asleep with her eye patch on. As I opened the flap of our tent, a sheet of wet snow plopped down into the front chamber of our tent. It snowed last night! No wonder it felt so warm in the tent. I crawled out of the tent to a wondrous winter world. Then I looked back at the Yaucha Punta pass behind our tent. It looked even more daunting than yesterday before the snowfall. I really hoped that my body had recovered after the long night of sleep.
We had breakfast and broke camp after 8 am. The hike up to Yaucha Punta was even more beautiful than I expected, with the ground blanketed by snow. It took us a little over an hour and half to arrive to the top of Yaucha Punta. Before 11 am, we made it to Laguna Incahuain, where we were supposed to camp last night. It didn’t snowed on this side of the mountain. However, the clouds were low and dark. The temperature had dropped without the sun. A snow storm was gathering for later that evening.
We had a small lunch break at Incahuain. A middle aged lady in rain boots walked up to us asking us to pay the fees. She asked me if we knew of any other trekkers on the trail that day. I instinctively pointed at the English father and son duo, who were at least a mile ahead of us, and I immediately regretted it. But it was too late. The ticket collector saw her prey and started running. She didn’t take the trail but cut across the low marshland, showing speed and agility that was unlikely, given her plump body habitus.
We kept moving along the trail heading towards Llamac. About half an hour later we found the ticket collector lady slowly walking toward us. She was still panting, “Veinte soles por persona.” I handed her the bills that I had prepared after she left running after the English guys. “Did you catch them?” I asked gingerly while secretly hoping that the English guys had escaped the pursuit of an Andean tigress. Spanish words started to spill out of her mouth rapidly and I could barely keep up. Tricia was pretty sure she was angry about the duo’s escape.
The trail remained somewhat flat for another mile before it started to climb. There were two routes to Llamac. The high route was the more heavily trafficked traditional trekking route. The low route was along the stream running down the ravine. As we struggled on the long and undulating high route, the low route at the bottom of the ravine appeared flat and easy. It seemed to be taunting us of our foolish decision to go up. There was no reason not to have taken that lower route. We finally arrived to Pampa Llamac around 2:30 pm. From that point on, it was miles and miles of descent, dropping over 3000 feet of elevation between Pampa Llamac and Llamac. By 4pm, we finally saw the corrugated tin roofs of Llamac.
Llamac, like many South American towns and villages, had a town center square with a fountain. The town was tiny with a population of no more than a few hundred. I read that Llamac had a few hotels but walking around the town we only saw one hotel sign. We knocked on the open door of this “hotel” but no one answered. A lady sitting on the curb across the alley saw us and started talking to us. She had a spare bedroom. It was a rudimentary room with two beds set up on a dusty concrete floor. A single light bulb dangled in the center of the ceiling. It was a room with a roof over our heads, so we took it as our home for the night. Gazing up from my bed, through uneven wooden planks, I could see a blue tarp sheltering the room from rainstorms. As soon as we settled in, it started to pour outside.