June 27, 2010 – June 30, 2010
We took a tourist minibus from Arequipa and immediately the excitement started as the whole bus tied to get a view of a lorry that had just crashed through the barrier and smashed into the valley below. Police,locals and us all looked over the edge as men climbed over the wreckage.
The road wound higher above the city with views of my lovely volcanoes. Higher and higher we went while a guide informed us of the statistics. The pass over to the Canyon is 4900 meters high so we climb 2600 meters or 7800 feet in 3 hours from Arequipa. We were instructed in the symptoms of altitude and told to drink coca tea and buy coca sweets at the roadside cafe at 4000meters. We continued to climb after our pit stop, the whole van munching coca candy wondering when the headache wound start. At the top of the pass at 4,900 m we all pilled out for the view.
"Dad, someone is not very well in the bus" Lisa was tugging my fleece. I nearly muttered something about "don't disturb me now.". Inside the bus there was a young lady who looked near to death. Ghostly pale and hardly breathing ,her eyes rolled back and her breathing was sort of very shallow and grunting. I had never seen acute altitude sickness before. I thought you get a headache, nausea then vomiting and then gradual but increasing breathlessness but I suppose we had climbed 7800 feet in less than 3 hours. Her pulse was very thready..."ok I am a doctor" taking her pulse again trying to start to think about a condition that I had never seen. "Oxygen" That seemed sensible "Could someone get oxygen?"
"Lie her down"Lyn shouted over the top of the onlookers. We grappled with her in the small van and were able to lie her down flat. The driver passed over a small oxygen bottle but it seemed to leak at every connection with nothing really getting out of a mask made form a water bottle that lyn had hastily made.
"Give me your chewing gum I said to the American husband." and without question he opened his mouth and removed the bright green gum. It seemed to ebb the flow on one of the hissing leaks.
"More.More" I demanded as he frantically unwrapped pieces of gum and then chewed as fast as his jaws would chew. All that seemed to mater now was this production line of soggy green gum and wrapping it around the ever reducing holes and leaky valves. The ladies eyes opened and the ghostly white colour gradually disappeared. What next I thought.
"We need to get down." I shouted to the driver. Luckily we where at the top of the pass and the other side plummeted down from 4900 meters to 3600 in 40 minutes.
" Oh I am feeling much better." she said and we all drew a sigh of relief . Still holding the fizzing chewing gum with as many fingers as I could she gradually came around. By the time we got to Chivay she was smiling and talking. I was never quiet sure what happened. Was this AMS, a simple faint or too much coca candy.
The tourist minibus ended in Chivay and we had to get a local bus for the rest of the journey to Cabanaconde. This started with a rugby scrum against 20 ladies returning home after a day at market ,dressed to kill in their ethnic costume. Harry even though he plays rugby 4 times a week was squashed against the bus door as a well organised roman turtle mounted the bus. By the time we got a look in all the seats were taken by plethoric, corn munching women all chatting about their bargain purchases. The ladies mostly wore these heavy, multicoloured embroyded dresses,shawls and hats that smelt of life. These were bought when young when you could make out the patterns and colours. As they got older the colours faded and were replaced by a dirt tinge . As the women got really old the colour fades completely and the earthy shading completely envelopes them . Ashes to ashes and all that. I think that they fear the colour might run if washed. With my head pressed against the roof we had to hang on , wedged in the centre isle standing for the 3 hour journey. I saw nothing of the beautiful views of the Colca Canynon. As we bounced around I could see a quiet tear roll down Lisa's cheek. Lyn tried to explain about this was an 'experiance" and she would look back with a good memory but I think she didn't see the point.
We arrived in the dark. Mangy looking dogs stared from under the occasional dim street light. Faces of locals lit from a faint glow from the back of a shop which sold dusty packets of biscuits and cans continued to chat but did not look up as we passed by carrying our heavy rucksacks down the dried mud street lined by mud brick houses. Harry usually goes quiet when he thinks"Our we going to stay here?"
"What is this place?" he said.
Lisa said nothing.
We asked for directions and continued our tramp.
Lisa's face beamed as we entered Pachamama Backpacker Hostal. Her eyes gazed around the painted walls in vivid colours depicting Inca faces. A mirrored bar with lit up glowing colourful shapely bottles containing mysterious alcoholic drinks that only adults drink in small glasses. A small friendly kitten skidded around the floor to jazzy blues music and occasionally launched itself onto comfy looking sofas draped with rugs. The second and only other room was illuminated by a central clay pizza oven with a newly lit wood fire that was starting to roar. Four small tables where laid for supper each with a single lit candle. Framed post cards of nearby volcanoes covered with a dusting of smoky wood dust hung on the walls. Others had black and white photographs of the deep canyon and Arequipa after an earthquake in the 1950's. Lisa looked up "I love this place."