3.20am, the lights suddenly on and someones hammering at our dorm door. All I hear is 'Joelle, Joellee!' and 'They're waiting for you!'
I can tell you, that is the absolute worst way to be woken up. You're happily snoring away and out of nowhere someone abruptly pulls you out of your dreams and reminds you that you're late. I was totally stressed out, my heart hammering in my chest as if I ran a marathon and never got ready as quickly as I did that morning. After hastily sending off a desperate text to Marlo stating I slept in as I stupidly set my alarm for 3pm instead of 3am (FACEPALM!), five minutes later I was out the door, running to our little van and sank into my seat, an absolute mess. Waking up that way just messes with your whole mind and body, you know you're late, everybody's waiting for you and all that happened at the most ungodly hour in the morning. At least I got in some hours of sleep (with a certain someone's head falling on my shoulder every so often) although the roads ended up getting bumpier and bumpier as we left civilization and our drivers felt the need to blast loud, obnoxious music the whole way. Breakfast was served by a local family in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. We were led in to this backyard where you found an open toilet, sheep stable and living space for some evil geese. After climbing up a ladder we found ourselves in a small dining room and for the first time saw the faces of our fellow men joining us on this trek. Wasn't really sure what we were served as it was undefinable, but this Australian guy spilled half his portion down my leg, so that's that. At least I felt warm for a couple of seconds before I started shivering again.
A baño stop and geese-evading later the van was ready to go again and we tackled the last part until we finally continued by foot. When we got there the view first of all was absolutely stunning. The sun hadn't completely risen yet so there was this great vibe going on and in the distance you could see some huuuuge snow covered mountain tops. About a hundred meters in front of us stood a herd of Lamas (or maybe Alpacas) led by beautifully clothed indigenous people wearing sandals made out of car wheels. It was absolutely freeeezing so I was stunned how those people wheathered this cold practically barefoot and then there was me wearing about three pairs of socks and five layers of clothing.
After getting set up and one guy buying a horse for his equipment and drone we began our ascent. Now, at first it was pretty managable (one british dude didn't seem to cope well with the altitude though - after huffing and puffing his way up for the first 100m he decided to get himself a sturdy horse as well), but our guide was practically running up that mountain, hardly making any stops and even nagging us to go faster and telling us that we had to move on. It was a bit disturbing especially as I'd been told that at this altitude you shouldn't overexert yourself and take it as slow as necessary. The asthma kicked in about halfway through and having to constantly change clothes when getting into the sun or shade didn't help either. It really did get pretty hard and I must say the Inca trail definitely was nothing compared to that. Maybe it was just me, or the altitude but I couldn't wait until I reached the top.
It was also quite a bit frustrating as one of the horses was led by a small boy who couldn't have been older than nine or ten and he was just striding up there as if he was walking at sea level and sometimes even had to pull or push the horse, without looking a tad exhausted. I did end up giving him one of my bananas at a small stop though, as up there it's pretty damn hard and expensive to get a hold of fruit. (got over my jealousy I guess)
The guide kept telling us, oh, it's right up there, only 30 more minutes. He ended up sayingt that about five times, so those minutes just kept adding up. Oh well, I was doing pretty okay when we walked a couple of kilometers on a more or less flat plane but the last part, which was just steep as hell, definitely took it out of me. Finally I saw some sort of rainbowy structures on the ground, which meant, it couldn't be that far anymore. And soon enough, we reached the base of Rainbow Mountain (also known as Vinicunca) and tried to catch our breaths.
The last and final part still was to reach the actual summit to see Vinicunca in its full glory and that's when my wellfare kind of went downhill. We were at about 5000meters above sea level and paired with wind as cold as ice constantly smacking you in your face you're bound to feel a tad wonky on your feet. So coca leaves it was again, and I think, they might've actually helped a lot! Got our signature photos in front of the mountain and the guy with the drone even took some sick shots of us from above and filmed chasing sheep up a hill. Pretty fantastic and I'll try to find his footage!
After a quick and well-deserved break we began our descent (of course took us a lot longer than what the guide told us) and finally got to eat lunch. The long bus drive back was basically us just passed out in the back and sitting in the traffic. At last we arrived back in Cusco where Marlo and I decided to get some delicious pizza as a reward for our strenuous but pretty damn cool trek.
I stayed in Cusco a lot longer than expected, trying to figure out wheather or not to head up north again to check out a few places or to just continue on to Bolivia. Next to planning I also explored the city some more and found some lovely little hidden alleyways, beautiful shops (spent way too much money), got a well-needed pedicure and found a great yoga studio! Probably was one of the best classes I ever took and the atmosphere there was just great. Although holding a pose at ca. 3000m above sea level is quite a bit more challenging than expected.
Found some great reastaurants, serving vegetarian/vegan food and even came across a delicious creperie, getting hungry as I'm typing this. Whilst exploring the enchanting San Blas area I also found myself at a tiny coca museum, which looked pretty interesting. Upon entering I was given a quick summary of coca history and what I could find in the museum and soon began my own tour. It was pretty damn interesting what this green, small leave of a coca can do and how far back in history it actually goes. What amazed me the most was the fact that it was (in some parts even still is) used in the production of Coca Cola - yep, that's where the name comes from. Lightbulb.