Sunday, July 13, 2008

2008 Peru Trip Day 10 (Malaga Pass)

Sunday, July 13, 2008
Up early and buffet breakfast with Jan, Rob and Edward. The four of us left at 6:30 AM in a van with a driver, to head to Abra Malaga (Malaga Pass) for birding.

We first drove through the town of Ollantaytambo, which is the finest example of Inca urban planning. The town has been lived in continuously since the 13th century and it had a nearly unassailable fortress. The long wall along the road when you entered, had 100 niches and inclined towards the road. Since the Incas built the walls leaning towards the interior, this means the road was built in what was once the interior of a building. We passed through the Plaza de Armas, the main plaza, with a fountain on whose top rim stand two Andean geese statues. The streets were narrow and cobblestoned in a simple grid pattern, unchanged for 500 years. The whole town is in a trapezoidal shape. Each street block held two canchas, or communal enclosures. Each cancha had one double-jamb portico entrance and would house several families. These were built for the social and religious elite, and administrators. The northern part of town was for the laborers. Water channels ran down the streets. Up on the hillside above town were the ruins of the citadel/religious complex. This was thought to be the one place that the Spanish lost a battle in 1537, but Francisco’s brother, Hernando Pizarro, returned to win. On the road out of town, there were huge blocks of stone, abandoned on their journey to Ollantaytambo. The stones came from a quarry 6 km/3.6 miles away.

We switch-backed up and up into the mountains, getting closer and closer to those white-capped ones.We were dropped off just below a ridge where the mountain named Veronika, 5,750 m/18,872 feet in elevation, peeked from behind. The Incas called the mountain Waqaywillca, which means either sacred object or crying peak, for the streams that flow down from its glaciers. At Machu Picchu the equinox sun rises from behind the highest point on Veronika, and the mountain is highly revered, worshipped for crop and livestock fertility as well as good health.
Veronika mountain
Llama fibers? No, sheep's wool...
We started up past a few baby pigs and their rooting parents, stopping and starting to see birds and to allow our lungs to get used to the altitude at 4,300m/14,107 feet, our highest altitude so far on this trip.
Rooting pig
The Abra Malaga is a mountain pass known for its habitat of polylepis woodland, which is home to several endangered bird species. We saw many Andean Flickers, but also were able to see the endangered White-browed Tit Spinetail, the Ash-breasted Tit Tyrant, and a cinclode.
Interesting flora
Waterless pond
Heading over the pass towards Veronkia
Looking back at the road we arrived on
Now we could see the foot of Veronika
Looking over the ridge away from Veronika
Puma scat
Now we are over the ridge looking away from Veronika
and looking back at Veronila
Dried pond
More interesting flora
Rocky stream bed
Plastic bag
We found a plastic bag which we might have taken out with us as litter, but Edward looked inside and found a neatly folded plastic burlap bag. He said the locals keep these bags along their trails in case they do find a need for a bag, such as to carry out litter!
Made our way down to a flat open ledge and dallied. Fantastic views down to the valley into which we would descend. Able to see a hawk hover, something I never realized they could even do: stay in one place in space while still flapping the wings. Amazing! But more amazing was the Andean Condor sighting. A pair came up over the ridge we just came over, and flew gracefully around the mountain tops.
Grazing horses
Then we spotted others. We saw six at one time, but Rob and Edward believe we saw eight different birds. What a thrill, especially on hearing that people go to the Colca Canyon to see the condors, and may see only one! So it’s just as well I didn’t insist on going to Colca! A couple of these condors perched on the cliffs across the valley, and Jan saw a perched adult flap his wings at a juvenile to get him to move out of a prime spot.
We descended towards the polylepis trees, the woody plants that grow at the highest altitude in the Andes.
Heading towards polyepsis trees
We made several stops to search for birds, and then started a hunt for an Antpitta, which kept calling in response to Rob’s recording. We made our way down through the bushy trees, and Jan saw a vizcacha run under the lowest branches. We finally saw the elusive Antpitta, which was a rare sight indeed.
Snow on the mountains
We were at the top of a sloping valley that was the foot of Veronika.
Sloping valley
We still had a 40-minute hike down to the road where the van would meet us, and it was already past mid-morning when we were supposed to have been back at the hotel. Because of my arthritic knees, I was fixing the muscles around my knees to keep them stabilized with all this downhill walking. We did not traverse as much as I would have liked, and we had slippery spots as we crossed wet patches. Crossing a stream was not a problem, but then we had the barking dogs!
Dogs protecting their herds
Two dogs came running towards us, bravely fending their herd of sheep way far away on the other side of the stream! Rob picked up a few stones, and tossed them near the dogs, which kept them at bay until we passed.
Edward pointed out some piles of stones which were pagos a la tierra, or offerings to the mountain goddess/Mother Earth. Obviously over time, many people had come to pray for their crops or livestock, and each leaving a stone.
Pagos a la tierra
We passed several circles of stone walls which Edward called canchas.
He explained that the community would gather to build these walls, and the livestock would be kept there for a season, dropping off fertilizer. The next year the livestock would be moved to another corral, and this one would be used for agriculture. We passed the living areas of this herding community, and then the valley became steeper and narrower. Passed some beautiful reddish horses; walked right between a pair of them.
It was getting near noon, and Rob asked how I was doing. I admitted to being wobbly (fatigued). I thought I was being extra careful, but then I slipped, my left foot sliding down the pebbly dirt path. It seemed like slow motion as I gracefully ended up on my rear end and watched my right leg try to follow along, with my right knee coming inward towards my body, but with the right foot stuck in a planted position. Then I heard the pop, and instinctively felt that I had broken my right fibula. Rob came back and asked if I was alright, which I didn’t think I was. I felt along the right fibula, with no noticeable damage, and then tried to stand up. Couldn’t take weight on the right leg, and then I felt faint. I sat myself down, and started drinking water. Shock? But I kept moving my toes, and my foot around in all directions. I tried to compare fibulas, and they didn’t feel the same! Rob took his camera off its monopod, and let me use that for a cane, and I supported myself on his shoulder as he helped me the rest of the way down to the van. At first, the road was still not in sight, and we had to cross a stream. I took very little weight on my right foot, because of the pain with weight-bearing and the fear of a fracture. Whenever I looked at my right foot, it seemed floppy and adjusted to whatever angle the ground was at. Rob reported we went about 80 m/262 feet to get to the road. Then Edward and the driver helped me across the street to the van.
Jan had gone ahead to look for her earring, which she discovered missing up on that ridge, but unfortunately couldn’t find it in the van. She made sure I sat with my leg up across the back seat and gave me all the water to drink. I was not hungry, and during the ride back down to Ollantaytambo, my right toes cramped. In Ollantaytambo, we had to wait a few minutes for the Travellers Clinic to open at 1:00 PM. Rob went to buy me a Gatorade. Then two men fireman-carried me into the clinic, up a curb, up a step, through a narrow doorway, then another, around tables and chairs, and then sat me down. Rob translated into Spanish what had happened, and the young doctor moved my foot around to get pain responses. He wrapped my ankle in a gauze roll, but did not give me an air-cast or pain relievers. I wasn’t in pain if I just sat there. They did not have x-ray at this clinic, so I would have to go to Cusco. I decided to go to Cusco in the ambulance, rather than to crowd in with Rob and his family in the van, as they were to return to Cusco today anyway. We no longer had the small bus which would have had plenty of room.
I used crutches to get to the ambulance, and I got to sit in the back on a sideways facing seat, with my leg propped up on the stretcher. The stretcher was somehow shock absorbing, so that the bouncing of the van did not transfer directly to my ankle. The windows around me were glazed over, only the front windshield and front door windows were clear. There was the driver and the young doctor. I dozed, listened to the radio, and towards the end of the trip we were listening to a soccer game. Sounded exciting!

Meanwhile, Brynne had awakened at 9:00 AM to get dressed, but then went back to sleep after the maid came in and cleaned up. She didn’t wake again until the phone rang at 1:20 PM, with Anahi calling to say I had hurt my ankle and was going to Cusco. She said she was packing to check out at 2:00, so Brynne thought she had to do the same. Then Edward called to say the van was there to take them to Ollantaytambo, and Brynne figured out that she didn’t need the suitcases. She was given the message that I wanted the altitude medication, when the message was actually for Kirby that Jan wanted her altitude medication. Anyway, Brynne brought all my medications. The van went to Ollantaytambo to drop off Kirby to tour the town with Jan and Edward, and to pick up Rob to take him with his family and Brynne to Cusco.

I arrived in Cusco about 3:00 PM, and we waited outside a locked door for 20 minutes or so. It was a Sunday, after all, and a big soccer game was on! Eventually someone came with a key, and two guys again fireman-carried me into a back room with the x-ray machine. Another young doctor, in sweat pants and a t-shirt, took two views of my ankle, then went into the bathroom to develop the x-rays. He came out saying I had a “fractura”. I thought the bone names would be the same in English and Spanish. Tibia is tibia, but the fibula is the “peroné”. “Tobillo” is ankle. I had a fracture of the fibula. So that meant on to the Cusco Travellers Clinic for casting. Again two guys carried me out to the ambulance, and this time I sat in the front seat. The young doctor from Ollantaytambo was gone.
At the clinic, a very young nurse brought out a wheelchair for me, but the driver had to push me up the makeshift wooden ramp over a gate sill, then into the building. I was placed next to a row of seats and had to wait the arrival of the “dermatologist,” according to another young doctor. It had been over nine hours since I had eaten or gone to the bathroom. I had finished my Gatorade, and thought I should use a restroom. The young nurse wheeled me to the door of the bathroom situated under the stairs. There were three steps down into the bathroom and no railing. I didn’t want to hang onto to the door and pull it off the hinges. So I took the help of the nurse, and tried to lean on the wall. Well, one hop down turned into slipping down two steps, and I nearly pulled the girl into the bathroom with me. But I was okay hopping around on a level surface to use the toilet by myself. It was easier hopping up to the wheelchair. Once more I was assured the “dermatologist” was coming.

By then, Brynne arrived with Anahi to learn of my fate. Anahi assured me by saying I was waiting for a “traumatologist”! A doctor more my age arrived, looked at the x-ray, and brought me into an office to apply a cast. He wrapped my leg with cotton batting, and then had two packages of fiberglass casting material. One was marked neon orange, which he used first. The other turned out to be white. I was then to stand to flatten the bottom of the cast, and that hurt. I was told the pain would go away. The doctor wrote a prescription that the nurse took to the next room, which was the pharmacy. I was given a dozen orange pills - an anti-inflammatory to take 3 times per day for four days. No pain relievers, since I didn’t have constant pain. I was told to walk on the foot right away, and to get a walking boot and a cane. Anahi called Veronika, who said the shops for getting a walking boot were closed, but what size shoe did I wear? She would loan me her Teva sandals to wear over the cast. Rob arrived after having dropped off the boys at home, and he needed to get his injection for the allergic reaction. He was looking better, but not feeling better. He would stay at home the next couple days to see if he would improve.
The billing person had me fill out some forms, and then needed someone to talk to the travel insurance people on the phone. Brynne went upstairs to do that, and found out I would have to go through my primary insurance first. I didn’t bring any of our primary insurance information with me, so I went ahead and paid the fees. The billing girl didn’t have a credit card receipt, but Rob said they would pick it up for me the next day. But she did have printed copies of the reports and bill for us to take. I also took the x-ray.
Veronika arrived, with the story that she wasn’t sure at which clinic I was, and had asked the taxi driver to take her to one. There she asked if they had a patient named “Tamiko” who had an ankle injury. They did, so she went in and found she didn’t recognize this Tamiko! So back in the taxi, to come to this clinic where they also had a Tamiko with an ankle injury. Too bizarre! I had removed my convertible pant leg when I knew I was going to be casted, but the others felt it would fit over the cast, and I wouldn’t have to go around with one long leg and one short. We put the Teva over the cast, and I tried a few steps. Ouch, but bit by bit, the pain left and I was hobbling around on the cast. We waited for a taxi, and went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Rob walked home from the clinic while we waited for the taxi, and brought me a hiking pole to use. We had hot chicken empanadas and hot chocolate. Anahi and Rob ate with us, and then used the restaurant phone to call a taxi to take Brynne and me back to the hotel in the Sacred Valley.
The taxi took the "short cut" that the ambulance had taken, going through the towns of Cachimayo with its power plant, and Chinchero, the Inca birthplace of the rainbow. The towns along the Sacred Valley used moto-taxis, sort of a motorcycle rickshaw that is totally enclosed and covered with all sorts of designs. Saw the Batman bat silhouette on the back of several. I kept an eye on the sky and it did appear that the Milky Way followed the valley. Or else I could just see a whole lot more stars in the sky here in Peru. Also found the Southern Cross. We arrived at Libertador Valle Sagrado at 7:30 PM, in time for orientation with Edward and Hugo. They reviewed what would happen the next day when we headed to Machu Picchu. Then we sat down for dinner with Jan and Kirby. We had cream soups. Kirby tried to substitute what was called a cassava cake on the menu for some other potatoes, but could not get the waiter to understand. It turns out that the so-called cassava cake was really potatoes au gratin, so the English menu was not translated correctly.

Jan and Kirby reviewed what they had seen at Ollantaytambo (2,792 m/9,160 feet) and gave us some postcards to illustrate. They had seen the Baño de Nusta (Bath of the Princess) with its grey granite rock carved with a 3-dimensional chakana, or Andean cross. Water falls from a channel carved over the relief arch into a pool used for ritual bathing or water worship. They also saw the Temple of the Sun with the six giant monoliths of rose-colored rhyolite (pink granite) which were once decorated with relief carvings of the Andean cross and zoomorphic figures. These carvings were defaced by the Spanish and weathering. Up on the mountainside there is a mysterious building, with many theories as to its purpose. Most likely it was for grain storage, since there are ventilation openings. At this altitude, the grains would not mildew. Edward also talked about Ollantaytambo being in the center of a cross, with the Sacred Valley being the vertical beam with places with names ending in “tambo” at either end. The side valleys are the lateral beam, also with “tambos” at either end. All representing the Southern Cross. Tambo can be one of the inns or waystations along the Inca roads, or any place of hospitality.

We paid our dining bill at the hotel reception. Brynne and I went to the internet computer, with free access, to e-mail Kent about the broken ankle. We tried the good news, bad news format to let him know all was okay, and we would carry on! Now that I was incapacitated, we decided to pack one bag for the trip, and have Edward take the other suitcase back to the Rob's place. Late to bed after re-packing.
Tamiko's ankle cast
Next: Day 11 Aguas Calientes.

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