Sunday, 9 March 2014

11) The final 200!

After taking Wednesday as a rest day and indulging in some more "Anticucho de corazon", we hit the bus station again on Thursday to get to Queshque (the name is Quechuan). The van we were bundled into this time looked like it was older than me and had seen much, much more action. The inside was plastered in stickers declaring love for Jesus and how Christ is the saviour, which didn't instill much confidence. I spent much of the journey to Catac balanced on one ass cheek trying my hardest not to lean against the door whilst a framed Jesus watched me intently. Nevertheless we got to Carpa intact and started looking for a taxi to our destination. It wasn't long before a taxi man approached us and asked where we were going. He looked EXACTLY like a decompressed Blobfish for you marine biologists out there, and when we said we wanted to go to Queshque he made that stereotypical drawing air through teeth "It's going to be expensive" sound. He told us the road was long and difficult, and in the end we negotiated him down to S70 (about 17 pounds), lobbed our stuff in the back and got on our way.
Base, near the creepy settlement
Turns out he wasn't lying when he said the road was difficult, and was being rather generous in calling it a road to begin with. After about 40 minutes out of the town into the mountains, past farms and into panoramic nothingness, we began spotting Puya and got out, watched him spend 10 minutes trying to turn around before deciding to reverse back the way he came, and set up camp. It would have probably cost him more than that in repairs but I don't think that's a thing here.
That day we got 35 Puya tagged, and come 8pm it was dark so ate our soup and went to sleep.
The following morning we tried out banana flavoured porridge, which was rank, and got back to work determined to hit 100 Puya by the end of the day. Come number 85 the rain hit and it hit hard. It was grim, and my hands were bleeding from tagging Puya and frozen solid! We also had to move the tent. There were some abandoned structures which were the only other thing in the landscape and one of them had a garden marked out by a dilapidated stone wall, so we hitched up the tent and moved it into there for more shelter.
Next day we planned to gather data on the last 100, then get up early on Sunday and hike back down to civilisation, but this time the rain struck at 12.30 and it did not stop. A man and his flock of sheep took shelter in one of the abandoned shacks and for a moment we panicked and thought we'd pitched up in his garden, but he didn't say anything and moved on after an hour or so. I hope he didn't have far to walk. 6 hours of non stop rain later, bored out of our minds and perhaps a little ambitious due to the copious amounts of coca tea, we chugged a few sleeping pills with the aim of getting up at 5 and finishing bright and early.
I came round at 6.30, woke Jamie up, and we pressed on with the final 30 after another bowl of awful, awful porridge and a cheeky nature dump (back to normal). We packed up our gear and started the arduous trek back. It had been a good trip for wildlife spotting. My count was 1 Andean condor and various other birds, a lime green frog that looked like it belonged in the amazon (so I didn't touch it), a massive spider, and then on the hike back we found 2 Vicuña (related to Llamas). I'd never seen one before, and they make a noise like a pathetic donkey so that was cool. It took us 2 and a half hours of trudging along to get back towards town, with a brief stop to attempt conversation with a family heading to market. Turns out the English aren't the only ones with the "if they don't speak your language say it louder and slower" mentality, but they were friendly enough and it was nice seeing people again!
Vicuna on the trek back
Back in town we sat our stinking, sweaty selves down at the cafeteria place we'd been served Coca tea on the way to Carpa, and I thought I'd treat myself to some Picante de Cuy (guinea pig). It was not great to look at to be honest, with the little claws and its head still very much intact, and is the sort of thing you just have to pick up and gnaw at. The skin was very crispy and full of flavour, and the meat tasted distinct, though not far from rabbit, and it was served with boiled potatoes and a chilli sauce as is custom. I followed it up with a nondescript dessert which was kind of like a block of rice pudding baked in some leaves, and then we found another mini van to take us home (which would have instantly failed it's MOT due to a foot long crack across the windscreen). We were done.
Crispy little 'pig to celebrate

The feeling of relief is immense, having gathered data on 600 Puya and tagged 400 of them my hands are obliterated, and now we are finished with our work in Peru! With a bit of luck, no more awful porridge and even worse noodles! Onward to Ecuador.

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