The Daily Grind at 18,000 Feet
Around 5:00 a.m tent zippers can be heard unzipping, the kerosene burners start
hissing, and Zoilo begins his day-long vigil melting ice and snow for water.
Zoilo calls himself the "Inca Cook," and he's probably not too far off in his
lineage. The rest of us, exhausted after yet another sleepless night at 18,000
feet, snuggle even deeper into our sleeping bags and wait for the first rays of
sun to hit our tents. The agreed-upon mountain code is that no one is expected
to venture out of the warmth of their sleeping bag until the ambient
temperature inside the tent is at least above freezing. You can also tell that
it's warm enough to get up when the frozen moisture on the ceiling of your tent—condensation from breathing—begins to thaw and rain down on your face.
The thought of eating is the second morning obstacle to tackle—altitude takes
its toll on the apetite. We reluctantly stumble into the cook/dining tent with
big plastic mugs in hand to see what Zoilo has brewed up. Pancakes, huevos,
Quaker oats, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or last night's leftovers are the
usual offerings. Mix in a little kerosene flavouring and you have your
standard expedition condiment-de-rigeur. The conversation over breakfast
generally is focused on bodily functions and one's overall health, and,
surprisingly, it never gets tiresome.
By 9:00 a.m. we strap on our packs and start the slog up 500 feet in snow-pack
to the excavation site. By noon, as if by clockwork, clouds arrive and snow is
imminent, but the work of picking away at the ice and rock must continue.
Although one mummy has been found, we still have to make the most of the
precious time that remains to explore the rest of the sacrificial Inca
Conversation and thoughts often return to the subject of human sacrifice, its
cultural significance, and whether it is still practiced today. "It definitely
continues today in a few indigenous South American cultures," asserts Johan.
"People are in jail to prove it. There have been arrests." That's the
difference we find today: human sacrifice is against the law, mostly because
those that are sacrificed go unwillingly. As in the days of the Inca, these
sacrifices continue to be made to the ever-powerful mountain deities.