Stolen Hiking Shoes, a Leaky Tent, and the Art of Spanglish on the Ausangate Trek
“Hey Matador,” Lapsang mutters to me from the darkness, “is your sleeping bag all wet?”
“Yup, pretty damn soaked,” I mumble back from my state of restless slumber. “This tent is shit.” During the torrential downpour that assaulted us half the night, water had leaked in from below us and trickled down the sides of our temporary home. I cocoon farther into my water-saturated down quilt, willing it to dry itself on command. Ironically, we rented this replacement tent several days ago, as I didn’t trust my Zpacks tent that had already survived a thru-hike on the PCT. My lack of faith has doomed us; forgive me, Zpacks.
“What should we do? We can’t keep hiking with it, it’s supposed to rain everyday,” Lapsang says.
“Pretend you can sleep and we’ll figure it out in the morning,” I retort.
Two very long hours later, light begins to leak through the useless rainfly of our tent. I roll over, inflatable sleeping pad crinkling obnoxiously beneath me, and transfer my weight from one aching, sore hip to the other. This tends to be my sleep pattern while backpacking; sleep on one side until my hip feels like it is going to snap off and shatter into several pieces, then roll over and give the other side a chance to join in the fun. Woe is the hiking partner who shares a tent with me and is doomed to listen to me turn in circles like meat skewered over a fire all night. Needless to say, I rarely share a tent unless it is a necessity. I flip onto my stomach and begin to assess the damage that occurred last night, checking off areas that are subpar in my head; two wet sleeping bags, one useless tent, one slightly cranky Matador, and one disenchanted Lapsang.
Necessary Plan Adjustments
“Let’s decide on a game plan over a gourd of yerba mate,” Lapsang suggests. “I’ll go fill up the water bottles.”
He slides over to the entrance of the cramped tent, floor squishing below him unpleasantly, and unzips our newfound, inanimate archenemy. He steps outside barefoot and I hear water streaming before it hits the ground with a splatter as Lapsang relieves his bladder. It must be nice to have accessibility to an easy-to-use hose whenever nature calls. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have accidentally peed on myself while precariously popping a squat.
“Matador,” Lapsang calls from outside the thin nylon walls, “where are my shoes?”
“What do you mean where are your shoes?” I ask, poking my head outside the tent door.
“I mean my shoes are gone.”
“How are your shoes gone! Where did you leave them last night?” I exclaim. I look and see my beat-up trail runners sitting next to the tent, along with my rain pants, exactly where I left them the night before. We had gotten into camp after dark following a long day of trudging through rain and mud for hours, abandoning our dirty gear outside before promptly passing out. Something tickles my brain and I examine my gear more closely.
“Wait a second, this wasn’t how I left my gear last night,” I realize aloud, “My stuff has been moved around.”
“Did someone steal my shoes while we slept?” Lapsang asks.
“You are sure this is where you left them?” I drill him maternally, while lifting up the ground sheet and searching in the vicinity. Lapsang has a tendency to forget trivial things, like remembering to pack up his gear and not leave it at a previous campsite.
“Positive. I put them right next to yours. One shoe on top of my rain pants and one under.”
“That’s pretty damn specific. Dang, someone stole your shoes. I guess mine were too wrecked to be covetable?” I question.
We look at each other in disbelief and burst into laughter. There is nothing else to do.
“Well, I guess we are turning back,” I state, as we lounge in our wet tent, taking solace in steaming hot yerba mate. “Leaky tent and stolen shoes in the mountains of Peru; this one is going down in the books.”
“It definitely claims second place worst-case backpacking scenario, after that night on the PCT in Oregon we spent drenched behind Tunnel Falls,” Lapsang agrees.
“Yeah, but at least that time we can blame ourselves for being lazy asses, not setting up our tent, and expecting a massive rock ledge to keep us dry all night,” I say.
“Very true. Walking back is going to suck barefoot.”
“Holy shit, what are we going to do?” I sigh, one small giggle escaping at our situation.
We continue our comforting morning routine of mate and munching on various dried fruit and nuts while we ponder our predicament.
The Sly Salesmen Enters
I gaze out our tent door, inhaling the dewy mountain air, and notice a figure walking up to the plateau where we are camped. As he gets closer I see that it is an ageless Quechua man (an indigenous people of South America), carrying a vibrant-colored and patterned sling on his back. He is wearing a unique handcrafted cowboy-style jacket, with two horseshoes detailed on the front complemented by silver buttons and brown fringe on the back, with a svelte, mocha-colored cowboy hat to complete the ensemble. As he approaches our tent I detect an aura of friendly, but mysterious energy about him, and wonder what is about to transpire.
“Hola mis amigos, como estas?” the stranger greets us. He sets his sling down on the ground in front of us and unfolds it to reveal a bag full of handmade crafts: intricately woven bracelets the colors of the rainbow, hand-stitched hats of alpaca fur exhibiting elaborate designs, and many other creative displays of art. Lapsang and I fawn over the beauty of his crafts, but having been approached by many people peddling their amazing talents already on this trip, we are distracted by our current circumstance: the small problem of having only one pair of shoes between the both of us.
“No bueno a manana,” Lapsang replies to the man, “mi zapatos have disappeared in the night,” his Spanish transitioning back to English as his vocabulary fails him.
The man gives us a knowing look and rapidly fires off several sentences in Spanish that neither I, nor Lapsang, have the capacity to keep up with. He notices our blank stares as our heads reel, attempting to translate the syncopated speech, and mimes what he was trying to communicate instead. He picks up my shoes, which are still outside our shanty shelter, and shakes his head no. Then he motions putting them inside of the tent.
“Todos,” the man nods, as we grasp the concept. We need to put everything inside our tent at night.
“Mi llamo Sacho. Buscar tu zapatos?” he says, as he gives us a strange look and walks away from our tent toward a large pile of firewood nearby.
“Why did Sacho ask me if I searched for my shoes?” Lapsang questions me.
“Beats me, that’s definitely a weird thing to ask. I like his name though.”
We received our answer quickly enough as Sacho returned from behind the woodpile with Lapsang’s beat-up Sportivas in his hand.
“What the hell!” We both shout in glee, laughing at the absurdity of the situation and the floodwater of questions it released. Why would someone hide the shoes while we were sleeping? Was it a prank? The rain pants were still missing, was it some kind of warning? Sacho smiles a trickster grin at our celebrations and motions our attention back to his wares, still displayed in front of us. His eyes twinkle mischievously as if to say, now that you have been reunited with your shoes due to my aid, wouldn’t you like to purchase one of these lovely gifts. Lapsang surrenders to Sacho’s charm, selecting a flashy knit hat, complete with pompoms and complex beading created in the traditional Quechua style. He forks over 50 soles and Sacho grins at us, gold-filled teeth flashing, and invites us down to his complex of hot springs that we were unable to locate the night before.
“Well if we are heading back to Cusco today, we might as well relax for a few hours, we are in no rush,” I say with a shrug. In a bizarre mixture of Spanglish and hand motions we tell Sacho that we will meet him there and he points out the path before departing.
As soon as Sacho is out of earshot Lapsang turns to me, “Sacho stole my shoes, didn’t he?”
“I’m glad you said that, because I think that’s what happened too,” I agree with a smile.
“Well I have to say, that is the most genius sales pitch I have ever encountered,” Lapsang says. We look each other in the eyes and start bursting out in laughter for the second time that morning.
“Come on,” I motion. “Let’s pack up this crappy tent and go enjoy a soak in those hot springs. I’d say we earned it.”
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After the mention of hotsprings I knew this was in Upis. They have have been stealing hikers stuff for years. Even the 2003 lonely planet treking book mentions it. Sorry state of trekking in Peru.