February 9, 2018

Wednesday 7th February

There is a hard knocking on the door. Its 11 in the morning and we have just finished breakfast we purchased at the local Carrefour supermarket conveniently located around the corner. A tall lanky lad. Relaxed and fit. Lightly bearded with sunglass tan lines. Energetically introduces himself as Maximo, the expedition leader and organiser (though we discover later it is mainly organisation for which he is responsible). We welcome him in and we talk about the mountain and the logistics of the next few days.  He tells us he has just come of the summit only three days earlier and successfully had all but one of the team summit. We are a smaller group of 11 plus three guides, which is a good ratio. He says the weather has been problematic with steady 40kmh/h winds gusting to 60. So much for Patricio’s forecasts reported to us earlier. If you can’t trust a driver for your weather all is lost! Max tells us there is a storm up there today and no one will be on the summit. He’s very matter of fact about it all and I note how relaxed he is – that will be very helpful on the mountain. Relaxed leadership is better than uptight leadership when everyone is so much under pressure.

He decides now is a good time to check our gear and we agree. The sooner the better, since we have a day up our sleeve in case we have missed something. Soon the room is an explosion of kit and our once orderly bags are empty with odds and sods all over the place. Max is happy with everything, including but especially our gloves. He tells us that one of his earlier clients had to descend from 6100m because his gloves were not up to the task. An Australian client no less. But we don’t have enough water bottles in his view and he is convinced we need one litre thermos bottles for summit day. So we have a small shopping list. He departs with a cheery wave after making sure we were connected via WhatsApp.

The day had started fresh and cool but it’s well warmed up by the time we head out to the shops. Max has suggested best places to exchange cash and where the best place is to purchase a topographic map of the mountain. We buy the map and look at thermos prices, which in a trekking shop induce sticker shock. We head out to grab a cool drink and figure Carrefour might have the thermos’s we need. And they do and for a quarter of the price. But they are sold separately to the stoppers, none of which are available for the flasks that are on the shelves! And the drink bottles we thought we might purchase in the same store have no lids. Bizarre.

We are walking back into the main part of town when we stumble over a triathlon shop having a sale – thermos flasks and Nalgene bottles are marked down so purchase what we need and sit out under the plane trees and have a cold (Supposed to be hot but it barely came near an oven in our judgement) pizza dubbed “Hawaiian” by virtue of the piece of tinned pineapple dropped on top of each slice. The proprietor of the café says he visited Sydney as a young man when the merchant freighter on which he was a crewman called. It must have been some time ago.  He thinks we are his new best friends but I don’t have the heart to tell him his meal was awful and we won’t be back for his food. On the upside he proved an outstanding barman. He dispensed Barcardi by the slosh and our drinks were exceedingly cheap when making comparisons to bar prices anywhere on the planet!

So we are well kitted out now save for gaiters and a couple of foam mats which Max thinks will be a good investment for our inflatable down mattresses. That’s a bit frustrating given we have plenty of those at home. But its trivial in the scheme of things.

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