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With a little help from my friends – Trekking the Andes and Machu Picchu

July 24, 2013

Lots of people have lots of opinions about me. I really only care about the good ones (and I do consider teasing a good thing. I can take my faults presented in a loving and humorous manner – god knows I have enough of them.) I think  that most of the people that love me would describe me in two, seemingly contradictory ways. I am very, very self suffiecien in my life, but sometimesits amazing I can get through a day without a lot of help with the most basic of tatsks or decisions. Usually, these are of the most every day variety – how to cook rice or where to get a phone charger. The theme of this post is all the help I had along the way this week and how much I appreciate it.

We got an early start on trek day – Graham and I heading off with Roberto for the Moonstone Trek, the rest of the group heading with Juan to the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail allows only 500 hikers to start each day and Graham and I booked late enough that we weren’t able to get permits. The moonstone trek is one of the hundreds of other Inca trails but is not well known. In fact, aside from a few Andeans who lived in the mountains, we never saw another human until our last night.

Before we got to the trail head, we stopped for supplies and at a local town festival (there is always a festival somewhere in Peru). The boys in Fire Island would love Cusco, whose flag is the rainbow. We couldn’t believe it when we saw a church festooned with the flag, such pride, which is when Roberto explained it to us and said many westerners made the same mistake. Some women outside the church in the traditional Andean skirts, hats and braids offered us the most delicious tea made from coca seeds, cinnamon, cloves and a lot of milk. Fortified, we drove on – stopped at the actual Moonstone – an Inca carved boulder, and headed on to the trail.

What is a slight cold at sea level becomes a constant, hacking torture in altitude and very quickly I was down for the count. Still, we soldiered on and up and another couple hours, Graham running ahead, me coughing my heart out every few steps. At lunch Roberto came over to me and said, you are very strong – very good walker. A lie of course, but I thanked him. Also – you are a very beautiful woman. OK – I’ll take that one. As I thanked him for that he said, I think you should ride the horse. I started to protest, but really, who am I kidding – a free ride up the hardest part of the day, I”m in. I ended up on the horse for the better part of three days, but also hiked several hours each day as well.

Make no mistake, a horse in the Andes is not a trail ride. We went up steep passes on narrow, narrow paths, my heavy backpack wreaking havoc with my balance. The horse was led by our cook Modesto, who was good natured and smiley but spoke only Quequa, a local dialect that did not resemble my meager spanish.

Peru has two seasons, dry and rainy. Also – because of its proximity to the equator, daylight is from 6 to 6 every day of the year. Its dry season now, but the weather can turn o a dime and we went from t-shirts to hats and mittens and back several times a day. Nights were cold. Very cold. Graham taught me to fill my water bottles with our hot tea water before bed and use them to warm the sleeping bags (I had two because Juan brought me one from home knowing I’d be unprepared).  Each morning and evening we were brought a bowl of ague caliente – hot water – to wash. On the second morning, my agua from the night before was a frozen block of ice.

On our second morning, not a minute out of camp Graham took a misstep and sprained his ankle. The stream nearby offered ice and I offered up my horse, but he limped on.

We played cards at night until we were too cold to go on and went to our tents praying we wouldn’t have to visit the loo in the night.

As we descended on the 4th day, the trail turned into a quarry. The Incans were an interesting bunch. They never invented the wheel, but managed to build architectural wonders. At one stop, we were invited to climb into the quarry mine, but went just far enough to see Incan skeletal remains.

Finally reaching town, Ollyantetambo, in the Sacred Valley, we celebrated with beers and the lunch Modesto had packed for us while waiting for our train the final hour to the small town at the foot of Machu Picchu. It was there that I realized my burned my lips were. devastatingly burned actually. I picked up some lip balm and applied liberally. With my white crapped lips and Graham’s limp, we were quite a pair.

Roberto left us at the train station, Juan would pick us up at the other end. It reminded me of the childhood visits between my divorced parents. For a few minutes (90) Graham and I were on our own. But Juan was waiting for us. We learned that despite our hardships, we fared at least as well and possibly better than the other group who had an infected toe, stomach issues and a drop out.

Still – we were back together. Maggie, seeing my lips, immediately took the balm I was using away from me and gave me something that actually worked.

We rose early to get a bus up to Machu Picchu. A hike up to see it from above was staggering. The so-called lost city lived up to its name. Clouds would roll in and cover it altogether. Then it would appear out of nowhere. I am reading Turn Right a Machu Picchu, which I recommend to everyone, about the discovery of the site in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, the inspiration for Indiana Jones. You could see him everywhere – the window which created a beam of sun at sunrise on the solstice, the sundial. How they did it without a wheel is beyond comprehension. It is a site that must be seen.

We broke apart and I headed to the hot springs in town. There I sat and looked at the impressive mountains before chatting with a couple of musicians in Peru to film a documentary. We talked about our shared love of music and travel. I love what they’re doing and am thrilled to have learned about it, especially in the hot tub.

Today we drove to Lake Titicaca. My charger has broker and Juan swears he can fix it, but if he cannot, it will be a few days before the next post.

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