Peru 2005 Day Twelve: Inca Trail

by Kara on August 2, 2005

Mules used by locals on the Inca Trail

I got up and used the potty tent (a toilet seat on a bucket, which was actually much better than some of the real toilets we encountered). I managed to eat a half a slice of cold toast. There was a really nice warm porridge, but something about the consistency just made it unappetizing. Both Claire and I were considering whether to turn around and head back to kilometer 88 and take the train to Machu Picchu. But I just couldn’t seriously consider that option. I couldn’t fathom the idea of coming all the way to Peru (and paying all that money) and then turning around halfway through the trek. I also incorrectly theorized that since it was a long walk back to kilometer 88, that it would be just as easy to go forward as it would be to go back.

Stephen and I were ready first, so Narciso, recognizing that I needed a good head start just to keep up, sent us on up toward the first pass. Some time later, when he was ready and caught up with us, he said that our partners in crime had turned back to go to Machu Picchu via train, along with their guide and a couple of the porters. I later told Narciso that had I been a betting woman, I would have bet on me being the one to turn back and he agreed. But I understand why Claire and Eric turned back. One of their main interests was bird watching, and one does not need to drag one’s self up a mountain to do that. Plus, it was their 20th anniversary, and if it were me, I would prefer something a little more relaxing. We certainly missed their company during the trek, though.

The Inca trail passes through a cloud forest

Tuesday’s trek was to go through the highest pass on the whole trip. Boy, oh boy, was it high. We actually got pretty close to where the snow capped peaks were. We were getting close to the top of the Warmiwanusqa Pass (mearly 14,000 feet), but I had to stop every couple minutes to rest. I just felt like I couldn’t pick up my legs any more. I was lucky enough not to have classic altitude sickness symptoms (headaches, acting drunk), but the altitude still made things very difficult, as did the fact I couldn’t breathe through my nose at all. As we neared the top, Narciso decided that a little oxygen might enable me to make it (yep, they carry a heavy bottle of oxygen too). Narciso was even carrying my daypack to make it easier for me, but I was really slowing down. After the oxygen, I made it to the top, and after a quick photo, we immediately headed down the other side. When we were about halfway down, about 10 of our porters came running back up the hill (they had long since arrived at our lunch spot) with a stretcher. They had heard that someone had collapsed at the top of the pass and they were afraid it was me. Luckily, it wasn’t, and I assured everyone that I could walk down the mountain.

Stephen and Narciso were starting to get a little anxious about my lack of food, so after a brief nap in our dining tent, I attempted to eat a bowl of tomato soup, which is one of my favorites. I kept it down for about two minutes. Narciso decided that he would ask for permission for us to camp at the next campsite after the next pass, as he didn’t think I would make it the extra two miles to the original campsite before it was pitch dark. I think I did a little better in the afternoon, but the stretch on the downside of the second pass was made up of very steep steps, so I moved quite slowly, afraid that my legs might not hold me up since I hadn’t eaten in a couple days.

As we got close to the bottom of that stretch, several of the porters ran up and applauded me for making it that far. Honestly, at that point, I think everyone was surprised I was still upright (I know I was surprised). When we arrived at camp, the rest of the porters gave me an ovation as well. You know you’re in sad shape when people applaud you just for walking. I headed into the tent for my nightly appointment with a baggie, and didn’t even consider the possibility of dinner. I tried to keep down some water, but I knew I was starting to get a little dehydrated. After lunch, Narciso told me to stop taking any medications I was on – so I quit the malaria pills and the altitude sickness preventative. Taking medicine when you’re barely even drinking water isn’t such a hot idea, but it didn’t even occur to me.

Check out more of Stephen’s pictures of Peru.

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