Yes, we are still alive, even though just about!!! We have been off line for a few days due to a couple of significant events, the first one being that we went on the Inca Trail, the second that I have been sick ever since arriving in Cusco.
It all started in Arequipa, we think. We took this super expensive Cruz del Sur overnight bus which looked like a spaceship. Fantastic bus, we got a cama seat for the modest price of $33 for an 11-hour journey from Arequipa to Cusco, dinner inclusive. It is a doubledecker bus where the lower level is furbished with 9 cama seats that look like aereoplane business class seats and recline to a full bed. There are movies on board as well as a hostess who serves you dinner just like in a plane. Except that I have never been sick on plane food!!! By the time we got to Cusco (29th of May) and checked in our hotel in San Blas, I had already started feeling a little strange. Gregory started having diarrea but it kept at that and nothing more, lucky him. For me, it was the beginning of two days of no food and feeling terribly. Nausea, fever, vomiting, and the Inca Trail booked for the 31st of May!!! OK, let s give Cruz del Sur the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was not their cold rice that caused all this, maybe it was something else. We cannot tell for sure, but one thing is sure: I will not eat bus food ever again!!!
On May 30th we decided to call the doctor, who prescribed me antibiotics and other tablets and assured me that this would sort me out to go on the Inca Trail the next day. The problem with the Inca Trail is that, ever since they have limited the number of trekkers to 500 a day, making the bookings not transferable, if you fall sick on the day you are due, you lose your chance to go along with all the money you have paid. This ensures that lots of people who are not feeling well still go on this fairly demanding trek as they are, like me. I felt like a wreck for most of the day before departure. When I realised that the antibiotics and annxed tablets hadnt given me my appetite back and I was still unable to swallow anything at 5 pm, we went down to the SAS agency to discuss our options. We were greeted by the most unsympathetic representative on shift, with whom we ended up arguing. At that point the situation wasn't great, since we had already paid $1,020 to do this thing and Gregory was so annoyed and disappointed that I could not go that he didn't want to go any more!! Thankfully, by about 6 pm I started to feel like a human being again. I think it was the dose of rehydration salts that gave me new life, possibly. So we went along to our 7 pm briefing session and I decided that, if I was still breathing the next morning, I would try to go along.
And I did. It was really hard, I was fairly sick throughout the trek, with different problems on different days. I think the worse was the morning of the second day, which is supposed to be the hardest day of all, since you climb from 3,000 m to 4,200 m at Dead's Woman Pass (...). I woke up with a tremendous nausea, went to the loo about 4 times and by 7 am I was done in. I went to see Ernesto, our lead guide, and declared that I didn't know if I could make it. He said ‘let’s give it a try’ and so off we went, 4 hours of a million steps ahead of us. Well, not only did I get to the top of the pass, I got there before 3 other people in my group!!!!!! What the hell. It was a kind of surreal hike uphill, going really really slowly, step after step, and frankly I still wonder how I made it up there in my very sick condition. I must say, on a few occasions I did think of the guy in Touching the void and that gave me the motivation I needed. If he crawled down a mountain with a broken leg for a week, surely I could climb up to Dead Woman´s Pass with an upset stomach? Gregory, god bless him, carried my rucksack for me. And one should see what the porters carry!!! The biggest packs I have ever seen, all the way up and down the mountains for 4 days. Not only the size, they run with it!! Yes, they run, because they need to be ahead of the group to plant the tents and make lunch-tea-dinner and await the tourists with a welcome and cold drink. I did actually feel a bit uncomfortable with the whole concept, these people serving us constantly and a complete separation between them and us. OK, there are a couple of opportunities where presentations are made along with applauses etc, and the tips giving at the end etc, but generally the whole business is one of great segregation between the Quechua-speaking porters and the rest of us. As usual Gregory diverted a little from the general trend, having bought a small Quechua-Spanish dictionary which he endeavoured to use while on the trek, mixing with the porters more than anybody else. Then, at the final greetings session he declared in perfect Spanish: Lo siento, no hablo suficiente quechua. Pero…La proxima vez!!!
So… the Inca Trail. What can we say. It is amazing, 50 km of a fine ancient paved path crossing beautiful mountains, passing a great variety of vegetation and many ruins, and fantastic food none of which you have to carry. And then, on the fourth day you get up at 4 am to ensure you are at the Sun Gate for 6 am. We had great weather and on day 4 the sky was clear and rays of sun came out from above the sun gate and slowly revealed Macchu Picchu!! When doing the Inca Trail, Macchu Picchu is reached from the top, which is a fantastic view. It looks so tiny!! Then the sun illuminates it and you realise that you have the finest Inca city in front of your eyes. From down below (400 m from Macchu Picchu to the bottom of the valley) you cannot see a thing.
We stayed in Aguas Calientes (Macchu Picchu Pueblo) an extra night as we had booked it as part of the tour, thinking the hot springs would be good for us. We did not even attempt going there, given that by day 4 in the afternoon I had a sore throat, fever again and could hardly walk. At any rate, all the people who went said it was quite pathetic and the water not even hot. The next day Gregory managed to change our train ticket for an earlier one and got me out of bed back to Cusco for about 5 pm, which was nice. Back at Casa de la Gringa hostel, which really feels like home, especially now that I am not feeling great.
So here are some pics...
Day 1. The gentle beginning...
Day 2. I did explain to Gregory that he was free to take the picture but I was not in a position to smile...
Towards Dead Woman´s Pass
At Dead Woman´s Pass
Yes, this was the food!!