Saturday, June 3, 2017

Peru: Machu Piccu

I was awake three hours before we had to leave with incredible insomnia. Our driver arrived ten minutes early (3:50 AM) barking we had to go, rushing us through dark cobblestone streets. 90 minutes in a van speeding, jerking, whipping around turns. When we arrived at the train, I had lost my hearing because the sudden altitude changes and was dry heaving from motion sickness. Our tickets were scrambled so I had to sit in a different car than Puhg. He walked me to my door. We hoped I wouldn't fall asleep and miss my exit. It felt like I was getting on a lifeboat off the Titanic. I drifted in and out of consciousness, once finding a raisin cookie in front of me, which I ate hastily. They were also serving coca tea, which I almost took, but as I reached for a cup my brain suddenly put together me drinking this tea every night (which is made from cocaine plants) and the terrible insomnia I had been having. No more coca tea for me. I got off the train hoping the Spanish I heard was right and was relieved to see Puhg and the couple we would be hiking with waving.

It was still dark. We met our guide, a little Peruvian man eating popcorn. The first two hours would be the hardest, he told us. The regular trail had been blocked by a rockslide. We stopped every fifteen-twenty minutes to catch our breath while moving straight uphill a jackknife porter trail. I was pouring sweat. At the first checkpoint we explored a little Incan village and were served lunch. expected sandwiches and apples, but suddenly a tent was erected and we were inside it chowing on pans of guacamole, pasta, corn chowder.
We hiked several more hours, this time in the rain, pausing to see a Peruvian raccoon and or orchids. It was scary. Only one person falls off the mountain each year, and they're usually being a hot dog, but I was walking so close to the edge on uneven wet rocks. I slipped and sort of ended up in the splits. But what if I had slipped and fallen sideways instead of down. Goodbye.

One large uphill climb our guide called The Gringo Killer. The other couple we were with took it like big stairs, while Puhg and I crawled up. The views were incredible and made everything worth it. I don't love hiking, but it felt so...I don't know, organic, to inch higher to the sacred place, seeing the river we started at become a stream and then a trickle.
We would have all day tomorrow for Machu, so we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and checked into our crummy motel. The walls were paper thin, but our "matrimonial room" was decorated in rose petals and chocolate. We met with the other couple and our guide for an equally crummy but educational dinner as our guide told us about life as a native, eating guinea pig, and how Peruvians feel about Incan culture hundreds of years later. I fell asleep at 9 PM. At 6 we had a light breakfast and were off for a day at the main event.

We slowly made our way around each site of Machu. It kept feeling bigger than it had five minutes ago, and sometimes I felt I could understand it but then I couldn't again. Time is so long. Beliefs are so ever-changing. Grass is so green. Human sacrifice was a thing. The mountains are too big to compute.

Toward the end of the circle, the couple went on another hike, and our guide left us. Puhg and I walked through old stone houses and observed more sacred places. We hoped we might touch a llama and were pleased to find two hopping around right in our path. I patted one's butt as it stood in front of me and it later went right up to Puhg and sniffed his chest.
We had around four hours to kill before our bus ride, so we had a long slap happy lunch. It rained, harder this time, so we sat in a French cafe. It was a happy, relaxing day. The kind of day I don't really enjoy in Chicago. On the train back we talked with a couple from Hong Kong, and I finished the S-Town podcast.

We were supposed to hike Rainbow Mountain the next day, something we had both been really looking forward to, but we were so exhausted, that climb started at 2 AM, my ears were re-popped, and we would have to spend 6 hours in a bus to get there. Vomit was basically guaranteed. We decided not to go. It was a hard decision, but I am proud we made it. Sometimes the hardest choices mean doing what is best for us.

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