Sickness on the Trail
Ollantaytambo Travel Blog› entry 5 of 12 › view all entries
August 14th, 2009 – by: Linqueen
We were awoken at five a.m. this morning, once again by Wilfredo, who offered us a choice of tea or hot chocolate to warm our insides before we dared climb out of our protective sleeping bags. Everyone seemed to have a restless night, partly due to the ghost story that Juan decided to share with us right before he sent us to bed. Apparently, several years back, there was a married couple, the man was German and his wife was Israeli, who stayed at the very campsite we would be sleeping in. During the night, the man ruthlessly killed his wife with a gun that had a silencer attached. He then proceded to drag his wife´s body up the mountainside, where he began yelling for help. He told people that members of the Shining Path, a terrorist group that kept many people out of the Andes for years, killed his wife while they were out hiking.The husband was later found guilty of the crime, and he is now serving time in jail. However, according to Juan, many of the porters have had sightings of the Israeli woman's ghost while in the camp. She has been seen bathing in the river at night, and people have felt her pulling at their legs while sleeping in their tents at night. On top of that, Jason battled a stomachache all night long, and poor Ben, one of the Austrailians, was in and out of the bathroom about fifteen times throughout the night with an awful stomachache.
Today would be our longest day of hiking yet, although we were told it wouldn't be as phsyically exhausting as the previous day had been. We left our camp at Paqamayu (elevation 11,480 feet) at six in the morning and began a 1,500 ft climb to the second pass, which has an altitude of 12,916 feet.After about forty five minutes of hiking, during which Jason was still feeling a bit ill and Ben was having to pause to vomit occasionally, we stopped at Runkuracay, meaning "basket shaped." These ruins predate the Incas, although they were also used by the Incas, and they are believed to have been used as postal huts. Apparently, postal huts were located every 5 km during the high point of the Incan Empire, and they were extremely sufficient in transportig messages rapidly throughout the empire. It was quite hard to believe that these ruins, in such remote locations, could ever allow for a civilization to thrive.
After viewing the ruins, we continued up to the second pass, and it was at this point that my stomach began to churn.When we reached the second pass, known as Abra de Runkuracay, Juan performed a traditional Quechua (not sure how to spell that) ceremony with us. Quechua is the term used to describe the culture of people descended from the regions of the Andes. The purpose of the ceremony was to ask the mountains to protect us, and the ceremony involved climbing to the peak of the mountain, gathering rocks from different areas, and arranging them with a pile coca leaves. I'm sure the ceremony would have been much more interesting, and I would have been much more attentive, if my stomach wasn't churning throughout its entirety.
The next part of our trek involved descending 1,000 feet to the area we would have lunch, Chaquiqocha. The descent was all downhill, without a reprieve, and we were told that we would arrive at our meal tent in approximately two hours.On the way down, we were supposed to visit another Incan ruin. However, Jason, Ben, Karen, and I opted to bypass the ruins and race on to the lunch site since we were feeling pretty miserable. It was quite an unpleasant period of time, as every step down onto the next rock jolted our bodies and caused our stomachs to churn even more.
When we arrived at the lunch site, the four of us collapsed onto the backpack tarp and remained there until the other group members joined us an hour later. We attempted to get some sleep, but the air was too frigid to get comfortable for some precious shut eye. Luckily, after a few nibbles of lunch and some medicine, Jason and I were feeling reasonably well and were ready to continue trekking with our group, although poor Ben continued to suffer for the remainder of the day.
The next portion of our hike had us walking on a well-preserved section of the Inca Trail through thick jungle with exotic vegetation. We passed by hanging moss, tree ferns, numerous varieties of orchids, and lichens. We also passed through the Inca Tunnel, which was carved into the rock, as we ascended to the third pass, Phuyupatamarca. This third pass, at an elevation of 12,460 feet, is the final pass we have to go through before reaching Machu Picchu. From this point, we could see the town of Aguas Calientes, where we will be spending time tomorrow after our visit to the great Incan ruins, far below on the valley floor.
From this awe-inspiring lookout position, we began a long descent from an elevation of 12,460 feet to our campsite, Winay Wayna, which is located at 8,829 feet. We were told by Juan that the descent would take approximately two hours, it would be very rough on our knees and ankles, and that we should take an ibuprofen when we arrive at the campsite. Before our group divided to move at our own pace, we made a stop at another well-preserved ruin that contained six ceremonial baths and numerous retaining wall terraces. We learned that this site was used as an astronomical observatory for stars.
Once we were free to descend the mountain on our own, the three of us took off, leaving the rest of our group members behind in the dust.One aspect of the Incan Trail that I enjoy is the sense of solitude and tranquility you experience on nearly all parts of the trail. Because the amount of trek tickets permitted to be sold each week is limited, you never feel crowded on the trail. In contrast, we can often walk an hour without running into another person. As we descended the mountain at a rapid pace, eager to reach our campsite, we passed a few people along the way. However, we were only passed by a few agile porters who appeared to be flying down the mountain as if it were a giant slide. They really put us to shame!
As quickly as we were going, we were always very cautious of our footing since most of the trails have a very steep dropoff. The lush vegetation on the cliffs often disguise the danger, and it can be difficult to recognize just how high off the valley floor you are.The further we walked, the more our knees and ankles ached with every step. Because much of this portion of the trail is authentic, we were walking across rocks of various shapes and sizes and climbing down uneven stone steps, causing our ankles to twist and turn and our knees to jolt as we slammed our feet down onto the path. Next, we reached a portion of the path that turned to dirt trails, and our feet skidded down the path as we went down switchback after switchback.
When we arrived at our campsite, the final stop for most trekkers to Machu Picchu, we were quite surprised to stumble upon a bar that played American hiphop music, sold candy and drinks, and provided an indoor, although rather lackluster, eating area for weary travelers. That evening, while nibbling on bits of our last dinner together in the meal tent (our stomachs were still a bit uneasy), we learned that we would wake at four in the morning the next day for our final two hour push to Machu Picchu. Again, we prepared for an early night, anxious to approach our final destination in the morning.
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