surfin’ safari

waves

Whoever woulda thunk that someone like me would be able to hang loose, bro? Not I, said the fly, with my little eye, I would NEVER have thunk I’d be able to casually stand on a board, in actual water, and actually ride a wave to the shore.

Last weekend a group of friends (who I shall refer to as ‘the crew’) and I spent the weekend in a dinky, yet rad, holiday house on Phillip Island, eating pizza, drinking alcohol, and playing Chuck Klosterman’s Hypertheticals. Let us not discuss that ‘the crew’ would all put their own love of the sun ahead of their ability to save another from a random bear attack – seven days later, this is still a sore point.

On Saturday morning we headed to Smith’s Beach, where we met our intrepid leader, Adam, who would be showing us the surf ropes. I instantly made a MASSIVE dick of myself when I requested that everyone in ‘the crew’ – including Adam – call me Brody.

“Why Brody?” Adam enquired.
“Ummm, only after the most significant surfer in the history of early 90s cinema. Ever heard of Point Break?” I smugly replied, only in words far less smug, eloquent, or facetious.
“Urrrm, you mean Bodhi?”

Obviously I meant Bodhi. From the most fabulous surf movie ever made that I have seen. I smacked my forehead in shame…

Anyhoo, on with the lesson. After my Patrick Swayze faux pas, we squeezed ourselves into some tres attractive wetsuits and were partnered with our boards (mine was a 9 footer we’ll call ‘Boardie’). And then, we were off to the beach. ‘The crew’ had now grown to accommodate an 11 year old boy called Deagn, so you can imagine how adept we – a bunch of 30ishes – felt. He was an excellent surfer, who later liked to yell “SMAAAAASH” whenever it appeared one of us might fall from our boards.

Once on the sandy shores of Smiths Beach, we did some cool stuff like:
– Lay on our tummy’s on the sand
– Pushed our chests out and up in a weird sunrise-y yoga-type move, while lying on our tummy’s on the sand
– Fake paddling (on our tummy’s) on the sand
All while a bunch of 6-8 year olds were already riding waves in the ocean.

I’ll be honest. I was not at all into the idea of a surfing weekend. While we were on ‘le world tour’ Rich and I had expressed an interest in learning to surf when we were in Costa Rica, and as soon as I saw the rough waves and ‘real’ surfers, I totally lost my nerve and started to see all the scary things in it; I’ll look like a derb; I’ll crack my head on the board; I’ll get eaten by a shark. When a friend suggested this weekend, I said no and firmly crossed my arms.

But then, I thought about it. Much like the weekend I recently spent horse riding, if I don’t like it, I can always get off and walk (except that I wasn’t actually allowed to get off and walk – instead, I was relegated to the back of the group to ride with two experienced riders who were 9 years old, and, subsequently, I will never get on another horse as long as I live). If I don’t like surfing, I can just sit on the beach and do the meat pie run.

So I gotsta tell ya, it felt pretty momentous getting out into the water and actually standing on a surfboard. And actually staying upright and actually SURFING that flipping wave all the way to the shore (which I’ve never seen a real surfer do, but hell, I felt like a pro). Yes, I was in waist-deep water. Yes, Adam the instructor was pushing the back of my board and telling me when to paddle and when to stand up. But still, I did it.

After 2 hours in the water, getting up, getting dumped, getting thrown around, getting SMAAAAAAAAASHed, our time was up. Waterlogged and bedraggled, we carted our boards back to the shop, stripped out of our uber-flattering wetsuits we had grown to love (and got back into our ‘Melbourne’ civvies), and celebrated our upright achievements with potato cakes and ginger beers at the general store.

While I don’t think it’s super likely I’ll ever ‘just rent a board and ride some waves with the dudes’, I’m pretty chuffed it’s something I did. Just. Did. Too often we get caught up in what we can do and what we think we can’t. I read a quote the other day that said something like: “You can or you can’t. Either way, you’re right”. So when adventures like this present themselves, go with it. You’ll surprise yourself.

You might even do a little gasp when you realise what a point break is.

kiedis_wasteoftime

“That would be a waste of tiiiiiiiiiiime!” says Anthony Kiedis.  To which I reply, No, Surfer Kiedis, it would not.

up up and away

Twas a cool, dark morning one year ago, almost to the day. The morning of one of the most exciting and exhilarating adventures I have ever ever experienced. The morning that I rose at 4.30am, wearing my neckerchief and leather flying cap, and cycled maniacally through the dark Fitzroy streets, avoiding end-of-the-night revellers – drunk and stumbling onto the road, pashing wildly in alley ways, looking for cabs, looking for fights, looking for souvlakis – in the pre-dawn light.

I met Wa, my bestie, on a street corner near Gertrude Street (similarly attired in cap and scarf) and from there, we cycled through the slowly lightening morn to a hotel in East Melbourne.

No, it was not for a sordid 4 star hotel BFF tryst. It was not so we could arrive first at a neckerchief and leather flying cap convention. It was the morning we were taking a birds-eye-view of Melbourne in a hot air balloon.

We arrived at the hotel, and entered a foyer filled with people wearing polar-fleece and baseball caps and tracksuit tops, their necks weighed down by large SLR cameras. Balloon pilots were scattered about the place, with balloon-branded jumpers and clipboards and “If you fall out of the balloon we do not accept responsibility” forms for us to sign. Wa and I were herded into a minivan with six other eager adventurers (none had gone to quite the same effort as we had in the dress stakes) and we were off. Well, off to an oval in Prahran, soon to TAKE off in our gas-filled bag and basket.

When we got to the oval and our basket was lifted from the back of the van and the balloon laid out and the burner unit fired up, our pilot gave us a quick spiel on safety and landings and helped us all into the wicker basket. He attached a flashing beacon to a helium-filled party balloon and set it loose into the dawn sky, to see which way the wind was blowing (reassuring – I did NOT want to end up soaring across Port Phillip Bay) and to get a vague chart of our flight path.

Weirdly, it wasn’t until I was in the basket, with my elbows resting on its wickery side, that the following important points occurred to me: a) we were going to be up very very high, b) we were going to be up very very high IN A BASKET, c) we were going to have a large propane burner mere centimetres above our heads, and d) hellooooo, fear of heights, anyone???

I pondered these facts (with mild anxiety) as I gazed out across the park, distractedly taking photos of the other balloons slowly lifting off the ground, taking photos of Wa, taking photos of the trees, taking photos of the treetops – hang on – what was this? We’ve already taken off? We’re already above the trees, and the streetlights and the tram tracks and the hospital and – oh me, oh me – we’re floating high above the park now, actually too high to leap from the basket to the safety of terra firma and green grass. There’s no turning back now.

Lift off, we have lift off

Over the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Tennis Centre, and the Fitzroy Gardens, the Freemasons Hospital, and over Gertrude Street, over the street corner I’d met Wa on a few hours earlier. Over my workplace. Over Brunswick Street. Over friends’ houses. Over MY house! I actually leaned over the side (not too far, mind you) and called out to Gus as we floated above my backyard, in the hope he’d run out and woof at the hiss of the burner, but no such luck.

Anyone for tennis?

O Melbourne, you luvverly city...

In the ayer!!!

Over familiar streets and shops, and then… into unchartered territory. Past the familiarity of my local hood and over Brunswick, and Coburg. Over a park with a lake full of ducks. Over backyards with crazy woofing dogs, running madly in circles. Over joggers. Over men in their dressing gowns, peering up at us from their driveways as they collect their Saturday paper. Over the drive-in, its huge empty screen looming large. Over factories, roofs passing underneath so low I thought we’d come to a stop on a square of asbestos-ridden tile. Over a park and an oval and, actually, no, we’re coming down. Our pilot tells us to brace, and we all lean against the side of the basket, as we were shown earlier that morning.

'Burban Streets

At the movies...

Wa + Wem = Besties 4 Evaahhhhhhh

And after three heavy bumps, we were on the oval and clambering out of the basket onto the dewy grass.

A trip in a hot air balloon is not nearly as terrifying as I had thought. In fact, it’s the opposite of terrifying. The silence, the gentle drift, the occasional roar of the burner – it’s calming and peaceful and slow. The world as it is seems to be all about how quickly you can get from A to B, and how instantly we seem to ‘need’ (and receive) information, and how everything needs to be mapped out and planned. Not knowing where you’re going to end up is exciting, and fun, and kinda highlights that we should focus more on where we’re at now – on looking around and learning and drifting and laughing – and less on our final destination. Don’t you think?

heading home…

OMG ZOMG. Did you think that the trials and tribulations of our Inca Trail adventure caused my hands to freakishly stop working, and my fingers – crying out as they were to type up my latest tales of tall and true – to cease their digit-y dalliance with my keyboard?

Alas, there is no such story of numbness or sudden loss of hand-eye coordination or anything like that (which is good, I think!!); instead, our travels have come to an end, we’re back in our Melbourne abode, and I have been busying myself with a frenetic bout of summer spring cleaning and early morning dog walks. Added to the hurricane of 6-month-old dust bunnies and dried leaves in unusual places and weeding and shed cleaning (am I turning into a 45 year old man, preparing his mancave for the coming apocalypse???) I have been without wifi ever since we got home, making blogging a little bit trickier than it should be.

So. To fill you in. When we last spoke, Rich and I were tired and stinky and thoroughly enjoying an agua con gas in the town of Aguas Calientes. Exciting stuff! We caught the train back to Ollantaytambo, then a bus to Cusco, then – in a moment of extreme love and a need for further bonding – our trek group went out for dinner. Beers, mojitos, and a guinea pig was ordered.   Yes, a guinea pig. It arrived at our table on a bed of giant corn with a tomato forced between its teeth, his baked, leathery face still housing a few whiskers and a contemplative expression. I did not partake in the guinea pig feast, but contrary to popular belief, GP does NOT follow the ‘tastes like chicken’ logic applied to nearly every ‘unusual’ meat, and was likened to a tough old boot. After dinner, a storm blew in and we all ran, drunk and exhausted and happy, back to our hotel, where I KNOW we all slept like behbehs. Our first sleep in a real bed in four nights. B to the liss….

The next day Rich and I headed back to Ollantaytambo for a few days of R & R. For four days we ate amazing vegematarian food and slept and read and strolled and that was it. There are no adventures to report here. All the excitement and torment of the Inca Trail meant we had to balance it out with some extremo nothingness.

So after Ollantaytambo we started the long trek (figuratively speaking) back home. We flew out of Cusco (just as terrifying as our arrival) back to Lima, where we spent the evening at the Magic Water Circuit (with about 10 million other people); the next day we visited the gallery and ate a bourgie lunch and wandered about looking at Incan jewellery and crazy sex-pots (no really – the gallery was having an erotic art exhibition, and two rooms were full to the brim of weird ancient pottery depicting all kinds of sex-stuff: people-sex, people-sex-with-a-baby-being-born-at-the-same-time-sex, dog-sex, cat-and-giant-mouse-sex. It was… interesting. And the furthest thing from ‘erotic’ I think I have ever encountered. And I’m not sure telling you about it here is the wisest move either… Do I really want traffic from peeps searching ‘cat and giant mouse sex’ in Google? Hmm…). After the gallery I had a $3 manicure, then we moseyed back to our hotel and sat around until it was time to leave. In our humungous, strangely decorated, 3-single-bed-ed room.

At 8 o’clock that night, our cab arrived, and whisked us off to the airport. Do you know that in Lima, instead of straggly-haired, missing-a-few-teeth window-washers at the traffic lights, there are fire-breathers and jugglers and kids who breakdance on the road in front of your car when you’re stopped at the lights. How good is that?

After the dramz of Miami/Brazil a few weeks ago, I was anticipating similar issues when we got to the airport. Why? Because, despite 5 months travelling around with my fella, and feeling relaxed, and having implemented several tips from the Happiness Project into my daily existence, it is now a FACT that airports stress me out. This stressure (that’s a new word that I just invented) was exacerbated to no end by our good friend (that’s sarcasm, BTW) Mariana at the TAM Airlines desk in Miami, and I figured that if we were going to be faced with another round of bad luck, now would be the time for it.

But guess what? It didn’t. We checked our bags through to Sydney. We were given our boarding passes, which did not have an SSSS on them (did I tell you what happened when we left Toronto? My passport was flagged as ‘suspicious’ and I had to sit in a room at the airport with a scary man with a baton while he asked me questions like “Have you ever lost your passport?” (no), “Have you ever reported your passport as stolen?” (same question really – no), “Are you SURE you’ve never lost your passport?” (yes, I’m sure, no, I’ve never lost my passport) – on it went. SSSS is a heightened security code, so you get pulled aside and questioned like nobodies bizniz, but then you get whisked through security and you don’t hafta stand in the super long lines). We actually had seats next to each other (we had SO many flights where we had to sit next to strange, tomato-eating Venezuelans and middle-aged Poms on their first ever overseas trip…). We spent the last of our Peruvian Soles (on chocolate, FYI). We made it to the gate lounge in plenty of time. Our flight was not delayed. Our take off was smooth. All was good and all was right.

We arrived in Buenos Aires and sat around for 6 hours, playing Scrabble and Gin Rummy and drinking lemonade and coffee and eating those gigantic croissants that only seem to be sold in airports, or in glad-wrapped six packs at rural supermarkets. We went from being the only people in the terminal, to being surrounded by shorts, Crocs and Australian accents as far as the ear could hear. Our fish-out-of-water, overseas adventures were seemingly over. Even though we were in Argentina, we were pretty much home.

The flight from Buenos Aires to Sydney is pretty much the worst flight ever. It’s SO. FLIPPING. LONG. Rich (lucky sod) was able to sleep for most of the flight, but I passed the time watching such cinematic greats as ‘Our Idiot Brother’ (good) and ‘Friends with Benefits’ (not good) and ‘Crazy, Stupid Love’ (Gosling-y!!), along with an entire season of ‘Parks and Recreation’, and multiple episodes of ’30 Rock’. And that only got me through 8 hours. The rest of the time (yes, 7 long hours…) was spent closing my eyes and trying to sleep (unsuccessful), eating (not enjoyable, but at least we got icecream), drinking (which is never a good idea on long haul flights but I managed to enjoy it), and shooting stink eye at the multiple peeps in our cabin who refused to shut their blinds. I realise we were flying over Antarctica, but guyz, YOU CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!! IT’S JUST CLOUDS!!!!

Finally, after a bajillionty hours, we touched down in Sydney. Home soil. Almost there, but still not quite. We went through immigration and to the baggage carousel and guess what? My bag was the first one off the flight!! Hurrah! Which I guess is why Rich’s bag failed to arrive… Boo…. We chatted to a baggage rep and he looked at our flight details and said “You’re gonna miss your flight if you hang around here; file a report in Melbourne” and with that, we hotfooted it to the transfer counter so I could check my bag through to Melbz. A rep there said “Unfortunately your flight to Melbourne has just closed, but we can get you on the next one” which was half an hour later… Boo… But when we got to the ticket counter, a rep there said “Actually, your flight’s been delayed 15 minutes, we can keep you on that one” – hurrah!!! We bussed it to the domestic terminal and arrived at the gate just as it was boarding (hurrah!!). But then. A voice came onto the loud speaker, announcing “Attention passengers of Qantas flight blah blah to Melbourne – there is a mechanical issue with the plane. Please standby until further notice”. Boo…

Tired, narky, in-Sydney-for-the-weekend passengers filed off the plane. Rich and I looked at each other – one bleary, blood-shot eye to the other. Would this day of travel – now spanning nearly 30 hours – ever end?

A few minutes later, another announcement: “Our engineers are working on the issues on Qantas flight blah blah to Melbourne, we hope to resume boarding shortly”. Hurrah!

Then, a few moments after that: “We regret to inform you that Qantas flight blah blah to Melbourne has been cancelled.” Boo…

Passengers yelled and stomped their feet. Others huffily crossed their arms and glared at the desk staff. Rich and I went to the food court and had a beer.

An hour later, a new plane was found, passengers boarded and then… we were off. Again. But this time it was the last take-off, the last safety demonstration, the last mini can of ginger ale of our adventures. After an hour of almost-falling-asleep-but-waking-up-when-my-head-dropped-too-far-forward, we landed. In Melbourne. Hurrah!

We got my bag, stepped into the unseasonably cool December air, got in a cab, and hightailed it home. After opening some mail and putting on a load of washing (and other scintillating tasks I had been DESPERATE to do) we got into our bed with our pillows and our doona; our cat crept onto my feet. We slept the sleep you sleep when you’ve been awake for over 40 hours. Which is pretty much the greatest sleep ever.

So. Our worldly adventures are over. For now. But Wembolina’s adventures will continue. I have LOVED writing this blog, so this will keep going. While I probably won’t be regaling you with tales of mountain treks and overzealous dogs and diving off boats and donkey races, I will definitely keep you posted on country’n’western junkie crooners outside my office and epic bike rides through the country and a weekend in the bush painting portraits of friends and drinking wine and eating cheese, among other things.

Till then, dearies!

Wembolina xxx

p.s. I actually feel a bit teary posting this. So let’s make things a bit sappier and tearier:

day 4 – machu picchu

With the dramz of day 3 behind us, Rich and I woke bright n early on Sunday for our last day on the trail. The path to the Sun Gate, and then onto Machu Picchu. There was no faffing around this morning. Everyone was up and at ’em and in the breakfast tent by 4am, while the porters hurriedly rolled up our sleeping bags and broke down our tents. The ol’ guts were still not 100%, but the thrill of finally getting to MP and finishing the trek was too great to hold me back.

Toast, honey and tea was consumed, followed by one last trip to the (gulp) squat toilet (I’m sorry I said that word… ‘Squat’, for me, ranks up there with ‘moist’ and ‘panties’ when it comes to Worlds Worst Words – bleck!!) and then we were back on the road. Everyone who was feeling ailing certainly wasn’t showing it this morning – it was smiles all round that the end was in sight.

We marched out of camp with around 250 or so other campers, shining our torches on the path to prevent a rolled ankle on a loose rock or boulder step. The sky was just starting to lighten – pretty beautiful time of the day in this part of the world…

Five minutes out of camp, and we came to a standstill. We were at the final checkpoint before Machu Picchu. Which didn’t open until 5.30. It was 4.30. We would be here for an hour.

We rubbed our alpaca-gloved hands together and hopped from one foot to the other to keep our toes warm and our blood circulating. We reminisced about hairy parts of the journey, and hypothesised on what was to come. We high-fived Abel, while JC entertained us with ‘llama/alpaca’ gang-style hand signs.

And finally…

The gates opened and we started to move. Something rushed past my legs and I said “O gosh, I think I’m hallucinating; I think I just saw a dog” but then I realised that it was a dog. I was worried that I was still deathly ill and that my eyes playing tricks on me was the first sign of my impending doom. Over-react much? Sheebers…

Once the gates were open, the hikers were seriously like horses out of the gate at the Melbourne Cup. PEOPLE WERE RUNNING!!! Granted, the sky was light enough now for us to put away our torches, but the path was still rocky and steppy with even more steep drops, and anyway, we were still an hour and a half away from the Sun Gate. Slow down, peeps!

Rich and I strode along together, side by side. Despite being well on the way to the finish line, there were still quite a few precarious stretches of trail; one part was about 7 metres of narrow path which dropped away into the valley below. I think this is where the landslide was in 2010, but I don’t want to check because it would be too scary.

Here comes the sun, do do do do

Up a few more stairs and around a few more corners (seriously – on the Inca Trail, the stairs just keep going. You think you’re at the end of them and then you round a bend and there are MORE!!!!) and then there it was. No, not the Sun Gate. I came face to face with The Stairs of Death!!!** These stairs weren’t even really stairs. They were more like a ladder made of ginormous rocks. Like I said in a previous post, I’m no science mathematician or anything, but my calculations tell me The Stairs of Death were on an 80 degree angle. Fo real (mebbe not actually fo real, but they were STEEP!!!!).

Rich had already scrambled his way to the top – remarkably using only his legs, feet and walking pole to get him up. I, on the other hand, took things a little more gracefully. I turned around to the Argentinian hikers behind me and said “Please excuse my elegant ascent up the stairs” and proceeded to climb up, rock-climbing-style. Yes, I used my hands (it wasn’t the first time… there was actually a set of stairs a few days earlier that I went down on my bum). It really felt like I was climbing a mountain, without a belay!! I made appropriate ‘hoik’ and ‘eek’ noises and guess what happened? I turned around, and the Argentinians were coming up in exactly the same way!!! Hurrah!! I wasn’t the only nancy nerd-burger on this hike after all!

When we got to the top (and exchanged a few more high-fives) it was just a few more steps until we made it to the Sun Gate. Yay! The sky was clear and the sun was up and the view down to Machu Picchu was poifickt and beautiful. We celebrated our arrival with some water, some chocolate (ain’t nothing wrong with having chocolate at 7.30am) and more ‘llama/alpaca’ hands.

JC breakin' out the Llama hands

And from there, it was down the hill to Machu Picchu. Along the way, we passed day trippers, struggling up the hill, red-faced and out of breath. We all exchanged looks as they lumbered past, our eyes saying everything: You think this is hard?

Machu Picchu is huge and beautiful and green and lush. Llamas roam around chowing down on grass. Kids on school excursions jumped from wall to wall (and were promptly told off by SEVERAL guides and groundskeepers). Old ladies hauled themselves up rock steps and our fellow trekkers lay on the grass, absorbing the glory of finally being here.

Abel showed us around and explained what various rooms had been used for, and gave us a bit more of a history lesson, and told us a bit more about astrology as well. After a few hours of strolling and admiring and listening and learning, we bid farewell to our final destination, stamped our passports with the Machu Picchu stamp, boarded a bus and headed down a long winding road to Aguas Calientes. We had pizza and beer. AND MINERAL WATER!!! O agua con gas, I have missed you these past few days! We laughed. We cried (no really, we did). We smelt bad. We didn’t care.

We flipping did it.

Machu Picchu, you little ripper!

** Not their official name. I name them The Stairs of Death because they are revolting. But as far as I know, no one has actually died on them.

day 3 – when i nearly died

There was more thunder and lightening and rain during the night, but I slept like a log and woke up feeling pretty great. My legs were aching and my feet were sore, but I was excited about the walk ahead. We’d spent two out of three nights in tents – the end was in sight.

Yesterday had been hard, but I had yet to experience any crazy vertigo or leg wobbles or feet refusing to move. Little did I know that today would be the day I would come FACE TO FACE WITH MY FEAR OF HEIGHTS! Duh duh DUHHH!

We left a little later than the other groups. We ate our breakfast as hikers trooped passed us, laden with backpacks and sleeping bags and sunhats. We took our time, enjoyed our tea and omelette and chattered away about the day ahead.

The path out of camp was a steep slope up the side of a mountain. It was gravelly and rocky. For the most part, the ‘drop’ side was tree-lined, so you couldn’t see how high up you were going. But every so often the trees would peter out and you would be faced with a sheer drop. I rounded one corner, feeling pretty happy-go-lucky, and was faced with a wood-slat bridge nailed into the side of the cliff with no rail. The only thing between the bridge and a drop of about a bazillionty metres was… nothing.

That’s when it started. My legs locked. My feet locked. My palms started to sweat and my head started to swim. Rich crossed the bridge – less than a metre wide – in front of me, then turned around and gently coaxed me across.

“Don’t look down”, he said, “Hold my hand and just walk”.

After a minute or so of deep breathing, my legs started moving and I made it across. Surely that would be the worst of it, right?

No. The rest of day 3 was filled with similar ridonkulous heights and sheer drops and steps leading into nothing. I was not feeling good.

One of our amazing porters chugging up the hill, as Rich looks on, in his cool hat

In addition to this, as the hot sun beat down on our faces as we marched along, my tummy started to turn itself inside out. Not literally (I hope – that could be an expensive operation), but by the time we made it to our lunch stop it was aching and I wasn’t hungry. For me, that’s pretty crazy. I can ALWAYS eat. Abel and JC (our assistant guide) gave me tea and asked if I was OK. I drank the tea and it seemed to help, and we continued on up the hill.

“It gets easier once we get through this next pass”, JC assured me, as I lumbered along.

But the further we walked, the sorer it got. At each rest stop I lay on the ground, clutching my stomach and wishing time would speed up so we could make it to the next campsite.

Looking amazing...

The scenery was indeed beautiful. When we arrived at the third pass, we turned a corner and were greeted by four llamas, happily munching away on a grassy patch of land. Bamboo surrounded us. If I’d been feeling in higher spirits, this would have been amazing.

“From here, it’s all downhill”, Abel announced, “but be careful. The first hour is very steep – they don’t call these steps the ‘Gringo Killer’ for nothing”.

Very reassuring. This was going to be a long, hard slog.

The rest of our group powered ahead while Rich and I slowly made our way down. One part of the stairway looked more like a riverbed, and I imagine that, in the rain, several gringos could be killed on their way through… Eek.

The pain in my tummy was now agonising, and I was moving very slowly. Veeeerrrryyyyy slowly. Rich was getting worried about making it to camp before the sun went down, but at this point I was in so much pain I could have slept on the path. In the freezing cold. With the pumas.

Abel appeared out of nowhere, put my arm through his, and said “I’m going to help you down. Trust in your steps and your shoes and trust that I won’t let you fall”. We moved at a slightly faster pace, but he, like Rich, was worried about the fading light.

By the time we made it to the next meeting point, I was on the verge of collapse. I put my head on my walking stick and sobbed like I have never cried before. I have never felt so sick and exhausted and useless in my whole entire life.

Abel gave me a tablet, on the proviso I ate an energy bar, and assured me that there would be special tea and dehydration salts for me when we got to camp. The energy bar (actually a superfoods QUINOA bar!!) was sweet and crumbly and tricky to eat with a sore tum and a dry mouth. Bits of quinoa crumbled off and stuck to my t-shirt and puffy, tear-stained cheeks, so really, I was looking my best at this point. Nothing like a bit (read: a lot) of food on your face to make you look amazing. Yes.

We started down the last leg of the trek before our camp spot for the night. The sun had almost set, but I still couldn’t walk properly. It would take a while for that tablet to kick in.

Down steps and around corners I hobbled, with Abel and JC shadowing me. I tried to be an intrepid warrior lady, but it was hard work… And as they say at the Oscars, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Again.

Around another corner, and there were two smiling porters, holding a tablecloth.

Abel looked around and said “Taxi? Did anyone call a taxi?” and gave me a wink and a grin.

It shames me to say it, but I let the porters carry me down the rest of the hill. They fashioned the tablecloth into a sling, tied it around my back and bum, and piggy-backed me down the hill at breakneck speed. Like I said before, these guys are amazing. The porter carrying me would have weighed about 50kgs, so to move at a pace like that with a non-waif like myself on his back was really quite an achievement.

We arrived at camp in about 5 minutes. It would have taken me another half hour to get there at the snails pace I was going. Sheesh-burger.

And guess what? The porters still clapped me in. I felt like a big idiot, but so glad to be there.

I fell into my tent and had a big cry on Rich’s shoulder. My tummy was slowly starting to feel better, and the salts and Gatorade from Abel helped too. Double wah – what a baby.

By dinnertime, about an hour after I was hauled into camp, I was feeling OK enough to have a bowl of soup and a cup of tea. We had a ceremony to thank the porters for their incredible work, and I cried again when thanking them for the taxi ride. There had been a couple of other illnesses and handicaps along the way; a few fairly severe bouts of gastro, and some close-to-blowing-kneecaps, so I wasn’t the only one in the wars.

After dinner, Rich and I crawled into our tent for the last time on our Inca Trail adventure. Tomorrow we’d be getting up at 3.30am, in order to be at the Sun Gate in time to watch the sunrise. And from there, it was only a stones throw (well, a bit further than that, but anything less than an hours walk felt like child’s play at this point) to Machu Picchu.

What. A. Day.

day 1 on the trail

As predicted, the sun DID come up on Thursday morning. I got up early to take advantage of the limited hot water, and had my last shower (and hairwash) for four days. Muchos yuckness. To say that I had butterflies is an understatement. Those butterflies felt like they were wearing brick-filled backpacks and spiky stilettos and were having a party in my tummy. Ouch.

At breakfast, everyone was looking a little nervous and anxious. People seemed to be avoiding coffee and not eating a huge amount. Why? One word. Toilets. After breakfast, there was a mass exodus, to take advantage of that one word. In the peace and privacy of ones own room. Fun times.

Our bus arrived at about 7.30am and we piled on, headed for Km 82, the starting point for the trail. We met our porters and they bundled up our duffle bags with sleeping mats and bags and food and chairs and tents and pretty much EVERYTHING. These guys are flipping amazing. They’re all tiny, nuggety little men who carry about 20kgs on their backs. And. They run most of the way along the trail. There was one porter who did the entire Inca Trail in just under 4 hours a few years ago. He was 57.

We collected our walking poles, and went through the first checkpoint. Our passports were stamped, and a group picture was snapped under the notorious (to me) Km 82 sign. This was it. We were doing it.

Here we go...

The first few hours were beautiful. We strolled along flat grassy land, donkeys grazing by the path, cacti and trees and flowers all over the place. We passed ladies in traditional dress selling water and Gatorade and Inca Kola and chocolate. We passed clean toilets. The last we’d see for a few days…

Most of the stroll for the first few hours was pretty gentle. There was one looooong, steep incline up the side of a hill, with a lovely view at the top, followed by a loooooong, steep decline down the other side. Rich and I huffed and puffed quite a bit at the top. And again at the bottom.

I call this one... Donkey eating grass.

At about midday we steered off the path, across a bridge and onto a farm for lunch. When we arrived, the porters all stood around clapping and cheering, welcoming us with cups of purple cordial. A tent was set up with a long table down the middle (set with tablecloth, cutlery and cups – sheesh!!) and we sat down to vegie soup, followed by fish and rice and vegetables. All delicious. Ridiculous!!

Unfortunately during lunch, a wild eee-aww-ing from a nearby donkey started up. One of the boys asked “I wonder what makes a donkey eee-aww like that?”. At that exact moment I stood up to take my empty plate out, and espied two donkeys COPULATING right outside the tent. I was at the worst possible angle you can imagine (don’t even try to imagine it – please), and I fear I will be forever scarred by the sight. Ew. Donkeys.

On we went. A herd of llamas passed us on the path. Followed by some non-sexing donkeys carrying heavy loads. Followed by some horses. The rider at the back of the horses said “Taxi?” and if I knew then how hard the trail would become the next day, I reckon I would have taken him up on it.

After lunch the path got significantly steeper, and higher. By the time we made it to camp at 5pm that afternoon, my legs were starting to burn and my lungs were starting to scream a little. Everything had been manageable and fine, but something told me (ie. guidebooks and the internetz) that tomorrow would be very different.

the inca trail – it begins…

If someone had told me how hard, scary and puff-inducing the Inca Trail was going to be, I’m honestly not sure I would have done it. Rich and I had several moments along the trail where we would stop to catch our breath, look at each other, and shake our heads in a ‘What the crap are we doing??’ fashion. It was a tough slog – the toughest, most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it. I’m feeling pretty chuffed, in all honesty.

Our Inca adventure started a week ago. On Monday night we met half of our tour group – a Canadian army fella, a luvverly couple from Sydney, and two Danish chaps – in a Lima hotel for briefing, got our plane tickets for our flight to Cusco the next day, that sorta thing.

Next morning we were up bright n early for a tres borink breakfast (cold toast and jam) and  bad coffee, and we were off to the airport. The flight to Cusco was pretty hair-raising. Cusco itself is at an altitude of around 3,400m above sea level. It’s surrounded by mountains that are even taller (I’ll tell you about those) and it’s windy and it makes landing aeroplanes a leetle beet tricky. Our plane came in, the wheels lowered, we were about to hit the runway and then suddenly… The plane sped up and we were up in the air again. We did another circle of a mountain and a valley and came in again for take 2. This time the plane dropped suddenly. Sheesh! I gasped (loudly) and clutched my armrest and the man next to me said “That’s the trouble with these winds”.

After a bit more lurching and bumping and dropping, we landed. Safely. A little shaky, but OK. Phewf!!

Our leader for the next six days – Abel – met us at the airport and took us to our hotel in a mattress-lined street in the city, then the eight of us went on a tour of the old part of town and then to lunch. Ingredients for Pisco Sours were brought to the table, and we each shook up our own lemon and egg white cocktails. Delicious, yes, but probably not the wisest move. Drinking alcohol on day one at such high altitude is kind of a recipe for disaster. Later in the day, Rich and I were both afflicted with monster headaches, nausea and squashy lungs that made breathing a little tricky… It was a fairly unpleasant night.

The next day we packed up our bags – 3kgs of clothing, toiletries, ponchos into a duffle bag carried by a porter, and whatever else we needed we carried in backpacks – and got into our little tourbus, bound for Ollantaytambo. We were a full group now. Along with the five peeps we met on Monday in Lima, we were joined in Cusco by a family of four from Castlemaine, a mom/daughter duo from Canada, and three uni lads from Melbourne/Perth.

Along the way to Ollantaytambo we stopped at an artisan village where, after receiving hugs from three Peruvian ladies as we stepped off the bus, we watched as wool was spun and blankets were weaved (or is it wove?) and deft hands knitted socks and hats and miniature llamas. That’s right – MINIATURE LLAMAS!!! With aloof llamas faces!!! Needless to say, I bought four. Don’t even get me started on the llamas and alpacas just milling about in the carpark. THERE WAS A BABY!!! WHO HAD A BIG FREAKOUT BECAUSE HE COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE HIS LEGS!!! Clearly, I almost collapsed from the cuteness. Sigh.

Big alpaca, little alpaca

Peruvian ladies, doing their thang

After lunch (where the speakers blared a panpipe band covering Guns N Roses and Bryan Adams as we ate) we headed to a chicheria, where chicha is made. Chicha is a fermented fruit beer that has an alcohol content of about 2%, is served in ENORMOUS glasses and smells revolting. We weren’t allowed to taste it, because it would almost certainly have made us ill. I’m kinda glad. It really didn’t look good. The chicheria also housed a (gulp) guinea pig farm. I won’t go into details – I’m sure you can guess what they were fattening them up for. Wah!

The Guinea Pig farm. O dear...

We arrived in Ollantaytambo at about 4 o’clock and took a stroll around some Incan ruins. They were quite beautiful, but the steps to the top were very steep and narrow and did nothing for my fear of heights. I was starting to get a little bit worried about the Inca Trail… What if it was gonna be like this? All stairs and steepness? Surely not. I googled ‘Inca trail fear of heights’ not long ago, and everything came up roses. Things would be OK. This was just a particularly vertigo-inducing site. Nothing to worry about.

I hobbled slowly down the stairs, as Rich helpfully guided me along, and admitted to a few others in our group that I was a little scared of heights. More than a little. Quite terrified.

Carmel – the mum from Castlemaine – looked a little surprised and said “Well, good on you for facing your fears and doing the Inca Trail!! By the time we climb all the stairs at Machu Picchu I’m sure you’ll be right as rain!”

Super gulp.

I went to sleep early that night. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay awake forever so tomorrow wouldn’t come. But as Annie once sang: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”. And as Silverchair once sang: “Yooooooooou way-ait, til tomorrooowwwww”. And as The Eurythmics once sang: “When tomorrow comes!!” So I guess there’s no escaping it. Whatever time I went to sleep, the next day was going to come and I was going to hike the Inca Trail. May as well rest up.