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.
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.
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.