Salkantay 3: I Am Inca

23 01 2009

Today marks the anniversary of our last day of hiking on the trek, and the day when we joined with a portion of the Inca trail. We left our packs with the porters and headed out uninhibited, first crossing a wide river that all but demanded submersion of feet that would mean soggy socks the rest of the day. This, however, was nothing new and well worth it. We started out surrounded by coffee plants, climbing wide, ancient stone steps that called to mind the unfathomable notion: the Incas once walked here. The trail was high but wide, and a million shades of green splashed with colorful flowers. For a while I found myself alone on the trail, pondering the rainbow of intense colors I didn’t know existed.

flowers-blog

Alone in the silence of the lush trail, with the spirits of brave Incas all around me, the magnitude of my trek overcame me. It had not only been sweat and dirt and tears, but the solidifying of young friendships and the strengthening of character.
But that sense of power didn’t last long. Shortly after I’d caught up to the group, we discovered we had nowhere to go. The torrential rain of days past had washed away a portion of our trail the length of a medium-sized car. We were midway through the trail and there was no one else around.

Uh...

Uh...

After much deliberation, Roberto decided the only thing to do was go around. He went first, climbing up into the jungle on the side of the mountain. Tiffany followed, then Jennifer (also afraid of heights), then me. Each step was a trial, of mushing the dirt and hoping it would hold me, of grabbing a branch and hoping it wouldn’t bend. I gingerly weaved my way under and over vines, my heart pounding and my head spinning. Still, there was something almost exciting about it, and even I laughed when, well into the thick of the trees, Roberto asked if any of us had a knife.

When I was not far from the end, I found myself stalled, waiting for the others to make their next moves. Trying not to look at the almost vertical slope of the mountain and the gaping hole below me, I looked out and saw the dense vegetation of the Andean jungle and the valley beyond. There I was: perched in the jungle, forging a trail… playing Inca. And not at all scared.

That white leg is me. The tiny dot further up is Jen, where I was headed.

That white leg is me. The tiny dot further up is Jen, where I was headed.

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Adios Zapatos part 2

30 01 2008

For a girl who loves her shoes, I haven’t had much luck with them on this trip (See Adios Zapatos Part 1).

While at home in California for Christmas, I went to several stores with my brother Scott on the quest for the perfect pair of hiking boots for my trek in the Andes. At the first store, we told the salesman that it would be cold because of how high I’d be, and he tried to sell me a shoe that would be good in negative 30 degree weather (that’s Faranheit folks). Perhaps he misheard South America and thought I was going to the South Pole?

At the second store we fared little better. The girl said she knew nothing of Machu Picchu but she did know a little about hiking. When we explained that this would be a little more intense than hiking, that I would be trekking in the Andes, we could see the wheels in her brain moving. In the end she couldn’t make it past the after-dinner mint. Finally, however, I went home with a pair of shoes.

After two days of wearing them around the house per Scott’s orders, I decided they were uncomfortable and we were back at the store, this time with a girl who knew her stuff and who sold me the other shoe I had been looking at the first time.

I took them back to New York and wore them to run my errands (yes, I did in fact go out in public in Manhattan in my hiking boots), and by the time I got to Cusco they were comfortable and fantastic.

All through days one and two Hans and Frans (as I christened them because they did in fact “pump me up”) held strong. They kept my feet dry and happy no matter how much it rained of home much mud I stepped in. But come day three, I accidentally plunged my whole foot in the river while trying to cross: waterproof does not work if the whole shoe is sumberged.

Nontheless Frans served me well, and Hans was great too despite a little water. By the end of the day, however, my feet were less than happy, and when I finally sat to take off the boots, I found that my brand new shoe (Hans) was starting to fall apart. The leather on one side was coming away from the gortex, which doesn’t quite help with the whole water thing. I tried to patch it in the morning, but the thing about sticky-backed gortex is that it only sticks to dry things, which Hans was not.

So now Hans and Frans are sad, broken, and muddy, but still hanging out in my backpack, unlike the heels that were worn once and sent back to New York with the girls.

Lesson learned: My flip flops haven’t failed me yet.





I May Cry, But…

28 01 2008

I am still hardcore.

After a very trying day three, I awoke for day four—feet no less blistered and muscles no less aching, but refreshed nonetheless. Running through a river with no bridge meant squishy shoes, but when we reached the entrance to a portion of the Inca Trail, physical discomfort ceased to matter.

Lush jungle and centuries old stone steps made for a hike I can only describe as spiritual. There was something intense and heady about walking a path that the Incas themselves climbed, and I once again found myself overwhelmed: all the physical and emotional trials of the past three days had led up to this moment. And that I had survived them made me (yes, I admit it) tear up yet again.

But when we found ourselves face to face (literally) with the end of the road, I held it together. There we were, two hours into the six hour hike, and a landslide had broken the trail, leaving a gap about thirty feet wide in the mountainside.

Even Roberto looked nervous, though undeterred. After making it halfway across the gap trying to recreate a tiny trail, he gave that up and came back to our side. The only thing to do was to climbe up and over the gap. Through the jungle.

Soon I found myself hoisted into the trees, weaving Tarzan-style in and out of the tangled vines as I gripped larger trees and tried not to hyperventilate. When halfway through the venture Roberto asked if anyone had a knife the comedy of it all was only a slight relief.

But when I reached the midway point I finally looked out. I saw not only the gaping hold over which I was standing, but the thick jungle below, and the valley beyond that, and, remarkably, all anxiety melted into exhilaration. Even fear can’t overpower a once in a lifetime experience.

I won’t lie: I was much relieved to feel solid ground under my feet again, but I made it through what should have been a far more terrifying adventure than the previous day without shedding a tear.

Lesson Learned: I am Inca.