This is a piece I wrote earlier this year about the time I got lost in the Andean mountains on my way to Machu Pichu 😉 Enjoy!
When all of your friends and even strangers say you need a guide to go on the Incan trail, it’s a good idea to listen. When they talk about the amazing view of Machu Pichu that rewarded them after a long and difficult trek, don’t ignore the part about how their local guide was essential to their success. Most importantly, don’t think that your Peruvian companion who has never hiked Machu Pichu will know the mountains just because she is from Peru.
It started out with a cushy bus ride from Lima to Cusco, my travel companion Michelle, who I had just met at a Lima lesbian party the other night was to my right, wearing a bright red sweater and sketching something intricate in her sketchbook. So far so good, and it wasn’t until we took our next bus–the bus that didn’t have a toilet, and so requiring me to pee into a water bottle, in the dark, while the bus barreled down roads built into cliffs–that I started to have an augur of impending doom. We missed our stop in the middle of the night because in those local buses, the driver assumes you know where you’re going, and at around 4AM we stumbled out of the bus into a misty dawn in an unknown town. After backtracking to a spot where the locals on our rickshaw said we could start walking towards Machu Pichu, we frolicked through abandoned towns and over precarious food bridges, imagining ourselves as time travelers in a movie.
But after the initial excitement of empty towns, we walked under the blazing Peruvian sun for two hours on a steep and twisting highway road adjacent to looming green mountains on our right and a river to our left if we looked down the cliff, we were exhausted and bored–never a good combination. A local driver rolled his window down as he was passing us and pointed towards a trail at the foot of one of the mountains and said “You must be bored walking on this road, the trail over there will lead you to the Inca trail!” How could we resist? Later, we would replay the man’s words over and over again as we circled back to the same spot when we were lost on the Inca trail.
But at the time, we were eager for a change to the monotonous asphalt and once we had reached the official trail ran into a guided group of hikers, merging in and listening on as the local guide explained how this plant could be used for natural dyes, how that landmark was used for tracking distance. But like all bad things that are good until they go bad, we experienced a sudden feeling of panic when we had just been on the trail, talking about the meaning of life, until we weren’t on the path anymore. We didn’t admit to being lost for a good while until we had seen the same empty shack three times, or until we had scratched our faces and arms with sharp and unforgiving bush that obstructed our path. We reached the edge of the mountain and could see hundreds of feet down, the river that we had first been walking alongside except this time it was even farther down. The road we once tired of was winking at us from far below as if to say “I told you so.” But things were still okay because at least we weren’t all alone, and that’s when we heard a radio! We felt a surge of energy and rushed over to the sound, only to find an empty and locked shack surrounded by chickens and dogs with a radio eerily playing some mariachi music.
Optimism is good in these situations and we used as much as we could find of it, rationing that the inhabitants of the shack were sure to return soon. But a good hour passed as we watched the chickens cluck cluck around us and still no one showed up. “Let’s try to retrace our steps” Michelle finally said, and just as we were about to give up, we saw someone! We shouted out to them, but found that the woman was indigenous and couldn’t speak Spanish. She spoke to us in Quechua, which we couldn’t understand but somehow we got it through to her that we were lost. She motioned for us to follow her and I experienced the most frightening descent in my life. The woman, who must have been over 70, was wearing a brown bowler hat, had two long black braids tied behind her back with a red ribbon and was wearing a large blue dress. And yet she descended that mountain with such speed and agility, that we had no time to process our own fear.
Half way down, she mumbled something and started heading back up. We held onto thin twigs as we called up our many thanks and then focused on our steep descent in silence until we broke out into tears of joy at the foot of the mountain.
We did eventually make it to the top! Here I am striking a yoga pose 🙂