Getting lost in the Andean mountains of Peru

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!

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.08.14 AM 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.michele

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 🙂machupichu

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About Miyuki Baker

Miyuki is a resident of the place where circles overlap. As a queer, nomadic, multi-racial/lingual female mixed-media artist activist and healer, she uses common or discarded objects, personal anecdotes, public spaces and performance to make accessible art that brings non-mainstream identities and ideas into maximum visibility. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 2012, she traveled for 14 months as a Watson Fellow to fifteen countries documenting the intersections of art and activism in queer/trans communities in blog posts and self-published magazines while making performance art. The eight magazines Miyuki created on this trip (queerscribe.com) and their strong media following exemplify her illustration/graphic design, storytelling and people skills. Her work has been featured in several magazines such as Hyphen, Broken Pencil and Knik, blogs and radio shows, well-known for their interactive and eye-catching mixed media approach to activism that utilizes both online media and on-site performance and workshops. This fall she will begin the PhD program at UC Berkeley in Performance Studies. You can follow her travels at heymiyuki.wordpress.com and email her at heymiyuki@gmail.com

8 comments

  1. thebiggerslife

    Visiting Macchu Pichu is definitely on our list of places we have to see. We can only hope to have this sort of an adventure when we do! Still would’ve been cool to go the tourist route and take a guided tour, but now you have this amazing story!

    • Yeah, of the places I’ve visited that are world famous, Machu Picchu was the only one that wasn’t anticlimactic. (i.e. Taj Mahal was beautiful buttttt it felt like I’d seen it so many times already) You’ve gotta check it out 😉 and though I have a good story now, make sure to get a guided tour hehe

  2. You are very brave to travel around in distant lands like this. Great post 🙂

  3. Wow, that really doesn’t sound like much fun. I’ve been lost on trails before, and it’s nothing but irritating, if not downright scary. You’re quite lucky you found a helpful local! I take it it’s the woman you sketched in the photo at the top? I really like the portrait. 🙂

    • Not at the time it didn’t haha
      Where were you lost?
      it was downright scary for a good couple of hours.
      The portrait was inspired by her but I was too jittery and ready to get back to the road that I didn’t sketch her then.
      She was also much older. But thanks 😀 glad you like it!

  4. Great photo of you by the temple site. Keep up the sketches.

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