by Raj Jayarama
So there I was in Cusco, Peru, about to embark on several adventures that would ultimately change my life. The trip started out much like many trips of this nature do, average accommodation in a hostel accompanied by food and drinks. I was exploring the city when I came upon a tour company called Adventure Peru. I perused the brochure, which had the normal hike to Machu Picchu, however, with a slight twist; it was not the Inca trail but a much longer trail known as the Salcantay Trail. Two men from the travel agency assisted me to get ready for the next day’s adventure - the start of the five day hike through the mountains ending in Machu Picchu. They told me to pack light because they had supplies and what I was wearing was fine, due to it supposedly being the summer months. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. My better judgement took hold of me and I decided to pack a few more clothes including a wind breaker.
That night it started to rain a little, which was not unusual, according to the travel guides. However, when I awoke, there was a little stream running down the center of my tent and my pants were literally frozen in a pile. I stepped outside and there was a few inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down. After some conversation over breakfast, we were assured it was going to stop and to press on. We took their word for it and continued on up the mountain; however as we got higher and higher, the snow got thicker and thicker until we were in a white out at 12,000 feet. One of the hikers, unfortunately, got altitude sickness and we had to take her pack and help her keep going because, at this point, there was no turning back. Somehow, I was able to get through several feet of snow in jeans and sneakers and my trusty windbreaker. When we descended, there was supposed to be a small river that we were to wade across. With all of the snowfall and high precipitation, that small river turned into something unpassable, and even the horses were struggling to get across.
On the other side of the river there was a small local man who was shouting at us and talking to the guides. The next thing I see was him swinging an axe over his head and throwing it over to us. We cut down several trees and made a small rickety “bridge” to get across. The water was still able to lap at our feet and made the wood a little treacherous. If we were to fall, there was no coming back; we would get washed down river and over a waterfall. At this point, if I didn’t see another river the rest of the trip I was ok. It took us several hours, but we finally made it across without any casualties.
After making it across, the rest of the hike was pretty uneventful. We all counted our blessings and arrived at our final destination. Machu Picchu was breathtaking. The construction, the precision of the stonework and just imagining the Peruvians getting these massive pieces up there on the side of this mountain was amazing. Words cannot adequately explain the awe and mystery of it all. Even though they explained the construction and how these ancient people were able to construct this city in the clouds, it still boggles my mind. It is a site that everyone with the means to, should go see.
After touring the whole city, it was time to finally head back to Cusco. I boarded a train and opened a beer. As the train doors closed and we were leaving the station, I heard a loud scream behind me. An elderly woman from England was bitten by a venomous snake on the train. She collapsed, and as I was talking her husband, she started to have a seizure. He explained to me that she has Addison’s disease, and if she gets stressed out her blood sugar drops and she’s prone to have seizures. Being an ER doctor, I found the snake bite kit (apparently this is a somewhat common occurrence down there) and was able to give her anti-venom and force sugar into her mouth. We got her off the train as quickly as possible at the next stop. Her husband, who was a little flustered himself, thanked me and then ran off with his wife to the hospital.
When I got to my hotel and decided I had had enough adventure for one trip, I ordered room service and, after a decent meal, fell into a deep, restful slumber.
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