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January 4, 2006 – A journey to Inca Trail, Peru in South America

The Journey

The next morning, after a deep and soundful sleep, I was the first of my group to wake up at dawn. I think it must have been after five in the morning. It actually felt kind of nice to sleep at a couple of hours after sunset and then wake up at sunrise. Kind of makes you feel more carnal, more raw - something that I haven't felt for a long time.

So I woke up and moved my left ankle slowly to see how it was doing. Surprisingly, it didn't feel like crap like I thought it would, especially after the harsh conditions I've put it through the previous day. The last time I sprained my ankle (the right one) pretty badly was when I was playing basketball. I was on crutches for about three weeks.

I got up and gently walked around a bit to see how bad the damage was. Luckily, the pain in my left ankle didn't feel as sharp as the day before. I found that if I stepped lightly in a particular way with my left foot, I could actually walk without grimacing. I began prepping myself, for myself this time, for the day´s hike, considered as the most physically challenging one. I skipped breakfast, got rid of the hat, lightened my daypack, layered on the sunscreen (lent from one of the three in my group), put on bug repellant, and wore my zip-offs. And most importantly, took the Inca Trail map along with me.

I planted myself on the edge of the cliff at the campsite to stare at the valley below. I waited for the others to finish getting ready and to eat their breakfasts. As I was getting lost in thought, the guide came down and interrupted my daze and told me that I can start off early if I wanted to, because of my condition. So I did.

I grabbed Sueno Azul, finally awoken to help me with the climb, and started hobbling off on the ascending trail. I hiked through an open-spaced trail up the mountains at first, admiring the astounding landscape before and around me.

It wasn't until I reached a section of thick forest alongside an on and off again merging stream, that I realized that I was alone. Completely and utterly alone. I didn't hear or see anyone behind me nor before me, even when I stopped for a few minutes to rest. All I could hear were the sounds of the rushing stream by the trail and the insects, birds, and other animal noises from the thick and damp forest around me.

To divert my thoughts, I started to pick up pieces of plastic wrappers and trash along the way - something to give back to the trail, to Pacha Mama. (There were unbelievable amounts - threw large handfuls away at each campsite).

Because of the heavy vegetation and overcast skies, the trail was also somewhat dimly lit. By then, I tried my best to focus my thoughts on the scenery before me, that I´m completely immersed in nature and should enjoy it while I can. I tried my best to force the feeling of fear out of me, and any images and memories of anything that can scare the crap outta me (such as scenes from The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which I saw a few nights before going on this trek). Tried to slow down the pounding in my heart.

It wasn't until I was out of the forest that the porters started coming forth. After I huffed and puffed and climbed to the top of an open-spaced section of the trail, I breathed a sigh of relief until I saw what I saw. Through the mist, a rocky trail alongside a cliff on a very steep incline emerged before me.

And the porters were practically racing each other to the top! Muy loco.

You've got to be kidding me, is all I thought.

if you look through the mist, you will see an ascending trail to the highest of the three passes on the Inca Trail

Finally, exasperated, I reached the foot of the top of the highest point of the trail. A group of porters resting on some stone benches overlooking the valley below and the trail that we just climbed, clapped, which made me grin ear-to-ear. I climbed a few more steps to the marker of Warmiwanusca, the highest point at 4215 meters or 13829 feet. Another group of porters resting at the edge of the cliff looking down the next portion of the trail, the descent, clapped. I let out a sigh of relief and bowed, hanging onto the marker. They chuckled and probably thought the altitude had finally gotten to me.

I got myself together and surveyed my surroundings. The valleys below and mountains around couldn't have looked more surreally amazing.

looking down the trail just climbed

There must be something about this land. This trail. Like John Locke in the TV series, Lost, quite befuddled myself, I realized that I've just climbed to the top on a badly sprained left ankle without any painkillers (didn't want to mix the altitude sickness medication I was taking). I also realized that I could have been the first non-porter to reach the highest point of the trail on New Year's Day. To think that the day before, that I was not going to make it at all... I silently gave a very grateful thanks right then and there.

One of the porters of my group told me to wait for half an hour for the others. So, I joined and sat down next to some of the other porters that were looking down the valley and the trail we've just climbed.

One by one, hikers started coming up. One by one, members of my group joined us on the stone benches.

A bit restless from the adrenaline pumping in my blood, I got up and started walking towards the steep decline of the next part of the trail. I was then stopped by an American who wanted a snapshot taken, the first I've met since coming to South America. I welcomed, even more, the sound of a Californian accent. So far, I've only met travelers from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Unbelievably, none from America. A few of these travelers, I don't get, in terms of why they're traveling in the first place.

For a good example (flash forward, as this happened that very night at our campsite dinner), we were talking about different languages. One of the three (from a country in Western Europe) started making condescending sounds of what he thinks Chinese sounded like. I told him that Chinese, particularly Mandarin, does not sound like that. Granted, the sounds he was making do sound similar to the sounds that Bruce Lee makes when he´s fighting. But Bruce Lee isn't even saying anything in any language when he´s fighting. He´s just making sounds! So, he kept on making those sounds at the dinner table, and I kept on saying that´s not what Chinese sounds like. Then, one of the marathon girls (from one of the Scandinavian countries in Europe) said it does, like five times, concretely believing so. I had to explain to these people what Mandarin Chinese really sounds like, and the many different accents and dialects of China. I told them to watch the Chinese news on Peruvian TV to hear samples of the Mandarin Chinese language. Or better yet, go travel China.

So it was good to hear a Californian accent again. Californians, at least the ones that have grown up in and embraced diverse settings, seem to be more inclined in accepting other cultures rather than ignorantly making fun of them.

After a short conversation with the American, I went to wait again for the rest of my group. I got bored of waiting for everyone and had the sudden urge to just go. Since the people in my group seemed to be in it for themselves on this trek, and since I really didn't care much anymore, I decided to set off on my own again on the next part of the trail. This time, down a steep descent.

looking down the trail to be descended upon

After a couple of hours, I finally descended upon the campsite where our lunch was to take place. After lunch, we climbed up and through the second of the three high-ascending passes of the trail. Saw some more ruins along the way.

Because I took some time to look at the awesome ruins nearby, I was the last to saunter into camp again (the seventh campsite from entrance 82 km).

On the second morning of the New Year, I did the same preparations as the day before, and started off early and solo again. My left ankle miraculously feeling much better than the day before.

I didn't think too much of what to expect on the day´s hike, just that it would probably be similar to what I've already seen before.

Again, no one, not even a porter, was seen nor heard before or after me, when I came upon what at first looked like a dark cave. I stopped before this dark entrance, trying to analyze it. I peered down into it and it turned out to be the opening of a very dimly lit tunnel. I looked around the cave-tunnel to see if there was an alternative route to get to the open part of the trail on the other side. Nope. Unless if I wanted to plummet down the side of the cliff and climb back up. In other words, there was no escape from going through the tunnel.

I don't like dark or dimly places when I'm by myself.

I took out my mini-four-inch flashlight, turned it on, held my breath, and busted on through.

the dark cave-tunnel


Made it to the last of the three high-ascending passes of the Inca Trail. Saw some more ruins along the way. Then barreled down the sandy portion of the trail to the last campsite (campsite 9 from entrance 82 km).

After lunch and a long nap, I wandered into the ruins of Winya Wayna that laid five minutes away from the campsite. To my surprise, there weren't that many people there, considering the fact that the campsite was full of trekkers. I passed the only group of people that were being led by a tour guide into the religious buildings at the top of Winya Wayna.

After poking around a bit, I left the religious buildings area and descended down the steep stairs. I passed many rows of terraces on the left that were once used for growing a wide variety of plants, and sauntered into the ruins at the bottom foot of the cliff. Within the ruins, the windows looking into the valley and the Rio Urubamba below, and also to the surrounding mountains gave way to some fantastic views. Suddenly, I felt a weird sensation when wandering around in those parts of the ruins. So I decided to head back.

As I was clambering up the stony steps, I had another strange deja vu moment. I had a few others along the way since the first one at the stream where I put my swelling left ankle under, but they weren't as significantly mind-alerting as this one. I swear I wasn't on anything, and the last time I took an altitude sickness pill was more than 10 hours ago.

After trying to shrug off the weird feelings, I went back to camp, had dinner, charged up my camera battery at the adjoining hostel, and then went to bed in my tent for some good shuteye.

4am wakeup call tomorrow morning. 5am to Machu Picchu.

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