Keep Us Alive
06/25/2010 - 06/27/2010 65 °F
Sunday June 27thth
Today is the second time in my life that I have closer to my own demise than I would care to be (runner up to being left in the middle of the ocean off Mexico’s coast during a storm).
We start the day off hiking up four almost 2 hours from our campsite. It is tough, but not as tough as yesterday and it’s our last day of hiking which adds a little unannounced oomph to our step. The morning is beautiful, and the views, like always are spectacular.
Once we reach our highest point of the day (although much lower than yesterdays monster), we have an outstanding view of glacier-topped mountains and the grand valley below. We take photos, and rest here to take in the view and the last of Peru’s Andes (for now). We even make little rock statues for good luck and good wishes.
After our break, we are headed down, down, down for lunch. The first part of this decent is probably worse than it was going up. The path zigzags violently back and forth cross this incredibly steep mountainside as we come almost straight down from the cliff’s edge. The rocks and dirt below us are slippery and unsteady, forcing us to lean back in squatting positing or walk slowly, carefully, sideways down the path. Either your thighs burned and your toes were crammed into the front of your boots, or your ankles twisted with pain to sidestep and continuously break. If, by any chance, one of us made a wrong move, or slipped a little too far from a rolling rock we’d meet a terrible demise thousands of feet to the closest resting place of the mountains edge. We went as slow as possible, but this is long and tedious, taking nearly over an hour before we reached the part of the path that crossed the mountainside horizontally, and gently curved downwards with easy. We are relieved to encounter this part of the hiking down, finally…. We have no idea what’s coming.
This horizontal, easy, path passing over the mountainside gracefully is none other than the second place Mom falls (the first being on a short hike after she “you-who’d” for an echo across the canyon; before she slammed her head on the ceiling of our bus). With Alveda in front of me, and Mom behind me we are walking happily along until I hear the distinct sound of a horses hoofs. I turn around to see a horse barely almost touching the back of my Mom’s shoulder- unknown to her. “Mom, a horse” I say, stopping in my tracks. She turns around with no alarm, expecting to spot a horse far off behind us. But alas, as she rotates her head, the horse’s nose almost touches her own- and Mom screams, jumps, and falls swiftly backwards- backpack, walking sticks, and all. Thank god she fell backward, I think, second to my prayers that she is all right and can get down the rest of this mountainside. Alveda yells at the porters behind us who have two more horses with them, and they pass us briskly without even stopping to see if Mom is all right. Mom’s fingers are hurt and we think they are broken at first- but she is able to bend them…in pain. Over the coarse of the day they will turn a black and blue shade.
After the horse incident, we make our way further downhill on a bit more steep terrain. We eat lunch with our whole team, take photos, thank them for all that they have done, hand out tips, and say goodbye. Our porters will beat us down this mountain, leave our stuff at the hotel… and head home.
We leave our lunch spot around 1:15pm. Alveda tells us that it will take us 2 hours to get to the bottom of this mountain and 45 minutes more to reach our hotel following the train tracks through the town. “Piece of cake” we think, hot showers and warm beds in mind…
The next three and a half hours (no, not two) are the worst hours of the entire trip. They were also the hardest hours of my entire life, that is, next to going up the mountain in the first place. Although I have my youth and fitness to thank for my easier journey down, Mom struggled incredibly and I worried the whole time.
It started out okay… We followed Alveda happily along for about 30 minutes down steep dirt paths, narrow ways between rocks and bushes, and to lower levels of grass- crossing the mountain decently horizontally one way, and zigzagging lower the other. However, after about 30-40 minutes, we are forced to cross a huge set of rocks that fell down from the quarry above from a massive landslide over rainy season this past year. Not only is this hard- finding the right rocks to place your feet, stepping up and over, down and through, and holding on to other rocks for dear life… But it is also incredibly dangerous. The rocks are clearly not part of any path but were formed by a landslide, leaving them in odd places and making each one unstable than the last. It could be, at any given moment, that one of these rocks rolls out from under us and takes us with it plummeting thousands of feet down the mountainside below. We are constantly leaning right, up the hill… as if that might help. It takes 10-15 minute sot get over these rocks, as we are slow and careful. I basically hold my breath the whole time, and glance behind my every few seconds to make sure Mom is still there…
After the rockslide detour, our path down the mountain seems to disappear. There are many paths, but none seem to lead in the right direction, all ending into rocks, bushes, or plummeting straight down hill as if never to have been walked again. Alveda, confused as we are, searches around for the best ways down... The bottom seems years away. Mom and I look at each other with a “we’re pretty screwed, aren’t we?” look.
The next two (plus) hours are spent basically attempting not to throw ourselves accidentally off the side of this mountain, as we slip, slide, climb, huff, puff, and pray we don’t die, descending slowly downward. We are talking thousands of steep feet below us- no rails, no paths, no rope… Just us, some rocks, and some bushes to hold on to. I started off by thinking “hmmm”, “okay….” “well then…” and ended with “holy…!” “uh-oh” and “this isn’t in my league”. I contemplate sitting down and sliding to the bottom.
Getting down this mountain is a matter of stepping on the right stable rock here, grabbing this random branch over there, ducking under the pricker bushes, while sliding down the dirt to a new spot to stop for a moment before trying to brace yourself for another 5 feet down. The main goals here are really just not falling (which would either result in at least a few broken ribs and various other bones, or death), and getting down before the sun went down. I worried about Mom the whole time, leading the way before her while Alveda tried to help from behind.
By the time we got to the bottom, I was completely covered in dirt (even my face), and Mom’s knees hurt so badly she could have cried with pain. The bottom was no real bottom, but the back of someone farm- where we were greeted by two young boys to whom we gave apples, oranges, and toys- but had no energy to talk or play. We then walked a long dirt road downward to the town… slowly, but surely. Happy we were down, but exhausted and sore beyond belief.
Once we walked through some farms and onto a main road a mile or two later, Alveda quickly hailed a motor tuk-tuk to drive us to our hotel. There was really no way we were walking another 45 minutes, thanks but no thanks.
The thought of a warm shower and a clean bed kept our spirits up—but we were quickly disappointed entering our hotel, which informed us that the electricity in the entire town of Ollantaytambo was out (no hot water… no warm room…).
After resting in our dark room for an hour, I went to dinner with Alveda and our other group member at a local restaurant lit by candles. Then it was an early night to bed… Mom was too tired and too sore to do anything but sleep, I brought her back some salty chicken.