I have never been so excited before in my entire life.
After two hours of driving, the sun was high, the sky blue, the river adjacent to us running wildly strong. We had reached our launching ground. Keeping my fingers crossed for the funny boys who were still acclimatizing, we got our passports stamped, had our group photos taken. We were officially on the Inca trail.
Two hours later, the talking, bonding, and laughing came to an immediate halt. Very quickly my legs turned to stones, the heat felt like a thousand suns, I could hardly breathe. My heartbeat and wheezing together were deafening. I was about ready to collapse. This was just our first hill, and we weren’t even in that high of altitude. Sh*t.
Here I was worried about the boys who were racing each other up the hills. I need to be seriously worried about myself! Even though I had just started running and working out more, I took all the precautions to avoid altitude sickness, I even cut down to 2 cigarettes a day! The first day was supposed to be easy (this was not easy!).
Another breathless hour later, we came to rest at a spot along the mountain overlooking the archaeological complex of Patallacta. “Llacta” means “town”, and “Pata” means “height”. This incredible site was first discovered in 1912 by Hiram Bingham, shortly after he had discovered Machu Picchu. Covered in dense vegetation, the site was briefly uncovered and then left again to be re-covered by vegetation. Not to be re-discovered until 2003 by the Thomson-Ziegler expedition, whether the site was agricultural, holy, or both, the fact that it lies in the midst of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu suggests the two places could possibly have been linked.
We finally got on the path to camp, which wounded up the mountain (emphasis on up). I was dying. I had cramps, I’m pretty sure I got sunburned, I could barely walk 5 steps without losing my breath. We had another hour to go.
(I wanted to cry) I said a little prayer and within moments, a little girl carrying a huge sack of vegetables on her back, appeared out of nowhere. So well put together, she looked at me (sweating, panting, gasping for air), giggled, turned away and began walking up the mountain so easily. She kept stopping and going, constantly looking back to me, waiting for me to follow her lead (or I was hallucinating?).
I watched her footwork and saw that she avoided all of the actual steps. Even if it meant taking an extra step or two, she sought a slanted gradient to follow instead of using the stoned pathway.
I started following her footsteps, literally, and I was able to move and breath at the exact same time. It was awesome. I made it up to camp just in time to catch the rainbow that magically appeared over us, propped against the backdrop of the mountain.
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