Location: Incan Trail
My eyes snapped open when a rough banging erupted from my cracked, wooden door. It was at this moment that I knew the day was going to be an adventure. I tried to forget about the wake-up call but in the back of my head knew I had less than thirty minutes to eat breakfast and prepare myself to conquer the great and mighty Incan trail that would lead us to the view of the Andean glacier. I ripped myself from my covers and tried to ignore the mysterious odor that blankets my bathroom. I emotionally erupted when I found out breakfast was nearly the same as at our old hostel, Resbalosa. I scarfed down bananas, a piece of bread and a yogurt drink alongside a cup of piping hot coffee. My companions Sam and Steven joined us for breakfast as it nearly ended. They showed great animosity for their third roommate Valentin as he failed to awaken them on time. As breakfast came to a close and bag lunches were passed around, all but two students prepared themselves for the great trek. We stepped outside and cool; thick air filled my lungs. Goosebumps arose on my skin, and my nose became sharp and wet. The bus pulled up, and the door swung open, we scurried into our seats, and the journey officially began. The bus gyrated down the bumpy road, and our local guide William’s voice boomed over the speaker.
“Okay, chicos… I hope you ready to hike… It will be about five to six hour, very cold and chilly, no? Okay, listo.”
As we poured out of the bus, we congregated on railroad tracks and eventually migrated across the river as tuck-tucks barreled past, honking and shouting at us. We took our first steps up the hillside, maneuvering through many different kinds of animal waste and past a sow and her piglets. The group rested at a bend in the trail, and the stragglers caught up a few minutes later. Water was drunk, and Valentin began to eat his bag lunch, it was only about twenty minutes into the hike!
“I wonder where the summit is,” said Steven.
“I’m not sure; it’s hard to tell from here… I’m sure it’s far though,” said Sam.
The group sealed our water bottles and repacked our bags, the caravan moved on, and the incline grew slightly steeper. The longer we walked, the more people became spread out. After a few more breaks the group became separated into two groups and as we went higher up the mountain. We passed some Incan ruins and marveled in horror as the mountain grew taller and taller as we hiked further and further.
Eventually, the path began to level out, and we were set on a cool, steady pace, wrapping our way along the mountainside like a long ribbon. We walked in silence for a while.
“Y’know I can’t believe you finished first in the bike ride yesterday,” I said to Sam.
“Yeah, I just wanted to burn through it…”
“I’m glad you did, my goal was to just keep up with you…”
“Yeah… It’s good to have someone pushing you when you’re doin’ something physical…”
“I wanna get through this like we did that bike ride.” Sam gave me a sideways grin, and we walked in silence for a while more.
“You wanna jog?” We started immediately, and I heard a third pair of feet behind us, they faltered and stopped after about half a minute. I tried to keep a rhythm to stay on pace with Sam… In through the nose, out through the mouth. My nostrils gathered unequal amounts of air, and I wheezed on exhales, but I imagined a rope connecting me to Sam, pulling me along… The rope began to stretch and grow thin. “Little farther,” Sam said in between pants. We finally got to a big rock, and both knew it was okay to stop now. We drank plentifully and walked. We checked behind us every few minutes, and when we saw the first person behind us come around a bend, we ran again without a word. I tried extra hard not to lose the rhythm of my breath. We’d been running in a straight line for a while now, longer than before. My lungs were screaming, and saliva was produced in gallons inside my mouth. I saw our next checkpoint, the bend. Something inaudible came from Sam’s mouth.
“Bend,” I said. The last forty or fifty feet of the jog I could barely breathe, but I had to push through the pain. We made it, and Sam bent over on an Incan wall, gasping. I spat until my mouth was as dry as possible; standing on the edge, I felt light as a feather. I felt a breeze, and it pushed me forward, then a hand on my shoulder kept me from rolling down the mountainside.
“Come on.” We walked for a while and then came to a fork in the trail. One trail went straight ahead, and the other circled back up the mountainside we just ran around. Two peruanos approached us with large backpacks. When I asked which path went higher, I had to say words in between gasps that I hadn’t realized were still going since after our last run. They told us to go straight, and we did, the mountainside becoming steep and the trail thinning out. From afar, we saw a band of horses coming our way, and the trail could hardly fit two people side by side. At the next corner, we came face to face with a horse, which startled the beast so much it reared and flailed, it’s hooves towards us.
“Tranquilo! Tranquilo,” said the mountain man who was too far away to do much but yell. We backed off, and the horse came down and snorted at us. As I pressed myself as flat against the mountain wall as I could, the horse past slowly, one by one with a mean look in their eyes. We reached out at one’s mane, and it became so startled it nearly fell off the mountainside. “Buenas,” said the herder. I finally exhaled, and we moved on. The trail stayed flat for a while. At a horse station, we rested and noticed two people far back, the closest ones to us. I thought it was Steven for some reason and yelled his name. The call echoed through the valley, but there was no response. As we turned to resume the hike, Sam yelled out. He clutched his foot and needles were jutting from the sole of his shoe.
“Yeah, watch out for those,” I said. He gingerly pulled each spine from his foot, and we moved on, eventually making it to a part of the path where it zig-zagged back and forth clinging rapidly in a short period. While we drank and rested, Sam spoke and rose his arm.
“Look at that snow…” I turned my head and saw that across the valley, on the tallest mountain, visible through a pocket in a cloud, was a snow-topped peak. It was then that I realized how far up we were. Sam and Stephanie were by the horse station, looking like small ants, and farther past them, an even larger.
“I don’t know how I’m gonna make it down,” I said.
“A zipline, hang-glider or helicopter would be great.”
“I’d pay 300 sol for that.”
“Shoot I’d pay 300 American…” We laughed and moved on. The top of this mountain seemed close, but once the trail flattened out, the mountain revealed another two layers. This high up the air smells differently, and I began to notice angular stones plated in the ground with a point facing the sky. We followed them and finally made it to a plateau where the trail after remained flat for maybe a mile or two and then lead up a new hillside. We called it there. We were miles ahead of most people, were starving and tired. I found two large rocks next to each other and placed another large flat rock on one. This would be my chair and table. As I rummaged through my bag lunch, I wasn’t excited, but I didn’t complain either. When I came to the “quinoa burrito-thingy” I pretended it was loaded with meat, beans, and rice. It worked too! I was sitting in my favorite burrito joint at home and watching Real Madrid vs. Juventus. I came back to reality when William showed up about fifteen minutes after I’d begun eating.
“Good hikers, no?” I nodded and kept eating… Another twenty minutes, Sameep and Stephanie had made it. The rest of the group came in bundles of three or four, spread out over the next hour and a half. Once everyone had eaten, we prepared to descend from the mountain by a different route. Before we left, William took some people higher into the quarry to showcase some different rocks that the Incans used for construction. During this time part of the group and I spread out on a piece of warm, pink granite and Valentin fell asleep on a separate stone. Once we reconvened, William led us down a more vertical trail on the mountain, which was made by farmers for a quicker journey. On the way down, we came across an old Incan tomb. William explained that due to its location and isolation from other tombs, it was most likely for somebody of significance. As we moved down the mountain, we came across a strange woman and her adopted dog for the day. She carried with her many herbs she’d picked from the mountainside and was dressed in a gypsy or witch-like fashion. Her story of her being there entailed her being separated from a friend and also not knowing which trail to take to get down from the mountain. She tagged along with our group and ate leaves from random plants along the way. Finally, we transitioned from rocky, steep, cactus-filled, tundra terrain to a flatter green grass. Our group walked through somebodies backyard, and a young child greeted us as we passed. Houses became more common and modern looking, and we finally set foot on a dirt road. The road eventually took us by a field where many bulls grazed, and we found our bus. We loaded up onto the bus, and the gypsy witch woman parted ways with us as the dog left her and made new friends with neighborhood pets. The rest of the day contained copious amounts of showering, television and a long, well-enjoyed dinner with a Nicholas Cage classic, National Treasure 2 once we’d returned to the hotel. The day overall was enjoyable with a tiresome but somewhat rewarding hike and well spent free time at the hotel.
Writer: Antonio Sanahuja
Editors: Valentin Fenk, Sam Sachtleben
Creative Helpers: Valentin Fenk, Sam Sachtleben, Steven Stehl