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THE LARES TREK (DAY THREE)

PERU

THE LARES TREK (DAY THREE)

THE LARES TREK (DAY THREE)

“Coca tea!”

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The by-now familiar refrain awoke our barely asleep but frozen bodies this morning as we were about to embark on the third day of this adventure. A peculiar one because it would start with a short bus ride instead of a demanding trek. After another hearty breakfast, we boarded and went about an hour sideways through a few small villages lining the Andes and landed at the bottom of a large mountain. At the top were the ruins of Pumamarca, a great pre-amble, for they are pre-Inca, to Macchu Picchu The Magnificent, whom we were to enter a couple of days later.

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On a free-standing wall, cow poop in a sink. Because Art?...
On a free-standing wall, cow poop in a sink. Because Art?…
I was strangely winded from the very first step of this uphill hike, I’m not sure why. Maybe the vast quantities of Mortadella consumed months ago during a particularly enthusiastic farewell party in Italy were catching up with me or maybe I am actually forty-five, but I was constantly falling behind today and unhappy with it. I strained with every step, even with my faithful Maca syrup spray and Coca candy at my side, supplementing my dwindling will. Eventually, we reached the ruins and were delighted not only to get an introductory course in 2,200 year-old architecture and interior design…

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…but to also rest a bit in the shade while Sebastien and Zoel continued to question Hilton about the culinary habits of mountain Peruvians.

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We spent a good forty-five minutes touring the expansive rooms and feel the surprisingly intact walls, for once actually strolling instead of sweating. But before long, it was again time to go, to our final lunch destination and end of the journey, Ollantaytambo from where a train would take us to Aguas Calientes, the only town with access to the motherlode, The ‘Chu.

The walk down-ish was particularly memorable in that our way went almost exclusively though paths on the outward ridges of colossal mountains. Throughout the adventure, and of course again today, I very much left Zoel to his own devices, letting him weigh the risk of each of his steps and decide for himself when one was worth taking, a process rarely available at home. All I could imagine as I watched him walking along the long and narrow hilltops next to thousand-foot drops was the face of his maternal grandmother, murder in her eyes, in disbelief at my lack of understanding of parenting. (Daisy, your baby is alive, I swear!)

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Two hours later, we entered Ollantaytambo, comparatively the most sophisticated town we have been in all week, and happily walked over to our cook’s home, where we celebrated the end of the hike! A lot of congratulations and tribal hand-slapping abound as we reached the surprisingly well-paved streets and continued at the table where we all breathed sighs of relief and spared no hyperbole to describe our heroism, courage and substance. We had made it through all twenty-one kilometers of rugged terrain, entered as boys and came out as men!!!

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Except that…

Word started coming in over the radio and cell phones, since we were finally within reach of communication towers, that a strike had started to grip Peru, a transit strike, involving bus and train drivers stopping work and being pelted with rocks from protestors if they didn’t. What this was about specifically, we didn’t know, but it started to appear as if we might not reach Aguas Calientes today and would not make it to Macchu Picchu tomorrow…

We ate our lunch, expecting the situation to either find a resolution by itself or for the touring company to find an alternative. By the time our meal ended, the strike had gotten worse and there was no transport available to anyone, anywhere in the country. We looked at each other, what do we do? Stay here in town and wait out the strike? We could, but visits to Macchu Picchu involve tickets bought months in advance and hotel rooms, and comped meals, it’s a whole organized procedure that cares little for acts of not-quite-God such as workers protesting their admittedly poor working conditions and worse calculated compensation. Long story short, we had to get there somehow!

At that time though, we were psychologically done, we had had our celebratory lunch and said hooray, so when the decision was made to keep going, our collective spines screamed in horror, and for Shiatsu. It was about two in the afternoon and we had to find a vehicle to bring us to Hidroelectrica, a town which is the site of an actual Hydro-Electric plant where the road ends and which, during regular times, a train takes you to Aguas Calientes for the fifteen kilometer ride, with drinks. Hidroelectrica is four hours away which would put us there after sun down. Only then would the three hour night trek begin…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!……

But we have no choice! Hopefully, the strike will end tomorrow and Gina will join us as planned with Leeloo to Do the ‘Chu, so we have to go!

The guide luckily found a driver with a large van willing to drive us. Why? We didn’t know, but would soon find out…

Climbing into the ’98 Subaru, I thought “this is not bad, four hours in a van, good time to nap after the three days we just had!” We slithered to the back banquette where Zoel and I slept for a while as the vehicle made its way from village to village, getting us closer to that one last hike… It all felt like a nice bookend actually as I slipped to Neverland.

But when I woke up, my tired eyes pried open by a bump in the road, I saw that Sebastien was all-too-nervously clinging to the headrest in front of him while looking ahead with a focus such as I had not witnessed since Once watching him build a wall with his own hands. I coiled up and asked what was the matter, he gestured forward and what I saw is what you see up there, in moving colors, for your safe enjoyment inside your comfortable homes…

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We were on a dirt path only as wide as the van itself about a mile up on the side of mountain in a nascent storm and about to go across a bend through a waterfall. Of course. The road from Ollantaytambo to Hidroelectrica had to go through what I later learned was one of the World’s Most Dangerous Roads!…

As I very quickly woke up, I noticed that to top off this nightmare, the driver was speeding through this narrow madness, WHY? Well, he didn’t want to be on this un-illuminated road at night, understandably, and needed to beat the sun! So not only were we mere inches from plunging to our deaths but we were going there at top speed! Sebastien was not happy and Zoel woke up to the louder-than-normal nervous expletives now being muttered by most of us. Children, God bless them, love to point out the obvious, and so “certain death, “long fall,” and “we can’t possibly survive this!” made for a lovely narration as we all wondered how long this would take. So we asked… A couple of hours was not the answer we were hoping for…

Now, to make matters worse, Zoel spotted a bright ribbon descending the mountain, thinking he had detected lava pouring down a volcano to add to this scene. Thankfully, he was dead wrong, it was only a forest fire making its way through the countryside and the reason why the road was filled with smoke, not a storm at all! Great! We are all buckling our seat belts at this point, as if that would make a difference were we to slip and fall, when we see other vans starting to come from the other way at break-neck speeds themselves. VanS, plural! Remember when I said that this road was only the width of one vehicle? Well, apparently I was either wrong or those vans had anti-gravity boosters because they sped right by us, with our driver pulling over only at the very last minute to let them through. This was absolute lunacy, especially since one after the other, they kept coming from where we were heading with zero vehicles, behind or in front, going our way. It seemed as everybody was fleeing wherever we were going… How was that possible?

Wait, wait, I was wrong, I can see cars coming behind us now… Oh, wait, those have red and blue flashing lights on top, they’re EMERGENCY VEHICLES and they need to pass, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

The mood in our van is tense at this moment, to say the least, and this road of death is showing no sign of coming to an end. More importantly, what catastrophe could possibly lay ahead? For sure, a bus filled with Norwegian tourists is hanging off the cliff, two cars have collided, caught on fire and ignited the forest blaze that is now clouding the view out of everyone of our windows as night falls. Whatever it is, the ambulances and police cars keep coming and passing us at high speed, something is happening!

This continues for the next hour and a half, no kidding, and, at this point, we are resigned to the fact that we will probably not make it through this and we begin to calmly accept and await death, sadly in an eight-passenger ’98 white Subaru… It is now clear our driver took the job for the risk premium he was undoubtedly offered, worth defying the orders of his fellow strikers for. Respect. As the sun quickly disappears behind the mountain and our headlights turn on, we can see the emergency vehicles have stopped in front and as we pass them, we expect the worse… It turns out the wind had knocked out the power lines and persistent technicians seemed to diligently be working to repair them…

Phew, no Norwegians.

From then on, there were only thirty minutes left on the road of death, which we travelled without much further pant-wetting and we finally made it to the town of Santa Teresa, in the middle of a blackout and lovely this time of year. We were delighted to still be there in complete darkness, surrounded by a thousand people with candles, out on the town, it was just quite beautiful actually… We stopped for a nervous pee and a cracker at a local bar, thankful to have made it through to the other side.

There was still about forty-five minutes to go before the end of our road, Hidroelectrica, and the start of our hike up. Thanks only to a sliver of moonlight and one lamppost were we able to see the signs when we got there. Zoel was almost asleep, his nerves resting from the ride, when it was again time to disembark and strap our bags! (What am I doing to this kid? Maybe Daisy is right…)

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Like a scene out of Stand By Me, we started up, following the train tracks at eight in the evening and I cannot believe that my twelve year-old boy still had fuel in him… Again, no choice, there was no going back, certainly not through that road; so we would have to make it to Aguas Calientes tonight, whatever the effort ahead.

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Turns out, the trail was rather flat and the mood quickly turned from nervous to jovial as we couldn’t believe the day we had had, were still having as the clouds soon dispersed to let more moonlight in to allow us to see the tall and smooth surrounding mountains, so beautifully silhouetted, one atop which sat Macchu Picchu. The vibe of it all was nothing short of mystical. Once again, we felt like we had done something, like were doing something, something important to us.

We reached Aguas Calientes around eleven, completely exhausted and delirious. We quickly found our hotel, showed our vouchers, took a shower and fell on our beds, only to set our alarms for just four hours later at four in the morning BECAUSE THE LINES FOR MACCHU PICCHU START THAT EARLY AND YOU WANT TO BE THE FIRST IN BEFORE THE CROWDS TURN IT INTO DISNEYWORLD! Yep, four am it would be…

We are going to bed now, not for long but content. More than that, serene.

3 Comments Leave a reply

  1. Gary
    Permalink to comment#

    I’m glad you all survived! What a story the three of you have to share.

    Reply
  2. daisy
    Permalink to comment#

    Forget about my standards , i’m having a drink before lunch.
    May be I should get some aspirin into my system quickly

    Reply

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