SLEEPLESS IN PERU
Friday March 7th was a day of extremes – the high was high, about 2430 metres in fact, and the low was one of the longest nights of my life.
Our day began as the sun was rising over the Andes Mountains. It was cold, wet and misty as we entered Machu Picchu, we were literally walking in the clouds. I waited about fifteen years to finally make this trip and the Inca city exceeded my expectations, it is breathtaking.
We started by hiking up to the Guard House and at that stage, even though our view was only through the dense fog, the sheer size of the city was apparent. The site stretches over a 5 mile area with over 3 000 steps linking the many levels. Thankfully there were not many people at this time so we started exploring and taking in the lush green grass, grazing alpaca’s, majestic mountains and structural brilliance of the stone city. We wandered on the cobbled streets and marveled at the sophistication of Machu Picchu’s design. Over a hundred years in the making and still not complete there is little doubt at first view why this is a Manmade Wonder of the World. Thank goodness it stayed hidden for so long and was not pillaged by the Spanish as so many other Inca cities were.
With a private guide tour booked at 8.30am we only made it half way to the Sun Gate before having to turn back but that 45 minute walk straight up the mountain was exhilarating. By the time we meet our guide and set out for our two hour history lesson the tourist buses had started arriving and Machu Picchu was fast becoming a busy, bustling adventure playground for people from all over the globe. The rain persisted all morning but it did not dampen our enthusiasm and only served to show us the nature of life in the Andes.
At about 11am we decided to take a break from the weather and grab a well deserved hot chocolate before going back to find the Inca Bridge. And during this time the sun finally made its way through the clouds and Machu Picchu became a different place. Our walk to the bridge was wonderful and I got to stop and take photo after photo as we weaved our way along. If you have never been to an Inca city the streets are very narrow, granite paved pathways cut into the terrain. As you wind along the edge of the mountain there are no guardrails or walls you can literally fall of the side of the mountain and plummet for about 2000 metres. And that is part of the excitement until of course you get to a structure like the Inca bridge and like me realise you can go no further through pure fear.
The actual bridge is built along a sheer rock face of the mountain supported by a carefully constructed retaining wall that disappeared beyond view into the valley below. I spent about half an hour just trying to figure out how they actually managed to build it, someone must have had to start at the bottom and work their way up which just looked impossible. But build it they did. I made it to the last ten metres and then had to stop as the pass was so narrow with no protection from falling off the mountain that my vertigo crippled me even after three attempts. I was happy sitting on a rock and just looking at it!
Emma and I then spent the afternoon lying in the sun on one of the grassy terraces and taking in Machu Picchu. The city is actually divided into different areas – residential, agricultural, royal and spiritual. There is still much debate over life in Machu Picchu but knowledge of the city has come a long way since Hiram Bingham found it in 1911. Our guide subscribes to the belief that spiritual areas were less religious in the way we know and more educational as a place of learning for Inca scholars. So areas like the Temple of the Sun, Moon and Stone Calendars are all part of teaching the Inca calendar that works on the rotation of the earth, the moon path around the planet and how this affects farming and life on the eastern side of the mountain. Its very sophisticated for its time and appeared to me to be far advanced to practices we use today that rely on technology over working with the land and climate to take advantage of natural opportunities. Little things like their dwellings needing no door because the eastern aspect protected the inhabitants from the wind and provided natural ventilation for their fires were just smart.
No matter what you believe and what archaeologists and scientists will continue to discover life in 15th and 16th century in this mountaintop citadel would have been fascinating and the way the walls, ramps, stairs and endless terraces blend seamlessly into the natural Andes landscape is phenomenal. Now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site it will be preserved for many centuries to come and it’s a must do for any traveller or historian. We had a fantastic day then jumped on the bus, past recent landslide sites, to weave our way back to Aguas Calientes.
Our plan was simple, explore the village, have a foot massage and then get the train back to Cusco. Jane Austen certainly knew what she was talking about when penned There is something about Emma! No less than 6 steps after Emma got off the foot massage table she tripped and then the longest night of my life began.
There is something surreal about looking at a part of the human body that clearly is out of place. Emma had fallen on her ankle and her foot was at a 90 degrees to her calf facing outwards. It’s was at that moment I knew its was serious and I just remember thinking get her to a large city with good medical attention and keep her calm. And that is when the chaos began.
Somehow between trying to comfort Emma, with repeated instructions not to look down, and get help I managed to find a pharmacy and get a medic to come and look at her. He was taking Spanish so language was hard and Emma at this stage was ready for anyone to do anything to make the pain stop. Lots of words and looks were exchanged and he just decided to put her ankle back into place. I can only imagine how much it must have hurt but it was the right move. I then left her with him to go to the hotel and figure out how to get her back to Cusco. Looking back me bursting into our hotel foyer asking for anyone who speaks English to help my friend who has broken her leg and was in screaming pain must have been insane bit it worked and everyone sprang into action. After a heated debate about a pain numbing injection the medic wanted to give Emma which had me pretty worried I consented after Emma begged for anything to make it stop! The next thing I know she is being carried down the stairs and put into wheelchair. It was nuts!
She made it to the station and on the way she turned to me and said “this is going to make a funny Facebook story” and that’s when I knew she was ok, humour had returned despite the agony and shock. So I did what any good friend would and took a few pictures of her being pushed over the bridge in a wheelchair making sure I got the Andes in the background for context. The world of social media we live in, is officially insane.
The next 5 hours were not fun, in fact they were pretty horrific. Peru Rail were amazing helping us on to the train, upgrading us so Emma had two seats to stretch out over to try and survive the two hour journey. How they even got her on the train was a miracle but I am forever in their debt, they really went above and beyond for us. Then I started making calls and interestingly our local Chimu Adventures contact Larry was not answering his mobile so I called his office and asked for help. Their complete and utter mismanagement of the situation is saved for my upcoming letter to their office in Sydney but it was a joke. Never ever use Chimu Adventures in Peru if Larry is still running things, they were great in Ecuador and Chile where they subcontracted our trip to other companies that were brilliant but Peru was not good. And if this had been life threatening I dread to think the outcome, seriously badly handled.
The Chimu Adventures office arranged for a “nurse” to meet us at the train station for the private transport back to Cusco so we settled back and tried to get through the train trip. At this point Emma’s foot is being held together by one bandage and a cardboard splint and she is started to get concerned about her other supposedly good foot which we later found out was also broken. She was bloody brave and handled the whole thing really well considering the hours it took to find good medical care. We did get some light relief on the train when the staff staged a Peru Rail fashion show and we badly needed a laugh by then. Somehow we got off the train and into our car for the two hour drive to Cusco with our useless “nurse” who then feel asleep, nice for some!!
So here we are thinking we are going to hospital only to find that they are taking us to what can only be described as a medical centre from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There was no way we were getting out of the car and for anyone who knows me well, you can imagine the tone of the conversation that followed when I saw the place, and of course there s still no sign of Larry or anyone that actually spoke English. Finally a doctor re directed us to a much more appropriate facility where a wheelchair greeted us and Emma was off to x-ray and to see the specialist re her injuries. What we leant later is that the hospitals will not treat tourists due to the insurances issues but one call from Larry to tell me that would have helped make us both feel a little more secure.
The next three hours was all about phone calls home, insurance, medical advice, telling Emma’s family and figuring out if she needed to fly to Lima or stay in Cusco for care and managing all the luggage spilt between the car and our hotel in town. By 2am I finally got back to the room knowing Emma was having an operation the next day and staying in hospital in Cusco for a least a week so I had to figure out if I left her and went to Ecuador or not. It was a very tough decision, as my insurance would not cover me if I cancelled the rest of the trip. With a few encouraging calls from Emma’s sister I left at 4am for the airport with a heavy heart knowing my friend would be held up in bed learning Spanish on her own while her ankle recovered from the eight pins it needed to fix the three breaks she had from the fall. Total nightmare, I cried a lot but somehow made the flight.
Saturday was a bit of a blur but I ended up in Ecuador ready for the long awaited Galapagos adventure. Emma is healthy now and when she got home after her sister flew over to Cusco, she had the other foot operated on and is now in a wheelchair for a month. I still can not believe the events of that day and the long term care she will need to get back on her feet again.
I still have the photos but feel it’s a little too soon to share them just yet – soon, very soon I will.