When I need to get up at a certain time, it is usually necessary to set multiple alarms to go off beginning about a half hour before I need to roll out of bed. I am not a morning person and not one of those people who can jump out of bed immediately when the alarm sounds. After oversleeping and missing my Air New Zealand flight from Hong Kong to London last fall, I have become paranoid about setting at least three alarms when I must wake up at a certain time.
I really had to force myself to get out of bed at 0330 (after being jarred awake by alarms at 0300, 0310, and 0320. But once I am up, I usually perk up quickly, no matter how sleep deprived I am.
With my rendezvous only 15 minutes away and a ten minute walk from the hostel, I threw on some clothes, decided to skip the sweater (good choice), and made sure I had all my “necessities” in my small backpack, most importantly a 3L bottle of water.
The weather was cool and damp outside, with a layer of mist permeating the air. I hiked down the road, turned left down the bus path, and met Shereef at a small park a few hundred yards down the road. I was only about five minutes late…
Good thing he had a flashlight because it was pitch black outside with street lights few and far between. It was rather serene walking down a Peruvian road at 0400 and we soon came to the trailhead and began our climb up. We were not the only ones on the trail: we spied lights behind us and lights ahead of us. The trail was a primarily steep steps zig-zagging a little bit to mitigate the effects of the precipitous climb.
About 0450 we made it to the top and were amongst the first to join what would soon become a long snaking line for entrance into the park.
Hyanu Picchu is the mountain you always see in pictures jutting up from the ruins below it. In an attempt to preserve it, only 400 people are allowed to climb it each day. This was the reason behind the early morning hike. Once in line to enter Machu Picchu, you are given the option of choosing the 0700 or 1000 climb up Hyanu Picchu. We chose the early hike and got slot number two and three. And I had worried that I wouldn’t be one of the first 200 up the mountain…
The park opened at 0600 and being one of the first visitors in the park, we had a few minutes to take unobstructed pictures of the ruins without any people getting in the way. While the sky was overcast, the sun was just beginning to peak out over the eastern horizon and it appeared that the clouds might be blowing north.
After another queue at the entrance to Hyanu Picchu, we began climbing it a few minutes before 0700. While the climb was difficult, I did not find it nearly as bad as the climb earlier in the morning or yesterday. We made it to the top in 40 minutes and took in some absolutely stunning views of the valley around us.
Clouds had completely ensconced the Machu Picchu ruins when we reached the summit, but as we sat and waited patiently, the clouds moved on and Machu Picchu was revealed in sunlight. A true Kodak moment.
Then things got bad. Suddenly it felt like my hands were on fire—literally on fire. They burned to such an extent that I found myself profusely shaking them. Writhing in pain, I noticed two growing circles, one on each hand. While climbing up Hyanu Picchu I had often grabbed on to vines, branches, rocks, and embankment for support. Apparently, I received a couple mosquito or spider bites and was not responding well to them.
Trying to be a tough guy, I told Shereef not to worry about it and that I was going to climb down but he did not have to come along. The view truly was spectacular and he elected to stay up for a while longer. I bid him goodbye and rushed down the mountain as fast as it was safe for me to do so. I made it all the way back to the entrance of the park (stopping briefly to snap a few more pictures) where I had spied a clinic when I entered earlier in the day.
The nurse did not speak English, but I showed her my hands and she nodded and pointed to a chair behind me. I sat down and a doctor came out and asked me in English what the problem was. I explained to him that my hands were burning and he stated that it looked like mosquito bites had caused the problem.
An injection, oral tablets, and topical cream were prescribed and I was told to drop my pants, as the nurse pointed to my butt. I chuckled as the nurse made sure to open the needle in front of me and stated, “New. Clean.” The shot was relatively painless and I swallowed a couple pills and applied some topical cream immediately after. Rather sad that I don’t know what the heck they put in me. Why is it that we tend to trust people wearing white coats?
I sat down for a while and waited to see if the antidote would work. It didn’t. 45 minutes later the burning was still there and still at the same intensity. The doctor seemed puzzled and prepared another shot, this one directly into the vein on my forearm. Whatever it was, it must have something like benodryl in it because I was ready for a nap about 25 minutes later. The burning had also subsided a bit (unless I had just gotten used to it).
The bill for my visit to the clinic was 45 soles (15 USD) and I paid it with my credit card. I do have international coverage with Blue Cross, but the nurse was unable to reach Blue Cross at the number on the back of my card. How convenient (for Blue Cross)….
I took the bus back into Aguas Calientes and took a two-hour nap in the lobby of the hostel. When I awoke, my hands were still burning, but not nearly as badly as a few hours ago. The train was scheduled to leave in about an hour and a half so I decided to get some lunch around the corner: I had not eaten since the previous evening.
I selected a little pizza parlor and was invited to join a couple of retired Australian guys “on a three week holiday from their wives in South America.” They were from Gold Coast and we had a nice chat about Australian tourism, history, and politics. Chance encounters like this are one of the reasons I love traveling. Memories are built not only though seeing places but through meeting strangers like this and sharing meals and conversation.
I stayed a bit too long at lunch and had to run to catch my train. I made it with about three minutes to spare and lo and behold, found Shereef seated next to me—completely by chance. We had not even discussed the train ride back to Cusco/Poroy. My hands were still burning a bit and the “Business” Class cabin (same cluster of 2-2 only now with a table down the middle) seemed even more cramped than the Backpacker train.
I knew a small snack was served but I did not expect the linen tablecloth and menus. There was no choice, but I found the snack tasty, despite having just polished off a pizza. Two empanadas, one with meat and one with cheese were served with a choice of soft drink and coffee or tea and orange cheesecake. Not too bad, though not worth the $23 premium for the “upgrade.”
The journey seemed to take much longer go backing to Poroy, perhaps because my hands were still bothering me. I swallowed a couple more pills, re-applied the anti-histamine lotion, and tried to keep my mind off the hands. Shereef helped a bit by reading passages from the book he was reading, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It’s an eye-opening book…
I reached Poroy and said goodbye to Shereef and met my Canadian friends in the station lobby. They had a driver waiting for them and I hopped in with them for the ride back to Cusco. After dropping off their luggage, we ate at trendy restaurant in Cusco’s Plaza De Armas that reminded me of AOC near the Grove in West LA: one of my favorite eateries. I thought about ordering guinea pig, but it was double the price of just about everything else on the menu and I felt like chicken so I ordered the Peruvian chicken dish. It was so-so—chicken chunks in a marsala style gravy with white rice. I could have gone for another pizza…
I hailed a cab to take me to my hostel, “The House of Carola” (yeah, sounds like you know what) for the evening. Turns out it was more of a home stay. A little old lady who spoke very little English opened the door and seemed shocked to see me. I showed her my confirmation printout and she scratched her head, poured me a cup of tea, and told me to hang on.
I sat at the kitchen table for about ten minutes while I presume she prepared the room. She shouldn’t have bothered: it looked the sheets had never been changed when I pulled back the bedspread. A generous assortment of hair—all different lengths and colors—greeted me. Yuck. The private room and bath was only $10, but I guess you get what you pay for. I slept on top of the (most likely filthy) bedspread with my clothes on. A bright fluorescent light on the patio outside my door kept me awake for a while (I guess it was too much trouble to install curtains on the window), but I finally fell asleep. The benadryl tablets probably played a role…
No pictures of the hairy sheets.