Hiking the Inca Trail

During CFS and fibromyalgia a flare-up, I look at photos and read my travel journals to help me remember past experiences and adventures.  I don’t feel bad that I am not able or interested in travel, rather I am reminded of the places I have been that so many ‘healthy’ people have not and the diverse people who I have met.  I have learned so much and feel fortunate for the opportunities.  While my life is now very different and is leading me in a new direction (for which I have no regrets!), I am so lucky to have these memories!

When I felt ‘cured’ of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I decided to treat myself to a new adventure.  As a lover of archaeology, I decided to go to Peru and visit Macchu Picchu.  I had never been to South America and while I realized there was a risk traveling as a single woman who didn’t know the language, my excitement outweighed my fears and anxiety.  I have traveled extensively and lived in Greece and Israel so I was relatively confident in my abilities to handle myself.

I have never been a big fan of tour groups but did not want to travel aimlessly.  I fitting compromise for me was to hike the Inca Trail a four-day hike to Macchu Picchu with a group of eight and two guides.  I had been healthy and fit in the past and believed that jogging for a month would improve my endurance and be enough to manage the high altitude and long days of hiking.

In September 2004, I traveled to Lima and arrived late that night.  I was forewarned at the airport to be careful of hackers and to be sure to get in a legitimate taxi to take me to my hotel.  As I drove through Lima at midnight, the first thing that struck me was the poverty.   I have driven through ghettos in the U.S. but this somehow felt different.  It brought me down from the exhilaration I felt after touching down.

The hotel was a few blocks away from the center of Lima,  Square.  I spent the morning at the Cathedral of San Francisco with a wonderful guide.  I then visited the catacombs which piqued my morbid curiosity of what kind of lives had all those bones experienced.

The Conquistador, Pizarro, is laid to rest here.
I think the building behind the fountain is City Hall

For the first time in all my travels, I was accosted by a guy claiming that he was American and needed money.  I was going to help him but there was something off about him. He sounded American but when I told him that he could come into my hotel and we could call the American Embassy, he got squirrely.  He wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave him $5 and proceeded to jump into a cab.  Hearing his fluent Spanish made me convinced that he was a con artist.

Next, I flew to Cusco, high in the mountains of the Andes.  Spending a couple of days there was meant to help acclimate hikers of the Inca Trail.  Cusco is a lovely mountain town and I visited the Pisano cathedral which is also a beautiful church and in much better condition than the Cathedral in Lima due to private funding.  I met my travel partners in Cusco and some of us toured Cusco together.  The altitude gave me headaches and dizziness – kind of like CFS – so I tried to take it easy.  I did find time  to buy  goods made from alpaca wool which I still cherish.  Being allergic to lambs wool, I can wear alpaca wool and I don’t think cashmere even compares to the softness of baby alpaca!

When arriving at the beginning of the Inca Trail, I was a bit uneasy to see that we had to start our trek by crossing a river by way of a pedestrian bridge made of wood and hung by cables.  It swung with each step and was relieved to have overcome my gephyrophobia (fear of crossing bridges)!  We slept in roomy 2 person tents, were provided afternoon tea and were served delicious meals made by porters.  We didn’t have to carry anything other than a day pack for our personal items.  The porters are incredible – many travel barefooted or wear flimsy sandals.  They have wide chests to accommodate their large lungs making them able to run up and down the trails carrying nearly 100 pounds.  Not enough can be said about these hard-working, kind people.

The first full day of the hike was torture for me.  I thought I was in decent shape but was discouraged by the people in our group who were much older and left me in the dust.  This was the hardest day of our trek but I wondered if I could make it as I would take two steps and have to rest.  Was my CFS flaring up and making it harder for me to climb to the top of the mountain?  I was full of anxiety that I would have to be medivaced out before I even got started.  Fortunately, one of the guides, Fabrizio, was my savior.  He patiently urged me forward at a slow but steady pace.  I had bought coca leaves and Fabrizio taught me how to place a wad between my cheek and teeth.  When the dizziness overwhelmed me, he rubbed alcohol on his hands and had me inhale deeply.  It was amazing how the alcohol cleared my head, if only for a short time.

Eventually, I got to the top of the mountain and learned that I was at 14,000 feet above sea level.  I was told that I had survived the hardest leg of our trek and we would be descending from time to time.  I was tired, elated, and more than a little queasy after my first day on the Inca Trail but I had made it.  Imagine that a year ago, I had a debilitating illness and struggled to take my dogs for daily walks.

Mt. Huascaran in Background