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Message in a Bottle

Natasha:

Flashback Friday…be spontaneous, my friends! :)

Originally posted on Cup of Whimsy:

Sail Away, Sail Away

The idea of a message in a bottle has always intrigued me. Imagine – your thoughts, a piece of you, encapsulated in glass and riding the currents of the ocean, floating and bobbing through the glittering blue-green abyss like a tiny toy boat, until the Universe decides it is time for it to be discovered.  You  decide what to write, what to express, and the forces of nature will  determine who will be the lucky recipient of your message. Perhaps it will be someone in the next city, or halfway across the world, or no one. Perhaps it will be tomorrow, or 10 years later, or never.

Sending out an S.O.S.

Several years ago, when my friends and I were younger and a bit cash-strapped, we became more creative in our pursuit of fun.  We didn’t have as much money to spend on entertainment, so I…

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Blue Note

A sweet, blue clarinet melody slipped through Rashmi’s open window like a velvet ribbon carried in on a breeze. The sultry strain of music wrapped itself around her softly, so softly, as she sat on the sofa reading a novel. Rashmi set down the book and pressed her eyes shut as the smooth notes caressed her, a song of frosty fires and longing looks.

When the music stopped, she let out a tiny gasp, her eyelids fluttering open as though someone had shaken her awake from a pleasant dream. She waited for a few minutes, but the music did not resume. A lone teardrop shivered upon the lower rim of her right eye. After a moment, she picked up her book. But that wasn’t right; she stared at it uncomprehendingly, as though it had transformed into an assembly manual in a foreign language. She set it back down.

Rashmi’s fingers began to itch. She flexed them several times, then picked up a pen and a notebook. This was good; yes, she was on the right track.

Flipping to a fresh page, she began to write. The blue ink looped and scrawled across the page like a ribbon somersaulting on a gust of wind. The ink stained her skin like a smear of crushed berries, but this only made her feel more alive. By the time Rashmi was done, the sky had blackened, and a drafty chill from the window set her teeth chattering. Admiring her work with deep satisfaction, she tore out the word-stocked pages of her notebook.

Then she crumpled all of these notebook pages together into a big ball and hurled it out the window, not knowing where it might land. The best was the not knowing.

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The Light That Went Out

Within each of us burns a light

A force, a brightness

Pulsing and flashing

To the beat of its own drum

Along with every other soul on Earth

*

If you could see our power

If you could only see…

It would look like ten thousand diamonds glittering in the fire

Grand, sprawling oceans illuminated by sea stars

All the eyes in the world mirroring the sun

A throbbing vitality

A profound passion

A cosmic energy

 *

New lights are always emerging

Old lights are always fading

Until one day, they go out

 *

But sometimes

Sometimes

One light shines and glows with such radiance

Flashes a kaleidoscope of hues with such brilliance

Whirls like a dazzling dervish with such effervescence

And casts so much of its luster on all the other lights

Like a magnificent, blazing sun

Sharing its brightness with all the spheres in the sky

That it conceals so well

The darkness gnawing within

*

And when this spectacular light

This scintillating dynamo

This iridescent splendor

Finally goes out

Unexpectedly

The magnificent, blazing sun

Suddenly reduced to a candle

Extinguished with a pinch

Its presence is felt more deeply

By the deep, dismal darkness of the shadow

Cast by its loss

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Adventure & Disaster in Peru – Day 7

Day 7:  Adios, Peru

Our last day in Peru arrived with mixed emotions.  There had been some joy, adventure, and beauty, but there had also been fear, disaster, and misery.  I was truly grateful for all of the wonderful moments, but more than ready to go home.  All of us were also keen to get KP back to the safety of the U.S., where everything was familiar, the doctors spoke English, and her family would be able to take good care of her.  And, of course, she could always find good pizza back home (Peru had been beyond disappointing in its execution of Italian food).

That morning in Cusco was beautiful, with bright blue skies and creamy white clouds, just like our first morning in that lovely city.  Oh, Cusco, you never did us wrong!  It was those treacherous mountains…or perhaps the Incan gods?  Then again, PS had speculated that our bad luck may have been caused by the old ladies that cursed us that first full day in Cusco.  I had assumed they were spewing bad words in Spanish…but could it have been bad spells they were brewing?

After packing up all of our belongings, PS, SK, RohZ, P2D2, and I ventured out into the streets in search of a brunch spot.  We settled on a large, empty restaurant with signs warning us to keep an eye on our valuables, as the restaurant was not responsible for missing items.  Comforting.  Although we started to second-guess our decision, the food soon allayed our worries.  I had a delicious egg sandwich with cheese and avocado on a French-toast style bread.  When I saw a beautiful framed portrait of ice cream on the wall, I couldn’t resist…I added the chocolatey treat to my order.  The ice cream however, ended up being quite upsetting.  Though delightful to behold, it was icy, crunchy, and tasted of freezer burn.

 

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Disappointing ice cream…womp womp

 

After we finished eating, we wandered into an open-air market in a nearby courtyard to buy some last-minute souvenirs.  Most of the merchant stalls were nearly identical and offered the standard fare – llama dolls, Alpaca-wool beanies and clothing, hand-carved knick-knacks, Machu Picchu artwork and magnets, wooden pan flutes, and handmade jewelry – although some stalls specialized in a particular keepsake.  I haggled over a double-sided beanie, then went off in search of a magnet for my refrigerator.

I joined SK at another vendor stall, where the merchant tried to charge me an obscene price for a crappy magnet that looked like someone had glued a printed-out photo of Machu Picchu to a cheap magnetic strip.  I shook my head.  SK found a smaller but nicer-looking painted magnet for me.  I offered my price.

“Please, m’lady,” the merchant said.  “That is too much.”

I almost snorted with laughter.  M’lady??  I had been called senorita and amiga in Peru, but never m’lady.

She countered with a slightly lower offer, and I responded with an even lower price.

“No, m’lady,” she said sorrowfully.  I half expected her to curtsy.  What was this, Downton Abbey?

As I attempted to walk away, the merchant followed after me in desperation.  “M’lady!  Ok, m’lady!”  Not only did we settle on a decent price, but I felt like a countess to boot.

Meanwhile, another merchant was trying to sell SK a huge carved piece of wood that resembled…well…a certain “piece” of “wood” found on the male anatomy.

“No, no!” SK kept saying.  “I don’t want it!”

Yet the lady thrust the piece of wood toward SK, saying, “You can use it as a coat hanger!”

SK looked horrified.

Finally, all of us left the market and headed to Plaza de Armas to say goodbye to the heart of the city.  But, to our amazement, we found the statue had transformed.

Before, the Inca statue had stood on a faux-stone platform.  Now, the platform had vanished, and the Inca statue stood instead atop a beautiful fountain.  On the tier below the Incan, two stone geese held their wings in mid-flap, and stone flowers and creatures carved along the edge of the tier spouted water into the pool below.  Within the pool were statues of mermen trumpeting some triumphant, silent song.  Apparently, the faux platform had only been assembled for the Corpus Christi celebration.

 

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Inca fountain

 

My friends and I, minus the ill-fated yet good-natured KP, took a few traditional jumping pictures in front of this iconic fountain, which was so much more compelling than the boring old platform.  Then SK left us to bring KP fresh clothes at the clinic before the ambulance ride to the airport, and PS went along with her (“I can’t let her take a cab alone in Peru!”).

RohZ, P2D2, and I enjoyed the plaza for just a little bit longer.  It was such a gorgeous day.  So temperate and full of color!  I frolicked through the flowers as the boys documented my awkwardness, then we made our way back to the hostel to collect all of our luggage from storage.

 

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Frolicking through the flowers

 

We had our suitcases lined up in the hostel courtyard like a giant game of dominos.  And before long, just as KP had promised, our own personal ambulance arrived to escort us all to the airport!

“KP hooked us up!” SK said jubilantly into PS’s camcorder. “Hashtag O2 network.”

Inside, the ambulance was dim and had an eerie reddish glow.  I hoped this would be the first and last time I’d ever see the inside of one of these things…

 

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O2 ambulance

 

Once at the airport, the boys had to help lift KP in and out of wheelchairs (there was a different wheelchair for the airport versus the airplane), and she pressed her eyes shut in silent pain throughout this process.  As we were waiting in the terminal for our flight to Lima, we ran into Elsie, one of the NY girls from our trekking group.

“How are you feeling?” she asked KP.  At this point, KP was lying on three terminal chairs, covered by a blanket (it hurt her tailbone area to sit for too long).  Meanwhile, RohZ was sitting in her wheelchair just for kicks.

KP filled Elsie in on her situation.

“You should definitely sue,” Elsie said, shaking her head indignantly.

We said our goodbyes, but before she left, Elsie gave KP her leopard-print neck pillow to ease the pain and pressure when she sat on it.  “Here. You need this more than I do.”

“I’m almost tearing up!” SK declared as Elsie walked away.

After that unexpected act of kindness from the tough New Yorker, we felt in better spirits.  The pillow would definitely help KP through the flights.

Still, our flight to Lima was the easiest leg of the journey; KP managed to endure the short flight fairly well as we played the childhood-era MASH game to keep her thoughts off the pain.  It was the international flights we were worried about…even a neck pillow would not be enough.

But first, we had an eight-hour layover in Lima before our 2:00 a.m. flight.  Peru still had us in its clutches.

My itinerary had some ideas on what we could do in Lima:

Take a cab into Lima, eat dinner at a restaurant, explore the town (e.g. Museo Larco, Magic Water Circuit, Parque De La Reserva, Miraflores Boardwalk, San Pedro Church).

But that had been written in a different time, in a different world. After we set up camp in the airport, none of us felt struck by a violent urge to venture out again into the Peruvian night.  KP, of course, would not be able to leave.  And since the accident, there hadn’t been many opportunities for all six of us to hang out together.  So we found a stretch of chairs for KP to lie down on and some of us to sit on, while the rest of us created a barrier of suitcases and sat on top of them across from the chairs.

And then the long wait began.  We talked for a bit, reflecting on our strange trip.  We bought dinner at a sandwich shop.  Some of us set off through the airport in search of a pack of cards…but the shops were charging a ridiculously high price (about $10 U.S.).  No bueno.

At one point, KP needed to use the restroom, but we didn’t have a wheelchair.  Our airline counter wasn’t even open yet, so we tried asking other airlines if we could borrow a wheelchair.  All of us had spread out in search of an airline that would help us.  I couldn’t believe it – most of them refused! What happened to common decency?! The first time I came across American Airlines and asked to borrow a wheelchair for my friend, they refused as well.  The wheelchairs were only for American Airline customers, they said.  But when I realized that my other friends hadn’t had any luck finding a wheelchair either, I went back to American Airlines and started pleading dramatically in my best Spanish.

“Por favor!  Mi amiga necesita usar el bano…pero no puede caminar!  Y nuestra airline es no abierto…abierta? Abierto…”

The male employees just looked at me impassively (jerks!), but the only female employee started to show some concern.

“Ella no puede caminar?” she asked.  I nodded.  She said something to her coworkers and began unfolding a wheelchair.

“Gracias!”

When we arrived at our “camp,” SK had found another man from a sister airline, and was attempting to persuade him to lend us a wheelchair, with little success.  But he did seem slightly shamefaced when he realized another airline was helping us out.  The lady from American Airlines even took KP to a private handicapped bathroom so she wouldn’t have to brave the tiny crowded stalls of the main restrooms.  And while KP was in the bathroom with her walker, the lady asked with genuine concern what had happened to KP.  As our Spanish was limited, SK and I tried our best to express the horse incident, miming a fall and the motion of a horse when language failed us.

After KP was settled back at our camp, we all began playing charades.  That kept us occupied for a while, and was particularly entertaining when we had to act out each other. We made another trip through the airport for snacks and desserts. Then PS played back some of the clips from our trip that he had captured on his camcorder.

We joked about how stressed out the cleaning crew must be; they kept throwing glances at our camp. The crew had been meticulous in their cleaning of all the airport floors, but our patch floor, within the circular boundaries of our chairs and suitcases, remained sullied for hours (in their eyes, at least…it still looked clean to us). We knew that as soon as we left, they would swoop in with brooms and mops to attack the floor like vultures eagerly devouring their prey.

Finally, the time came when we could at least make our way to the terminal. As we were trying to help KP up and into another wheelchair – KP clearly in pain at the effort – a strange lady with wild light eyes, who had been staring intensely at KP, walked over to her. We couldn’t understand what she was saying, but she invaded KP’s personal space and pressed her finger to a point on KP’s face, muttering something while the rest of us threw each other uneasy glances. I wondered if this was yet another Peruvian curse, but then we realized that the lady was trying to tell us that pressing this particular spot on her face would help ease the pain.

“Yes, thanks, I’ll try that,” KP said, taking over the spot on her face with her own finger. The lady gave us a knowing look, nodded mysteriously, and left. KP immediately removed her finger from her face.

Creepy.

We checked in with our airline and managed to secure three seats in a row for KP to lay on.  By the time we made it to the terminal, I was dead tired. I fell asleep on my chair until boarding time. Once again, the boys helped KP out of her airport wheelchair and into the airplane wheelchair. Then they helped her lie down in her airplane seats and covered her with blankets.

Finally, it was time to leave Peru for real. The plane took off in a rough, guttural rumble, with me holding on to my armrests for dear life (takeoffs and landings scare me).

And then we were up in the dark night air, home free and homeward bound.

I glanced out the window and into the abyss for a moment before closing my eyes and succumbing to sleep. What a trip!

Adios, Peru.  We came, we saw, we…fell…we got up, we dusted ourselves off, we managed.  You tested us, you rewarded us, you mystified us.  Our trip was at times an adventure, and at times a disaster. But one thing was for certain – it was unforgettable.

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Adventure & Disaster in Peru – Day 6

Day 6:  The Wonders of Machu Picchu

 

“Fall out of bed and catch a fading star…fancy I woke up before my alarm.  Rubbed my mind through my eyes, it’s the best I can do…”

I awoke in the pre-dawn gloom to the sweet sound of Jason Mraz crooning on my phone alarm.  Sleep had been a fickle bedfellow last night; I’d been startled by the thunderous rattling of a train right next to our hostel, along with a few other jarring noises.  Still, though drowsy, I felt more peaceful than I had on other mornings of the trip.

“And I know, I know, it’s gonna be a good day…Hello, hello, you beautiful thing…”

I reached for my phone and turned off the alarm.  Perhaps today would be a good day.  Perhaps we would actually be able to say hello to the beautiful Machu Picchu, if all went well.  If only KP was here!

After getting ready, my friends and I met in the hostel’s dining area for a quick breakfast of hollow bread.  We were getting pretty sick of bread by this point.  Soon, we joined up with Roger and the rest of our trekking group to make our way to the bus stop, where Peruvian ladies were selling freshly made tomato-and-avocado sandwiches on croissants.  We purchased some sandwiches for later before boarding our bus.  I promptly dozed off.

When I opened my eyes again, we were pulling into the dropoff area near a big, fancy restaurant and the entrance to Machu Picchu.  The bus ride had only been about 30 minutes, though filled with twists and turns up the dangerous mountain pass.  We got out and joined the line for the entrance, passports and tickets in hand.

And then we were in!

The sun was just beginning to make its ascent over the silhouetted mountains of the Andes, inflaming the clouds to set the sky ablaze.

 

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Sunrise over the Andes

 

Because we had spent the night in Aguas Calientes, we were able to arrive at sunrise, when the grounds remained relatively empty of crowds.  We had a few hours of near-isolation before swarms of people would rush in from Aguas Calientes, fresh off their morning trains from Ollantaytambo.  Filled with anticipation, I followed the group down the path that led to the pristine relic of the past…

Our first view of Machu Picchu was breathtaking.  Beneath the veil of silvery clouds, the ancient Incan city sprawled before us in tiers of stone and grass, nestled against the towering Wayna Picchu peak and other guardian mountains.  It was a vision in green, a glimpse of history, an architectural marvel.  We paused for a moment to drink in the magnificent sight before further exploration.

 

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Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu

 

As we followed Roger down some stone steps, we passed a herd of friendly llamas.  They must have grown very comfortable with tourists by now because these llamas were pros at posing for photos.  In particular, they seemed to enjoy selfies with humans.  Still, I didn’t want to get too close…llamas were notorious for spitting.  My boyfriend had advised me to take the initiative and spit in a llama’s face first in order to assert my dominance…but either I’m not an alpha, or the threat of retaliation spit was just too tangible.

 

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Something is not quite right…

 

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But first…llama take a selfie ;)

 

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Baby llama and its mama!

 

As we wandered down the grassy terraces that had once been used to grow crops, Roger explained the history behind Machu Picchu.  In the 15th century, the site served as a royal estate for the Inca king, and included plazas and roofless dwellings for the Inca people, as well as special chambers for religious purposes.

 

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Grassy terraces

 

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Structures viewed through the foliage

 

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Chambers

 

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Window with a view

 

All of the structures were built from cut and shaped stones fitted together like puzzle pieces, or from carved bedrock.  How did the Inca manage to make stones out of huge boulders before the industrial era?  One theory is that they used bronze tools or a sharp rock tool (Anthracite, was it?  I don’t remember…) to create a hole through boulders, slipped a wooden pole through this hole, and added water to expand the wood until it cracked the boulder into smaller fragments that could then be shaped.

 

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Structure

 

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Roofless dwelling

 

One big slab of rock in particular was known to have special powers and imbued those who touched it with magical energy.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to touch the rock.  Apparently our natural body oils could create a sort of fungal cancer that compromised the integrity of the rock.  So much for magical energy :(

 

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Magic rock

 

The religious buildings were used to perform rituals and ceremonies to honor the Incan gods, many of which represented different aspects of nature (the sun, moon, rain, etc.).  Although the Incas mostly made offerings of food, animals, coca leaves, and other items, desperate times occasionally called for human sacrifices, typically virgin girls raised for this specific purpose.  According to Roger, to help suppress attraction between these girls and handsome fellows, young men who were particularly good looking had their faces deformed (for example, a chunk of their nose might be cut off…ah, the price of beauty).  In addition, any man (usually from another village) who even attempted to rape one of these special virgins would experience the King’s wrath…not only would this man be killed, but his family and village would also be massacred.

 

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Roger explaining the history of Machu Picchu

 

The King himself enjoyed the company of numerous concubines.  He had hundreds of children, although only the children of his wife the Queen were royally legitimate.  He also had hundreds of brothers and sisters.  One day, a jealous brother who felt he had better claim to the throne acted out against the King…or so the story goes.  As the King worked to expand his empire beyond what is now southern Peru, his treacherous brother conspired with the Spanish conquistadors to foil his plans.  While this led to much damage in battle, thankfully the Spaniards never discovered Machu Picchu.  If they had, they would have plundered and destroyed the sacred site, just as they had done with so many other temples and cities.

“The moral of the story is…stay away from Spaniards,” Roger said.  “I am only joking!  No, but really…”

Through some miracle, not only was Machu Picchu undiscovered by the Spaniards, but after it had been abandoned by the Incas it remained virtually untouched until American researcher Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911.  The locals had known of the site for a long time, but it was not until Hiram “rediscovered” it and published his findings that Machu Picchu begin to emerge in the outside world as an incredible, culturally and historically significant treasure.

After Roger completed his tour of Machu Picchu, our trekking group was free to roam the site on our own.  My friends and I made our way through the grounds, snapping numerous photos (including shots with KP’s bandana, since she was here in spirit).  Some trekkers from a different group who had seen KP’s fall recognized SK and PS, and entangled them in a conversation to learn how KP was doing.

Once we continued on our way, we climbed up stone steps until we reached a little hut at a high point that offered a great view of Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu.  We took several pictures with this spectacular background before deciding to take pictures of ourselves jumping in the air in front of it – this pose was somewhat of a tradition for us.

 

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Making our way to the hut

 

However, the security guard didn’t seem too fond of our traditions.  He kept scowling at us as, one by one, we leaped into the air several times, hoping for the camera to capture the perfect airborne moment.  Finally, he indicated that we were not permitted to disturb the site in such a manner.  By this point, PS, P2D2, and I had gotten decent pictures, but SK and RohZ hadn’t.  So we tried to take their pictures while the guard was looking the other way.  SK managed to get a stellar shot, but RohZ was still unsatisfied.  We tried to move to another area that wasn’t as visible, but the suspicious guard still managed to keep us within his view.

“Quick, go distract him!” RohZ said.  So P2D2 and PS went off to ask the guard some inane question while SK and I furiously snapped a series of photographs as his back was turned, hoping that RohZ would be content with at least one of them.

After we had secured our traditional midair shots, my friends and I exited the site for a bit to use the restrooms.  Then we headed back inside to find a nice, green terrace where we could enjoy our sandwiches.  Once our tummies were sated, it was time to take on Wayna Picchu.

While Macchu Picchu means “Old Mountain,” Wayna Picchu is translated as “Young Mountain.”  Instead of a dirt trail, stone steps embedded in the mountainside led up to the peak 8,924 feet high, where one could enjoy the stunning view of Machu Picchu below.  But were my friends and I ready for such a steep climb after the mishaps that had befallen us on our trek?

 

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This way!

 

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Approaching Wayna Picchu

 

At the base of the mountain, we offered high-fives to those who had already reached the peak and were making their way back down.  Since it was the fourth of July, we bonded a bit with the other Americans we ran into.  “Yeah, America!!!”  Ah, to be obnoxiously patriotic :) .

 

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High-fiving those who made it

 

Then the climb began.  Luckily, the altitude was lower than it had been on the Salkantay trek, so sickness wasn’t an issue.  But climbing the steps wasn’t easy.  I definitely should’ve spent more time on the Stairmaster at the gym…

 

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Stairway to heaven?

 

Every time we reached a small clearing that preceded the next flight of stairs, we stopped to catch our breath, hydrate, and let the impatient people behind us pass.  Above us, more stone-clad grass terraces stretched up into the sky in tiers.  Apparently, during the time of the Incas, Wayna Picchu had been the residence of the high priest.  Every morning, the priest and his entourage would walk down the steps before dawn to herald the arrival of the new day…and every evening they would climb back up the mountain.  Damn, these Incans must have had buns of steel!

 

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More terraces

 

Climbing was exhausting work.  Sweat drenched the back of my tank top, and I could smell the earthy stench of everyone on the path, ourselves included.  Each step became a struggle; my thighs were screaming.  As we approached the platform before the highest peak, we switched on my portable speaker and began playing music from my Peru playlist to help motivate us.  The first song that came on was Carmina Burana (Mozart techno mix), which I had included at P2D2’s request.  It was a pretty epic soundtrack.  The other hikers we ran into laughed appreciatively when they heard the dramatic harmonies that spurred us onward.

 

 

By the time we reached the platform, the song had shifted to the delightfully exuberant “Say Hey,” and our mood was soaring.  We began dancing on the platform, and made the other hikers dance, too, if they wanted to pass.  Smiles abounded as we danced thousands of feet high, surrounded by the gorgeous panorama of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains, swirly white clouds drifting above.  If only KP had been with us, it would have been a perfect moment.

 

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The view of Machu Picchu wayyy down below

 

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The Andes

 

An Indian couple, who looked straight out of a Bollywood movie with their brightly colored outfits and charismatic faces, frolicked their way onto the platform and began dancing with us.  We had seen them before at several points that day, and we would see them several more times before the end of our trip (in Aguas Calientes, in the bathrooms, in the airport) until RohZ found them again, back in the U.S., on his Facebook newsfeed.  Apparently, they were friends of friends, and they lived in RohZ’s town.  Go figure.  It’s a small world, after all!

 

 

After the song and dance ended, we turned off the music so that we could properly appreciate the amazing view.  Then, of course, it was time for more jumping pictures.  A random hiker took a picture of us with our cameras…but then he took another on his own camera.  “This one’s for me.”

Uh, yeah…that’s not creepy at all…

Finally, we charged ahead, crawling through tunnel space in a rocky cave before emerging on the other side to climb the last stretch of steps to the peak.

“Be careful, Trippy!” my friends kept warning me.  They had nicknamed me Trippy due to my innate clumsiness.  Such clumsiness could prove fatal at a height such as this, where a small stumble could send me toppling over the edge to my death…

But, barring a relatively harmless stumble (which nevertheless scared my friends, who immediately reached out to steady me), I was able to make my way to the top!  It felt like a true accomplishment for me, especially since P2D2 was the only one of us who completed the Salkantay trek, and I hadn’t even made it to the lake.

 

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My disembodied arm with the sign at the top…2,693 meters!

 

After enjoying the view from the top for a bit, it was time to make our way down.  Little did we know the descent would be far more treacherous than the climb.  We had to take a separate set of stairs down the first leg of the descent before it converged with the same path we had used to climb up.  That first set of stairs down was terrifying; on one side was the rocky mountain wall that offered little support, and on the other was…a sheer drop.

 

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Ahhh!

 

Even more alarming was the shrinking size of the steps.  They seemed only a few feet wide, and only half the length of my foot!  These Inca people must’ve been tiny…

“So, we’re making our way down Wayna Pichu,” I heard PS say.  He was narrating for his camcorder, which was filming the descent.  “SK has adopted the butt-down method of coming down the stairs, while P2D2 is crawling down backwards…”

I looked down in front of me.  SK was indeed using the butt-down method, which involved sitting and scooting down each step.  That seemed a lot safer than what I was doing (standing and tottering down in fear, clinging to the wall while contemplating the devastating drop on my other side), so I also adopted the butt-down method.

I looked up behind me.  P2D2 was crawling down backwards on his hands and knees, and had to look over his shoulder to see where he was going!  Now, that didn’t seem like a good idea at all… My friends and I called out to tell him so.

“I’m fine!  It’s actually easier this way,” P2D2 said, unfazed, as he reached down with a foot to feel for the next step behind him.

I couldn’t see what RohZ was doing; I think he was still trying to walk down the stairs.

But, as I said, PS was filming.  We could hear his narration, and began to fear that it was distracting him from this dangerous downward path.

“Put the camera away!” SK called to him.  “Watch where you’re going!”

The rest of us shouted similar words of caution until PS finally put his camcorder away.  “Ok, ok…”

“The ancient Inca people probably ran down these stairs like it was no big deal,” RohZ said as we inched our way down at a snail’s pace.  “And if somebody happens to fall off the edge, it’s just like the equivalent of a traffic accident for us.”

Needless to say, it was a relief when we finally converged with the main stairway.  Now out of immediate danger, I began to play music on the little speaker again.  On the way down, we met an old man with a cane whom we had seen climbing earlier before he hurt his ankle.  As we approached him, the song playing on my speaker (a modern rendition of Shake Senora by Pitbull and T-Pain) suddenly switched from its melodic chorus to an awful breakdown where Pitbull basically just repeats “My girl’s got a big ole booty (oh yeah)…your girl’s got a little booty  (oh no).”

“Turn it off!  Turn it off!” RohZ shouted in a panic as we got closer to the elderly gentleman, afraid to be judged as a hooligan.

At this point SK and PS, who were slightly ahead of us, had already greeted the old man.  I scrambled to stop the song on my phone, but I couldn’t find the right button…

“My girl’s got a big ole booty (oh yeah)…you girl’s gotta little booty  (oh no)…”

“What are you doing?!” RohZ grabbed the speaker and turned it off just as we were passing the old man.

“Hello,” I said, smiling at him politely.  The old man nodded and continued on his way.

After that, I changed the music to Jason Mraz.

Our descent was going a little bit faster now that we were on safer ground.  On our way down, we kept spotting Leaf Face.  Some hiker had poked holes in large heart-shaped leaves, creating a face reminiscent of The Scream.  Every few yards, we would see another Leaf Face on the ground.  We kept hoping to run into the creator of Leaf Face, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

By the time my friends and I made it back to the bottom of the mountain, we were starving.  It was past noon, and the grounds had become much more crowded with tourists.  We threaded our way through them to reach the exit.

“Goodbye, Machu Picchu,” I said, reveling in its mystic splendor one last time.

We caught a bus back to Aguas Calientes, where we had lunch at a cute Mexican restaurant I’d had my eye on since yesterday…and we had to cross a bridge to get there.  Win.

 

20140703_141158

That one!

 

Some good old Mexican food would definitely hit the spot right about now…but the food we received was nothing like the Mexican food we were used to in California.  This Mexican food had a distinct Peruvian twist, which entailed floppy pancake-like tortillas, rubbery Andean cheese, and the generous usage of basil.  But once I stopped expecting it to taste like Mexicali food and accepted it for what it was, my lunch was actually quite good.

We also took advantage of the Wi-Fi at the restaurant to check in on KP again.  She had messaged us: Hope you guys had an amazing day and took lots of pictures!  Back at the clinic, she was trying to contact the airlines to get an upgraded flight, but to no avail.  She also recounted her food drama for us.  Since KP was a vegetarian, she had mostly been eating bread.  So the nurse complained about it on her behalf, leading the doctor to promise pizza.  When the pizza arrived, however, it had…pepperoni.  Fail.  But KP later received her vegetarian pizza and was back in good spirits.

After lunch, my friends and I did some souvenir shopping at the market stalls, then grabbed our things from the hostel and caught the train to Ollantaytambo (I slept the whole way).  From the Ollantaytambo station, a Salkantay Trekking van picked up our trekking group, along with members of another group.  This time the rest of my friends knocked out, while P2D2 conversed with the trekkers from the other group.  Still feeling a bit sluggish, I chipped in every now and then.

What struck me about this other group of trekkers, who seemed to get along so well and even had their own inside jokes, was that they had only just met each one another on the trek.  They were all solo travelers.  I wondered if I would ever be able to do that…hop on a plane alone to a foreign land, and make friends along the way.  The thought was both thrilling and frightening.

Finally, after every other rider had been dropped off, my friends and I were taken “home.”  Comfortable once more in our dear, sweet hostel, we showered (hot, relaxing showers that were a luxury after the spotty coldish showers at the hostel in Aguas Calientes) and got ready for dinner at a delicious Chinese-Peruvian restaurant across the street.  Then we took a cab to O2 clinic, this time with P2D2 in tow, and visited KP.

This was the first time all six of us had been together in days.  We recounted all that had happened while we were apart.  Then KP got down to business.

“So, I’ve arranged for the ambulance to take all of us to the airport tomorrow,” she said.  “You don’t have to take a cab.”

“Wow, you’ve got connections,” I said.

But for some reason, PS seemed reluctant to take the ambulance, musing that KP could ride in the ambulance while the rest of us took a cab.

“Come on!  How often can you say you’ve ridden in an ambulance?” KP demanded.  “And in Peru?”

PS didn’t seem to have an answer to that.

“Ok, then, it’s settled.”

We all chatted some more before sleepiness began to sap our energy. SK promised to return in the morning with a fresh outfit for KP.  Then we left KP in the clinic and returned to the hostel, back to our very own room – no sharing with random strangers this time.

As we got ready for bed, I remembered again that it was the fourth of July.

“Does anyone want to sing the national anthem with me?” I asked.  The boys just looked at me blankly.  When SK came back from the bathroom, I asked her, “SK!  Will you sing the national anthem with me?”

I didn’t have to ask her twice.

“Ohhh say, can you seeee?”  She and I began our soulful, melodic rendition of the anthem…just kidding; we were awful.  We began our off-key, dissonant rendition of the anthem, but at least we sang it all the way through, with passion and patriotism.

It wouldn’t be too long before we were back in America.  Tonight was our last night in Cusco.  Our trip was nearing an end.  After all that had happened on our trip, it was incredible to think that at least five of us had made it to Machu Picchu today, although KP’s absence was keenly felt.  But KP had said she would definitely return to Peru one day to visit Machu Picchu…next time, however, she would be travelling by train.

I went to bed scratching the scattering of bright pink bug bites that had popped up all over my body.  These Peruvian mosquitos seemed to find me delicious.

America, the beautiful, I thought, and drifted into a deep sleep.

 

Continue reading Day 7: Adios, Peru

 

Or start from the beginning:

Day 1: Touchdown Cusco

Day 2: Viva Cusco

Day 3: The Trek Begins…Then Falters

Day 4: The Trek Goes Downhill

Day 5: #Turning It Around