Day 4: The Trek Goes Downhill
Around 5:00 a.m., KP and I awoke, stiff and freezing, to a voice outside our tent calling “Coca! Coca tea!” Groggy with morning moodiness, I accepted the hot tea, but gave a mental “psshh” as I sipped it. Totally overrated. Though hailed as a local remedy for altitude sickness, coca tea had done little to quell my illness the day before. It was only thanks to my friends that I felt better this morning.
We ventured out into the icy morning air to join the line for the bathroom and freshen up at the water spout (which was basically like splashing snow on your face). Luckily, when I headed back to the tent, I noticed bowls of hot water that had been provided by our trekking guides. I warmed my face with the water, only to become chilled soon afterward by a frosty breeze on my skin. Sigh.
When KP and I entered the big green tent for breakfast, we were surprised to find half of our friends missing. Only PS was at the table with the other trek members, staring doubtfully at a “pancake” that looked more like a sad crepe.
“Where are the others?” KP asked him.
“SK is in the bathroom…she was feeling pretty nauseous. RohZ was throwing up last night and is not in the mood for breakfast…he didn’t have dinner last night either. And even P2D2 is not feeling very good.”
Damn. Altitude sickness was like a hired gun, taking us out one by one…
“Good thing we’re taking horses up the mountain today,” PS said. KP and I nodded in agreement. I couldn’t imagine having to gasp for every breath, fighting nausea and headaches with each step, while hiking up the steepest slope yet.
Breakfast was a dour affair. Although I had skipped dinner the night before, not much on the table looked appealing to me. I had some of the thin pancake and the old standby, bread. P2D2 joined us a little later, looking a bit sickly.
“I think SK wants you to bring her some bread,” he told PS.
“She does?” asked PS anxiously. “But I thought she said she didn’t want any!” He began hoarding some bread.
“Did you guys sleep ok?” Dee asked us.
“Oh my gosh, it was freezing,” KP wailed.
“Oh really?” Elsie said. “I was super hot. I was stripping off layers last night, sleeping in my tank top. My body’s just weird like that.”
“What?!” I cried. KP and I looked at each other with shared incredulity. I swear, these NY chicks were superhuman.
As we left the dining tent, the world outside seemed to transform into an eerie reddish-pink terrain. We had experienced this strange phenomenon the day before at lunch and, wonderstruck, had asked our guide Roger why it suddenly looked like Mars outside.
“Because the tent is green,” Roger said, looking amused. Duh.
So today I knew that the overcast sky and grand mountains around us were only blushing because the green glow cast by the tent was messing with my eyes. But it still felt strange to step out into this alien world. It awakened me to the fact that we were thousands of miles from home, in a foreign land, in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by spectacular beauty. Sometimes it was easy to forget that amidst our physical struggles. Perhaps today would be the day to savor the stunning scenery.
KP and I headed to our tent and prepared the duffle bags for the pack animals to carry to the next campsite. Then, before we knew it, we heard the guides shouting for everyone to meet up to begin the big trek.
Our trekking group was all gathered together near a cluster of horses and horse guides; these horse guides were not part of our trekking company, but independently hired by us. In fact, I’m not sure if they actually had a company of their own; they may have been nothing more than local ranchers. One by one, they paired man together with beast.
I turned to my friends. The boys were discussing how their “battles” were going. I should probably explain that “battle” was a euphemism for the attempt to go #2. Yes, like in the bathroom. And it was called battle for a reason. Peru had taken our humdrum bathroom routines to a dramatic level. Half the time we were losing…and losing the battle didn’t bode well for our tummies and moods.
A couple of horses drew near our circle.
“I’m afraid of horses,” KP revealed, tensing up a bit.
“The trick is not to let them smell your fear,” Elsie advised her. “Look your horse in the eye and speak to it softly before getting on him.”
And then Elsie got on her horse expertly, murmuring to it in fluent Spanish.
Soon we were all saddled up on our own horses; mine was a chestnut horse named Estrella. The horse guides were trying to line us up, when all of a sudden RohZ’s horse – whose blindfold had just been removed – took off like a shot! His horse had been the only one blindfolded due to its tendency to kick…or some other fun problem. Once the horse guides retrieved the horse – with a shaken-looking RohZ on top – we set off on the trail. But perhaps the horse had been trying to warn us to escape while we still could…
The horse guides gave us zero instructions on how to direct the horses, but they walked alongside us, frequently shouting “Vamos!” and smacking the horses with lengths of rope. Some of these horse guides, these little Peruvian men and women, seemed to have an average build – that is, some of them did not seem particularly fit. And yet, they trotted briskly alongside the horses, even up the inclines, even despite the increasingly high altitude. I felt a bit silly sitting on a horse when one of the horse guide ladies was jogging ahead up some rocks to shout at another horse to keep moving. But I knew that if I got off my horse, I’d be gasping for air within five minutes. This mountain air…it had to be in their blood.
At first we were on a narrow trail hugging one of the mountains, but once we rode into the valley, I began to feel more comfortable and whipped out my camera, snapping photos with one hand and hanging on to Estrella with the other. The sun had come out by now, illuminating the gorgeous valley of pale green shrubbery and rocks, bordered on three sides by mountains: deep brown rocky mountains, grassy flaxen mountains, and the snow-capped Salkantay mountains ahead of us. It was actually quite a pleasant ride. Across the way, we could see some trekkers who were making a go of it by foot. At that point, I didn’t envy them.
Soon, we crossed some shimmering shallow streams. Estrella dipped her head to sip a bit of water, but the horse guide shouted at her to keep moving. I frowned. Horses needed to stay hydrated too, didn’t they? Especially when they were lugging human-backpacks through the mountains at a high altitude? The horse guides were also paranoid about spacing. They were bent on having the horses lined up head-to-tail, with very little space in between. If a horse lagged behind a bit, it was rewarded with a whack of the rope and the ever-persistent shout, “Vamos!” This would lurch Estrella into a sudden gallop to catch up, which I admit was rather startling. RohZ’s horse, which was a bit of a renegade (its blindfold was now pushed up its head like a badass bandana), ignored the cry and fell behind for quite some time in order to…do battle. Shortly after he caught up, we arrived at the mountain trail.
The slope was steep, and the trail was a narrow switchback cutting sharp angles up the mountain. At this point, P2D2, KP, and PS were at the head of the horse line while I, Edna, SK, and RohZ brought up the rear. In between were the other members of our trekking group, along with members of another group.
Slowly, the ascent began. As the head of the line was climbing higher up the mountain, we tail-enders had barely begun the first leg of the trail at the lower level. Up above us, we could see P2D2, KP, and PS on a high ledge amid the dense string of horses. I pulled out my camera and began to take a few more pictures as I waited for the horses in front of me to move forward.
And then things began to go horribly wrong.
Out of the corner of my eye, I detected motion on the higher ledge. I looked up. A horse had gotten skittish. One was backing up. Another one reared. A few others began to panic and move about. But there was no room for them to move…why were they moving? What was going on?
I heard a horse whinny.
I saw PS jump off of his horse.
I saw a horse rearing…and gasped when I saw that the person on it had an alpaca beanie. It was one of my friends.
The horse, still rearing on its hind legs, lost its footing on the gravelly edge.
“Oh my god, that’s KP,” SK said behind me. “That’s KP.” Her voice sounded strange and faraway.
Before our eyes, the horse, with our friend KP still clinging desperately onto it, fell off the mountain.
No no no. Nononono.
Time slowed down.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I muttered under my breath as I watched the horse falling through the air.
And then terror gripped me as I saw KP fly off the horse.
“That’s KP,” SK repeated behind me, her voice eerily calm in the way that only deep shock can make it. “That’s KP – see her big red backpack…”
This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening.
KP hit the ground, her big red backpack making impact.
But before I could process her fall, I saw the horse come tumbling down after her.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I said again, my whole body braced, as I prayed with all my being that this huge animal would not crush my friend.
I heard SK’s sharp intake of breath as the horse tumbled down the mountain – tumbled right over KP.
* * *
There was a moment of stunned silence on the mountain.
And then everything happened at once.
PS, who had jumped off his horse earlier, ran down to KP. Or maybe he had been running the whole time…I had no idea. Luckily, he had a medical background. Some of the guides rushed over to her, too, along with a young Latino man named Walter who turned out to be a doctor in Sweden. They were several yards away from me.
I waited breathlessly for a sign of life. “Please please please…”
Her head moved. And I heard a cry of pain.
But my relief was tempered by what remained to be discovered – how bad were her injuries? The group around her tried to assess the situation, tried to figure out which body parts she was able to feel and move, but from this distance I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Everything and everybody else had come to a standstill.
I felt powerless on my horse, like a chess piece waiting to be moved by hand to find out what the next step was.
I turned around slightly to look back at SK and RohZ. We began to recap what we had just seen. What had set the horses off in a panic? Another horse had backed into her horse, right? There was so little space between horses! How lucky it was that KP hadn’t hit her head on a rock! In fact, her oversized backpack, which we had teased her about earlier for being too bulky, had protected her head and back from what could have been far, far worse… It literally saved her life.
“No tome fotos! No tome fotos!” The main horse guide was walking down the line of horses, shouting frantically. “Fotos – caballos – chhh!” He mimed a horse being frightened.
He was telling us not to take photos while on the horses…he was also implying that KP had been taking photographs, and that the sound of her camera was what spooked the horses. Was that really what happened?
Gulping, I slipped my camera into my backpack.
“No tome fotos!” The horseman repeated as he scampered down the mountain to the fallen horse, which was now standing upright at the bottom. It was grazing on some grass, but seemed a bit shaken. The horse had a big gash across the side of its face, but otherwise seemed relatively unharmed except for maybe some bruising.
Then I heard a wonderful sound – KP laughing!
“That’s a good sign, right?” SK asked. I couldn’t agree more.
Meanwhile, at the top of the mountain, the other horse guides were urging the people at the front of the horse line to continue onward, including our friend P2D2. There was nothing he could do; they wouldn’t let him hold up the line. The middle of the pack also started to move on, but since KP was in our path, SK, RohZ, Edna, and I remained seated on our horses near the bottom.
“Is she married?” Edna asked me suddenly.
“KP, is she married?”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure,” I said, flabbergasted. I couldn’t understand why Edna was asking. If she was trying to set KP up with her son, this seemed like a rather strange time to check KP’s availability…
A few of the people near KP removed her backpack and lifted her over to a flatter, more comfortable spot on the grass, bringing her closer and into clear view. The first thought I had when she was within plain sight was a very peculiar one: she looks like a movie star. During the fall, her glasses and beanie had flown off, and now her dark hair was flowing gracefully down the side of her face. A ray of sunlight shed radiance on her smile – yes, she was actually smiling – and the young doctor, Walter, was leaning over her with concern like a proper leading man. The others looked as though they were staging things, moving her backpack here, positioning her arm there. It was like they were all a part of some bizarre movie set.
This is surreal, I thought. But this isn’t a movie. And if it was, it had gone horribly off-script.
I tried to listen to what was going on. I could hear KP complaining of severe pain in her back. This was troubling. But I could also hear someone saying KP had asked if her camera was ok. This was encouraging. Someone else mentioned that KP couldn’t feel her legs at first – oh shit – but then it turned out she was only in shock and was later able to move her toes. Whew. This was turning out to be a rollercoaster ride of emotions…
Before we could figure out the situation, however, the horse guide lady ushered me, SK, RohZ, and Edna onward. We tried to linger, but we were forced to keep moving; we couldn’t block the trail. The guide tried to tell us we could stop at the next flat rest area. So with a yell from the guide, my horse began to move. Once again, I felt like a chess piece, like a knight welded to my horse as it plodded away from KP. Was she going to be ok? How far was the next rest area, anyway? Everything was such a mess…
Our horses had just started to climb up the mountain again, when RohZ began freaking out.
“I don’t want to stay on this horse! This is crazy!” he declared. “These horses aren’t stable!”
“I want to get off my horse, too!” SK said. The horse guide wasn’t having it, though. She kept trying to urge us onward in broken English.
But we had only gone up a level or two when RohZ jumped off his horse. “These horses aren’t safe!”
With some arguing, SK also managed to have someone help her off her horse. Only I remained.
“Natasha, get off your horse!!!” RohZ shouted at me.
I looked down at Estrella. She was a good horse…not all these horses were unstable, right? KP’s horse was just a fluke. Perhaps RohZ was only overreacting. Besides, there was no way I’d be able to hike this steepest part of the mountain…not after what I’d been through yesterday…my lungs would explode.
“I like my horse,” I said, petting Estrella fondly.
RohZ looked like he was going to murder me.
“Not all the horses are unstable,” I added defensively. At that moment, a nearby horse without a rider – was it PS’s horse? – suddenly slipped on the gravelly trail, its knees buckling as it struggled to regain its balance.
Needless to say, I allowed myself to be helped down from my horse.
Before SK, RohZ, and I could begin hiking up the rest of the mountain, however, PS called out to us from below. We couldn’t hear what he was saying, so he tried to use Roger’s walkie-talkie to contact one of the horse guides near us.
“We need to figure out what to do!” his voice crackled through the walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, the reception was spotty. We couldn’t make out much else.
“Come closer,” RohZ called down to PS.
“You guys come down,” PS said.
But what if we went down to talk and then had to hike all the way up this behemoth again?
“You come closer,” RohZ insisted.
Exasperated, PS walked up a little bit, and was nearly breathless by the labor of it. And he was only on one of the lower levels.
“Listen,” he called up to us. “KP needs to go to the hospital in Cusco to get checked out. Roger said one of us could come with her, so I was thinking I should. But KP says she’ll be fine. She says we should just continue the trek without her.”
I blinked with surprise and looked at SK and RohZ. Did this mean KP didn’t have very serious injuries? Could it be possible that she was only badly bruised and in need of a day or two of R&R? I hoped for her sake that this was the case…
PS retreated for a moment to check on KP while we talked it over. When he returned, a shadow had passed over his face.
“Guys,” he called. “Change of plans.”
“I went to confirm with her, but she just looked really sad, guys. I think she was just trying to act strong before. I think she is actually in a lot of pain and really needs someone with her. So at least I’m going to go with her. But maybe you guys can go on ahead…”
“Well if you’re going, then I’m coming, too,” SK called down to her husband.
“Ok, there’s a van we can hire back at the camp that could take us. So then you two can just go on ahead…”
RohZ and I looked at one another. Everything was falling apart. Perhaps KP’s brave face and good nature had masked the severity of the situation. If KP really wasn’t doing as well as we’d hoped, then she’d need all the help she could get.
“No, screw that,” RohZ said. “We’re coming with you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Hopefully we can get P2D2 to come back, too.” I wondered how far ahead he was. The rest of our trekking group had left about 20 minutes before.
Edna continued on with the horse guide and the riderless horses as SK, RohZ, and I walked down to join PS and KP. It felt good to have made a decision for ourselves instead of continuing on this treacherous chessboard.
“How are you feeling?” I asked KP as we approached her. Stupid question. She just fell off a mountain and got rolled over by a horse…
But KP smiled. “Eh.”
“You took a tumble,” SK said, shaking her head in awe. “Were you taking a picture at the time?”
“No,” KP said. “I had been a while before. But at that moment, I was just sitting on the horse, sipping my water. I have no idea why it freaked out.”
Aha. So it hadn’t been the camera that triggered the horses’ panic. And to think, the horseman had been trying to put the blame on KP!
After fussing over KP for a bit, we explained to Roger that we were all going back to Cusco with her. We asked him to have P2D2 sent down to join us.
Roger corresponded with someone through his scratchy walkie-talkie, then shook his head at us. “Sorry, my friends. P2D2 is too far ahead, now. He will not be able to make it back in time.”
“Are you sure?”
“Can you try again?”
“Can we talk to him?”
Roger shook his head. “Sorry, it is too late. But no worries. Maybe you’ll take KP to the hospital today, and she will be just fine. Maybe after rest, you all can come back tomorrow and join him.” His optimism was heartening…could that be possible? Could we all be back on track tomorrow, KP included?
Still, it felt wrong to leave P2D2 behind.
But it soon became evident that KP really did need all the help she could get.
“To return to the camp, where the van is waiting, she must get back on the horse,” Roger said.
Terror flashed in KP’s eyes.
“Are you kidding me?” RohZ cried.
“There is no other way,” Roger said. “The horseman and I will be right next to her the whole time.”
So we gathered up KP’s belongings, which were strewn haphazardly down the mountain. Her backpack was dented and deformed from the impact her body had made on it. Her glasses were nowhere to be found.
“Can you see ok?” I asked KP.
“I can see that you’re you and RohZ’s RohZ,” KP said cheerfully. But I remained unconvinced.
Then it was time for KP to get back in the saddle. Literally. That’s when it became clear that she could not move much on her own without acute pain. The boys lifted her onto the horse (this was a brand new horse, not the old fallen horse), while SK and I steadied the horse and supported KP as she settled into the saddle. The valiant smile on her face wavered and melted away into a grimace, her eyes pressed shut in agony.
SK gave KP some Excedrin to help with the pain. We thanked Walter, that good Samaritan, and said our goodbyes to him. And then the trek back to camp began.
While KP braved the horse again, the rest of us hiked the terrain we had just ridden that morning. All of a sudden, SK started to sniffle.
“Why are you crying, honey?” PS asked in alarm.
“It’s all just hitting me now,” SK said, tears slipping down her face. “It was all so unreal…but now…I can’t believe this happened to KP!”
And as soon as she said it, the reality struck me too. This was madness, all of it. PS comforted his wife while I reflected on how crazy life was. Still, I felt grateful that KP was alive and in a surprisingly decent mood.
As we walked, we recapped the series of events that had just transpired, sharing our perspectives of the harrowing fall. Halfway back to the camp, we met up with the pack animals and grabbed our duffle sacks and sleeping bags.
KP and her horse mostly trotted on ahead of us, but she tried to let us catch up a few times.
“When I tell the guide to wait for you to catch up, he says, ‘No, we have to get to the van as soon as we can’,” she murmured to us. “But when I tell him to stop because I’m in pain, he stops right away. So I just keep telling him I’m in pain.”
She said that like she wasn’t actually hurting. Which, of course, was simply not true. Every time she quietly, discreetly, squeezed her eyes shut, I could tell that she had just felt a stab of pain.
“Have you been drinking water?” I asked her, remembering how she forced me to hydrate the night before. Gosh, was that really only the night before? It felt like days ago…
KP shook her head, and RohZ handed her a bottle of water.
Finally, after nearly two hours, we made it back to the camp…and past the camp…to where a van was parked near a mountain road. Although we pleaded with Roger to have the trekking company pay for the van, given all that had happened that day, he informed us the van was not owned by the trekking company. Like the horses, the van was another third-party service that we would have to pay for ourselves.
To his credit, though, Roger negotiated in Spanish with the driver on our behalf. With our permission, he brought the original price down by agreeing for the van to pick up and transport a couple other riders to their destinations while on the way to the hospital. And then Roger offered to pay half of that amount with his own money.
My little bout of altitude sickness may not have fazed him, but KP falling off a horse down a mountain sure seemed to do the trick. It was probably the worst incident the trekking company had experienced.
KP was lying down in the van, stretched out over one row of seats. We filled the gaps around her with our backpacks and sleeping bags so that she was securely barricaded. Then the long, incredibly bumpy ride back to Cusco began.
Once again, it felt like a whole day had passed, but it was only noon! I realized that we would be missing lunch…P2D2 and the rest of the trekking group must be over the mountain – well past the mountain, now, actually – leaving their horses behind as they hiked to the rest stop for their meal. My stomach grumbled. Then I remembered that RohZ and I had both barely had any breakfast that morning, and both of us had skipped dinner the night before…we had also vomited up much of the contents of our stomachs. I searched my duffle for some snack bars but couldn’t find any, so RohZ gave me one of his, and I made him eat one, too.
“We have reception now,” Roger announced to us about an hour into the drive. “You want to call the hostel?”
SK took Roger’s cell phone and asked EcoPacker hostel if there was a room available tonight. But it was clear that the lady on the other end of the phone could not understand English very well…or perhaps the reception was bad. Either way, SK repeated herself several times, then tried to spell out KP’s name. By the time she hung up, SK looked worried. “I think I booked a room…or I tried to, anyhow. I really hope she understood me…”
For the majority of the drive, we slept. PS experienced motion sickness at one point and asked “George” if we could pull over the van for a bit (for some reason, PS kept calling Roger “George,” but we didn’t bother to correct him until later that night). My stomach felt hollow and was periodically pierced by hunger pangs. Each time the van lurched over a massive bump or screeched around a hairpin bend, I winced on behalf of KP, who must be hurting all the worse for it.
Finally – finally – after almost three hours, and after dropping off random passengers at their destinations, the van rolled up in front of the hostel.
RohZ and I unloaded all of our baggage and lugged them to the hostel lobby, where we were supposed to secure our room while PS, SK, and Roger took KP to the hospital.
“How far is the hospital from here?” I asked Roger.
“Oh, not far. A couple blocks. It’s called O2 Hospital.”
I turned to RohZ. “Great…after we settle in here, we can walk over to the hospital.”
As the van set off for O2, RohZ and I wrangled with the lady at the front desk of the hostel…she seemed to be unaware of our reservation.
“KP,” RohZ repeated yet again, spelling out her name for the umpteenth time. “We called this afternoon! You said you had a room.”
I looked at the whiteboard behind the desk, where all of the reservation names were scribbled in dry-erase marker. A name similar to KP was listed…could it be that the lady had misheard it or written it down incorrectly?
“That must be her,” I told the lady. “I think you just heard the name wrong. We booked a room.”
The lady shook her head in confusion and picked up the phone to call someone else. She had a long conversation in Spanish over the matter, while RohZ and I waited impatiently. The last thing we needed right now was to find a new hostel. EcoPackers was our home in Peru; it felt safe here. We didn’t want any more surprises.
Finally, the lady nodded to us, and we began to fill out the necessary paperwork. Then we hauled all of the backpacks, duffel bags, and sleeping bags into our room, which turned out to be a huge shared space with a loft. Some guests were stirring up in the loft area, but I couldn’t really see them, and they didn’t speak to us when we entered the room.
Once we had organized all the baggage, RohZ and I looked at each other.
“What next?” I asked. “Hospital, shower, food? Or a different order?” Another hunger pang speared my stomach. I clutched my tummy and winced.
“Shower, hospital, food,” RohZ said.
I looked down at myself and realized we were filthy, and probably smelly, from the past few days in the wilderness without washing. Might as well clean up while we were here. I nodded and headed next door to the women’s bathrooms with my things.
When I returned to the room, a winner of battle and squeaky clean to boot, a couple of guys were staring down at me from the loft.
“Oh, hello,” I said awkwardly, and we exchanged basic introductions. One of the guys was from Austria, the other from France. They had just met. “Well, nice to meet you,” I said, then ducked out of view onto a bottom-bunk bed before they could ask me any more questions.
A few minutes later, RohZ walked in, still wearing his old dirty clothes.
“You didn’t shower yet?” I asked, incredulously. “What have you been doing all this time?!”
RohZ looked sheepish. “Uhh…”
“Oh!” I said, realization dawning. “Battle?” A long, difficult battle…
RohZ nodded. “I hate these eco-friendly bathrooms. The lights kept turning off by themselves while I was trying to do battle, so I was sitting in the dark waving my arms frantically to get them to turn on again!”
I laughed. RohZ grabbed his things and headed back to the bathroom to shower. In the meantime, I used the Wi-Fi to check my phone. I hadn’t received any Facebook messages from PS or SK yet, and we didn’t have texting or calling service in Peru, so I still wasn’t sure how things were going over at the hospital. Feeling anxious, I wrote a FB message to my boyfriend back home, relaying the shocking turn of events.
Then I sorted through my bags in search of lotion. My fingers closed around a crumpled paper, which turned out to be the itinerary I had created in such elaborate detail before the trip. What had been on the docket for Day 4?
- 7:00 a.m. – Continue trek with the hardest part…hiking uphill to the highest point at 15,160 ft. (you can do it!).
False. We didn’t even hike uphill; we took horses. And we still couldn’t do it.
- 11:00ish a.m. – Reach the highest point and enjoy magnificent views, sing “Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here,” then head downhill.
Never made it to the highest point. Started from the bottom, now we’re… in Cusco.
- 1:00ish p.m. – Reach Huayracmachay, eat lunch, then continue hike
Nope, nope, nope.
- 4:30ish p.m. – Arrive at Chaullay camp; hang out or nap
Well, I guess we did nap in the van. And we arrived in Cusco, which starts with the same letter as Chaullay.
- 7:00ish p.m. – Dinner at the camp
Dinner…yes, dinner sounded good. P2D2 must be finishing up dinner at the camp right about now…he was the only one who had even remotely followed today’s itinerary. I wondered how he was doing. Was he worried, or had Walter or a guide told him what happened? Did he hate us? It must be awful to be alone in this type of situation. I hoped he had made friends with the other trek members…
RohZ soon returned to the room, ready to roll. We headed to the lobby and asked the lady at the front desk for the address of O2 hospital. This was the same lady who fumbled our hostel booking. She seemed equally confused by this simple request. After a few google searches on my phone (which turned up nothing…did O2 hospital even exist?!) and a perusal of the hostel’s map of Cusco, we finally located O2, which was actually a clinic. The lady called the clinic for us, then handed RohZ the phone.
“Is KP there? KP?” RohZ asked, spelling out her name. We seemed to be doing a lot of spelling around here. “No? Are you sure?”
He looked at me in panic. I raised my eyebrows…if this wasn’t the right O2, then I didn’t know what was.
RohZ tried a different tack. “Can you check again, please? KP. Horse. She fell off a horse.”
After a pause, RohZ thanked them and hung up. “That worked…they were like, ‘Oh yeah, the horse girl!’ So she’s there. It’s the right place.”
But then we realized that the O2 clinic was not within short walking distance after all. It was way across town; we would have to take a cab.
At this point, I felt like I was going to faint from hunger. We had been pretty active these past couple of days, what with all the hiking and horseback riding. But since lunch time yesterday, I had only eaten crackers last night, some bread this morning, and snack bars this afternoon. Now, it was dark outside.
“Can we eat first?” I asked, clutching my stomach miserably. RohZ nodded. He must have been in a similar boat, though he claimed he couldn’t tell if he was hungry or nauseous.
We found an Italian place nearby where we could carb-load. RohZ had bad pasta and I had mediocre gnocchi. We obtained the Wi-Fi password, and RohZ discovered that SK had been trying to message us from the hospital via WhatsApp and Facebook just minutes before! RohZ immediately began to type back, asking about KP’s status. But we got no response.
“She must be out of Wi-Fi range now,” RohZ said gloomily. “Damnit, I should’ve asked the O2 lady about KP’s condition while I had her on the phone!”
We tried to decide if we should take a cab to O2 from the restaurant, or if we should go back to the hostel first.
“Since we can’t get ahold of SK and PS, let’s stop by the hostel real quick in case they’re there,” I said. “And if they’re not, we can leave a note for them at the front desk, just in case they’re on their way back while we’re heading to O2.”
But as we made our way to our hostel room, discussing the situation, a voice called out from the window of the women’s bathrooms.
“RohZ? Natasha? Is that you?”
RohZ and I halted in our tracks.
“I thought I heard your voices!” she shouted. “We were afraid that you had already left for O2! KP’s just getting some rest now. We can all go back and visit in a couple of hours.”
Relieved to be on the same page as our friends – communication was hard in Peru! – RohZ and I went to meet PS in the hostel room, and SK joined us soon after. PS and SK filled us in on what had happened over at O2.
“They did x-rays on KP,” SK told us. “But they started at the ankle and worked their way up.”
“The ankle!” PS repeated in disgust. “When the whole time, she had been complaining of pain in her back!”
“And then after the first batch of x-rays, they were like, ‘Good news! Her ankle is fine!’” SK shook her head. “No duh, geniuses, she fell on her back!”
“The x-rays didn’t show much, though they did show the foot fracture she had from years ago,” PS said. “But if KP’s condition doesn’t improve by tomorrow, the doctor will give her a CT scan in the afternoon just to be sure.”
“Roger was actually really helpful, though. He stayed with us through the x-rays and helped translate.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure about Roger yesterday when he didn’t check on people during the hike, and he seemed unconcerned about everyone’s altitude sickness. But Roger really redeemed himself today.”
“You mean ‘George’?” we teased PS.
Roger was taking an early train the next morning to meet up with the rest of our trekking group. Now the question was, what was our plan for tomorrow?
We discussed our options at Morena Café as PS and SK ate their dinner…although SK barely touched her sandwich. Her tummy wasn’t feeling so good.
At first, things looked pretty bleak. It was clear now that KP needed to stay put at the clinic until her flight home; she definitely was not well enough to see Machu Picchu. PS and SK thought their trip was also effectively over. But they encouraged RohZ and me to take the train tomorrow into Aguas Calientes, where a paid hostel awaited us for the night before Machu Picchu, so that we could meet up with P2D2 at the end of his trek. Then PS thought that it depended on the CT scan…if the scan didn’t show any serious injuries, maybe PS and SK could come to Aguas Calientes with me and RohZ. But the CT scan wouldn’t be until the afternoon, so we would have to take a late train. Finally, we decided that we couldn’t come to any decision until we talked to KP.
After a 15-minute cab ride, we arrived at O2. It was a small clinic with strange, psychedelic artwork depicting half-naked people and random animals. What kind of hippies ran this place?
We barged into KP’s room as though we owned the joint and settled into some seats. KP was in good spirits – she had some powerful drugs flowing through her veins to help kill the pain. She had also learned how to get the nurses to do her bidding – namely, taking her phone out into the hallway (where the Wi-Fi was strongest) and pressing ‘send’ to transmit her emails.
Once again, we all recapped the day – had the horse incident really only been this morning? – and we were even able to crack some jokes. KP looked at us with a loopy grin and asked us to take a selfie with her in the hospital bed. Ok, these drugs were officially awesome.
We speculated for a bit on P2D2’s situation.
“P2D2 is pretty happy-go-lucky; I’m hoping he’s ok,” SK said.
“He is pretty happy-go lucky…” KP mused.
I nodded. “But still…he has no idea what’s going on with KP. And he’s alone with strangers in the middle of nowhere…”
“Maybe he became really close with those NY girls, if you know what I mean,” PS said, and we all chuckled.
“I really hope those girls took him under their wing,” SK said seriously. “What if he got sick? We have all the meds with us – the altitude pills, the Excedrin, the Neosporin!”
“Watch, the next time we see P2D2, he’ll be like, ‘Mannnn, you guys missed out. This trek was sooo awesome’,” RohZ said, doing his best P2D2 impression, which was actually pretty good.
“I really hope so,” I said, guilt still gnawing at my gut.
After SK ducked into the bathroom (her turbulent tummy got the better of her), it was time to discuss details. Having consulted with friends in the U.S. via email, KP was considering taking an early flight home, but we tried to convince her to rest and just wait until our scheduled flight so that we could all be there to support her. Then we addressed the plan for the next day.
“You guys should go meet P2D2 in Aguas Calientes tomorrow and see Machu Picchu on Friday,” KP said. “What are you going to do here? I’m just going to be resting. And I’m surrounded by doctors.”
“I don’t know…” PS said. “You told us this morning to continue the trek without you, but you didn’t really mean it. And you really did need us. Don’t try to act strong, KP! We want to be here if you need us.”
“I’ll be fine,” KP said. “I promise!”
We looked at her skeptically.
“I promise!” she insisted again.
But we weren’t completely convinced.
“We’ll see how you feel tomorrow morning,” SK said.
There was a soft knock at the door, and a clinic staffer poked his head in timidly. “Everything is ok?” he asked. “Shall I call you a cab?”
We looked at the time; it was almost 11:30.
“Yes, please,” we agreed.
“That was a gentle way of kicking us out,” SK remarked.
We said our goodbyes to KP, who gave us a list of things to bring her in the morning. Then we headed back home to the hostel.
As I tucked myself into bed that night, a wave of exhaustion washed over me, and I became submerged in hazy images of horses and mountains…and a cloud, a big cloud of uncertainty looming in the distance. Who knew what tomorrow would bring?
Or start from the beginning: