Excerpt 6: Altitude sickness at Machu Picchu!

Trekking for four days to Machu Picchu with a group of strangers was one of the highlights of my travelling days in South America. Every time I go for a walk in the Andalucian mountains I think back to the hike I did to get to one of the marvels of the world. Here's the 6th excerpt from my book. It's on the final day of the battering trek when we reach the famous Huayna Picchu mound and I realise I've got altitude sickness. 

Didn't see any Lamas on my trip!
Photo by neilspicys
Getting up at 4am was a struggle, especially after a few beers. I felt knackered, dizzy, and sick. I put it down to the early start and lack of sleep and tried to shrug it off. Machu Picchu waited.
Chaos formed on the final walk; at least two hundred trekkers rushed to arrive at the Sun Gate for sun rise and see Machu Picchu light up. It was still dark, so we were hoping for a clear day, but when we arrived at the Sun Gate thick cloud blocked what was supposed to be one of the best views. It wasn’t to be.
As we ploughed on, a long trail of tired trekkers followed behind. As we approached the ruins, the cloud started to lift and a familiar mound Huayna Picchu - or young peak in Quechua – stood in the distance. I felt relieved we’d arrived.
I turned and smiled at Andre, who grinned back. Victor and Carla noticed we’d arrived. Everyone was beaming.
“Look at that,” I said as we stood on a ledge over the ruins. “We’ve made it.” Machu Picchu stood in full glory, and we’d even beaten the French.
The four of us posed for photos with Harry, he’d done well for a little guy, and I thought back to my auntie. 
The site was massive and there was so much to see. Huayna Picchu, the dark mound in the centre, was hypnotic, especially with the wispy clouds racing round. I stood staring for some time before Javi gave us a guided tour. He explained that the site divided into three main parts, the Priest and Noble District, for priests and royalty, the Popular District for the lower class people, and the Sacred District dedicated to the Sun God. The three parts were separated into different sections of terraced ruins sitting on the grassy floor. We followed Javi round, stopping to look out over the valley or at other sections of the Inca Empire.
Then my climax came to a sharp end. I started to feel faint. Javi was doing an excellent job, but my attention span was fading along with my vision. My back started to ache and I felt spaced out. My body was rebelling against the overnight journeys, lack of sleep, and late night drinking sessions.
I forced myself through Javi’s two hour guided tour, but by the end I felt totally drained. Most of the group were knackered too, and everyone, even the French, declined the option of walking up Huayna Picchu. It was an anticlimax after such a long trip, but our bodies couldn’t take anymore. We just wanted food and to get back to Cusco. It wasn’t going to be that easy though.
We caught a bus down to Aguascalientes; a Machu Picchu souvenir town appropriately named for its natural hot springs, and were in a restaurant when Javi dropped the bad news.
“Sorry to stop your fun guys,” he said, “but we have a bit of a problem.”
“What, no meat?” said Ted.
“No, worse,” said Javi. “There has been a landslide and the train track going back to Cusco is blocked. We have to wait until the morning. Go and find some accommodation before the other trekkers find out.” Mutters and moans followed as everyone disappeared. I stayed with Javi. My vision became blurred and my back ached more I sat with my head in my hands.
“I think you may have altitude sickness,” said Javi.
“You reckon?” I said.
“Yeah, don’t worry. You just need food, water, and a good sleep. No beer. You’ll be okay tomorrow.” I felt terrible.

“You missed a big night,” said Ted as we waited for the train back to Cusco the next morning.
“I thought as much, I was out of it though, I slept for almost fifteen hours.” I’d missed the final party in the bars in Aguascalientes, but I was revitalised.
Back in Cusco we all said our goodbyes, (apart from the French), swapped emails (even Ted and Borne did, apparently they’d been seen sharing a pint), and I thanked Javi for the excellent tour.
“It was a pleasure,” he said as we hugged. “Take it easy next time, not so much beer, you crazy English.”
I considered seeing more of Peru, but anything after Machu Picchu would have been an anticlimax. The trek had been an adventure and my confidence had grown. Seeing where the Incas had lived had been interesting, but the highlight had been hiking with people from all around the world.
The trek had taken one more day than I’d expected, so I needed to cut back somewhere. I had to get a move on. That evening I jumped on a bus heading for Lake Titicaca.

If you like this excerpt then check out my book page for more excerpts and details on how you can get a copy of Teaching English in a Foreign Land, which had over 300 downloads last month on amazon.co.uk. 

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