The last two days have been all Inca ruins, one glorious hike, and my cold taking a turn for the horrible. To begin at the end, I am feeling pretty gross. My mom gave me some Dominican cold medicine that she laughingly told me would either kill me or make me better. It can’t help that on today’s adventures I inhaled like maybe a fourth-grade classroom’s yearly supply of chalk. I feel a little like an elephant is sitting on my chest.
Yesterday we saw the ruins at Ollantaytambo, which were a religious complex as well as a fortress. Today we saw Maras (a picturesque little town that is pretty much unchanged since colonial times), Moray (an Inca agricultural experimentation station), and Salineras (a really weird-looking collection of salt harvesting pools from which a local community makes its living). All great, wonderful, etc.
But what I really want to remember is this hike I took yesterday. It’s supposed to be a 5-6 hour hike, but I just wanted a little walk to prep my legs for Machu Picchu. If you follow the trail (one of many Inca Trails) to the suggested end, it leads to a series of Inca Quarries and (an?) Intypunku. I decided to hike up for a while and then turn back whenever I started to feel tired. For the first hour, the hike follows the course of the Urubamba river, which is a shade of aqua I don’t think i’ve ever seen before in a river, as it snakes down the valley between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Except for a couple of farmers and two other hikers, I didn’t see anyone else the entire two hours I was up there, which is CRAY because the view was so beautiful that I kept thinking “SHIT!” (articulate!) every time I climbed to a new vantage point. And climb I did…like 400 or 500 meters, judging by how much higher I was than the ruins of Ollantaytmabo across the Valley. Far below me was this bucolic landscape of farms and villages and the railway line that follows the river. The mountains that rise up from that valley floor are practically vertical and covered in dry, goldish grasses and scrub. The rock beneath the thin soil is pink granite. It’s a harsh, semi-arid landscape. The sun is so strong up here! I actually got a sunburn for the first time in years…mostly on my scalp. It was incredibly hot and at the same time, a strong, cold breeze was always blowing, so that I was sweaty and cold at once. Off in the distance, I could see the snow-covered peaks of the Veronica mountains, the tops of which seem to be permanently ringed in filmy, white clouds. I passed a stand of eucalyptus trees, and it reminded me so much of being 20 and walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain… I don’t want to be corny, but the combination of possible oxygen deprivation and memory and the view turned the hike into this sublime, weirdly affecting experience. There came a point when I knew that I should turn around because my head had started aching and I was so cold and sweaty, but I couldn’t stop walking because the idea that I would have to stop looking at what I was looking at–and that I might never see it again afterwards–was unbearable. So I kept going. Finally, the trail took a turn away from the river, and there was this promontory where it was unbelievably windy. So much so that the government or someone had actually put up a covered shelter. I didn’t sit in there obviously. I sat on a big rock (maybe it was one of the ones the Inca famously left behind; Ollantaytambo wasn’t finished at the time the Spaniards conquered the Inca) getting buffeted by the wind at the edge of this precipice. It almost felt like that time I went skydiving, the landscape was so vertical. I was really worried that I was going to start crying, and then I would be one of those people, but thankfully it turns out I am not one of those people. Finally, I decided to go back down.
I mean, is this what made my cold so horrible? Possibly. Am I sorry? Not really.