Salkantay + Machu Picchu trek / 7 days / April 29 to May 5, 2016 / Alpaca Expeditions
We’d booked a group trip but no one else signed up for the seven day trek so it ended up being a private trip!
Wayllabamba – Llulluchapampa

Day four of the trek started about 2 o’clock in the morning. No, not because we needed to start early. My sister was the one who shook me awake. I rolled over sleepily…and I quickly saw what the matter was. Since yesterday, Danyèle’s lower lip had been swollen. Now, it was practically three or four times its normal size! I poked at it but it didn’t hurt her so I calmly said something to the effect that there was nothing we could do about it right now and we’d talk to Juan Carlos at sunrise. I rolled back over, visions of exploding lips dancing in my mind. Poor Danyèle.

Waking up again just after 5am, I crawled out of the tent looking for our guide. I could tell Juan Carlos, like me, was torn between sympathy, concern, and hilarity. He, too, poked at my sister’s lip. He and I mused over the possibilities – could it be a bite? Could something have laid an egg or burrowed into her lip? Was it sunburn? We didn’t know so after breakfast, we went over to the medical centre. Thank goodness this medical emergency happened in Wayllabamba, where there was a doctor easily accessible!

We spent about 40 minutes with the doctor who ultimately said Danyèle’s lip was swollen due to a combination of the cold weather from our first days of hiking and sunburn. I didn’t get this problem because my chap stick had SPF. She ended up prescribing anti-inflammatory pills and cream and gave my sister a pile of gauze with which to cover her lip. Surprisingly enough, all of those things plus the consultation was only 40/soles!

We were finally on our way by 8:15. The extra sucky thing for my sister was that we were now amongst people. If this had happened earlier (ignoring the fact that there would have been no doctor), she could have wandered around with a bright white piece of wet gauze hanging over a lip slathered in anti-inflammatory cream without a care in the world. Not so much now that we were on the actual Inca Trail…

I eventually lost Danyèle as I forged on ahead. No, I wasn’t embarrassed by her lip – we had different paces, I swear. The walk was steep and then steeper. The trail itself started off as rocks and dirt but then turned into actual steps, many original to Incan times. Some were small and worn, others were pretty big. It was exhausting. It didn’t help that the vegetation did not always provide shade so the trail was exposed in parts – and it was hot. I tried to remember to look around – roses, bromeliads, weirdly shaped trees, shade filled forests, bubbling streams, and mountains.

There were two sets of people into whom I periodically bumped. The first, and more important, were the porters. While sometimes I leapfrogged them when they took breaks, they mostly blew right past me and all I could do was watch them go in admiration of their strength. Seeing some of them, though, was a visual reminder of the importance in choosing a reputable company for this trek. Not all porters were fortunate to be employed by those who cared enough to equip them with appropriate trekking and porting gear. So any time I wanted to grumble about the heat or yet another uphill of stairs, I reminded myself that at least I chose to come here and didn’t have to do this trail as a job.

The second group of people I saw were my fellow trekkers. Those on their own with their guide or in tiny groups with a guide were nice – they would say hi or we’d exchange looks of “oh look – more stairs”. The big groups, however, were quite frankly, obnoxious. There was no trail friendliness or human politeness. They would also stand or sit in the way of those wanting to pass along the trail. Thankfully, I did not run into many groups and I was mostly on my own.

As I was rounding yet another corner of sun dappled stairs, I heard my name behind me. Juan Carlos had caught up to me – he said my sister was about forty minutes behind and that he was going back for her. And apparently, I was very close to the lunch spot – thank goodness.

The porters gave me a very awkward ovation when I arrived. I wished I was able to communicate with them beyond a nod and smile but I spoke no Quechua and my brain was too tired to dredge up Spanish. I sat on a tarp using my jacket as shade for over an hour before the other two appeared. At that point, all I wanted was lunch!

Due to our late start, we ended up eating later than usual – as such, Juan Carlos made the decision that our lunch spot would double as our camping spot. We were disappointed but at the same time, I was happy to not have to climb a mountain pass in the hot afternoon sun.

I puttered around for the rest of the afternoon, wandering the campsites that were mostly empty. I didn’t go far as the trail was either uphill or downhill. From our camp, we had a great view of the deep valleys from which we came today and of snow-capped mountains in the distance. I even saw a couple of llamas. I also took a look at the trail we are to follow tomorrow – it went up and up and up until it reached a pass marked by a rocky outcrop that looked like a woman’s breast, the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass.

Hopefully, it won’t be prophetic.