Covered in a blue plastic poncho, I climbed at high altitudes reaching over 16,000 feet. The rain plummeted upon the earth, as I trudged through the mud and mule feces that blended together to create the Inca Trail in Ecuador. The rain became hail; the poncho ripped in half and left me cold and wet to confront Mother Nature without protection. Clouds swirled into an acid-like journey. I asked, “Are the mountains normally dancing and swirling in circular motion?” I was reminded to focus on the path. To keep me from cascading into the acid-induced scenery, I sipped some bottled water and kept my eyes focused upon the trail. I had labored breathing from lack of oxygen. The path disappeared as we climbed higher. I stepped upon the grassy plants that cover the mountainside. The landscape was rough, stalk patchwork, a sea of amber weeds that clung to the mountain and fought the wind each day to survive. I was told there was another five hours before camp was within sight. Maintaining a steady pace became more challenging as the ascent increased.
Altitude sickness might not have been so bad if I had not spend the previous few days in Chimbarazo dehydrated from diarrhea. Chimbarazo left me weak, but I was determined to make it through the Inca Trail to see the splendor of the volcanoes that splattered the ridgeline of the Andes. The fight to the top was a battle for inner strength. The struggle to the top was finally achieved but the view was stunted. I looked out to find a giant wall of white clouds. The volcanoes were there in the distance, but the white walls of swirling mist identified a deep void of disappointment. I felt unrewarded for the accomplishment. But regardless of the cloud cover, the sky was blue and the volcanoes were a prominent force of nature (even if I could not see it for myself).
The trek to camp became less impressive; mud jumped up toward my knees. The path was swallowed by swampland. The amount of energy it took to heave my foot from one unstable swampy plant to the next was excessive. Unbalanced and wavering with each step, I trudged on to no avail. The eight-hour trek that day felt like a never-ending battle between the forces of nature and my short, quivering legs. Where was the mule to carry me? The camp was near the lake, the guide mentioned. The lake was in view as we struggled through the canyon and into the valley below. Two hours later, the lake was still in the distance; the campsite was not even visible. I sat down for a break. My legs were numb from exertion and my feet felt like fifty-pound blocks of cement. I was ready to give up. I felt defeated.
The travel agent who replied to my question regarding level of difficulty was severely mistaken when she informed me, “As long as you can walk for 20 minutes without falling over, you will be just fine!” There was no possible way she was speaking from experience!
My fellow traveler, Blair, encouraged me to keep moving when he noticed I had slumped to the ground. As Blair suffered from blisters, he said, “You will laugh about this one day”. I finally found a shred of strength and picked my tired, dead ass off the drenched muddy path and kept moving forward.
That evening, the campsite was set up next to the Inca Ruins and piles of donkey crap, similar to the mud and poop that blended on the path that became a river of brown slop from the rains. I sat next to a British guy, Tony, who took a deep breath and said, “Whew” as the noxious fumes overcame us. I asked, “Got a whiff of the pooh?” He replied, “No, it’s me socks!” as he took off his shoes to relax.