Just 10 days before our date with the Inca Trail, I busted my ankle. This ain’t good, my friends. I’m gonna need that ankle! Hiking the Inca Trail is not a trivial pursuit. It’s four straight days of hiking on the steep and rocky mountain passageways once traveled by the Inca people. For three of our nights we will sleep in tents on mountain clearings beneath the same stars the Incas once worshipped. At the end of our hike we will see the sun rise on Machu Picchu.
At least, that’s the plan. For Pachacuti’s sake, I need that ankle!
30 Hours to Lima by Bus
The third stop of our round the world trip is Peru, the next country south from Ecuador. To get there we decided to forego the speed and luxury of flying and try out a 30 hour bus ride. Jessica was VERY apprehensive about this prospect. Totally understandable, after all, this would be the 20th bus ride of our trip (so far). Some of those 20 bus rides weren’t so bad, but a few of them were downright painful.
We’d heard from several fellow travelers that Cruz del Sur is the bus company to go with. Furthermore, it was recommended that we spend the extra money to upgrade to VIP service. VIP? That’s gotta be for us. The regular bus ticket from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Peru was about $60. Just $30 more would give us that upgrade we so richly deserved. Compared to the $500 (each) plane ride either price seemed like chump change.
As we entered the bus and walked down the aisle to our seats, I kept an eye on Jessica’s face. Would she hate it? But just then a shaft of light beamed down upon us and a heavenly choir took to song. Jessica slid into her seat, practically a Laz-e-Boy recliner, and smiled. The bus was fabulous! This 30 hour ride wouldn’t be bad at all…and it wasn’t. In a very real way, it forced us to slow down a bit and enjoy being still for a change.
A Little Help From Our New Friends
Sometimes the best part of traveling has little to do with the place you are visiting and everything to do with the people you meet while there. So it was for us in Lima. We want to give the highest of thanks to the Gutierrez-Leon family, our wonderful hosts for our time in Lima. They picked us up from the bus terminal and introduced us to historic Lima during the drive to their home in the eastern suburbs of Lima proper. That was just for starters. They had no idea what they’d signed up for.
We’d arrived to Lima on Saturday. Just as I do upon arriving in any new city, I immediately scouted the area for Ultimate. To my delight, the local Ultimate team held their weekly practices the following day (Sunday)…and not too far from where we were staying. I touched base with (Fred Burke) one of the organizers and he enthusiastically invited me to join. It would be my first time to play Ultimate since beginning our travels, so obviously I was super stoked!
The team welcomed me warmly and practice commenced, led by a American/Canadian named Sean Harkins. We ran through a few good drills and then started playing a game of 5 on 5. The outdoor field was artificial turf and remarkably great to play on. A small chunk of the field was being used by a couple of soccer teams so our field was not full-size, but nearly so.
I was feeling great, having tons of fun, and playing my usual awesome game when it all went to the crapper in one faulty step. I was defending a deep throw and just about to leap up to make a smokin’ D, when my jump-foot planted on top of the receiver’s causing my foot to roll completely onto its side. I felt the disgusting wrench of tendons and ligaments being stretched beyond their limits. Immediately I knew this was no minor injury. My first thought, “I’m done.” The pain was sharp. I winced and rolled on the ground for a few minutes before getting some help off the field.
The story of my injury is not all bad. Jessica was videoing the play with her camera and caught the whole thing. How great is that?!
There Is A Doctor in the House
Turns out that my extreme misfortune was encased in a whole lot of good fortune. Luz Gutierrez, the mom of our host family, is not just a helluva nice woman, but also a family doctor. After the game, we kept to our standing plan of eating ceviche and drinking Pisco Sours with the family at one of their favorite restaurants. My busted ankle surely felt better once my belly was full of classic Peruvian ceviche and my head vaguely imbued with Peru’s national drink. (The ice applied to my ankle and the ibuprofen I took probably helped, too.)
By the time dinner wrapped up evening was upon us. The family showed us around Peru’s historic district by foot (the main plaza and the president’s residence, etc) and took us for a stroll through one of the downtown parks. It was Sunday night, but it was a street party, too. Throngs of people swirled through the space, stopping to watch street entertainers, or posing for photos. And eating, eating, eating. Every few feet there was a vendor selling everything from rice pudding to cuy (guinea pig) to “picarones” -Lima’s version of the funnel cake.
During our walk I was limping along but mostly able to keep up with everyone else. Though stepping up or down curbs was especially difficult. It was becoming clear that I should probably get my ankle x-rayed.
Midnight in a Strange Place
What I had was probably just a severe sprain, but if there was a break or tear somewhere beneath the swollen skin’s surface, and it went untreated…it could seriously jeopardize so much of our travel plans.
Early in her career, my Peruvian mom worked at a particular medical clinic close to the center of Lima. She knew their service would be relatively good and reasonably fast so it was to this clinic that they took me even though by this time it was about 10:30 pm. So weird to find myself sitting in a wheelchair inside a Peruvian medical clinic on a Sunday night. I’m looking around the place thinking, how the hell did I get here?!
I got x-rayed right away but it took about an hour and a half for me to see a doctor. He was an older gent who didn’t seem phased in the least at finding a bum-footed gringo in his clinic that Sunday just as the clock was calling for midnight. He’d already seen it all, I suppose. Almost reflexively, his recommendation was to throw a cast on it. And not one of those cool, air-pump, walking casts. No, he was old-school all the way. His assistant appeared with a tub of water and rolls of plaster-infused fabric. The doctor gently dipped a roll into the water and then proceeded to wrap my foot and ankle like a grade school art-project. One wet roll of plaster circled on, then a second. In just 5 minutes it was dry and I was encased.
By the time Ramiro (the dad) and Luz carted Jessica and me back to their home it was close to 1:30 in the morning. They both worked the next day. My goodness, they were doing so much for us hapless gringos; all with splendid good humor and grace.
Cucharas, Nerviosos and Guacamole
One evening after dinner with the Gutierrez-Leon family, Jessica suggested a friendly game of Spoons. You know, the card game where spoons are placed in the middle of the table, one of which will be grabbed by whomever gathers four-of-a-kind first. Once one spoon is taken, it’s a free-for-all grab of all remaining spoons. Since the game is started with one less spoon than the number of players, someone gets the boot each round. We played a couple of games of spoons and laughed and smiled throughout. Jessica (of course) ended up the Spoons champ.
It was then our turn to learn a new card game. Nerviosos, it’s called (best translation: Nervous Ones). It’s a simple game, but a bit challenging to describe. Suffice it to say that you have to be quick, but not so anxious about being quick that you jump-the-gun; that will cost you as much as being the slowest. It’s a fun family game we can’t wait to bring back to the states.
Our last night with the family, Jessica and I insisted on cooking the family meal. We attempted enchiladas, but fell a bit short regarding the sauce (just not that tasty). We did manage to score a big success with our guacamole. Who knew avocados, onions, tomatoes, lime juice, and salt & pepper could impress so throughly?
For dessert, Jessica made her delicious crustless apple pie and served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. BAM! Another big hit was scored!
Wrecked Ankle Wrecks Plans
Aside from food and games with the family, not much happened during our days in Lima. I was laid up with my foot elevated and Jessica was pressed into take-care-of-Gary mode. Canceled were the next two major stops on the Peru portion of our journey- Arequipa and Lake Titicaca. Postponed, really. We hope to still make those destinations, but it will now have to come after Machu Picchu, not before.
Among the changes we attempted to make was a postponement of our hike of the Inca Trail. It was coming up in just 10 days. I needed more time to heal before tackling such grueling hike. No can do, we learned… changes were NOT POSSIBLE under any circumstances. Everything about the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu is strictly and tightly controlled by the government. When the tour companies say they can’t do anything, it is truly because they can’t.
Ready or not, we had to hike it as scheduled. After 5 days of bumbling around (and breaking stuff) in Lima, we thanked our host family as profusely as possible and then boarded a flight to Cusco– gateway city to Machu Pichu. The doctor prescribed that my cast stay on for a minimum of 20 days. For me to hike, it would have to come off in 9. Hopefully, the 9 day rest would be sufficient for proper healing to take hold.
Cusco, Navel of the World
We love Cusco! It’s a vibrant city with such a happy vibe. Still with the cast on my foot, our ability to get around Cusco was sorely compromised. Though, we did manage a city tour on one of those open-decked buses. That was cool. We also visited the Inca Museum. Interesting, but lacking in many key ways, like only half of the exhibits had placards in both Spanish and English. Some exhibits had neither. Anyway, we were happy to be out and doing as much as we could with me on crutches.
Jessica stands with Chief Pachacuti, the 9th Incan leader and the one for whom Machu Picchu was built.
Cusco is really an amazing place. The streets, sidewalks and public plazas are perpetually filled with people and more people. Many are locals, or course, but it’s obvious that thousands are foreigners from all over the world. The name Cusco is derived from the Chechwa word Qosqo, which means navel. So named by the Incas because it was the center of their empire. Prophetic, it seems to me, since Cusco has become such a lively gathering place for people from all parts of the world….collecting themselves in Cusco like lint in a belly button.
A random and colorful parade crossed our path so Jessica snapped a couple of photos.
Since arriving in Cusco, both Jessica and I have experienced a bit of altitude sickness. Not surprising since we’re hovering at around 12,000 feet. Need air, please! Nothing to worry about and good to go through it and survive before starting our hike of the Inca Trail. Now, let’s just hope my ankle and Jessica’s knee can survive, too.
I am publishing this post on the even of our Inca Trail hike. My cast came off yesterday. Honestly, my ankle didn’t look so hot. And walking on it was more difficult than I expected…especially at first. But the more I walked on it the more flexible and less painful it became. I think I can do it. I will tape it up tight and wear an ankle brace. Jessica will be wearing her knee brace, too.
Wish us both luck, friends. My next post will report if we made it or not. Don’t go away.