When I decided I needed to see Machu Picchu I never knew it would break me. Both figuratively and literally.
Ill and with two fingers pointing the wrong way, I’d managed to make it back to the beginning of the Inca Trail and figured my ordeal would soon be over. Once we realized the tiny town at the gate to the trail was both dark and empty, my worries began to amplify. The nearest town was nearly an hour’s drive away and there were roadblocks. As the hours passed while we tried to come up with a solution to our predicament, it began to get darker.
A four hour walk in the dark and cold was quickly becoming our only option when the porter managed to flag down a man on a motorbike. Hearing the name of the closest town being mentioned, I waved a handful of Peruvian soles at the man with a smile. Ten minutes later he was back with a friend and I was on the back of his bike. With one major problem: I couldn’t hold on.
Nightmare After Nightmare in Peru
Clasping my hands together around his waist was impossible with broken fingers. I tried grabbing at my wrist with my one good hand but the hold was weak and the road bumpy. As we sat there deliberating, one of the gate guards came out with a roll of duct tape and I soon found myself with my arms taped around a man I had known for fifteen minutes.
I tried to console myself that this would be funny one day in the future.
We set off at a breakneck speed down gravel roads, often with my eyes closed so I would not see my impending death. At several points we had to get off the bikes to walk them up tiny ledges around huge roadblocks of boulders. At others, we raced over dirt and sand traps set out by the locals, who yelled and threw rocks at us for ignoring them. As full dark set in, we reached the town just as it began to rain.
Dragging me around the small town square by my good hand, the porter attempted to search out a doctor only to find out it would be another day or two before I could seek medical attention. The whole town and several others were shut down with the strike.
Everything Was Closed and the Riots Were Underway
I checked into a hotel and fell asleep aided by some dubious painkillers the landlady hastily provided me after taking in my mangled hand.
I spent the next day trying to book a train ticket out of the town to Machu Picchu or even back to Cusco but both PeruRail and IncaRail had shut their websites down for the strike. They opened their offices in town later that night, resulting in hundreds of stranded tourists and locals lining up for hours in the cold to get a ticket. After two hours they shut the lights off and made an announcement that we should go home with no tickets.
I headed back to town as furious, stressed people began to riot and throw bottles.
As I made my way back to town, businesses began to open. The strike wasn’t technically over but locals seemed to be losing the energy to maintain it as they lost business. I stopped in the pharmacy to see about finding painkillers and the pharmacist informed me my fingers were broken, as if I hadn’t noticed. With an estimated twenty more hours before I’d be able to see a doctor, he offered to reset and bind them. Knowing that the alternative wasn’t great, I nodded, handed him my left hand and laid my head on the counter while he went to work.
It was two of the worst minutes of my life. I went back to the hotel after and half-hysterically typed frantic one handed emails to friends and family about how I wanted to quit and go home before passing out exhausted next to my newly bandaged hand.
Finally Making it to Machu Picchu
When I awoke, the trains out of town were finally running. I bought a ticket and sat down to wait for my train. The road had been rough, but I would make it to Machu Picchu. That was some accomplishment. My scheduled departure came and went. We were told a train had derailed. Then a passenger had died on a train. That the train had left and was on its way to us. That no trains were going to Machu Picchu today. None of the information made sense and with each lie and hour that passed, people became incensed.
A friend waiting for me at the Machu Picchu station sent a text to say no trains had left to come get us in several hours. When I relayed that information to the crowd, fights broke out between the rail personnel and the frantic stranded tourists. I bought a bottle of wine and tried not to think of dying in some middle of nowhere Peruvian town.
Almost twelve hours after I had been scheduled to depart on the train, it finally pulled into the station just as a riot was beginning to form again. Shivering, exhausted and in pain, I threw myself into the first carriage I could, refusing to get up and find my actual ticketed seat. They wisely chose not to press the issue. Ninety minutes later we arrived in Machu Picchu Town in the dead of the night. I fell into my bed for a restless few hours of sleep before getting up at dawn to make my way to Machu Picchu.
As I took in the ancient city, I couldn’t decide if I was overwhelmed or underwhelmed with it. On the one hand, after all of the trauma and stress I had endured to make it here, it felt so lackluster. On the other, despite everything, I had persevered and made it here because I said I would. I hadn’t given up, and this was the sweet cherry on top.
In the end, I decided to just accept it for what it was. I took the typical tourist picture in front of it, bandaged hand held high so I’ll always remember the struggle I had to get there.