Anyone who claims they know me a decent amount should know that I have been a tad drawn to this wonder for nearly 4 years now. It all goes back to a Graham Hancock documentary I watched in 6th form; I can’t really remember much other than watching it and realising I had neither the faintest idea what it was and nor even a vague understanding of South American ancient history. In fact it wasn’t until I wondered round the Machu Picchu museum one Saturday afternoon that I learnt anything substantial about the place. All I knew was that it was clearly a big deal and yet is still shrouded in mystery, and that’s all that mattered. I wanted to go, therefore I had to go.
And then finally on the 1st July 2013, I did just that: I walked through the ticket gates and saw for myself that iconic picture of the so-called 6th wonder of the world, and holy moly was it spectacular. I know it’s cliché to say, but pictures really do not do it any justice. First of all, the place is humongous; Wayna Picchu – the “little” peak – is not very little, and it will take you a good hour or so to make your way round the entire complex. My favourite part of it all is the fact that this is one of very few Incan territories that the Spanish weren’t able to find, and therefore were unable to ruin and turn Christian. The crafty Incas destroyed the trail and the place was left for nature to inhabit until Bingham stumbled upon it accidentally in 1911, 5 centuries later. After our guide captivated us with the theories and stories behind it’s location and purpose, we were left to roam free around the site. I was supposed to climb Wayna Picchu but was feeling a little worse for ware, so instead thought it would be better to soak in my surroundings rather than huff and puff up another peak (which apparently isn’t really worth the scramble). So I wondered round, had some questionable staff members invade my personal space, was entertained by a delightful baby llama skipping along the terraces, before deciding to rest in the blistering heat and fill out my travel journal. All in all, it was beautiful start to the day.
And then it all turned a bit sour. From that morning I wasn’t feeling great, but convinced myself I was just very hungry and low on energy. 10 minutes spent with my head hanging over a toilet bowl and I soon realised this sadly was not the case and nor was it the end of the whole charade. The next 4 hours (the time it took to get from Aguas Calientes to central Cusco) were horrific; my temperature kept increasing and my fever was getting worse, all the while my stomach was churning as our little mini van drove speedily down the long and winding roads that slither through the sacred valley. All I could do was lay down on the seat, hold on, and pray that the next sharp corner would be the last. I thought I’d feel better once the van stopped and I was able to head home, but instead I just stumbled across Plaza Regocijo, collapsed and projectile vomited several times all over my jeans and the steps… Needless to say, It wasn’t very pretty.
One of the couples I trekked with helped me get a taxi and I was soon back in my hostel room. A fellow volunteer’s jaw dropped when he came to see if I fancied going out for some dinner as I apparently I looked like death, and he was quick to become my hero through it all. The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance (well, a glorified people carrier with some sirens) on my way to a hospital (well, a glorified clinic for travellers), and soon blood samples were being taken from me and an IV drip was implanted my wrist. After they injected me with various concoctions to settle my stomach I was fast asleep, and by the morning I felt a bit better. The whole show was like something out of scrubs; a american med-student donning a baseball cap and a pair luminous orange trainers had a role in my well being. My blood test results told me I had a virus and thus needed antibiotics, but that wasn’t the end of it. The Doctor and questionable “volunteer” insisted I should stay another night “just in case” but my boss at Picaflor (the absolutely awesome and wonderful woman who sorted everything out for me and was an all round star) insisted otherwise. It’s custom for these sorts of clinics to try and rinse you for all your insurance policy has got, whether it’s necessary or not. We settled on letting me have another IV drip before I could go, which shouldn’t have taken long, except the nurse seemed to put it on pause for two hours. After I crawled out of bed and demanded it be checked the nurse then put the thing on fast forward, and the whole this went shooting through my arm in under an hour. It was painful and the sensation of cold water rushing through my arm was quite uncomfortable. As I left the nurse asked me to write in their visitors book (the same kind of thing you find in hotels), which I found pretty odd considering the circumstances.
Thankfully I was feeling myself again within a few days. When you take out holiday insurance you never really think you’re going to need it, but thank heavens I did or else I’d been a few hundred pounds out of pocket (“ambulances”, glorified mini vans or not, cost a fortune!). It was all a bit scary, but thanks to my fellow volunteer Joe, and Diane from Picaflor house, I managed not to get overwhelmed or taken advantage of. Being a solo traveller can be awesome and exciting most of the time, but of course there are risks and it’s not always hunky dory. I only had to spend one night in a clinic on a drip, and I was very lucky that was all that happened to me. Then again, I made sure I had taken out full insurance and got all the vaccinations recommended to me, so perhaps I shouldn’t be thanking luck for my good fortune.
It was definitely a learning curve for me, but it was all kinda funny looking back. My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo of that volunteer med-student with a questionable sense of style…