Updated: Oct 11, 2018
We were picked up from our hotel around 5:30 and greeted by our guide Ishmael and our driver, and a photographer along for the ride. Both Chris and I woke up feeling about 80% but didn’t think anything of it aside from maybe lack of sleep. As we rode along Ishmael recommended we sleep on the ride up. For starters, we are the type of people that once we are up we are up but also the itinerary says “smooth, unpaved roads”...we laughed when we read it and cracked up as we bounced along said road.
When we arrived at the parking lot we asked for the restroom. It was only then that we were informed the restroom was “different” than what we were used to and we would have to pay 1 sol each to use it. It wasn’t a problem to pay but I did wonder what we would have done had we not brought any cash, so they should definitely put this in the itinerary. We paid the lady and entered the small green shack expecting an outhouse...which it was but there we no seats! It was a hole in the ground that you had to squat over to do your business. Had I known I would have gone to find a bush but I suppose the privacy was nice. They fed us a light breakfast, advising that overeating can cause nausea due to the altitude sickness. So I drank my hot water and ate my bread with cheese and called it good. I still felt a little off from the morning and had a light headache but thought nothing of it.
Before we started our walk, our guide asked if we were good walkers. We told him of our recent summit of Machu Picchu mountain but explained we were in no way professional mountain trekkers. He explained we could walk a route that was going to be harder but much more rewarding. He also offered it would be far less traveled considering it was not the standard trek. Being DIVE ARMY, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity for a challenge. We had barely started our walk before we were huffing and puffing with the effort in the altitude. We made it up a small hill before our guide turned to us, acknowledging the extra toll it had taken on us. He then produced a small bottle which he referred to as “juice of power”, an essential oil with floral scents. He advised us to rub it on our hands and then inhale deeply. Instantly, we felt the invigorating effect and were re-energized to continue the taxing walk. The effects did not last long so we continued to sniff our palms in attempts to open the sinuses and lungs to bring more oxygen in. As promised, we encountered no other people walking on this path and thoroughly enjoyed our private tour. The walk continued at what we called our turtle pace. We took many breaks (and pictures) so as not to over tax ourselves. Ishmael was encouraging and we continued our trek up the mountain. When we reached the top of one of the mountains at 5038m, we were met with a stunning view. This was not the summit of rainbow mountain but offered a view of a place called The Red Valley. The view was mesmerizing! The transition from red to green and back to red was unmarveled by anything I have seen thus far. We spent a good while up here before continuing our walk (down unfortunately) towards the rainbow mountain.
The view from this height continued to marvel and amaze as we descended towards the main path. On the way, we stopped to participate in a spiritual ritual carried on by many. You select a rock along your path and carry it in your left hand. Upon reaching the sacred site, you place the rock down with your right and ask for a blessing. After placing our rocks, we continued down the mountain and eventually up the final steps to the viewing point of rainbow mountain. I’ll be honest, I almost called it quits a couple times. I mean. I could see the mountain and it was pretty...but a picture didn’t seem worth the pain I wasn’t enduring. But unfortunately daddy didn’t raise no quitter. So we slowly ascended the final steep steps to the top and got those incredible pictures...and then it started to snow...or more appropriately ice. Now, Chris had done a ton of research and nothing mentioned snow at this time of year. And I HATE the snow. None of this, of course, changed the fact that it was indeed snowing. When we got to the top it was worth it for that sense of accomplishment and the pictures were pretty sweet too.
As we went to descend, again the guide asked if we would like to take the less traveled route. My only question was “it’s all down hill, right??” So we hiked down the road less traveled, with ice smacking the small bits of face that were still exposed. Quickly, we followed our guides through the increasingly poor visibility and I continued to feel weak and my head continued it’s full thrum...but it was all down hill from here. As the snow let up we looked back at the once colorful mountain to see nothing but white! Even still as we continued on we came to areas where the snow had already melted back into the ground! It was incredible to witness the mountain in so many states in such a short period of time. In the 5 hours we were there I had needed my sun hat, stripped my sweatshirt, put the sweatshirt back on, switched to my beanie, wore 2 pairs of pants, and tested my rain jacket against the snow...so pack your layers!!!
When the van was finally in site I was feeling very fatigued but relieved to see I could sit and rest soon. The nausea had also crept back up but I was confident I could sleep it off. Chris was feeling about the same...not sick, just a little off. At the van they offered us orange juice and pisco to celebrate our summit but I was much too nauseous to think about drinking anything. Sitting down seemed to make everything worse. The thrum in my head was steadily growing and my stomach was doing flips. They gave us our lunch which both Chris and I set down so our driver kindly started to drive us back. Only the problem was the second he put the car in gear I had that familiar, horrible feeling of heavy salivation that alerted me of what was to come. Chris saw my face turn green and immediately asked them to stop so I could run out to do what needed to be done. As I left the car the feeling abated and simply left me spitting on the side of the road. Wanting to get moving, sine we were blocking the exit, I abandoned my task to get back in the van but once again as the car started to move my stomach summersaulted and I knew this time I would be successful. As I made it to the side of the road and expelled the contents of my stomach I was surprised to see breakfast from hours earlier and the zicam I had taken to attempt to ease my illness that morning. Then I remembered that on the city tour that digestion is a lot slower at altitude...neat. Happy to have an empty stomach I climbed back into the car only to meet my next challenge. That tiny headache I had early had instantly blossomed into a full blown migraine. My head felt as though someone had taken an axe to the center of my brain and now 2 monkeys were trying to pry my skull apart and all I could do was try to hold my head together. This was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had, including many sprains, dislocations, and broken bones...I think it’s because there was no shock to accompany the pain. As tears streamed down my face Chris asked for the O2 kit which they passed back (because awesome Chris is an O2 instructor trainer) and they continued to drive. That joke we had enjoyed about those “smooth, unpaved roads” was now the commander of my pain. As I jolted and jostled with each bump, pain seared through my head despite the O2 providing a small amount of relief. Even though I had sucked the whole bottle down I was still accompanied by a blacksmith pounding away at my poor cranium...but it was better than the monkeys. After what seemed like forever we had finally reached the paved road and I passed out from exhaustion.
Some time later I awoke feeling loads better although I still had a good headache. Ishmael checked in on me and then informed me that it was actually quite common for people to get sick on the way down. This was contrary to everything I thought since oxygen concentrations would be better but apparently the pressure of decreasing your altitude is what caused my dizziness, nausea, and pain. While I was coming out of it, poor Chris was succumbing to the same symptoms I had just experienced. We arrived home around 4pm and crawled into bed where we stayed until 6:30am the next day.
Tomorrow, I will post our final update as we close out this amazing trip to Peru. Thanks!