I squeal in pain as the thought of seriously injuring myself hiking the Lares Trek trail sets in. I try to use my hands to break the fall as my toosh smashes into the earth and rocks.
I’m positive I sprained my wrist and tweaked my knee as I’m lying on the muddy surface. I’m staring at the overcast sky doubting the decision to partake in this trek with every inch of my being. I glance to my right to see that my blue water tumbler has survived another bad crash in one piece.
Two of the trekking staff witness the tumble and rush over to help me up. I guess it looked as bad as it felt. Stand slowly with their assistance, I hobble over to the hot water buckets to rinse my hands and face free of mud.
Removing my day pack, I place it under the tarp with the others and slowly make my way to the lunch tent. Sitting, slowly, trying to avoid the side of my ass that’s surely got a bruise the length of California on it, and sip on my hot coca tea.
I focus on calming my breath.
The aftermath of the fall
The adrenaline of the fall begins to ware, the pain in my joints now incendiary. I sit, sullen, swollen, defeated. The group shares individual stories of spills in an attempt to make me feel better.
I exercise my hand, stretching it open and closed to test the validity of the sprain. The last two of us have made it down the trail so the team begins lunch service. We’ve got another two hours to go today, all downhill, to base camp. My knee screams at the thought of the inevitable pressure of a downward climb.
The mud on my pants and rain poncho begins to dry and my pride attempts a revival in the safety of the lunch hut. I elect to put my muddy gloves back on before heading out — some protection from the cold for my hands is better than none.
On the way down the rain is sporadic as are the tiny rivers and waterfalls that form from the runoff. Better paced on the downhill trek, my legs are heavy as stone and hard to move. We’re aiming to reach camp before dark. It’s been seven hours of non-stop hiking thus far and it’ll be closer to ten by the time we reach the camp.
Life in base camp
We are greeted in camp by the sweetest puppies and an incredible waterfall. I coo and love on them before b-lining to the toilet facilities. Peeling off my soaked socks afterward, I put them into my mud-covered shoes and place them just outside of the tent.
I change into warm clothes and check on the young lady really struggling with the altitude today. And then join the group in the dinner tent for popcorn and hot coca tea.
It’s all I can do to keep my eyes open to get through dinner. I brush my teeth outside using a swig of Listerine and climb into my sleeping bag. Another freezing night (5 degrees Celsius), and despite my level of exhaustion, sleep evades me. I daydream instead of the train ride and hot shower that awaits me at the end of the day tomorrow.
I’m woken an hour before the normal wake-up call by the sound of the rain. Everything hurts, but I try to just lay there and rest my limbs. After a while the group is suiting up, drinking our hot cocoa in silent solidarity, and we hit the trail.
We’ve two more downhill hours to go before the end of the trek and the bus, aka my salvation. Along the trail, we stop at a local home and experience firsthand their simple, but happy, way of living. Sleeping on beds made of wooden beams and two blankets.
I’m humbled where I stand, feeling immediately privileged for having complained about the cold one too many times. We leave bread, fruit, coca leaves, and powdered milk for the family for their hospitality. We pass the village kindergarten on the way where two young girls play nearby with stray dogs. They stop playing when they notice us and approach seeing that we are foreigners.
They don’t ask us for anything yet wait patiently, expectantly. Our guide shares a few sentences in Quechua (ketch-oo-ah), the native tongue of the mountain people. We leave them with some bread, sweets, and cereal bars then split the rest of the bread with two older women, presumably their mothers or teachers, and the dogs.
Humbled by history and nature hiking the Lares Trek
We continue hiking the Lares Trek trail, coming across Incan ruins. Swallowed by nature and serene, the energy inside is magnetic. It sets the hair on my forearms on edge. I imagine what life in this place so many years ago must’ve been like. The fears, dreams, and losses these ancient people had to overcome.
I glance around at the flora and fauna here and how surrounded the valley is by the high mountains. Pausing, I’m enchanted by how the clouds snake through the mountains high above the valley. I reflect on how far I’ve come on this trek, in life, and only now do I thank myself for this challenge; hiking the Lares Trek trail.
Once we reach the bottom of the trail, we congratulate each other on the accomplishment and take more group photos. Knowing the bus waits patiently a few dozen meters ahead of us, we quicken our pace fueled only by the desire to sit in a warm atmosphere and a comfortable chair. Lunch is next on the menu of the day and we’re running late.
We wait for lunch to be prepared and pass the time with a game that has been officially named “Frog Mouth” by the group. Much like cornhole but with obvious differences. Players must toss heavy metal coins into different holes, directly into the frog’s mouth. These last moments together are precious bonding over laughter and shared experiences of hiking the Lares Trek trail together, unspoken gratitude to be done.
The group played Frog Mouth to pass the time
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