First let me apologise to all, sorry it’s been over a month since my last blog but things have been a bit crazy lately! Once again a lot has happened since my last blog entry so I have a lot to fill you all in on! From what I remember the last thing I mentioned was white water rafting in Cusco and I was eagerly awaiting my Inca Trail trek to Machu Pichu, hereon in referred to as MP!
Ah Cusco, what a crazy, touristy yet beautiful city! You can definitely see and feel the Spanish influence but the indigenous Quechuan heritage remains strong! We had a couple of days R&R after our rafting before we started the inca trail and another $8 massage was in order after all that hard work paddling for 2 days.
Then I got sick again! Yep the big bad belly was back for another round, I was so familiar with it coming and going by now that I wasn’t overly fazed and just made sure there was always a toilet nearby and I kept a stash of toilet roll with me. Unfortunately, on the 3rd day when I was due to start the gruelling 4 day hike that is the inca tail I was still sick! Early start, 4 hours of bus rides and 4 hours of walking was not my idea of fun when you are feeling like I was! I was sculling coca tea at every opportunity, which the Andean people believe cures every possible ailment, and really helps with altitude sickness as well! It did actually calm my stomach a little.
Day 1: Some of the first runis we saw
We all had a lot of concerns for the 2nd day of the hike, renowned for been the hardest day on the trail: 4 ridonculous hours of non-stop, steep, uphill trekking, followed by a good hour (if you were quick) of steep downhill. We also had more rain forecasted and we were already a bit wet from day 1.
Our guide Percy made me some celery tea, that first night and again I ate very little but the next day for by some miracle I was feeling much better, though the slope was still a killer. It rained ALL DAY!!! I ended up teaming up with 2 other Aussie guys from Melbourne that were about my pace or a bit slower, which gave me a chance to stop for rests while they caught up (Biddy being Biddy and our English fellows charged on ahead).
Day2: Up, up,and up!
Day 2: rest stop half way through the 4 hour uphill trek
We climbed to a height of about 4200m and so it was a struggle to get enough oxygen into our lungs. Just when you think you’re about to die, a porter rushed past you with all the food and camping gear and you can’t help feeling completely in awe of these men, They do this all day, everyday with pack that probably weighs more than they do, and most of them only wear sandals for footwear , which must have been horrible in the muddy, sludgy path that was forming in the rain. They pack up the camp after we leave and have to arrive at the next camp and set up again before we arrive. They even carry little plastic chairs and a dining hall tent for us, which all seemed unnecessary (there were 30 people in our group in total, 6 Aussies, 2 English, 1 American, 1 German, 2 Chileans and 18 noisy Argentineans).
To top it off it was so cloudy and rainy at the peak that we couldn’t see more than 10m in front of us to the amazing view that we knew was below. Oh well, the whole experience was still pretty spectacular. Amazing mountain scenery, luscious greenery to trek through, beautiful inca ruins along the way and the rewarding thought that you are doing a once in a lifetime experience.
So that was how I spent Australia Day. I had one rum and coke off one of the Aussie guys to celebrate but drinks were limited as we had to lug them up the mountain in our packs. Some people opted to pay extra for the porters to carry their packs as well but I was determined to pull (carry) my own weight! haha!
That night was one of the coldest I have ever been in my entire life!!! I wore all my clothes (that were dry) and climbed into my 0C sleeping bag with gloves and beanie and froze. I actually woke Biddy up in the middle of the night to come and snuggle up next to me, It took a few goes as she was sleeping very deeply and kept asking me if we were at the hot springs or if it was time to go in the bath! Bahaha! However, it was a very sleepless night, impossible to sleep when you are that cold and to top it off we were woken up again at 5am to pack up and be at breakie ready to start trekking asap. The 3rd day was longer but a little more balanced (some uphill some downhill) except for the last bit which was 2 hours continuous downhill! We had all hired or bought hiking sticks and with my dodgy knees and ankles I had 2. After a while my knees started to ache a lot and I figured it was easy just to plough forward and not hesitate and tense up each step and I passed everyone and led the trek downhill. 100m from the camp site the porters caught up to me and I started chatting to one of them and he wanted to listen to my ipod with me. So we stood there for over 10min while everyone gradually overtook me and beat me to the finish line. I knew it was not a race but I still couldn’t help my competitive instinct, yet my porter friend seemed very pleased to have had a taste of some Australian music hehe!
Day 3: the clouds clear for a moment so we take advantage of the scenery with a quick happy snap
At camp that night we got warm showers and cool beer (not quite cold)! The porters cooked us a feast and as is custom we had a celebration for the porters to say thanks. We were all expected to give a tip as well (50 Soles each or $20) to the porters and considering there were as many porters as tourists that’s not a lot each. There were even some rumours that this was the only payment the porters received for the whole tour so we were more than happy to pay. It was a little disappointing that most of the Chilean and Argentineans only put in a few coins each. I would have thought that if we all had enough dinero to pay for the trip then we should have all been able to spare a tip for these men who had worked incredibly hard!
The next day we were woken up at 3am!! Quick breakie then walking downhill again in the dark for an hour before the sun came up! Would have sucked to have been one of the people that didn’t have a head torch!
Day3: Some of the spectacular scenery
We couldn’t walk the rest of the way to the sun gate and out over machu pichu because there had been a landslide a few weeks earlier (they had blown up a section of the mountain on purpose to expand the hydroelectric plant below) so we walked along the train tracks to the small sweet town of Aguas Calientes, the last town before MP and as it names suggests, famous for it’s hot springs. There we left our bags at a restaurant took cameras and the dregs of our rain gear (what hadn’t ripped to pieces...cheap pieces of poo) and took the 20min bus to the mountain!
At that point the sun came out for the first time in 4 days and it was absolutely magnificent! MP is all the good things that people say it is and it! It completely took my breath away! The photos just don’t do it justice! The only annoying thing was we were too exhausted to even do anything and explore further than the main areas. One of the funniest things was when we sitting down near the entry and the guide Percy was explaining how sacred the area was. At that same moment Biddy crosses her legs in the cheap and nasty rain pants and in the serenity we just hear this big RIIPPPPPPPPPPP! Bahaha, everybody lost it laughing!
Day 4: Finally made it!!!
Anyway when we got back to the town Biddy and I ordered the biggest wood fired pizzas and gorge fed and drank beer and red wine! Then I went up to the hot springs to soak my tired muscles for an hour before getting on the train back to the town of Ollyantambo then the bus back to Cuzco.
Two days later my bad belly was back and Biddy called a doctor to come to the hostel to see me because I was sure I would soon be fine again. The doctor spoke pretty good English and we went back with him to the clinic to get further tests. So lots of needles and prodding and poking later my results came back and I had not 1, but 4 different intestinal infections! Bacterias and parasites galore. They asked me if I had been bed ridden for a while and when I told them I had just done the Inca Trail they didn’t believe me! They said some of my levels were over 20 times normal levels. They let me listen to my stomach through the stethoscope and it sounded like a rave was going on in there!
So they hooked my straight up to a drip and started pumping me with 200ml bottles of different antibiotics and bags of electrolytes intravenously! I had to stay in overnight and was given a diet of rice and dry toast. No fat, dairy, meat, alcohol (obviously) or spice. Actually the first thing I did when I got out was eat a shepards pie and a bread and butter pudding from the local Irish pub, which tasted amazing at the time but I regretted it a few hours later. The next couple of days I had to go back to the clinic for antibiotic injections. My travel insurance took a little while but they were very good and paid the expenses for me as soon as I paid the $100 excess over the phone. I was also given a course of oral antibiotics and antiparasectics, which I have finished now so hopefully no more bugs for me for a while!
After Cuzco the awesome foursome got a night bus to Arequipa with our new friend from the inca trail Saket! Also awesome! We found a cute little family run hostel that did banana pancakes for breakie and had a couple of days to chill before booking our Colca Canyon trek. The canyon is the deepest in the word! Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!
On the day we got picked up at 3am and were given blankets as we climbed into the bus! But sleep for me was impossible in the bumpy 3 hour drive to the town where we got a basic breakfast. We then drove to a popular condor viewing area and was lucky enough to see a condor soaring back and forth across the canyon.
The condor flying across the canyon
We then began our hike down the canyon down a steep, dusty, slippery, rocky path to the base!
The view when decending into the canyon
Our guide was a bit disappointing and did very little other than point out some white fungus on a cactus that was made by a local insect and when rubbed produced a bright red paste, still used today in dyes and lipsticks etc. So we all had a great time war painting each other, which turned into an actual war to see who could get the most red on each other.
We got to try an interesting fruit that was like a giant pea pod, pealed like a banana and had balls of a soft fleshy fruit inside with a large seed inside them.
Trying the local fruits! MMMMM!
We stopped for a quick lunch then continued up a short way to a local town. There were only 55 families in the town and apparently the people had existed there since 800AD and just as we arrived they were in the middle of their Carnival celebrations! Lots of colourful dresses (yes even the men were wearing dresses) and beer been passed around and dancing and a band playing and bouquets of not only flowers but of bread and oranges on sticks to! I got dragged into the celebrations and danced a few rounds with the locals. After half an hour the rain started and we decided to keep moving to “the oasis”, our accommodation for that evening.
We drank beer and ate a simple dinner. Then we were woken up early (man, I love the 5am starts!!) for a 2.5 hour uphill trek. We didn’t even have breakie so I was glad I had some sweets and snacks in my bag because even then we were ravenous when we got to the top.
Made it to the top, Yah Hooo!!: Harry, Olly, Me, Biddy and Saket
We drove back to Lima and reached a height of over 5000m at the top of a mountain and it was snowing! I love this country! They have every kind of terrain and climate in such a small space!
After that the canyon trek it was time to say a sad farewell! Saket was heading to La Paz and our loveable laddies from Rugby were heading to Peru’s northern beaches. Harry only had a couple of weeks left in SA and wanted to get have a go at surfing before he left. Biddy had made a reservation a Pisco Sin Fronteras to do some volunteering to help rebuild houses after the earthquake. It sounded fun and meaningful and cheap ($6-$10/day) but I wanted to save my volunteering time for the jungle to work with the animals. I decided to head there with her though because it was in the same direction we were headed and if they had an extra space (apparently reservations are necessary) then I would stay for a week or 2 and if they didn’t then I would keeping heading north and catch up with Biddy later. When we arrived it just so happened that they were at full capacity but 2 girls were leaving and so their beds were free. We got there right in the middle of the morning meeting. The two girls kindly cleared their beds so we could crash. Even with the noise of coming from the workshed downstairs we slept like logs. Ear plugs are a wonderful thing!
So began our brief adventure at Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF). The next day we went down to line up for breakfast at 7:30am then sat down for the morning meeting at 8:30. This is how every day began. The lead volunteers led the meeting going through the announcements then explaining the projects that were being conducted at the time. Then they went through the projects and you had to yell out your name to get on a project as there are only selected places and we were over capacity. Biddy and I managed to get on a project called “Edison’s Ramp”. For this project we were to build a ramp and 2 rooms for a family whose son is in a wheelchair after his back was crushed when a wall fell down in the 2007 earthquake. There wasn’t much work, just digging up concrete and levelling the ground. Until we got someone who knew what to do on the project wecouldn’t do anymore so we just had to call it a day after that. The next day they didn’t need as many people on the job so Biddy and I missed out on getting on the same job (if you were on the job the day before you got preference but they had cut the number of people they needed). So we decided to do some DIY. Biddy was on a top bunk which had no ladder so we decided to build her a ladder. After the meeting however, I was approached by 2 vollies come over from the school house (an offsite accommodation for PSF vollies who want some peace and quiet). They said that a cat that lived on the roof had given birth to kittens the night before but hadn’t separated them. Then they said, “Katie, you’re a zoo keeper right? Does that mean you’re a vet? Can you save our kittens?” I said no and I couldn’t promise them anything but went with them anyway. I looked at the 6 kittens all connected in a buddle of umbilical cords and placenta with a very concerned and confused mother standing over them. The other vollies looked at me expectantly and I thought back to when I helped my vet friend in Broulee do an emergency dog caesarean. So I got a few pairs of forceps, some surgical scissors, antiseptic solution, towels and alcohol. So I went back to the kittens and cleaned, clamped and cut the kittens apart. I saved all but one that had its umbilical cord wrapped twice around its back leg, cutting off circulation and maiming the leg. The leg would have had to be amputated but after I left I found out one of the local Peruvian guys took care of it “Peruvian style” :’( But the other are all healthy and doing well! It’s hard enough for the local people to care for themselves and their children let alone pets.
Anyway next I went back to the main building to start on the ladder. We went across to the wood yard and got some timber and spent the next hour or so cutting, sanding and drilling! Eventually it was ready and we had a great time testing it out
Working on the ladder
The finished product
Then we didn’t really have anything to do for the rest of the day. Nobody needed our help so I chopped onions in the kitchen to help the dinner crew. Every second or third day you have to put your name down for cleaning and kitchen duties. 4 people to get up early to cook breakie, 4 people to cook dinner for 80 people, 4 people to clean bathrooms, etc. The next day we got on another project that involved building a bathroom for a man named Caesar and his family. We spent Friday and a half day Saturday digging a trench for the sewage pipe.
Digging Caesar's trench
The family would make us lunch each day which was always very delicious. We always had our reservations though because their kitchens are often little more than a shed on the dirt. But we didn’t want to be rude and no one from that site ended up getting sick. ‘Pisco Belly’ was a common problem among the volunteers. No matter how sanitary we tried to be (there was hand sanitiser in every corner of the building and food rules were very strict) people would still get sick. I also found out that Typhoid injections don’t exactly protect you from getting Typhoid. Even people who had had their injection were getting sick with the disease!!
Sat afternoons and Sundays are our free times. That weekend some of the vollies had arranged a beach camping trip to Parracus! It was so nice to be at the beach again! It was a 45min bus ride there and back through desert country and a steep walk down to the camp spot on the sand. We were all loaded up with lots of luggage and watching people drop stuff and then chase it as it rolled down the slope towards the cliff was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. That night Biddy, Yvette, myself and another girl were on dinner duty we bought all the ingredients earlier Saturday afternoon to make a big campfire stew. Although a lot of people protested to a vege stew saying “I don’t eat vegetables” most changed their mind as soon as they had a taste. The next day we had a day relaxing and playing at the beach and man it was good to be in the ocean again!
On Monday we were back at Caesar’s house finishing the trench and getting supplies for concreting the floor the next day. That night some London guys that had been volunteering at PSF were leaving so we all went out to see them off. Now the next part a lot of you know already. A bit later in the night Biddy was up on the terrace area with our friend Chris they walked out onto the roof area and then the roof gave way and they fell through! Chris caught himself on the roof beams but Biddy fell the 4-5 metres to the floor below. She fell on the stage behind 2 bikini clad dancers. She was picked up and rushed to the local Pisco hospital with Chris and a few other volunteers. I meanwhile was out the back in the beer garden talking to some other people. An hour later I was ready to leave and walked around the bar trying to find Biddy. After a few laps I decided to ask some of the other vollies if they had seen her. When I asked them an Australian girl called Mel turned to me, gasped and put her hand over her mouth. She said, “Oh my god, Katie doesn’t know” and I said, “Know what?” and she took a step towards me looking very serious and said, “sweetie, Biddy fell through the roof”. In that instant I thought the worse and started feeling very dizzy. I struggled to comprehend what she had just said and I think Mel saw the look of terror on my face and said, “oh, oh no, she’s okay, it’s okay. She’s been taken to the hospital. She was bleeding a little but she was conscious and even walked a bit to the taxi.” I looked at the roof and tried to figure out how anyone could fall that far and walk away. It turned out Biddy was picked up straight away by a security guard who then acted inappropriately. She wriggled out of his arms and staggered painfully the few steps towards Chris who had ran back down the stairs.
So I went to go straight to the hospital but everybody told me that about 8 people had gone to the hospital with Biddy including our friend Yvette that we had met in Sucre, Bolivia. They convinced me that there was nothing I could really do at the hospital now and it would be best if I go home and sleep. So I went back and slept for an hour and a half then headed into the hospital first thing in the morning.
The hospital in Pisco was very VERY basic. They had rebuilt a lot of it after the 2007 earthquake but I imagine as with everything else there at the time that their resources were limited. None of the staff spoke English and they did very little to help Biddy. Most of the time they all sat around at the nurses station watching Mexican soap operas on their little TV. Whenever I asked them for something like a towel or a clean sheet or to explain that Biddy was in pain they just rolled their eyes and acted like I was asking them to eat poo.
Biddy burst into tears when she saw me and I knew then that I shouldn’t have waited. She had a cut on her head with 6 stiches and had had an x-ray to check her lower back but they hadn’t found anything. Biddy said her left leg was numb (though she could still move it a bit) and she had a lot of pain in her lower back. Apparently no one would listen to her when she first arrived. A drunk French med student had gone with Biddy in the taxi to translate but she turned out to do more bad then good. Eventually Biddy asked for another translator and Christian, a Spanish guy was our translator from then on. We were so lucky to have him help us over the next few days. Nothing had appeared in the x-ray so the nurses tried the next two days to ask Biddy to sit in a wheelchair but the pain in her back when she tried to move was excruciating so they gave up. Then on the third day the doctor said maybe it would be better if she didn’t move at all... 3 days after the accident they say that haha! The hospital procedures were very strange as well. Each morning the doctor would come and do his/her morning rounds. They would “assess” each patient and then give a list of the medicines the patient needs for the next 24 hours to a friend or relative. The friend/relative (me) would then have to take the list to the hospital pharmacy. The chemist would go through the list and write down prices for the items he had in stock. I then had to take the price list to the cashier and pay and then take the receipt back to the chemist to pick up the items. For the things he didn’t have in stock I had to go to one of the pharmacies outside the hospital and buy the rest. We had to buy absolutely everything! A thermometer, her vials of morphine and other drugs, her syringes and needles, a gas mask for her cough medicine, everything! I then had to take this back to the doctors who would write Biddy’s bed number on it and put it on a bench behind the nurses’ station and administer it as needed. When we left this hospital they gave me the remaining medicine to administer myself... 2 large syringes with needles and 2 vials of morphine, hahaha!
So Biddy had 5 horrible days of this. The incompetent staff had no idea what was wrong with her and she needed to get an MRI. Understandably she was very frightened and upset and just wanted to know what was wrong with her. I spent these days travelling to and from the hospital. I was usually there from 8-9am until 11pm, popping back to PSF or the shop occassionally to get food and supplies. Almost every day these past few weeks I’ve had to buy pretzel sticks for Biddy. She has become addicted to them and I think they have got her through this hospital experience. I also spent a lot of time on the phone to Biddy’s family, the insurance companies, the embassy, doctors in Cusco, etc. I spent 2.5 days trying to arrange a working phone and in the meantime some kind people at PSF lent us their phones so that we could receive these calls. Eventually 4 painful, frustrating days later we were on an air ambulance to Lima, the capital of Peru so that Biddy could get the right medical treatment. Fortunately they let me and all of our luggage in the miniature aeroplane with Biddy. Her air ambulance staff escort included a doctor and two nurses who all spoke English. They were very professional and we were finally felt like things were going to be okay. The insurance staff assured me that the staff at the hospital in Lima would also speak English but it turns out they were wrong. Usually I can understand enough Spanish words in a sentence when someone is speaking to me to understand what they are saying. But when they are delivering a medical diagnosis it is not something you want to have a guess at. Then Biddy’s sister in America put us in touch with a friend in Lima, Jaime. He has proven to be a guardian angel in disguise. He has been here almost every day helping us translate, getting us what we need, speaking to admin staff for me to obtain medical documents, showing me where I could buy supplies and food at nearby shops, taking me out around Lima, everything! I don’t know where we would be without him. I even went to his grandmother’s 93rd birthday party (lots of fun!). It has really been amazing how many visitors we have had, even if I go out Biddy barely has a moment to herself during the day. Pisco is only 4.5 hours away on a bus so friends come and visit on the weekend or on their way to somewhere else. So many complete strangers have come to our aid and these acts of kindness have really restored some of my faith in humanity!
Biddy in the hospital in Lima with our friends Yvette and Cassandra
I think after this past month I am a fully qualified nurse and carer. I help Biddy with everything she needs. She cannot get out of bed or even sit up so I wash her hair, give her her food (I had to feed it to her for the first week), help her go to the toilet, etc. Her mum arrived in Lima yesterday and two days ago (three weeks after the accident) she finally got approval for her claim from the insurance. So we can all take a breath now. Tomorrow we have a phone conference with Biddy’s doctor and the insurance and their doctors. Hopefully we can arrange Biddy’s transport home.
Enjoying the sites in Lima
Lima sunset! woo go life on the west coast!
Having lunch with Jaime (front left) and some of his family at their counrty club
Carnival on the streets on Lima!!!!!!
So I think I will continue travelling next week heading up north to the northern beaches of Peru then into Ecuador and eventually Columbia. I am still trying to figure out what date to change my return flight to. I only get one shot to do it online hassle free. Anymore changes will cost a fortune and have to be done over the phone so I have to get it right! I’m thinking maybe July or start of August, not sure how my dinero will hold up but if I’m volunteering along the way I should be able to keep the spending down. I won’t be completely alone either. My friend Oliver, one of the English cousins, is back in Lima so we might head up north together and my other friend Yvette might come too. But it will be very weird travelling without Biddy. We have barley been apart in the last 4 months. But hopefully when she is well again in the future she will be able to come back to South America and pick up where she left off.
So until next time folks...ADIOS!!!