“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
– Martin Buber
I arrived in Cusco feeling excited to embark on my first camping trip in years. I couldn’t wait to spend all day hiking the Inca Trail through mountains, embracing nature at its finest and feeling the deep serenity that one can only experience by severing contact with the rest of the world. Frankly, I hadn’t seen very many pictures of Machu Picchu, but just the thought of an adventure in the mountains gave me butterflies.
The couple days before we departed on our three-day hike with Llama Path, we spent time acclimating to the altitude in Cusco. A beautiful, international city filled with a connected community of locals and expats, I could have spent weeks in Cusco, wandering the cobblestone streets and admiring the mix of “modern” colonial architecture and ancient Incan ruins. My travel buddy and I picked a spot for lunch and were thrilled that we found something cheap – just 5 Peruvian Nuevo Soles for lunch – fresh Ceviche! Ignoring all advice, I had been gorging on street food for days, savoring every authentic bite and finding hidden humor in the weakness of others’ digestive systems.
We engulfed our meals, thrilled about the days to come and anxious about the strain our bodies were about to endure; we hadn’t exactly been exercising over the past six months. As lunch came to an end, we meandered around the charming city stopping in every shop that looked enticing along the way. The sky began to darken, prompting us to venture back to our hotel to get an early nights’ sleep. I threw my head on the pillow, my mind spinning about walking the same steps as the Incas had to one of the most coveted traveler’s destinations.
I awoke to a heavy dampness weighing on my itchy hotel blanket. As we silently trek down the slippery, rock-laden paths in our overtly touristy ponchos, we both know the dark skies will have no impact on this quest. Our group-mates await us as we step out of the van. We walk towards the sign, a pack of plastic attempting to take the first-ever-Inca-trail-group-photo, and complete the typical traveler questioning. We were an eclectic group representing five countries consisting of one family, a few groups of friends and a man whose Inca Trail quest was to decide his fate about his could-be fiance.
As we begin up the mountain, I’m appreciative of my boots. A gift from my parents before I left, my hiking shoes had incredible traction and were keeping my feet dry and warm. I could feel my muscles beginning to rebel against me for abandoning them over the past few months. But, I felt a calm satisfaction, and a surprising little stomach grumble, as we pass local Peruvians using this historic, well-worn trail to transport goods back to their homes on the mountain.
I begin to trail along behind my travel buddy, as the stomach churning had resulted in an odor so foul I couldn’t believe it wasn’t actual, side of the road, rotten meat. To save her from this torture, I kept a few feet of distance as I yelled up front to our Llama Path guide.
“My stomach’s not feeling so well – do you have anything I can take?” He handed me a tiny, white pill as he said, “here, take this.”
“You’re sure this will help my stomach?” I questioned. With rolling eyes, “Yes, will help, ” he assured me.
This is a laxative. No, it’s an amphetamine. It’s a sugar pill. I could die right here on this mountain and all anyone would know was that I took some pill from some strange tour guide. Don’t care – must digest.
I popped the unmarked tablet and prayed my trek-mates wouldn’t notice the raucous vibrations escaping from my bowels. I kept on walking, scrunching my own face at this new-found brand. As my body began to take control of my mind, flashbacks of ceviche, $5 Nuevo Soles lunches, tap water and street food flooded my brain. And then came the anti-biotics. I had been on anti-biotics up until two days ago. How did I not realize that those little pills had been saving my stool?
The noises and the clenching were the first clues that my worst fear was imminent. A tree, a hole, a rock – I needed something to hide me. It was coming fast, faster than any of my typical 3-seconders, more than I could handle and more than anyone would want halfway up a mountain without a sign of a porcelain friend in sight.
I yelled, “I’ll catch up in a second!”, turned the immediate corner and squatted like I’d done a million times in the north woods of Wisconsin at overnight camp. As I began to fully lose control, I noticed the rain beginning to trickle on my shoulders. The dripcastle below my knees grows larger and more proud by the moment and as I cringe at my own making, I begin to make out a sound that’s not mine.
Oh shit. It wasn’t one of the group, I’d made sure they were far enough ahead. I slowly tilt my head backwards and then I see it. A family of four standing in front of their quaint, Inca Trail, mountain home, pointing and laughing at the girl squatting on their front lawn.
To my horror, I was six feet from the nearest wipe assistant and found myself speed hunch-waddling away from my new friends, hustling to get to the closest leaf. I let nature’s bidet help me out as I ponder how the Incan gods would interpret my gracing of their land.
Llama Path is a sustainable tourism operator based out of Cusco, Peru. Many companies do not treat the porters and guides very well (they do not provide proper shoes, jackets, etc. for the guides and they do not pay them well). If you are hiking the Inca Trail, be sure to pick a company that takes care of it’s employees! I HIGHLY recommend Llama Path for anyone who is looking for a company to work. Make sure to book in advance as they fill up quickly.
Anyone who’s traveled has a terrifyingly embarrassing story. Are you willing to share!?
Looking for more inspiration? Connect with me here to get some traveler’s advice, hear more of my stories, and follow me as I plan my next adventure!
1 Three Weeks in Peru | Get inspired by these quick tips to go visit Peru
2 Making Friends with Locals | Learn how I make lifelong friends with locals during my travels
3 Telling your parents you’re leaving | Gather some advice on how to talk to your parents about your long-term travels
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