There are several hikes you can take from the ruins at Machu Picchu. David, my ever vigilant trip researcher, looked at all of these hikes and decided that most of them were way over our heads as travel warriors. So we picked the easiest option, hike to the Sun Gate. This is actually the last leg of the famous Inca Trail into Machu Picchu. How fun would it be to take the easy 2-hour hike and be able to say that our sneakers touched the same stones as the ancient Inca?
Getting to the trail involved climbing a hundred or so stone steps up the mountain but once we were on the actual trail it was a nice, somewhat wide stone trail at enough of a pitch to make you feel like you were accomplishing something but not quite enough to make you run back to your hotel. As we started getting closer to the Sun Gate, other hikers coming back began to give us encouragement—“Not too far left to go, you’re almost there” and “It’s totally worth every step.” So on we went until we came to a place in the path where we had to go around an outcropping of rock. Here the path narrowed to about half its normal width and the view was straight down the ravine into the river seemingly miles below.
It was at this moment that I saw the face of a panicked man and realized that man was my husband. This would probably be a good time to tell you that David is petrified not of heights but of the thought of falling from said height. His normally sleepy brown eyes were flung open wide and his complexion had changed from its usually lovely medium tan to the white only a cadaver could pull off. It didn’t take a person with a degree in Psychology to realize that we were in full crisis mode.
Very quickly we decided that David would go back down the path until he found a place he felt comfortable and I would go on to the Sun Gate, take the pictures and we would meet along the path wherever he decided to wait for me. At first I had thought that the path on the other side of the outcropping of rock had widened out and it was a fine walk from there. but when I got to the actual Sun Gate there was a narrow rock staircase that wound around the outside of a sheer cliff face that you had to go up to get to the ruins. When I saw this, my reaction was “Dave would have pooped a pickle” which I didn’t realized I had said out loud until I heard the giggling of a group of teenagers behind me.
I spent about 10-15 minutes admiring the view from the apex of the mountain pass. It was an incredible 360 view of Machu Picchu and the valley on the other side of the mountains. Not wanting to keep David waiting too long, I headed back down the path. Ten minutes later I came to the first shady place in the path. David was not there. Each step I took, I became more and more worried that maybe he had taken a header off the cliff after all. Now I was consumed with how far do I go before I turn back and look for Dave-sized tracks off the side of the trail and down the mountain to the valley below. Just as I was about to turn around and go back up I turned the corner and there sat the best view I had seen all day. David was sitting on the side of a rock wall, hands clutched firmly to the stones, wearing his gray undershirt under his blue baseball cap. His complexion, while not exactly completely back to normal had at least perked up enough that he was not in danger of being embalmed by accident. Come to find out he had literally just gotten there and sat down when I caught up to him. It took him close to a half an hour to make his trek back to safety.
That night at dinner, David regaled me with his horrifying adventure. In his effort to save himself from the treacherousness of the path he had developed what he called the ape man-crab walk. When he was on the path he would stay bent over far enough that his feet and hands could touch either surrounding rocks or the path at the same time. When he came to stone steps he developed the five point crab walk, where both hand, both feet and his butt were in contact with Mother Earth at all times. With a sincerity that unfortunately brought me to bouts of laughter, David explained to me that he was a changed man. He had stared death straight in the face and would never again take for granted the life that he has been given.
Three days later we are in Pisac riding with our guide up the to the Pisac trail to see the Inca ruins of villages and temples along the way. It is a 2.5 hour hike with panoramic views of the valley below. It starts at the top of the mountain and ends basically right back in front of our hotel. David was already pensive before we even left the hotel. As the van drove higher and higher into the mountains, David became more and more pensive. 2.5 hours with no retreat was not going to be an option for him. David asked our guide, Juan Carlos, “Is this the hardest part of the walk?” Juan Carlos laughed and told Dave we were basically still in the parking lot. It took less than 50 yards of narrow path on the edge of the mountain for David to reach his limit on terror. It was quickly agreed that I would take the hike with the guide and David would ride back down the mountain in the van we just came up in. He was put in charge of meeting me at the hotel on the terrace with a nice cold beer.
David was clearly upset that he had somehow let me down by not going on these adventures with me. Somehow his fear of heights in his mind equates to his manhood in mine. Just so we are clear, no matter what, David is now and always will be my hero. I just hope I never have to be rescued off a narrow ledge on a steep cliff.