The Summer before my senior year, James hatched a plan to hike the Inca Trail with his brother Jeremy and they invited me along. It had been done before. Some of the grades at school had traversed it for their camps on previous years. The whole region was littered with white kids’ bodies. They’d all bothered with nancy things like ‘supplies’ and ‘edible food,’ none of which true adventurers needed. It normally took 3 days to hike the trail, more or less, depending on how many girls you had to drag along. Although it’s called the Inca trail, I’ve had some Bolivians tell me it should actually be called the Aymara trail, since it was built long before the Incas ever showed up and started ruining things and got hated on by the entire continent. And it didn’t hurt that Peru already had quite a successful Inca Trail tourist trade and we could get sued for copyright breaches. The Bolivian version of the trail wound from the mountains high above La Paz and made its way slowly counter-clockwise around the altimeter dial until it hit the Yungas region: lush tropical wetland. Some bits of it were still original cobblestone. No one had ever bothered to tell the Aymara about advanced asphalt techniques. Or drink machines. There was an MK camp planned in the Yungas that week, so the plan was to hike down a few days before and meet everyone there. All 3 avid adventurers, we arranged to take a tent and sleeping bags and that was about it. We would forage for food from the ample bosom of the stark, dead Bolivian wasteland along the way. I borrowed a backpack from someone very cruel that had a metal bar built into it for enhanced scoliosis. I now have a back that looks like an outline of the Mexican coastline. But I was grateful, only once I cursed it and threw it over a cliff, later claiming it had been stolen by German tourists. Ever intrepid, James prepared some ‘beef jerky’ for us beforehand, which was essentially meat dowsed in 4 Kilos of beef stock and baked for 52 hours. Salty Alpaca excrement would have sufficed. And been healthier. Before departing we ran into Glenda at the Mission Guest House who nearly had a stroke at our ineptness and lack of preparation, and gave us wet weather gear, water purification tablets and bug spray. None of which we needed, of course, but we acted graciously and fought over them for the next hour. After realising food may not have been as plentiful as we first envisioned, in the true spirit of camping, the rest of our hastily-accrued food stores consisted of Fruit Loops, powdered milk, rice and tins of tuna. We may have lost most of the jerky on the bus trip up. Sad. The bus itself left from Cochabamba around midnight, to arrive in La Paz about 6am. After family farewells that seemed altogether a little too final, (why was Mum crying so much?) we boarded and settled in for the ride. James had already managed to score himself a seat next to a reasonably attractive girl, so things were going swimmingly and we strapped in for the trip of a lifetime.
Around 2am we stopped in the middle of nowhere at a little rest stop to contract Colera and perhaps get mugged. No! To have tea and coffee. I declined the offer and decided dehydration was a more predictable, if perhaps drawn-out, fate. Leaping aboard the bus once more I was hit in the face with a smell I could only describe as ‘chunky,’ since that’s how the contents of my mouth felt. Emanating from the rear of the bus came the combined odour of what must have been 112 messy diapers as someone had arranged to change their baby inside the bus in our absence. The cold made it worse since all the windows were closed and fogged up and there was no fresh air and you just knew you were breathing in poo right into your lungs and even if you held your breath your pores would still manage to suck it in somehow and stain your insides. I hated that bus trip.
La Paz is Bolivia’s capital and I would love to tell you about the grandeur and romance of entering such an old city, but it was 5am and dark and I wasn’t even sure we were there, as I spent the first 10 minutes just cleaning all the congealed baby crud out of my most of my orifices, so that’s about all the introduction La Paz gets. Cold, weary and hungry, and in a strange city too early to get a truck out of town, we did what all adventurers would: Went straight to a gay bar. It was an accident of course, but we were starving and the food looked good so we ignored the smiles and winks and ate a hearty breakfast. I was already half lame from my backpack at that point so I wasn’t worried about catching anyone’s eye. Once the sun decided to come up we got a taxi to take us to wherever the buses left for the mountains. As it turns out, there were no buses at all, but we hijacked a market truck heading home and jumped in the back with about 4000 other people. Many of whom had guns and/or pitchforks. An hour later the driver helpfully slowed to a decent 35 miles an hour on crest of the hill, and using our faces for brakes on the dirt, our quest had officially begun. Carefree and excited, we sauntered past the sign emblazoned with warnings in several languages (none of them mentioned ‘adventurer’) and stepped onto the threshold of legendary exploits. Stay tuned for tales of near-death, romance and heart-break in the next installment. When, you know, things actually begin.