Our bus tickets had become quite worthless when we arrived to find every seat full. A confused troubleshooting session found us in a private car trying to catch up with the bus so we could get the Japanese’s luggage, still tucked away in the smoke-belching belly of the bus as it pulled away without us.
Climbing in the thick darkness in the hills above the town of Aguas Caliente, the final leg of the Salkantay Trek began an hour earlier at 4am. A string of lights flickers behind us, hundreds of tourist flashlights snaking single-file through the hillside jungle on the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. We climb quickly and sweat like marathoners.
The crossing from Ecuador to Peru happened sometime between midnight and 3am – my cell phone was long since lost, and I had no way of telling time other than the aching fatigue circulating from my neck to my eyes and back again. We stopped to be scrutinized by the Ecuadorian uniforms with machine guns, then again by the Peruvian uniforms with rifles.