The Stairs of Death
Amber Carbo

As a third year college student, I studied abroad in Peru and enjoyed an amazing Summer in an even more amazing place! Each day may not have gone smoothly, but every day was an adventure. One day in particular started like this:

2:30 AM

“Hospitál! Hospitál!”

Swift, violent, and unrelenting, I awoke in the middle of the night to a serious illness. My host father was very concerned and wanted to drive me to the local urgent care. We tried to communicate through both of our second languages what was going on.

We drove into the dark, under dim streetlights. He did his best to comfort me, turning on a radio station playing American music, and asked slowly, in pronounced English: “What..it...says?” With my eyes shut, I concentrated on the lyrics and roughly translated the phrases to a pop culture song.

Arriving at the clinic well after midnight, we spent hours on the phone with my travel insurance trying to make sure my visit would be covered. Soon after, I was treated and diagnosed with Salmonella. Salmonella? The raw cookie dough disease?

In shock, I was given fluids, antibiotics, and released into the care of my host-father with specific instructions to stay in bed. The next day, less than 4 hours later, my study abroad group was set to travel to Machu Picchu and I knew I wouldn’t want to miss that train.

Afraid my sickness would prevent me from boarding the 4:30 AM train to Aguas Calientes, I covered the dark circles of my eyes and put on my best “I’m not dying” smile. Hugging my stomach through every switch-back, we rode up a rickety track all 11, 000 feet into the Andes Mountains.

As we turned the ridge to get our first glimpse of the famous peak, the bustling train of foreigners and locals alike gazed up in awe.

The deserted, dark jungle starkly contrasted with the bright tourists that swarmed the site.

We rested for the night at a local hostel and met other travelers, also with hearts’ set on tackling the tallest peak of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu. Only 400 are allowed to summit this peak per day for safety reasons, 200 in the morning and 200 in the afternoon. You must go with a guide, a harness and cables, to make it up the steep and dangerous incline.

We left bright and early to meet the first morning group traveling up the mountain, only 14 people total.

Weary from fighting Salmonella, I walked with steady determination up the thousand plus steep and unforgiving steps of Huayna Picchu, also commonly referred to as...The Stairs of Death.

Photo by Amber Carbo

After hours of climbing up the 45 degree incline, I sat on a boulder to take it all in: the jungle, the journey, the moment, the mystery. The stones were whispering their stories, and I was there listening: Oh the people we’ve seen, from ancient times to now, each with their own tales of adventure that have brought them to this place.

The past few days had been filled with  fear, mistrust, and anxiety as well as joy, wonder, and excitement.

I laughed, taking in my new world, and cherished the humid jungle air. Across the vast Peruvian landscape, you could see the country for the place it is, not what it is supposed to be.

Peru is not a flashy tourist destination for the faint of heart, but rather a land of rugged, wild landscape full of colorful and genuine people.

Atop one of the world’s most iconic wonders, fighting illness, I had walked the Stairs of Death, and I was here.

. . . . .

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