Everything Jill just shared about our Santa Cruz Trek is absolutely true. It was a fabulous hike, especially with the mules carrying everything. What made it even more special for me was how I woke up that first morning…when it was still dark out and I ran to the toilet (err, I mean hole in the ground).
Yes, when I woke up that first morning…after our first night of camping, I had diarrhea. For starters, pooping in the outdoors isn’t too fun to begin with. I’m not sure how many of you out there have actually done this before but you have to squat down low with your pants off totally exposed to the elements. Doing it once a day is bad enough but 4 times in one cold morning and pretty soon the thighs are hurting more than your pride.
So that is how my day started and it only got “better” from there. We debated turning back as we hadn’t walked very far the day before but there was a horse along on our trip and the Israelis who rented him, Boaz & Neri, urged me to ride it, so I agreed. I’ve not ridden horses but half a dozen times in my life and seeing this horse run from its handlers when they tried to bring him to me didn’t exactly give me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Eventually I got on the thing but the group had already left without me leaving no one for my horse to follow…this meant I had to “drive” him myself. When you turn the wheel on a car it turns…on this horse, not so much. I spent the first 20 minutes of my ride doing circles around our campsite while another group took the opportunity to laugh. Great fun I was having. Also keep in mind that when a horse walks/trots it is very bumpy and my stomach was already in not so great shape.
Eventually another cowboy came along and gave my horse the push he needed to start up the fairly steep trail. Did I mention this day I chose to wake up with diarrhea was to be the hardest day of the trail? After an hour or so I caught back up with my group and trotted along for awhile. Eventually the trail got too steep for my horse and I had to walk him a bit. I’m not sure if it was the altitude (already above 4000m) or my body but that 100 yards or so impossible for me that Alexander, the Russian in our group, had to walk the horse for me as I simply couldn’t pull him.
Getting back on the horse my body temperature was now all out of wack. The air temp was falling yet I was starting to show a pretty decent fever. In addition to the t-shirt, fleece, and windbreaker I was wearing I ended up donning a down jacket from the Italian Fabrizio while taking tylenol from his girlfriend Valentina. Back on the horse it basically walked at its own pace…I didn’t even bother trying to tell it where and when to go.
Before reaching the main climbing portion of the day, where we’d climb all the way to 4750m to cross to the other side of the mountains, the guide told me that the horse wouldn’t be able to do all of it with me on its back. Feeling a little better, despite barely touching dinner and only eating a stale roll for breakfast, I started walking and resolved to finish a cliff bar by the time I got to the top. I quickly fell behind the group but step by step managed to keep a reasonable pace. Stopping every 100 yards or so I just kept working at walking. Someone (I think it was Jill) put Sound of Music in my head so I started singing “doe a deer” to myself….I think people thought I was going insane. Thankfully I had Jill on one side of me and Fabrizio on the other urging me along…singing and all.
At the top of the pass everyone began to eat their lunch. I looked at my half eaten cliff bar (the one I had resolved to finish before getting to the top) and at a rock on a flat piece of trail, and decided to take a quick power nap before doing anything else. Then I finished my cliff bar. The Tylenol I’d taken was starting to wear off and I was becoming colder so I led the way downhill and let everyone else catch up…which they did quickly.
Seeing that I was getting weak again everyone suggested that I try to get back on the horse. Taking their advice but still feeling very exhausted the guide handed the reins to his 11 year old nephew Chris, rather than to me, telling him to guide us down slowly. In the 5 minutes I was on the horse I found myself reminding Chris to go slower…go slower….then he gave the reins a tug and the horse wasn’t ready. The horse lost his balance and began to fall forward. I flew over the top of the horse, upset stomach and all, landing ahead and downhill of the beast. For the first time I can remember I tried not to stop myself but to continue falling as I figured the horse was rolling down as well. Nope, he regained his balance once I flew over the top but I was still down on the ground. Yes, I fell off the horse.
Only a few bruises on my shins so no worse for the wear but still not the way I wanted to go down. A few people, I’m not sure who, helped me up. Another hiker asked if I was suffering from altitude sickness or diarrhea as he had coca leaves to help with the altitude. I started climbing downhill and found Valentina for some more of that Tylenol.
In hindsight the day could have been WAY worse. I could have been far sicker and the horse could have fallen on me. I still wasn’t able to eat much for dinner but the next morning, despite feeling incredibly weak from having not eaten, I felt 100x better. I really did have a great time on the hike despite my troubles and am – thankfully – completely fine now.