Adventures in Peru: 2014, Part 3: Via Ferrata, Zip Lining and the Medical Clinic

Monday, July 28, 2014

Although Greg was much better this morning, he still elected to skip today’s event, the via ferrata and zip line tour. Our guide Carlos had advised us that if Greg did not feel completely well, he should not strain himself and completely ruin any hope of the Inca Trail. The zip line was Genene’s most anticipated event, so she and I forged ahead, secure in the notion that Greg was doing better. He decided to call a doctor to the hotel just so we could get the best treatment possible and save our trail trek. Alas, in the end, the doctor was the one who recommended that we pull the plug, but I am glad we consulted him. Better not start than to get into trouble on the trail. But that comes later. For now, Genene and I headed out to the via ferrata and zip line.

Some street scenes along the route:

The Urubamba River:
A sculpture at one of the hotels where we picked up more zip liners:
Tunupa: he’s not just a Superman/demi-God. He’s now a restaurant!
Genene was filled with excitement. I was filled with trepidation.


By the time we arrived, we had a text from Greg that told us that he was headed to the clinic for some treatments. He told us that he was comfortable and for us to continue. However, our tour operators called the zip line operator to tell relay the message as well, and they wanted us to hold off on going up the mountainside. We heard most of the safety briefing and the zip line operator was just waiting for us to give him a little direction. Greg assured us via email and text that he was in good hands, and he told us to GO and HAVE FUN. We relayed that information to the zip line operators, and they sent us on our merry way. We were the tag-end Charlies, the last ones onto the line.

The first step was to climb our via ferrata for 1300 feet straight up the mountainside. A via ferrata (Italian for “iron road”) is a protected climbing route found in the Alps and in other locations, such as the Sacred Valley. The Italians used them for troop movements during World War I in the Dolomites, but now they have become a way for the novice to experience mountain climbing. Our via ferrata was iron ladder rungs beside a steel cable. The cable ran along the route and was periodically (every 8 to 30 feet or so) fixed to the rock.

We were issued helmets and told to keep them on our heads at all times. Even a small rock dislodged by another zipliner above could become a deadly projectile. We were told that if we sent any rocks down, we were to cry out “Rock!” We stepped into a safety harness and were given gloves with rubber grips and open fingers. On the right side of our harness was a safety rope, which started at the waist with one line but then split into two with a carabiner on each end. We secured ourselves to the safetly cable with the carabiners. Each time we approached a place where a bolt secured the cable to the rock face, we had to move the carabiners–one at a time–to the other side of the bolt. Thus we could continue forward. I felt like Spencer Tracy in that old movie. I think it was called “The Mountain.” He and his terrible brother (Robert Wagner) were going to a plane wreck in the Andes….but I digress.

We also used the safetly cable to help us. There were many iron ladder rungs driven into the mountain face for us to climb, and it was all a little unnerving. As we went up, the wind got more fierce. There was even one foot bridge, which I found to be the most disturbing part of the entire day. So did one of the ladies in front of us, who balked for several minutes. When she finally walked across the bridge, I could not see her but I could hear her. She screamed and squealed the entire way. I was glad that I did not watch, because I might have been even more upset by it. Genene went right out onto the bridge and crossed, and then it was my turn. I really had to suck it up. The “bridge” consisted of two thick cables about 4 inches apart, with cables interconnecting them so that they would stay at 4-inch separation. I had to step out sideways so that my toe hung over one side and heel over the other. Then I had to go out step by step while holding onto another cable at head level. The safety harness was clipped to the safety cable overhead, but as I advanced outward I could feel the bridge swing and I got pretty stretched out. It was disconcerting and I was glad to reach the other side. To me it was the scariest part of the day.

First views from part of the way up:

This was our view of the “balking girl,” who sat down and would not cross the bridge for several minutes. We were down the mountain from her and could only hear, not see. I’m glad I did not watch or I might have balked too.
In this picture, you can see the ladder rungs driven into the rock face and Genene’s safety caribiners clipped onto the cable.
I love her expression in this picture. Her excitement was contagious.
More beautiful views as we ascended:
I know I am overdoing the pictures, but the vistas were just stunning. I was wearing a simple day pack and so could not bring my big Nikon camera and magic lens. I took all these with my old Canon point-and-shoot, which I have handed down to Genene. It worked just fine. With views this good, any camera will do. Speaking of cameras, I had Greg’s GoPro strapped to my chest, and when we get home, I will try to upload some YouTube videos. You will be able to hear me screaming and probably saying ugly words under my breath.
In this next picture, you can see a real novelty. If you are totally bored with the Four Seasons or an Inca Trail tent, you can sleep in a capsule on the side of the mountain. I’m not sure I see the appeal in that, but different strokes for different folks!
We climbed up to 1300 feet and had a sack lunch at the top just before the first zip line.
Now I see faces everywhere in the rocks:
At the top, the wind was very strong, and blowing dirt was a constant problem. Genene closed her eyes and blinked it away.
Lunch is over and we are waiting our turn to ZIP!
One of the guides, Danny, can be seen at the left giving the first briefing on how to zip.

The first zip was not too long. Our zip line pulley was attached to our waist at the left side, and the guides hooked us up and explained the rules. The harness holds your weight so you don’t have to worry about bearing weight with your arms. You do put your hands over the top of the pulley, left hand first and then right. When the guide at the other end of the zip gives a signal, you brake by taking your top hand off, putting it behind the pulley, and using friction to slow your progress. We were given heavy duty work gloves with leather palms so that our hands would not be burned.

Genene went ahead of me on the first zip, and she was absolutely fearless. She dangled out over the Sacred Valley like a pro! She was the youngest one on the tour and probably also the lightest. She applied the brakes as told but I guess she was so light that she stopped short of the platform. No worries. She kept herself from going backward, and the guide at her end went out the 8 to 10 feet on his pulley, wrapped his legs around her waist, and hand over hand he brought her in. I am old and fat, and my weight carried me all the way to the platform. It was a thrill!

A nice lady took our photo between zips:


The second zip was similar in length, but they wanted us to go in tandem. I went in front, and Genene wrapped her legs around mine and we flew! Again, we braked as instructed but came up short by 10 feet or so. The guide shimmied out to get us. He apologized to me for having to wrap himself around me, but I was perfectly okay with that! Wrap your legs around me, fella, and get me onto land!

The third and fourth zip lines were long and very fast. We got a new instruction. We were told to brake as before but we were also given a command of “Go! Go! Go!”, and when that happened we were to stop braking, move our hands off the pulleys and down to the safety line below, and lean our heads to the right (to keep from bonking into the guide on the platform who was going to pull us in). Again, Genene’s light weight caused her to be a little short of the platform, but not by much. I, on the other hand, flew like the wind. Gravity is my friend. Fat girls go fast. I came flying into those last two platforms like a bat out of hell. They told me to brake, and I tried, but the friction made my hands hot and I had to squeeze, release, squeeze, release. I came roaring onto the platform both times, and the guide was laughing uproariously and giving me high fives.

In this picture, you can see one of the ladies zipping ahead of us.

The platform where I came in HOT.
Waiting to zip:
There was plenty of time for resting between the zips.
This was the longest zip line. The platform was quite a distance across the mountainside:
My girl was thrilled and so brave:
Another view of a fellow zip liner:
Closer view of her:
Absolutely stunning views of the Sacred Valley:

It was a heck of a lot easier and more fun zipping down the mountain than climbing up. Next time, I’m taking the elevator.

When we finished the last zip line, we still had to rappel down the last part of the mountain. I am a little embarrassed to admit that it was my first time to rappel. I spent all those years in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and college friends went out every weekend to rappel, but I never joined them. I regret that I was such a nerd then and was always studying. I should have taken advantage of some of those opportunities to see the great outdoors in the Natural State. Ah well. I got it done here in Peru.

Genene went down first, and the skill set for rappelling is different from the zip lining and climbing. The guides were lowering Genene by rope bit by bit, and they were encouraging her to spread out her legs wide and “walk” down the mountain face. I was anxiously watching her and repeating their instructions loudly to her as she stepped down the face of the rock. My guides kept telling me, “She’s safe. You watch here” as they pointed to where they were hooking me into my rappelling gear. I smiled and said, “That’s easy for you to say. That’s my daughter hanging down there.” They laughed. Genene rappelled down the cliff face with ease. I joined her with a little less ease, but I made it down to terra firma and was glad to be there. I did not get down and kiss it like the Pope, but I sure felt like it.

It was a great thrill, and I would do it again. The guides may have just been being kind, but they said that Genene had a real knack for climbing. She loves climbing rock walls at home and always makes it to the top to ring the bell, so perhaps there is something to her talent. They kept saying, “She can come back some day and be a guide.” I know that she had a thrilling day, and I was glad to get to share it with her.

When we finished, the operators told us that Greg was still at the clinic and they were taking us to him. It was a short ride there, and we found him in good health. The doctor told us that the Inca Trail, which was to have started the next morning, was an absolute “NO!” He wanted Greg to continue resting and have an additional follow-up appointment. For a moment, we toyed with the idea that Genene and I would press on. We even got on the phone with the tour operator and started the conversation in that way. We did not get far. There was no way that I was going to be able to enjoy this adventure without Greg. The Inca Trail has been there for 500 years. It will be there when we go back. I pulled the plug in mid-sentence and told Greg to tell the tour guides to arrange something else.

I am so proud of Genene. She was so disappointed, and she cried. Through her tears, she said, “Mom, it’s the right decision. There just were not any good decisions.” We had hiked and trained for months. We had looked forward to going through the Sun Gate at sunrise, to seeing the sacred place as the Inca saw it. We had bonded as a family during all our long training walks and our mornings with Jamie Johnson in the park, sweating and running up the “hills” in Spotts Park. I really think we were ready. We had the right gear. We had the right guide. We had the right attitude. It was just not to be. Family is more sacred than the trail. We will not have the experience that we planned, but we will have a good time together. We are rolling with it.

When all the drip ran out of the IV, the doctor released Greg. The clinic was very clean and efficient. There was a full size bed beside the hospital bed, presumably for a family member to stay with an in-patient. It was larger and more comfortable than any of those ugly reclining chairs I have slept on in US hospitals. (I’m glad I did not have to sleep there though!) The doctor dispensed all the medicines right on the spot, ran our credit card, and called us a cab. We have travel insurance and medical insurance, so I am sure I will have some fun wrangling with all that when I return. The bill was actually quite reasonable, and I won’t waste any time worrying about that now.

Here’s the unhappy moment at the clinic:

We arrived back at our hotel disappointed but in good spirits. Genene and I had a great day on our adventure, and Greg was on the mend. I told Genene that we would be staying at the hotel in Yucay for another night instead of sleeping in 35 degree weather in a tent. What could be wrong with that? I went to the bar and had a drink, since I was not going to be on the trail. While in the bar, I met an American couple. They wear looking for a scale to weigh their gear because they were headed out onto the trail in the morning. The hotel could not help, but I overheard and told them to wait while I went to our room and pulled out our luggage scale. They were grateful for my help, and I sent them on their way with my very best wishes. I told them we would see them at Machu Picchu, since our entries will still coincide. (We plan to get there by train.) I went back to our room and for the first time, I weighed our Inca Trail gear bags, which we had been packing since we arrived. They were all right on the money. We coulda been contenders!

No need to wake up for a 5:30 AM departure! We turned off all the alarms and decided to sleep as long as we wanted. After all, it’s a vacation!


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