Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Occasionally Merciful MS Gods

Demi Moore was just going to have to wait for me. In fact, I didn’t even know she was there, much less an arm’s length away, which was probably a very good thing. See, at the time, I was descending some extremely precarious steps at Machu Picchu… on my rear end, one slow butt scooch at a time. And Laura definitely did not want to hear my final words be a surprised celebrity-induced exclamation “HEY, AREN’T YOU THE ACTRESS DEMI MOOooooooooore” as I plunged off a precipice, fortunate to being wearing bright prisoner-orange pants so my body would be easier to recover.

Honestly, I never thought I’d get here, to see firsthand one of the wonders of the world. With my mobility restrictions due to multiple sclerosis, heck, it wasn’t practical for me to be anywhere near here. Especially on this day, of all days.

A steady rain had glazed our train car all morning, turning the scenic ride to Aguas Calientes—the launchpad for the Inca ruin—into a trip that forebode misfortune. The rocky steps and paths of Machu Picchu, already worn smooth over the centuries, were sure to be as slick as a throw rug on a freshly waxed floor. As we picked up rain ponchos in the market to go with our raincoats and umbrellas, my stomach churned.

Up until now, the MS gods had been incredibly merciful on this trip. Despite forecasts of rain, we had met only sun. Food and stomach issues were never a problem, illness had thankfully stayed away (when I hugged my mom goodbye for this vacation, she informed me she had just gotten a cold!), and even my bladder and bowel issues were cooperating as much as they can cooperate. That was a bit of a shocker, as staying well hydrated was critical to avoid altitude sickness, a common and debilitating threat in the Andes that was never realized in our case.

As our bus twisted up the mountainside to get to the 15th century Inca citadel, a 30-minute bumpy ride, I was resigned to spending the afternoon parked next to a covered gift shop touting Peruvian knickknacks, clothing made with faux alpaca, and pan-flute CDs (gah, playing on repeat!). And then the rain stopped, the mist lifted, the sun shone, the rocks dried. I was going to be able to visit Machu Picchu, a place I thought forever off limits. Thank you, MS gods! 

And then we got to the entrance… with steps everywhere. And I was informed that if I had to use the bathroom, now would be a mighty good time—I'd have to hold it for the next five hours—as there were no facilities in the ruins. And, warning, there were many more steps to come before we could reach any vista, only without those pesky, helpful railings found at the entry. And because the Inca were such anal-retentive master builders, deep handholds in the wall were virtually nonexistent since virtually every rock was a perfect, snug fit. Curse you, MS gods! 

But then, serendipitously, it all happened. I managed the myriad steps (slowly). I managed the narrow passages (slowly). I rolled on the packed dirt paths clinging to the hillsides (slowly). And when we reached the Temple of the Sun, the most important building in all of Machu Picchu, the decision to climb to the base was nonnegotiable. The brilliant Torreon was as advertised. 

We discovered Demi later in a photo (bottom left in purple).
Taking in what I had just accomplished, I realized just how fortunate I had been. Multiple sclerosis tried its best to stop me, and it failed today. I also realized that it was wise not to push my luck. I know too well the fickleness of those MS gods. It was time to find a safe zone and park it so Laura could fully explore Machu Picchu. That meant instead of picking my way down the OMG steep steps of Temple of the Sun on forearm crutches (no doubt risking a trip-ending fall), I opted for the far safer technique of dropping down one step at a time on my duff: Move one leg, move the other, drop a step, repeat. 

Thanks for understanding, Demi.

*For those wondering, and I know many of you are, unbelievably I did not have to pee for the full five hours we were away from the bathroom. My extra layer of protection was never needed. The MS gods may never be so kind again, but I’ll take it. Also, my guides at Aracari (www.aracari.com) probably had a hand in my success as well.