Machu Picchu Cautionary Tale: I Ended Up In a Wheelchair (and NOT for the Reason You’d Think!)
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.Joseph: Last year, team member Meghan stirred me to conquer the 4-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. It was one of the hardest things this doughboy has ever done. And probably the most beautiful and fulfilling, too.
After the hike, my knees were shot, my feet were blistered, and my arms were chafing. But eating a casual lunch in the town of Aguas Calientes after the hike ended up being harder on my body than traversing the Andes.
I spent weeks in torment after that meal. Here’s why!
Visiting Aguas Calientes? Douse Yourself in Bug Spray
Aguas Calientes is an adorable town at the foot of Machu Picchu. The streets are lively and bustling with roaring trains, squeaky wheelbarrows, and assorted vendors.
The town is fun to look at, but there is much less to do than what it appears. It seemed like half of the structures were restaurants, and the other half were Peruvian trinket and Machu Picchu souvenir shops.
It was weird to see a town so dependent on tourism. It exists because Machu Picchu exists. And if ever Machu Picchu were to close for some reason, the town would probably immediately fold.
It was at one of these restaurants that I was blitzed by sand flies. The tiniest, most unassuming little gnats that made the journey direct from Satan’s throne room to bite me. I ignored my friends’ advice about using bug spray (or at least wearing long sleeves and pants), because I’m not normally prone to bug bites, and it was such a beautiful day.
However, sitting down to a meal at an outdoor patio, I found tiny flies all over my exposed arms and legs. They were annoying, but completely painless.
It was a matter of hours before I could barely walk. The bites manifested all over my arms and legs, and began to swell. Every step was agonizing; it felt like blood was going to burst out of each bite from the pressure.
My friends and I caught a train and a bus to Cusco, where we stayed 1 night at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco (for 40,000 Marriott points). During the ride I contracted a fever, and by the time we arrived at the hotel, I couldn’t walk. The hotel brought a wheelchair for me, and I spent the next 15 hours off my feet.
While my friends explored the city, I slept in the hotel courtyard in the 80 degree sunlight…wrapped in a jacket, underneath a patio heater.
One of the Marriott employees called the in-house medic to try and help me. She was an absolute sweetheart, and applied antihistamine cream to me while I made hallucinatory conversation with her.
Fortunately, I had used 30,000 American Airlines miles to fly Business Class from Lima to Miami the next day. And was able to elevate my feet in the angled lie-flat seats to help alleviate some of the pressure.
From reading the experiences of others, I think I had an abnormally bad reaction to these bites. Thankfully, the swelling was gone in less than 1 week. But the intolerable itching lingered for a few weeks more.
It’s so frustrating to be sidelined by a bunch of city slicker gnats after hiking through snowy peaks and down into the balmy Amazon.
I overcame the Andes Mountains during a 4-day hike to Machu Picchu! But as soon as I let my guard down, the Andes exacted revenge with a swarm of sand flies in Aguas Calientes.
If ever I return to that tiny town, I’ll be sure to baptize myself in bug spray before hitting the streets.
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