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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Race to Cusco

On the morning of Wednesday the 24th in a town called Yanama, alarms went off around the campsite at 5 am. In my tent, the celebrating began immediately as we remembered that there was no trekking that day. We had finished one of our hardest treks of this program and everyone was ready to let our sore shoulders and legs rest. Edson our guide, had arranged for two vans to drive us to a town called Santa Teresa around 4 hours away. After a breakfast of avena, we piled into vans- fighting over who would sit with Jesse and use his aux cord. After an hour of driving on bumpy dirt roads, the driver in my van pulled over, got out and went to the back of the van. He came back a few minutes later and asked one of the other passengers (it was technically a public transport van) to hold a bucket of blue liquid that was leaking out of a hole in the bottom of the van. Seeming unconcerned, he continued driving until we met up with the other van a few minutes later and again pulled over. At this point the van was spilling the blue liquid everywhere. Edson, a normally calm, easygoing person looked a little shaken and unsure. We all got out of the leaking van and waited hoping that it was an easy fix. This was not the case. Two more buckets were filled with the mystery fluid. Instructors, daily student leaders and Edson all decided that it was too dangerous to continue in that van, leaving us with only one van that wasn’t big enough for all seventeen of us. And so the problems began. Originally, the plan was for the working van to drive the hour or so back to Yanama and bring back another car to fit the rest of us.

Luckily, we had stopped in front of a huge glacier view so it made our waiting scenic. However, it was cold standing on the side of the road under a glacier. We pulled out sleeping bags, coats and hats and settled into waiting on the side of the road. An hour and a half later, the working van returned-without another car. The driver did bring a mechanic for the leaking van. The plan then became that half of the group would drive to Tatoro, a closer town in the working van, with the other half would wait for a public transport truck and sit in the back of the open truck for the hour and a half drive. The half that was destined for the open truck prepared for a cold drive, they borrowed extra layers, hats gloves and sleeping bags. Then just as the group going in the van was about the leave, another plan arose and the idea was that this van would drive half the group all the way to Tatoro, and then return for the second half of the group unless the truck got there first. The first group left in the van, waving at the second group still standing on the side of the road. When we arrived in Tatoro an hour and a half later, it was raining. We walked to the closest campsite and met a woman named Doña Sirilia, the owner who was extremely kind and let us put all our bags in a room. We ordered soup for lunch for seventeen people, and were able to help her make the lunch by peeling and cutting vegetables in her small warm kitchen. Being able to walk into someones kitchen, begin helping to make a meal and feel completely at home is a feeling that I will miss when I return home. We sat with tea and coffee and chatted with Doña Sirilia and another woman who had been on the van with us and who was also stranded. Three and a half hours later, the other group arrived after having waited in the cold and rain for 5 hours. The next dilemma was how to get to Santa Maria where a van was waiting to take us to Cusco. Edson and Hannah made many phone calls asking for a van to drive up and pick us up, turn around and drive another three hours to Santa Maria. They finally got someone to get us but another problem arose. The road between Santa Teresa and Santa Maria sounded like it could be dangerous to drive at night due to the steep cliffs. We were told that we had to make it across that road before dark. It gets dark here around 6-6:30 and when we found this out it was almost four. We needed to make a three hour drive in two hours. Next, Edson got a call from the next driver saying that there was a landslide further down the road and he couldn’t get past it to pick us up. So we decided to start the 40 plus minute walk down the road to meet the van. While we were walking another van drove along and Edson asked him if he could bring us down to the van that we needed. He agreed and we piled our seventeen packs plus group gear onto the van but we couldn’t fit every person and all of our bags due to weight so half of the group decided to continue walking. However, because we were in a time crunch and wanting to get to Santa Maria before dark the group walking started running. As we drove by them in the van, we cheered like it was a marathon, we laughed like crazy watching Peter chase the car until we were going to fast for him to run.

When we made it to the landslide on the road, we had to get out and bring all the bags across the muddy, rocky mess to the other van where Juan Carlos was waiting to drive us to Santa Maria. The van then returned to pick up the runners and continue with them to Santa Maria. After another hour drive, Danielle, Sandy, Teagan, Michella, Lotus, Milo and I stopped at Juan Carlos’s house, another camp site as well as a coffee factory. Because it was already dark we thought that we had missed our chance to get to Cusco because it wouldn’t be safe to drive. We had thought we would stay at Juan Carlos’s camp site and continue the drive in the morning but as we were sitting at a picnic table we watched the other group drive past in a van. So our group ran to the van, jumped in and started following them. Thirty minutes later we came upon the other van stopped in the road because a tree had fallen in front of them right as they came up to it. After clearing away the tree we continued and made it to Santa Teresa around 8. We had dinner together around 8:30 while Edson and the instructors talked to our next drivers to ask if the road to Santa Maria was safe. They agreed that it was safe enough at night because on the twisty roads it was easy to see other cars coming because of the headlights. After eating we all piled ourselves and our bags into another van and drove another hour to Santa Maria. When we finally reached Santa Maria, switched all our bags to another even bigger van and got in it was 10:30. We set off for Cusco, for the five hour drive. We pulled into Cusco at around 4 am, dragged our stuff to Hostel Resbalosa, said our goodbyes to Edson, and found our rooms. We fell asleep as our alarms from the previous day went off.

After 24 hours of travel, tons of plan changes, 7 vans, a fallen tree, cold and rain, we finally made it to Cusco to continue our last two days of X-phase. As a student run transportation day, we couldn’t have had more problems if we’d tried but the entire group remained calm and positive. This crazy day, the race to Cusco, truly exemplified Dragons dynamic itinerary, adaptability/flexibility, and rugged travel. As I fell asleep that morning I felt so proud of our group. The way we handled difficulty and stress as a student run activity showed how much we have grown as individuals and as a group.

Now we can relax and have fun in our last two days in Peru!