My heart went out to this delicate girl. "Surely," I commiserated politely, "that must have been a hard thing to watch?"

"Six weeks without protein," said Amanda. "I would have butchered it myself."

Earlier that same day, Becky Warren, another member of our group, had been hit by a taxi.

"I got up," said Becky, "and everything seemed to be fine, so why not just move on?"

No doubt these are folks not prone to whining, good news considering what lay ahead. Our itinerary: fifteen days traipsing through Peru's southern highlands. We spend some time touring ruins, shopping at outdoor markets, or traveling by bus to the next trailhead. But most days we are on the run, anywhere from four to eighteen miles, most of them at altitudes ranging from 7,000 to 16,000 feet.

Something else about altitude. It requires climbing to get there.

"There will be a few climbs," warns Devy Reinstein before we start. "Nothing is completely flat in the Andes."

Owner of Andes Adventures, purveyor of this unique tour and traditional hiking trips as well, Devy proves to be an organizational genius. Wherever we go, Devy is barking into radios and cell phones, managing hotel and restaurant reservations (seven nights of the trip are spent camping, the remaining nights in towns along the way), setting up bus and helicopter shuttles, and orchestrating the movements of fifty-seven porters who somehow have camp and a hot Peruvian meal ready and waiting when we arrive in nosebleed places.

Though possessed of the energy and organizational skills of George Patton, Devy apparently lacks the gene for judging difficulty, time, or distance.

Eventually we settle on a system for deciphering Devy's assessment of our upcoming day.

"Take anything he says and double it," suggests Bob's wife, Betsy.

The fact that we might be longer on the trail than Devy suspected bothers no one. Like any wise adven-turers, my companions recognize an elemental fact of exploration. The longer you are out there, the more time you have to enjoy it.

And there is plenty to enjoy. We spend our first two days in Cuzco. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco remains South America's oldest continuously inhabited city, a place where present and past swirl about each other in a sea of red-tile roofs, 500-year-old churches, and even older stone streets. We tour cavernous Spanish churches heavy with gold and wander about museums where mummified royal families squat in the fetal position so that they might be easily reborn.