Featured writer: Alison
Although I’ve never given birth, I’m aware of the phenomenon where post-labour mothers seem to forget the horrendous agony of it all … possibly some kind of evolutionary device to ensure they continue to procreate. And since my friend Liz and I walked the Inca Trail in Peru, we have begun to wonder if a similar device is not at play there. The four days of trekking at altitude was, to two Aussie chocolate-eaters, an excruciating expedition but we still find it a challenge to come across fellow trail-trekkers that can recall the blood, sweat and tears of it all. True – we are not the most experienced climbers. Also true that we are both lacking the athleticism and blind enthusiasm of backpackers in their twenties (I am at the ugly end of the thirties, Liz still basks in the enviable early stages of the decade). However, we both recall that even the serial trekkers with legs of steel and lungs of infinite capacity found the Inca Trail tough going at times. But post-Trail, can we find people who’ll agree that the journey through the Andes was gruesome and tiresome and bowel-defying? Not really.
The passage of time and a beautiful new baby can do amazing things to the memory. So too, can the amazing ruins of Machu Picchu. It’s easy to forget the aching legs, the interminable panting, the indelicate lack of toilet facilities when you see the Incan city nestled in the mountains. And in many ways, it seems appropriate to have earned the view with days of exertion. So I can see how people could come to forget the negatives of the trail. But Liz and I have each other. And now you have me …
It was four days and three nights up and down – but mostly up. The misty rain surrounded us again and again but we marched on behind our guide, Washington, with his mixture of optimism (“I am sure that today will be sunny – the Inca gods are happy”) and doom (“Yesterday a body washed up on this riverbank” or “At this point last year, a tourist’s lungs exploded”). Along the way, there are ruins and legends and history and vistas that would be rare to encounter anywhere else.
And there are the porters. The men with mountain hearts and broad smiles and silence that run past you with a load three times their size on their backs and sandals on their feet as you struggle up the slopes with your meagre pack and your self-indulgence.
At night, the temperature could drop below zero, but we were filled with baked trout and mulled wine and had appeased Pachamama (Mother Earth) with a (meagre) offering of the latter, so we buried ourselves in the darkest darkness inside our tents and waited until our porter friends woke us the next morning with hot cups of tea. Then we would stride off again with our toilet paper and freshly boiled water and stop only to ponder the dilemmas, “Do I drink this hot water with things floating in it to rehydrate following my bout of diarrhoea?” and “Do they only refer to that hole/rock/shack as a ‘toilet’ because everybody seems to have crapped there?” Washington talked and scared and sang us through until we arrived at each campsite to waiting tents and food that made us embarrassed by our whining.
And then there was that final morning. We set off at 4.15am to reach the Gate of the Sun by dawn. It was a frenetic pace because behind us were hundreds of people all racing to get there too. Untied shoelaces and dry mouths were ignored and finally we clambered up the last steps with renewed energy (as Washington sang “Eye of the Tiger”) to watch an amazing sunny day begin at Machu Picchu.
The ruins are spectacular but the mountain surrounds equally so. Llamas graze on the grass between the buildings and along the terraces. The stone structures are majestic in dimension and quality. And Washington’s tour was the perfect way to end our journey (“Who wants to climb Wayna Picchu? – each year, tourists fall off and die.”)
Agony? What agony? Stink and dirt and cold? Don’t know what you’re talking about.
Maybe I’ll do it again some day.
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