Walking like an Inca.
22.05.2008 - 25.05.2008 23 °C
I woke up to the sound of bells. For the past week, Cusco had been preparing itself for Corpus Christi and the day had finally come to celebrate. Unfortunately, I had a prior engagement.
Almost 4 months before, I had made a booking to trek the Inca Trail and now, with the final money paid and my bag packed, it´s fair to say I was feeling a little nervous. I had spent the previous day in bed, feeling dizzy, nauseous and febrile and was clinging to the faint hope that some dubiously acquired antibiotics would pull me through.
Luckily, I knew that I would only be trekking with two other people. Unluckily, one of them was the biggest bitch I have ever met. For the sake of convenience (or bitterness, whichever you prefer), I have decided to replace their real names with ´nicknames´ - henceforth, they shall be known as Señora Holier-than-thou (SHTT) and Señor Gormless (SG). At first, I thought that they were just a pair of affable thirty-somethings from Devon but I couldn´t have been more wrong. The following should give you a taste of the dinner table awkwardness I endured throughout the trek:
Wilbert: Amigo, did I tell you about the time when I guided Shakira around Machu Picchu?
Me: Wow, sounds better than the time that I bumped into Anna Kournikova at Mumbai airport.
SHTT: Who´s Anna Kournikova?
Me: She used to be a tennis player
SHTT: Oh my god, you´re so middle class.
SHTT: Are all gap year students like you?
She went on to diss my parents (SHTT is a social worker and finds it ´disgusting´ that surgeons earn more than she does), my upbringing and even the fact that I´m going to read Classics.
Fortunately, the trek itself was absolutely magnificent. Each day, we were treated to a stunning variety of scenery, ranging from classic Andean vistas to cloud forests. Moreover, Wilbert, the guide, was both informative and a complete legend. In between showing off his knowledge of the Incas, he would also play ´hilarious´ practical jokes on me.
For example, I wanted to thank the porters for their hard work in Quechua (their native language) and so asked Wilbert to teach me the word for thank-you. Seems simple enough, doesn´t it? Wilbert told me that I ought to say ´Les voy a pankar´.
Somewhat surprisingly, when I put my new phrase into action our entire team of porters cracked up laughing. I put this down to my appalling Quechua accent and, undeterred, carried on saying it, each time adding a little to the phrase (for instance, I added that I wanted to thank each and every one of them, every day). Finally, Wilbert said that the porters were so impressed by my Quechua that they wanted me to go up to the top of Dead Woman´s Pass (the highest point on the trail) and shout my gratitude. By this time, I was a little suspicious, but I decided to go along with it. And so, I climbed up to Dead Woman´s Pass ahead of the porters and started yelling down at them. As one, they sat down and burst into giggles. It turns out that ´Les voy a pankar´ doesn´t mean ´I want to thank you´ at all. It means I want to f*ck you.
All jokes aside, the porters are incredible. They are tiny (even by my standards!), but phenomenally fit - so much so, that one porter was able to run the whole Inca Trail in less than 4 hours! Until legislation was passed a couple of years ago to protect them, they would usually carry loads of 50 to 60kg on their backs and would only earn around 50 soles (less than a tenner) for doing this for 4 full days. Luckily now, they are limited to 25kg each and earn around 400 soles for a trek, which, although still not very much by Western standards, does go a lot further towards supporting their families.
Anyway, I feel that I have digressed enough and that I should reach the main point of this blog. Machu Picchu. The lost city of the Incas. On the morning of the final day of the trek, we started walking at 5, aiming to reach Intipunku (the Sun gate) by sunrise. Unfortunately, when we got there, the whole place was shrouded in fog. Dejected, we sat down and listened to about 20 American trekkers make the same joke, one after another (´Sun gate, huh? They should call this place the Fog gate!´). Eventually though, the mist cleared and we got our first glimpses of the site.
I know that it is incredibly cliched, but words simply cannot do justice to the place. Even as busloads of Americans crowded in (´Gee, isn´t this place swell..!´), Machu Picchu retains its silent majesty. The fact that the Incas never developed a system of writing means that although most of the buildings remain intact, we will almost certainly never be able to know their exact purpose. As Hiram Bingham, the ´discoverer´of Machu Picchu, once said, it is a place shrouded in mystery. I hope it stays that way.