Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Machu Picchu (part 1): it's a family affair

"We are family guys!" That was the proclamation from Freddy, our guide, before we set off.
It was the morning after the night before. With only 4 hours sleep under our pillows, it was time to begin yet another big adventure; a four day trek along the Inca Trail to the mystcal mountain palace of the Incas, Machu Picchu. It was an expedition that would require Victorian era planning and resources. The Family was 16 tourists, 2 cooks, 21 native porters and our guides, Freddy and William. By the time we stepped through the Sun Gate at 6.20am on the 4th day, watching spellbound as the shadow blanket was slowly dragged across the hills below our feet, revealing Machu Picchu in all its sleepy, early morning reverie; we really felt like a family. " For Pachamama, guys!"
The porters displayed Herculean feats of strength and hospitality over the 4 days. As we, the tourists, willed our bodies up the steep climbs, they raced past us carrying loads of up t 20kg. Morning tea, lunch and dinner was always set up and waiting for us under tents with tables, chairs and cutlery all neatly arranged. The porters even formed a finish line and clapped and applauded our every arrival. The head porter, Miguel, is 63. He was as fit, wiry and lean as an Andean fox. The cooks conjured up amazing things from the meagre camping stoves like pizza and cake. And every day we looked forward to a new variant of delicious homemade soup. There is no other word for it, AWSOME!
It was also a remarkable trip because of the personal reasons and biographies that had brought each of The Family members to be there.
Eilleen, from Canada, was celebrating her 65th birthday. 4 of her children (she has 8 in total) and Katie's boyfriend Mike, escorted, pushed and motivated her all the way to the finish. William, the guide, kept their spirits going all the way, with a little help from trail nuts laced with M&Ms!
Bob (65) and Jeff, a father and son duo from Chicago, wee there to remember a wife and mother passed away in 2006. Bob and his wife spent the years from 1969-72 working for the Peace Corps in Peru, building schools and falling in love with the country. They were even married there. Bob, like Eilleen, ploughed up the hills with a stoic determination that reminded me of my own proud, "I{ll do it my way!" old bugger of a dad!
Jeff was a true gent, a scholar of Bill Murray and Chevy Chase and one of the funnniest men I{ve met in a long time!
The Sassenachs were out in force too. Martin had dreamt of visiting Machu Picchu ever since he was a lad. Recruited on his mission were his close mate Gary, his son Christian and his son's friend Alun.
Katheryn and Rory were there wildly detouring en route to a new life in Vancouver, Canada. Previously, they had bought an RV the size of a semi-detatched house and motored their way around the States for 3 months. Katheryn, a nurse, had a job awaiting her in the new year. Rory was abandoning his life as a super intelligent radar geek to start a new career as a seaplane pilot. Cool!
And that just leaves little old us. At this point in time traveling has become our life. What else is there to say?
Over the 4 days The Family learnt a lot from Freddy about Incan history and the deep spirituality of the local Quechuan people. We learnt how there are 3 levels to Incan beliefs. Condors at the top, Pumas in the middle and snakes at the bottom. Cuzco is the naval, the centre of the universe. Cuzco is shaped as a puma and Mach Pichu is shaped as a condor.
"For Pachamama, guys!" Every drink from chi cha (corn beer, sour and a bit mingin) to water had to be spilled on the ground before drinking, to pay respects to Pachamama (Mother Earth). At the end of the 2nd day, an arduous climb equal to the height of Ben Nevis, The Family shared a ceremony at the top to give thanks to Pachamama. A cairn was built, coca leaves buried at the base and Pisco brandy spilled over the top. My dad does the same thing with a hip flask of rusty nail when he reaches the summit of a hill; except he never spills a drop! Pachamama was evidently listening as the weather stayed fair for all four days. Not bad considering this was the rainy season.
On the first night Freddy challenged The Family to a game of football against the porters. After 10 mins of charging about at high altitude you are absolutely knackered. Only Mike, the young Canadian, managed to last the pace and that was mainly because the rest of us refused to sub him in our hyperventilating states. Needless to say, we lost. Heavily.

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