Thursday, 20 November 2008

Machu Picchu (part 2): "not aliens, guys!"

During the trek, Kathy became possessed by the Incan God of Mentalism. When hill walking, I usually lead on the way up and she leads on the descent. On the Inca Trail, however, I just couldn´t meet her pace; going up or down! Only English Gary was her match. Infact, he became her nemesis. Gary liked to let her go off infront and then command ridiculous amounts of competitive strength to catch up with her, sometimes even carrying two rucksacks. Nutters, the both of them. "Maybe too much coca leaves, guys?" As Freddy often said.
On the 4th and final day, Kathy trounced the lot of us in the morning race to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate lies in the hills above Machu Picchu. On the shortest and longest days of the year, the sun shines through the gate and beams down in a straight line to the Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu; it shines through the window and lands exactly on a prescribed spot in the middle of the floor. It is not something from the pages of Indiana Jones, it is Indiana Jones. Without the snakes. And with llamas.
"But not aliens, guys, not aliens!" As Freddy would constantly remind us. "People like Mr Miguel built this place. Clever people. They knew all about the stars."
We were told that the sunrise through the Sun Gate would be at about 6.20am (as it happens we arrived too late, but it didn´t matter). The Family left the base camp at 5.30am and were told we had just enough time to make it for the sun´s brand new day. As the boom from the starting pistol resounded off the ancient hills (only Kathy and Gary actually heard this, the rest of us were still waking up...), Kathy was off! She was completely unstoppable, a lightning fast hare darting her way to the mythical prize of the Sun Gate. Christian (who is 22 and in the US Airforce) and myself did our best to keep up with the scorching pace. But she was moving too fast, it was impossible. Even Gary was a beaten man. I have a clear and demoralizing memory of looking up at the Monkey Steps, a tall flight of painfully steep steps inches away from the Sun Gate itself, to glimpse Kathy disappear nimbly over the top, just as the chasing pack had reached the bottom.
When I finally walked through the Sun Gate, Kathy was waiting with outstretched arms and a sweaty smiling face. Below was Machu Picchu. How can I describe the moment? We were all exhausted. 4 days, 45 km and one shameful game of footie had finally caught up with us. The emotion struck us all dumb. It seemed an age that we all sat there looking down at the famous ancient ruins, calmly soaking its old stone limbs in the warm pool of the morning sun. Nothing was said between us except for a string of contented smiles.
The Family walked around Machu Picchu in a bit of a daze. Freddy enthused passionately about the architecture and egineering skills of the former inhabitants. "Remember guys, no aliens!" There were other people there too. They had come by bus. "Lazy tourists, guys," frowned Freddy. The Family growled at these outsiders with distrust. We felt like they didn´t deserve to be here, like they didn´t belong. What had they sacrificed to Pachamama? One middle aged tourist in a lurid flowery blouse, pulled the neck line over her shoulders and sprawled herself over a part of the ruins, posing for the camera. The collective jaws of The Family clunked to the floor in astonishment. That was perhaps taking the notion of sacrifice too literally. Canadian Mike nicknamed her ´Machu Pornshow.´
Whe Bob and his wife had visited the ruins in 1972 there had only been another 12 people there. After 11.30, when the tourist train arrives from Cuzco, there would be some 2000 people clambering amongst the ruins. The Family was long gone before then...

It was an unforgettable 4 days. Please go, if you can. And don´t be a lazy tourist. Don´t take the train. Take to the hills and earn your passage through the Sun Gate.
For Freddy. For William. For the cooks. For the porters.
For The Family.
"For Pachamama, guys. For Pachamama!"

It still brings tears to my eyes...


Anonymous said...

Athole, you should be a travel writer. I really enjoyed your prose. It was poetic!!!
By the way, no one had to push me up the hills, a bit of cajoling perhaps and definitely a hand for balance. If I decide to do this in ten years time I will take the train, Freddie notwithstanding!

The pictures are great--Thanks. eileen

Anonymous said...

Hi Eileen!
Thanks for that. When I say ´pushing´I really meant gentle encouragment! You were amazing - a complete inspiration. Keep in touch.
Athole x