Do you ever find
When you’re losing your grip
Life feels topsy-turvy
And you’re really gonna flip?
Don’t worry my friends
It’s a self-isolation blip
Grab some (gummy bear) popcorn
And enjoy this Peru trip
A long long time ago, in the ancient land of the Incas, my very fun and travelling companion in-laws, Pat and Kevin, surprised me with an extremely generous and let’s-be-frank- extremely challenging birthday gift- a four-day trek through the Peruvian mountains to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. It also happened to be the 100th Anniversary of the Inca City’s ‘discovery’ by American explorer Hiram Bingham. (1911). Filled with equal parts over-the-top excitement and an even bigger dollop of over-the-top-holy-sh-t-trepidation, I self-talked my way into what would be an adventure of a lifetime. (Which in laymen’s terms means, I actually lived to tell the tale!)
Landing in Lima, (Peru) as dawn was breaking, I got a flash opportunity to roll over twice in the hotel’s hard single bed before we were up and at ‘em. Acclimatizing to the high altitude was the first in a critical list of steps that needed our full attention. At our highest point, the altitude would be 13,776 feet- taller than four whole NBA basketball teams, n’est pas? But don’t you worry! I was ready. I had more pharmaceuticals packed than a bad rapper on a bender.
After a couple of days in Cusco, we were tasked by our guide, Ozzie, with packing a six kilogram backpack, (geez, I have purses that weigh more than that!) with the personal items that we deemed most important for the trek. Holy! Doodle! But it is incredible how fast, (well I wouldn’t actually say that I outpaced Speedy Gonzales), one makes the insightful decision between want-to-take versus need-to-take. There’s a hell of a difference I found out super quick.
Gummy Bears-check. (Non-negotiable for the energy-booster needed in the flagging afternoon sunshine). Cute little tops- out. (Hard choice but who was going to see me anyway-like you saw my pup tent, Right?) Three (out of six) books- check. Travel journal- check; toilet paper – check-it-ee-check-check-check!
Geez, now that I think of it, this packing was prescient to our collective COVID experience! Who knew!
The first morning of our trek we were delivered by van to the starting point of our journey, an opening in a gate that was festooned with a giant sign in Spanish lettering: “Piscacucho KM 82.”
I looked at that sign; and I looked at the ominous clouds rolling in; and my first thought was-I wonder where I put that 72-pack of dissolving Imodium tablets.
But, as we hit the trail, the moss tapestry of emerald green cloaking the rolling mountains, pointy caps of snow piercing the cobalt sky, striking ruins hollowed into the hillsides, was an eye buffet well worth the initial worry. Conversations, which lost direction in the memory-thinning altitude, wafted easily as people stopped to catch their runaway breath, or let the porters, Olympus God apparitions, streak past with backpacks stretching from ear lobes to their ankles.
Day two 5:30 a.m. wake-up call arrived with porters delivering steaming cups of coffee or coca leaf tea to our tent zipper. After a robust breakfast, we hit the trail for a second 12-km day. Having breezed through a half-marathon the month before – well, I wouldn’t exactly call it a breeze- my daughter signed me up for that marathon- which happened to be in the Grand Cayman Islands – so of course, my peeps, of course I would go…..although admittedly I walked, not ran the half- an exercise that began (for me) at 5 a.m. and ended in time for happy hour (also me)…but I digress. Let’s just say, I hadn’t bargained for the steep ascent to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass (elevation 4,200 metres). For several hours, although we stopped many times to gasp for breath, we all felt good, fascinated with the ultrathin footpaths that weaved, and weaved, and weaved heavenward. Gawking into the never ending panorama, pole, foot, pole, foot, I finally had to stop looking up at Dead Woman; I was beginning to relate to her. As we gained the top of the Pass, the heavens threw us a resounding shower of rain that assaulted us sideways. Swathed in heavy-duty black garbage bags, we resembled a cross between Rocky and castoffs from Noah’s Ark.
After a hearty lunch of soup and lasagna, we descended down into mini mud slides, which combined with the spectacularly uneven Inca steps became my biggest personal challenge. (And I filled a whole travel diary with the challenges I encountered so you know just how large this challenge was!)
“Cecilia,” Spanish Ozzi whispered to me, taking me aside so the others couldn’t hear.
“There are 2,000 steps we have to go down this afternoon. Don’t be embarrassed, but we are going to give you two porters to help you down.” (Said all in English so you know it wasn’t good!)
Embarrassed? Moi embarrassed?
“I’ll take four,” I declared. “And one of those Cleopatra litters as well.”
Somewhere on our trek, (the days have all merged one into the other….I like to blame it on the altitude, or….maybe it was the coca tea…but I digress), we came upon the family village of one of our porters.
Our final day wakeup call was for 3 a.m. – we had a three-hour trek ahead of us and we wanted to arrive at the ancient Inca city as the sun was coming up.
The back-breaking work, human effort and brilliant skills it took to fit this Lost City’s massive stones, one into another, without the aid of striking tools or mortar is, in modern-day terms, an incredible engineering feat.
Well we all know how I love wondering!.
So as we work our way out of Week 7 and towards Week 8 of Self-Isolation, trying wondering about changing something you’ve been doing in lockdown these last few months. For instance, try wondering what a goblet of cool crisp white wine would taste like versus your usual red; try remembering what getting frisky with a shot of whiskey feels like. Pour some Bailey’s into your morning coffee. Oh wait! It seems from the cacophony of the yup-yup-yuppers that I’m intuiting, you are already doing that! G. O. O. D. for Y. O. U.
Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Closer-each-day-to-Freedom!
And in the meantime
Enjoy this week’s sugar coma delight – guaranteed to bring some sparkle and sprinkle to your day!
You can read my full article on the Machu Picchu trek that appeared in The Toronto Star here: https://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2011/04/08/the_glory_and_oh_the_pain_of_machu_picchu.html