When you last left us we were on the verge of making our way to South America in the shape of Lima, Peru. Well 3 hours later we touched down in the ghostly city and made our way to the fashionable Miraflores section of the capital. I say ghostly because Lima is surrounded by a constant smog, caused by pollution, that lends and eerie feel to the visability around the place. Despite this characteristic, we felt right at home immediately and it was clear that although it has a European feel, it is very much has a unique city, unlike the cities of Central America that are ever influenced by the over powering American trends. Not being paticularly adept as Geographers, always failing to stay between the lines when colouring in, it came as quite shock to us that Lima was located on the Pacific coast and was a hot bed of cheap and tasty seafood. Lacking a decent meal in the last 2 months that didn´t consist of a healthy portion of rice and beans, the menus full of fruits of the sea were the equivalent of a red rag to a couple of bulls and we greedily lapped up our platters of fish, octopus, squid and prawns throwing gay abandon to our budget. Sadly, we encoutered an unexpected problem in the form of the size of our stomachs that have significantly shrunk over the course of the trip, and like Paula Radcliffe in Athens, our hearts wanted to continue but the body said no more. It must be noted though that this single meal contained more flavour than all of the meals we had in Central America put together.
The next day we head to the dizzying altitude of Cuzco via a short 1 hour plane ride. Well worth requesting a window seat for this one as the view over the Andes is spectacular. In a homage to the film ´Alive´ that details the surivial of an Argentinian rugby team through cannabalism in the same mountain range,. I duly hummed ´Ave Maria´ while Kirsty nibbled on the minimal flesh left on my frame. Speaking of nibbling, the local delicacies of this area include Alpaca meat and Guinea Pig. The former was served up between a bun and with a slice of cheese draped over the top, while the latter generally has a large pole shoved up its backside and out its mouth before being grilled over a fire....like most unusual meats it takes like chicken with a lot of bones and a crispy skin (apologies to those of you that kept the furry little critters as house hold pets, but you missed out if you settled for a natural death). Cuzco is a beautiful city if not a little touristy, built in the shape of a Puma and like I said at altitude (3000m plus). This causes all sorts of problems associated with a lack of oxygen, not least the fact that any set of steps has had me wheezing like the asthmatic chubby kid in a school cross country race. To counter act the effects you chew Coca leaves, the basis for cocaine production, but fear not readers it takes approximately 150kg of leaves to produce one gram of cocaine...so we were unable to get any higher than expected.
The next day we set of for the Sacred Valley and the start of the Inca Trail with a degree of trepidation. I have previously broached our feelings of being ´ruined out`, so what were the Incas going to do for us that the Mayans and their vast piles of pyramid shaped bricks couldn´t. How wrong we were to worry, the Inca constructions are beyond comparision in their size, ingenuity and location. This was one incredibly intelligent civilization that wasn´t afraid of some seriously back breaking hard work. Their reverence for nature and the elements, in particular the sun, means they had devised a way of existing in harmony with the environment. Whereas we try to dominate and even over power the conditions, and consequently have to deal with the problems of world on the road to ruin (it is estimated that in 35 years none of the mountains in the Andes we saw will have snow on their peaks owing to climate change). Sadly while the Incas were clearly talented when it came to stone masonary, they weren´t quite cleaver enought to work out that 150 invading Spaniards weren´t gods and that an alpaca jumper, however soft, was no match for a bullet.
We made our way to Kilometre 82, the start of the Inca Trail, with the other 11 memebers of our group (all from the London area). Decked out in Alpaca sweaters, hats, walking stick and big floppy sun hat we looked every bit the Gringo tourists....I have to confess this was a new low point in my 29 years. The 46 km of the trail takes 4 days if you are a western tourist. Although, the distance is not the problem, the altitude that ascends to 4215m at one point and the sharp declines means that is proves quite a challenge even for a supposedly fit teacher allegedly in the peak of condition. However the ulimate embarrassment was still ahead of us. Our group was supported by a team of 19 porters. Locals with the strength of 10 Mike Tysons and the fitness of Paula Radcliffe. It is their job to carry 30kg each consisting of our clothes, food, cooking and camping equiment to each site. They begin the trek with you but soon dissapear off into the distance. You see them 4 hours later by which time they have set up camp (full dining room, kitchen and various other facilities), cooked a 3 course lunch and then serve it to you. After Lunch, when you leave they pack up, set off, catch you up, disappear into the distance, set up the campsite, cook dinner and once you arrive serve it again. To top it all they have the decency to clap you in when you arrive at the camp site as if your feat of merely walking 10km a day carrying a tenth of what they have carried, deserves some sort of praise. My attempts to keep up with the porters on day 2 will take some time to erase. While I was passing out on the uphill and pleading with Benito, the 62 year old porter (yes 62), to push me off the edge and put me out of my misery, he cheerfully picked me up off the ground barely sweating, smiled and went on his merry way. The trek sees you camp in the mountains, use holes in the ground as toliets and go without a shower for the full 4 days, but it´s worth every moment for your arrival at Machu Picchu....yes even wearing the same underwear you began in (although I´m not sure you´re meant to admit that). By completing the very same trek the Incas did hundreds of years ago you arrive at the sacred site with a little bit of you invested in the history of the place. You feel proud, have a sense of achievement and are fully immersed in the grandeur of the place that you never can be if you arrive via a coach. It´s not just the enormity of place, the spectacular setting, the fact that you pass through ever changing vegetation and climates on each day of the trek or the fact that a sandwich costs 6 pounds, this is truly one of the highlights of both of our lives and we urge you, if you ever get the chance, to walk the trail yourself. In the words of Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, you will ´smell like a vegetarian fart` as you wonder around Machu Picchu, but the spiritual connection to the place once you´ve treked here is immense. The enthusisam with which our trek guide, Aly, retold the story of this civilization made us feel so proud to be there.
So what´s next? Well the agricultural set in Peru aren´t playing ball and have decided to block the road to Puno and Lake Titicaca and are fairly uncompromising when dealing with any bus heading that way. Obviously they don´t have Crimewath or Bad Girls over here and don´t realise the veritable celebrity they are holding up. Consequently, in an exciting change to plans we fly to La Paz, Bolivia tomorrow with the rest of our Inca Trail group (we have become inseparable), before heading south to the Salt Flats and Chile. That is assuming the Farmers let us.
Until Next Time