The Coin of Privilege
Cusco Travel Blog› entry 16 of 115 › view all entries
Visiting Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, is reputed to be a platinum highlight of any middle-class backpacker´s jaunt around the globe. Eager to ensure our own shot of Quechan happiness we booked an expensive trip ($400) to include 4 days walking on the Inca Trail with a company named SAS, who had a solid reputation for tours with top notch food, quality equipment and decent guides.
And so it proved, the 13 of us, 1 American, 2 Mexicans, 3 Aussies, 1 French-Canadian, 1 South African, 2 Kiwis and 3 Brits were treated to service almost reminiscent of Blighty´s colonial era. Morning coffee in bed (well sleeping bags), excellent meals and deferential treatment were the order of the day.
1) They are incredibly strong, fast and nimble, hauling crazy amounts of gear around on their backs. We´re talking 25 kilos (it used to be double) for each of them, made up of tents, chairs, food and water and clothes (for tourists of course) and other assorted trail detritus.
2) They seem to survive only on murky corn beer and iron rations.
3) They get paid bugger all and rely on tips from tourists to make it vaguely worthwhile.
4) At the conclusion of the first day of walking they are expected to (well the ones working for SAS at least) applaud the tourists, who are carrying very little in comparison, as they enter the camp. If I was a porter, I´d vomit at the inequity of this. As a tourist, I merely cringed and slunk off to the tent as quickly as possible.
5) Most could be out of a job soon if the companies are allowed to build large storage facilities on the trail, negating the need for human pack horses. You might say that this is the price of progress. It´s a difficult issue and I´m no Luddite but, being fully aware that the tour companies are already creaming in a big fat arse profit, I can´t help siding with the porters on it.
Anyway, back on the privileged side of the coin, after three days of walking, exploration of smaller ruins, eating eating eating, and a Christmas Eve night of dancing, drinking and By Jovi, we reached Machu Picchu on the fourth morning, Christmas Day. I can´t be bothered to use all the superlatives that come to mind to describe the place when the mist finally cleared to reveal the city below, I´ll simply say that it was all worth it.
Everything: the sore calves (uphill, downhill, uphill again), zombie red eyes (contact lenses, sand and grit do not mix well), chipped tooth (unexpected tree branch), stultifying constipation (pre-trail overdoses of rice, potatoes, rice, bread, potatoes and rice) and ridiculously early mornings (4 - 6am every day).
Following a tour of some of the highlights of the city (including the Temple of the Sun and the Inca Emperor´s bog) and a second very important bog stop of our own, we were presented with some free time. I abhor heights, so it was with a sense of some trepidation, only overwhelmed by once-in-a-lifetime inevitability that I forced the decision upon myself to climb the magnificent, but bloody scary, Huayna Picchu.
On the way up, we had to scramble on soggy, slippery and exposed paths for 30 minutes with sheer drops never far away. The top was, erm, nice. If you like that sort of thing. Don´t get me wrong, the view is splendid, but the self-preservation department of my brain was too busy distracting me with thoughts of making damn sure that I stayed away from the edge and also that I remembered full well that the treachorous journey back down to terra firma was still ahead of me. So I suppose I failed to fully appreciate the the beauty around me. Nevertheless, at least I made the top and, carefully clambering, sloth-like, back down the precipitous paths, got safely back down again, able to claim another small victory against the powers of conservatism in my head.
In conclusion then, is the Inca Trail really a highlight of any "big trip?" Most definitely, and my own experience was made even more worthwhile by the company we kept for the four days on the trail. I´ve been on many tours, but very few have been with such excellent and varied company. I salute the whole dirty dozen of you and can only hope that, as Dame Vera Lynn was fond of warbling: we´ll meet again.