Masochism, Marmite and Machu Picchu

E-mail originally written & sent home in June 2003 – after Machu Picchu trek, Peru.

Where is it?
Where the fuck is it?

… so, Im alalive, oops cant speel alive. Shit cant spell spell. Right, start again.

I’ve done it! I’ve survived the hardcore 4 day Inca Trial and have returned – having hopefully lost some weight, but having gained Scabes. Which is ok as my backgammon set has caught fungus so now we can be quarantined together.

So, onto the description of my trek. You will laugh. You will cry. But your legs wont hurt half as much as mine do…

PRE-TREK INTRODUCTION TO GROUP – You can judge a book by its cover…

To say Emma and I didn’t get off to a good start is an understatement.

At the meeting the night before the trek we were introduced to our group. We’d carefully selected our agency having screened many companies to successfully avoid gaggles of American girlies or gap year youths. So, we had 8 Aussies all aged 26-32. Not bad on paper. We should have asked for photos.

For a start the 3 doctors, 2 accountants and 3 biologists all knew each other. It was easy to establish immediately that they weren’t our type of people. Let’s put it this way, I counted 3 pairs of hiking boots and 5 pairs of sandal/sock combos (this is the night before we even went – these were their clubbing shoes). These were hardcore trekkers. It turns out one had just arrived from a 2 week trek at 7000m in Bolivia and started sentences with “When I was in Bolivia/Africa” – you get the idea. Yawn, yawn.

When the worst of the bunch asked if anyone had any glue I replied (quite amusingly I thought) “O no, the coca leaves should be enough” to which they all looked really confused. He wanted it to fix his water filter. Cue tumbleweed.

To make it all worse, when the guide was explaining how everyone carries their own kit he said “Except for those 2 ladies who have hired a porter”. Omigod the shame. Well, we’re not stupid.

Onca Barbies Heart Ernesto
Inca Barbies Heart Ernesto - personal porter to the stars

DAY 1 – Start as you mean to carry on

Woken up exactly 5 mins after just fallen asleep to a stoned and clearly hallucinating Emma shouting “Its beeping, its beeping”. Ignore her and go to sleep.

Woken up exactly 5 mins after just fallen asleep to a stoned and clearly hallucinating Emma shouting “Its beeping, its beeping”.

If you think that was repetition and redundancy you’d be wrong. She did it twice. Lack of sleep is not a good start to Day 1 when it starts at 6am anyway. My watch doesn´t even beep.

Grab essential supplies had shipped out from UK – Minstrels, Dairy Milk, Marmite and Peanut Butter (Smooth, v important) and go meet the guide. Group is kept waiting 2 hours for our personal porter to show up as we hadn´t paid him on time. Then we disappear to get a breakfast bap and keep them waiting even longer. Oh dear, this really is a bad start. Still, our stomachs werent rumbling.

Stop at Ollantantambo (renamed hysterically by us ´Have you got a tampax?´) to buy bamboo walking sticks and 6 bags of coca leaves to enable ease of walking. Yeah right, just wanted to get fucked up. Didn´t realise really one bag would be enough between us. Started chewing immediately. Have a lot to get through.

"Yeah, yeah, it's all v pretty n all, but have you got a Tampax?"
"Yeah, yeah, it's all v pretty n all, but have you got a Tampax?"

Stop for lunch by white water river before start the trail. Thought food provided would be of the Amazon boat trip variety ie. rice and beans. Omigod, were we wrong. 4 course meal including avocado, fresh trout and satay chicken. All looking up. If all else fails can cheer myself up with food porn fantasising about next meal.

Decide to start at sloth-like pace to assert to the group that we fully intend to get the record for slowest-moving trekkers ever. Pretend to be fascinated by flora and fauna, but really more fascinated by coca leaves and Minstrels. Didn´t realise green teeth would be a giveaway. Try not to smile for rest of day.

Coca leaves, nips & ruins - all in a day's work
Coca leaves, nips & ruins - all in a day's work

I actually found the first day the hardest even tho it was the easiest day (insomuchas it was flat land and only – ONLY?! – a 5 hour trek). That was the very reason I found it the hardest. It was embarrassing not only how out of breath I was, but also the colour I turned (an apres-ether glow). My body obviously went into shock when surprised with the first exercise it had seen since I took up yoga and golf at college in the hope they’d not be too strenuous (yoga being the most painful thing ever – get into an interesting angle and then hold it and golf being the most boring activity ever – knock a ball behind a tree, go for a smoke).

But the scenery eclipsed the pain. Being ignorant, I thought that the 4 days would involve climbing up steps to Machu Picchu, but actually it involves a 4 day trail over 42km (uphill mostly) climbing through mountains and valleys, over waterfalls, through caves and past snow-capped mountains. Masochistically pushing through the pain barrier was worth every minute as every corner and every step brought new beautiful images. Truly the stuff of movies, Lord of The Rings stylee.

Aided by my bamboo staff I decided to take on role of Gandalf. Unfortunately the only ring accompanying me was a sore one as someone upstairs was definitely having a laugh giving me the shits on day 1.

Dull dinner with possee in tent. Conversation revolved around how clever my mittens are. They are indeed clever – fingerless gloves that can be converted into mittens Optimus Prime stylee. Most exciting part of this group was their Orbital-esque head torches which they let me borrow if I promised not to look them directly in the eyes with it.

I borrowed it.

And then looked them directly in the eyes with it.


DAY 2 – She´ll be farting up the mountain when she comes

Emma wakes up v unamused by fact my stomach has decided to make sulphur smells. And we are in a 2-man tent. I, of course, find this hysterical, other than the fact I am in pain and Day 2 is known for being the hardest.

Cloud or bum cloud?
Cloud or bum cloud?

Day 2 is the hardest. Altitude sickness at 4200m whilst trying to climb thousands of steps for 6 hours gives new meaning to the phrase uphill struggle. The delightfully named ´Dead Woman´s Pass´ was the point where Emma and I had Minstrel stops every 3 steps. Adopt the age old adage ´Walk like an old man, arrive like a young man´ (is that a saying, or did I make it up?). The only time I sped up the pace was when trying to avoid the trekker downwind from me realising that I did it.

I no longer belive in a higher being. I came on a week early (as I did for the entire duration of the Amazon boat trip too) so that Day 2 is made that much harder for the crippling pains. Is this still penance for the blasphemy-under-Christ-The-Redeemer-statue incident in Rio or the sodomy-shadows-on-a-church-wall incident in Trancoso?

I deserve a badge that says ´I survived the Inca Trail AND I was bleeding´.

Celebrate as reach top of the pass to the mountain with a Skittles fiesta. Then realise we have to trek for another 2 hours to our tent and all the others are already there. Whilst laughing at the others´ stupidity at rushing to the campsite Emma and I find out the reason they make you start at stupid o´ clock. It rains in the cloud forest at this altitude in the afternoon. We get drenched and hailed on and find out that we were ripped off buying our pound shop pac-a-macs. Have had them for 5 months, might have been good idea to check them out prior to stuck-on-mountain-in-pissing-rain situation. To make things worse, I go flying into the camp on my ass and get covered in black mud as we arrive late. The rest have had to wait for us before being allowed any popcorn. We are not v popular. Doctors in the group have fascinating conversation revolving around whether I have Scabes or Fleas from my sleeping bag.

Ask guide if anyone is as slow as us. He replies deadpan “No… I love you”. At least we have one fan.

The Inca Barbies have arrived.

Ernesto Hearts Inca Barbies
Ernesto Hearts Inca Barbies


DAY 3 – And Day 2 was supposed to be the hardest?…

Woken up at a time that should be illegal. Hot, hot day climbing ruins and more steps than I have ever seen in my life. Turns into freezing day as sun goes down. Porter has my jacket. My nipples celebrate by coming out to play much to observation of all who comment on raisins throughout day.

At one stop a couple of 19 yr old youths from the Midlands point to some ruins and tell us they are Machu Picchu at which point we enthusiastically start taking photos and telling all around us. Er, no, they were some v small insignificant ruins. Cue much laughter from all.

Camp under half moon in snow capped mountains. Assholes are playing Asshole again. I make gags like ´Put your Andes where I can see them´. Again cue tumbleweed. I give up. Maybe they don´t smile as they are secret coca leaf munchers too. I doubt it. They all go to bed at 8pm.

About 3 beers, 2 spliffs and 4 hours later I trip over the porters´ tent guy ropes waking them all up and everyone else as all the pots and pans fall about.

In tents everyone can smell your smoke
In tents everyone can smell your smoke

DAY 4 – Marmite is the true 8th wonder of the world…

All tents do not look the same... Racist
All tents do not look the same... Racist

I am even more unpopular owing to aforementioned guy-rope-tripping-pot-smashing incident.

We get up at 4am to trudge in single file fast for 2 hours to the Sun Gate to view Machu Picchu from above at sunrise. Celebrate with pure Marmite fiesta. Mmmm magnificent all round. I have never seen such beautiful sights and never thought I would. It was like a dream and brought tears to my eyes every which way i looked. After 4 days of sleeping in below freezing temperatures in a tent getting bitten by mosquitoes and being woken up at 4am to start trekking uphill you get there and feel so proud.

At Machu Picchu we sprawl on a rock listening to music and looking down to the Inca City. Our guide Ernesto was truly the only man in the world who can say things like ´This is life´ and sound earnest. All v corny, but the 8th wonder of the world was the most amazing thing I´ve ever seen.

Topped only by the burger and coke I bought at the cafe there.

Epic burger. View was ok too
Epic burger. View was ok too

After lunch tour of the ruins, accidentally wash hair in Moon Shrine waterfall where they used to sacrifice virgins for the gods. After being reprimanded inform all that I am not a virgin, so no fear of that. They look at me like they are not really surprised.

Head onto Aguas Calientes. Irony is though the name of this village within Machu Picchu means ´Hot Water´, could we find a hot shower to wash off 4 days of filth?

Could we, fuck?

Opt for the hot thermal springs which are another trek away. Incas didn´t like to make things easy for themselves. Unfortunately hot springs had within them hundreds of dirty Gringos who had same idea, so emerge filthier than entered. And probably gave them all Scabes.
Spend evening trying to avoid Trustafarians who got double firsts in English Literature at Cambridge and have just been in India. Emma and I are outcasts within the trekking community and we like it this way (should have informed them I´m member of British Mountaineering Society, altho only cos cheaper insurance). Had an absolute blast on our own and wouldn´t have had it any other way. Best thing I´ve ever done. Learned in the face of adversity (well, exercise) laugh. The feat I am most proud of is not losing my sense of humour throughout.

DAY 5 – No rest for the wicked…

(Oooh, must digress. Just found out guy next to me in Internet cafe is actually called Hans Solo. He is. OMIGOD. He really is.)

Wake up at 5am. No mum, don´t want to go to school today. It´s cold outside and I´m finally under a warm duvet. I´ll count to 10. Count to 10 again. I´ll just count to 20 now. Now 100. Shit, where am I? If I don´t get up I´ll miss the bus to Cusco and this´ll be the most expensive lie in ever.

Leap out of bed. Shit, forgot, immense pain.

It feels like 10 000 Incas are stabbing my legs.

They might look sweet, but at night they stab your legs
They might look sweet, but at night they stab your legs

Spend day walking like someone who has been up all night shagging, without the actual pleasure of sex.

Les Demoiselles D'Avignon?
Les Demoiselles D'Avignon?

For more tales from around the world, see the Pages widget on the right – Jungle Barbie & The Slow Boat to Peru, etc…

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