Yomping up Machu Picchu

Today I patted a llama and climbed to the top of Machu Picchu. How cool is that? How completely, totally, amazingly awesome is that?

I suffered, though. Suffered like a dog. Hauled my camera bag with two cameras, lenses, wallet, notebooks, change of clothing and toileteries up the mountain on my back. We left our suitcases in Cusco, and were told to take only a small daypack. Not realising that we would be going straight from the train up the mountain, leaving our daypacks with the porters to take to the hotel, I used my camera bag as a daypack, and ended up having to lug all my stuff around with me all day.

And so I suffered. At an altitude of 2 400 m, Machu Picchu is not as high as Cusco, but still my lungs were teeny-tiny, and yomping up the side of the mountain with seven kilos of kit on my back was unbelievable. ‘Wheeeeze,’ I went, sweat glueing my t-shirt and my bag to my back, stopping every few paces to bend over, lean my hands on my knees, as if to take the weight of my legs, and catch my breath. My chest just would not expand, just would not take in enough air.

By the time I had staggered three quarters of the way up, I decided that I simply wasn’t having fun at all. This was just silly. It was time to ditch my hunchback-handicap, and I started scouting around for some thick undergrowth in which to stash my bag. It had to be thick enough to conceal my large green and black backpack, but identifiable enough for me to not walk past my own bag, never to find it again.

I must have been completely shattered and delirious to leave my babies in a bush while I clambered up the side of the mountain. Ranj, being a guy, taller and ten years younger, went on ahead, and was nowhere to be seen – out of sight, out of earshot. By now I was thinking of him in terms of four-letter words, and they were not ‘love’ or ‘dear’ or ‘nice’. Not that I wanted, needed or expected him to be around – it just wasn’t right that he wasn’t also feeling the pain!

I met only two other people on the path. The first one was a very smiley, sweet Japanese fellow, who offered me water and told me that my friend was up ahead. As I saw him approaching, I searched my oxygen deprived brain for a Japanese word. ‘Thank you’ would be a good one, I figured, after swigging lukewarm water from his bottle. ‘Arrigato,’ I say, grateful for this small offering from the inefficient filing system in my head. I had learnt a few Japanese words a lifetime ago, way back in May, for my trip to Japan. My blunt brain couldn’t come up with ‘kernichiwa’, and so I just smiled wearily, nodded sweatily, and waved him on his way. At least I know he won’t steal my camera, I figured, even if he does see it. My experience of the Japanese people was that they just don’t take something that doesn’t belong to them.

My next new best friend on Machu Picchu was a hopping, jumping, bouncing, singing, long-haired fellow from who-knows-where, who also let me know, in some flourishing sign language, that my friend was up ahead. I hoped that he wouldn’t see my bag in the bushes as I watched him do his elf-dance down the path.

There’s fynbos on Machu Picchu, I noticed. Really. Fynbos-like bossies and pretty pink and white flowers. And I suppose it would make sense. Standing here, somewhere near deepest, darkest Peru, we were almost in line with Cape Town and, once, long, long ago, had we existed then, we would have been able to walk across solid ground from Table Mountain to Machu Picchu.

The last few metres seem to be vertical but the light, the sense of space, the smells, the strange giddy feeling that altitude causes, all add to the exhiliration and feelings of exhaustion give way to the anticipation. And then I am at the top. The view of rolling mountains in shades of green, the ruins and the one thousand or so tourists far, far below knock my newly recovered breath from my chest. It had been worth it. I was standing at the top of the world … with no camera. Yep. I had climbed to the top of Machu Picchu, and had no camera with me. I am hardly ever without my camera. And today I had left it behind amongst the orchids on the slopes of the Andes. As any number of British tourists would have said: ‘What a plonker!’.

No matter. I would remember this. Undoubtedly, this would stay with me for a long, long time. In three days I had looked down onto the ocean from Lima, flown over the Nazca lines, walked the streets of Cusco and now I was standing in the footsteps of the Incas, looking down on the remains of their pure genius. I didn’t need a viewfinder to remember this moment. 



~ by ReluctantRunner on May 15, 2008.

2 Responses to “Yomping up Machu Picchu”

  1. What a wonderful glimpse of a place I will probably never go…I loved your sense of humor, writing and recollection of a special journey. Keep taking me places you go…Sheri, Disorganized Organizer

  2. […] stood, a media pass handed to me, and no camera … kind of like that time I was at the top of Machu Picchu without my camera. My daughter had her little aim and shoot with her, though, so when Goldfish […]

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