Birds of a Feather

We were looking for elephants on the path to Machu Picchu as we thought they may help us walk up these monstrous peaks.

The Inca’s made paths and roads without bends, like the straight roads the Romans made all over Europe. In Peru there are big hills and bigger hills involved. This means the paths made up of massive stone steps just go straight up or straight down without any bends and curves to take the strain off your squawking knees.

There were fifteen of us in our trekking group from Australia, Canada, America, and Europe. We met in the morning in the central town of Cusco known as the entrance to the Amazon, to begin our four-day trek across the mountains to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Having done a couple of other treks, I had all the right gear and had come prepared. I had the thin breathable tops, trousers that zipped at the knees to turn them into shorts if needed and a lightweight Gortex coat to keep out the rain and snow, without making me too hot. Then I had thermal leggings and tops just in case of an artic change in the weather. One of the locals offered me a walking pole which was the same height as me, made of knotted wood, which turned out to be my best friend over the next few days.

This South American trek was unlike any other I had been on before. The treks in Nepal and Tibet had been on very isolated tracks not seeing any people for days on end.  This track was so different in that it felt like the Hume Highway as the number of other trekkers was in the hundreds. The trekkers were mainly in their twenties and thirties.  I was in my fifties and was finding the climb difficult not only on my lungs but also my legs. The Inca stone steps were not only steep, but each step was much higher than a stair step you would normally come across. Unusually in the Andes at this time of the year the weather was cold enough for the snow to settle, even though when we left on our trek a day or so ago the sun was burning white skins to a crisp.

Gaye was a friend I had made on my trek in Tibet and was classed as an A Grade walker in her walking club and we were doing this trek together.  She took walking seriously, and it was her hobby. I liked walking, but not to the same degree as Gaye. I was often too slow for her on the way up steep trails and she usually left me and waited for me at the top which suited her as she like to sit and meditate. Going down I usually kept up with her as long as I had a walking pole to help me keep my balance as I tended to fall over my feet looking at bit like an out of time dancer on “Strictly Come Dancing” on a Saturday night in the Blackpool Ballroom. Understanding this is how we walked together, she went ahead, and I was now on my own taking myself up these dark grey stone steps. When you looked up to see how far it was the Inca steps seemed to go on forever dissolving into the marshmallow coloured snow clouds.

This pass we were climbing was called Dead Women’s Pass, which was well named as far as I was concerned as I believe I could add to the number of them if it had got any steeper. Distraction is a good thing to take your mind off your difficulties. Lots of the younger trekkers were passing me and I noticed a small family of three, a father with two young children These guys were not well prepared and were struggling miserably not only with the steep climb but with the snow and biting wind. I forgot my woes of aching limbs and lack of breath and asked the dad if he minded if I helped their daughter whilst he helped his son.

Unlike us, they were not dressed for the occasion and were obviously suffering from the lack of warm waterproof clothes and good shoes.  The father had his hands full without a doubt. We were moving at about the same slow pace and I began to talk to them. This is where the elephants came in. The biggest distraction I have found from being a mother and now a grandmother was to be ridiculous and ultimately diverting. I asked the little girl of about 8 if she knew how to eat an elephant. She looked at me with a quizzical look on her pretty little tired face and shrugged her shoulders. So, I suggested we play a game to work out the best way to do it. This game started by each of us in turn choosing which bit of this enormous elephant we would like to eat first, and when we had walked ten steps up together, the other one could choose the next bit until all of the elephant had disappeared. The best bit was that when we had chosen the most delicious piece of the elephant to eat next, we would trudge up the next ten steps and then we could sit down for a whole minute.  This did involve us getting wet bottoms as we sat on the cold wet steps whilst looking at the second hand of her watch. This gave us both an opportunity to catch our breath. What is a wet bottom between friends when eating an elephant?

The father and his young son decided to join in our game and the elephant, and the mountain pass seemed to disappear quite quickly.  It only took us half an hour and a few hundred bottom wetting steps to get to the top.

Later than day when our tents had been pitched by our camp Sherpas, Gaye and I were sitting in our tent when there was a knock on the canvas.  Outside stood the little family of three all changed into dry warm clothes with big smiles on their faces. It was then that I realised that they spoke truly little English. It also dawned on me as they smiled their thank you’s in Spanish that I had by chance taught them to count to ten in English. I too thanked them as they had helped me whilst I was helping them.

We arrived in Machu Picchu three days later. The weather was warmer, and the walking was a little easier. Or was it that we became stronger?


Pat Hunt ©  2021


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