Now that we’re back from Peru, and I’ve finally finished telling the stories of our two weeks there, there are a few things about our trip that I’ve been reflecting on.
One thing that was interesting about our visit to Peru was the fact that we experienced different worlds while we were there. While in Lima, we mostly moved in the world of the upper middle class – where we ate, where we shopped, the sights we saw, and who we spent time with. We enjoyed it and felt very comfortable there. However, our experience of Lima was not necessarily typical of all foreigners who visit Lima (many of whom are there to do missions work or to provide services to the disadvantaged). Our experience is certainly not representative of millions of people who live in Lima at a much lower standard of living than the one we experienced.
While in Cusco, and for the most part on the trek as well, we lived in the tourist world. A good many of the tourists in Peru (Dave and myself included) are people who would likely prefer to refer to themselves as “travelers”. It’s a group of people who want to experience different aspects of this world that we all share, in as genuine a way as possible. (In contrast with staying at resorts, laying on beaches, and/or shopping at malls that could be in any country anywhere in the world.) Despite the desire for authenticity, it’s hard for outsiders to truly experience another culture the same way the natives experience it, especially when most travelers have a minimum standard of comfort and sanitation that is often above that which the people of that country can regularly achieve. Although we have a real enough experience to come away with an understanding and appreciation of a people, their surroundings, and their history, we don’t really get a chance to live through their daily struggles nor their daily joys.
This is the world we got a chance to glimpse but not really experience: the lives of everyday lower and working class Peruvians. Our guides, Leo and Jose, told me a lot about their lives, and it seemed very different from the lives of those of us who were able to pay US$345 each to be there. Interesting also were the bits of information we learned about our porters, the women selling snacks and soft drinks out of baskets along the trail, and the families living and farming near or along the Inca Trail. Those who are working – even jobs that are very difficult – are thankful to have those jobs, because everyone knows someone who can’t find work. Even having a job doesn’t guarantee that the bills will all get paid, and having an occupation doesn’t guarantee full time work. It’s difficult, but they continue on – and, as we learned on the weekend of the Inti Raymi festival, they even take time to celebrate.
It never fails – I woke up at 6:30 am, when I really didn’t need to get up until 7:30 am. Actually Ana Maria didn’t get us up until 7:45 – she was running a bit late.
I took a nice warm shower and then got Dave up. We had everything just about ready and I was thinking about what we might do for breakfast. Mariana had just gotten up and was telling us all about the date she had the night before with the boy she just started dating, when the doorbell buzzed. The taxi was a bit early – 8:40 am. Ricky helped us load our backpacks and luggage into the car, and we said goodbye to him and to Mariana, and then we were off to begin our long day of traveling.
The taxi took us to the airport, trying as well as possible to take backroads to avoid traffic. It wasn’t too bad, and we got to the airport probably not much later than 9 am. We checked in, got rid of our luggage and backpacks, and then headed upstairs. We finally found a place to mail the postcards we had written on Saturday. We poked around a bit in the shops, and then realized we needed to make breakfast our first priority.
The only place to get breakfast food in the airport was, of course, Dunkin’ Donuts. We had some donuts and I had a latte, and we sat in aluminum chairs in the airport food court being very amused.
On our last day with Ana Maria and her family, we had a full day planned, but fortunately our plans didn’t begin until 11 am, which meant we finally got to sleep in a bit. I woke up around 7:30 am, but managed to go back to sleep. I finally got up around 9:15 am.
After getting up insanely early every day of the trek, I was looking forward to sleeping in, in real beds, at our hostel in Cusco. Unfortunately, after getting up insanely early every day of the trek, my body decided at 6:30 am that this might be a good time to wake up. I tried for about an hour to go back to sleep, but finally gave up and got up and showered around 7:30 am.
We completely packed our things, because Javier had told me when we arrived Friday night that they had someone else coming at 10 am to check into our room. This was no problem because it gave us added incentive to get up at a decent time to finish our errands in Cusco.
Anxiety of anticipation is a terrible thing. We were told that our wake up call would be at 4 am, with no mate de coca this time because we had to quickly get our things packed before our 4:30 am breakfast. Naturally that meant that I woke up around 3 am, not actually knowing what time it was, and not being able to go back to sleep.
Dave woke up around 3:30 am, so we started getting dressed and getting our bags packed up. For once we were the first and not the last of our group.
Breakfast was the most basic meal they had given us the entire time (actually a reasonable amount of food instead of mountains of it), but I couldn’t really eat anything. My stomach isn’t ready to receive anything that early in the morning. I sipped some mate de coca and waited until we were told to get our packs on.
This morning our wake up call and mate de coca visit was at 5:30 am, though I had been awake for some time wondering what time it was. We drank our mate and then rushed to get our stuff all packed up. Breakfast was at 6 am (no quinoa this time) and we started walking around 6:30 am.
For about 45 minutes the path went up yet another series of steps, taking us to the ruins of Runkuracay. As usual the group was waiting for me to arrive, and then Leo proceeded to give us the history of this site. The smallish site may have doubled as a guard post and a waystation for messengers.
I slept surprisingly comfortably and warmly in our tent, and didn’t really wake up until sometime early in the morning when I could hear Dave poking around. He got up early and went out to take photos of the mountains in the early light. He came back to the tent around 6 am and we started packing up our things. Wake up call was around 6:15 am, when two porters came to each tent and asked if we wanted some mate de coca. I sipped mine while trying to finish up packing.
Breakfast was at 6:30 am, and wasn’t just cold cereal. They gave us toast and pancakes with jam and butter, and also a local porridge-like dish called quinoa (very yummy).
As we hiked yesterday I quickly realized that I was one of the slowest members of the group. I also realized that Day 2 was supposed to be the hardest, most vertical day, and that if I was having some problems on the relatively flat hike on Day 1, there was no way I could make it through Day 2 with a 25-pound backpack on my back.
Dave and I talked about it, and we decided to take advantage of the option to hire a local porter to carry our packs just for the day (50 soles, or less than $20). It was the smartest decision we made throughout the entire experience.