CUZCO AGAIN

Cuzco on the horizon. Cobblestone streets and vast Incan stonework walls; the terracotta tiled roofs sheltering mud brick and whitewashed walls, the eerie sound of a pan-pipe echoing the streets, pulling you closer to traditional ways. The "cargadores" with their inhumane loads. Moulding forms of broken backs for inconsequential numbers of pesos. Inca gold long gone. Wealth in thievery and drugs, a struggle in any other direction. The magical aura, the romance. Familiar streets.

My return to Cuzco had two motivations. To walk the Inca trail and the possibility to reunite with David, the wonderful friend who had looked after me in days of lesser health some seven months' previously.

David deserved style and he got it. My disguise was classic Andes Indian; poncho, the scarf covering the recognisable lower facial features. A pair of phoney sunglasses from the markets and traditional pointed hat. I arrived at his door late one evening, knocking lightly four times. I heard the thudding sound of two size twelve shoes approaching. At this point I started muttering crazed fractures of phrases, parts of languages of the world, of indecipherable drunk's garble. As the door opened I increased in volume and intensity only to turn around and find an elderly Peruvian lady standing silently. Ooops! "David home, señora?" But she stood her ground undisturbed, almost unnervingly at ease. She had just seen the antics of a gesticulating maniac "gringo", and she's as cool as an Andean snow peak. At that precise moment, in the split second that one has to react to the attack of a shark or jaguar, I'm pounced on by a six foot ten inch all-English gorilla. Shock waves followed by raucous laughter.

Conversation seemed switched to "endless reserve" on the meter. Two times seven months' of action to be condensed into an afternoon and a night. He invited me to a restaurant, followed by Andean music and dance, in an electric little peña (cafe) overlooking the central plaza. It was a scene of two long-time friends reminiscing; a mutual respect borne from the spirit for adventure. His studies into the Quechua language had taken him to many unique places, and involved him in amazing experiences. He had fallen in and out of love, had been devastatingly sick and lost a lot of weight. He was, to the local indians, the "man of two metres".

One day to collect supplies and information, and I set off to walk what is considered one of the world's great walks. The Inca Trail. Leading from just outside Cuzco, at a selected train stop, to the mythical proportions of Machu Pichu. "Land of the Clouds".

For me, the ultimate travel mode. Pack on my back, map in hand and the world's finest quality air to breathe. The scenery along this four day walk was totally transfixing. Intoxicating. A trail that, in Inca times, would have seen the feet of innumerable traders, farmers, llamas; the "chasqui" or runners, the communicating network of the past. The walking represented the total romanticism of travelling in South America. The possibility to walk a complete trail uninterrupted by another human; staggering beauty, the surging mountain rivers passing from iced highlands into sub-tropical valleys. Living history. To walk one of the most famous mountain walks, one of the world's oldest roads, and still face the possibility of wrong turns, no excessive signposting, in fact, no signs at all! To experience the mellowing sun, winds and icy rains all within a day. It was a treasure chest, a lucky dip. Symbolic.

"The Track"

The beginning as distant as the end
To start is how, but when
Our first steps taken leaving life behind
Senses strengthen, body and mind
The load is heavy but the strength is there
We've all we need, house on our back, love and care
The road rolls and then divides
Which way to take, stop and hide
Seems divided but do we care
Our minds strong and full of waves
Quickly our eyes scan about us
Nothing stirs, no fuss
Every stride for distance a smaller return
Muscle ache and insight now we learn
Shouldn't we just stop, or search for more
By what are we governed, what law
Higher we go toward the unknown peaks
Wouldn't it be easier were we just sheep
Another rise, another hill
Steeper, further until
Our track loses width becoming just a path
What test now, we say with a laugh
Beginnings far behind and the end unseen
From where did I come, where had I been
Snake of life with its ups and downs
A potent roller coaster that does its rounds
But why does it have to shed that load
Onto the backs of those travelling its road
What does it mean that dark rolling cloud
Exterior is soft but the feeling is loud.
Camp is made and shelter given
Come now rain we wont be driven
Darkness settling over our height
Fire dancing stories of the night
The sounds of silence that surround us
Feelings, of observing street conversations from a bus.

To drink hot chocolate, eat steaming hot oats, sitting rugged up in multi-layers and wrapped in a plastic sheet whilst watching sunrise over the majesty of Machu Pichu seemed the most pleasurable thing I had ever done. Early morning air served chilled and fresh to order. Deep breathing and a reverence to the power of silence, the beauty of the stillness. Four days of pressing the body for more and more, slipping and sliding on muddy washed out paths, perspiring in the intensity of the high altitude sunshine. The ultimate reward.

The day had started at four a.m. An hour and a half walk from our last camping place to the early morning vantage point over Machu Pichu. Sunrise over Machu Pichu was gourmet viewing. At ten o'clock the tourist train arrived and offloaded the "Nikon brigade". With tourists swarming, the aura of Machu Pichu became almost repulsive. An American man engaged me; his camera was automatic load, automatic focus, automatic zoom. "But can it tap dance?" I said, doing a soft shoe shuffle on the even softer grass below foot. I was an elitist, a trekking snob, a cynic and would surely burn and bury my camera as soon as I returned to Australia. It was beginning to be a symbol for something, which I was at odds with, about the human race.

At the end of the day we joined the lined procession to queue for the buses back to the train station. Our clothes and packs were covered in mud, our faces unshaven and hair greasy. We sat in the bus, a reminder that there was more to Peru than met the eye. As we waited for the bus in front to move, an American man, two seats in front, turned to his lady. In a forthright drawl that I guessed to be Texan he suggested ".... all this Indian culture is great, isn't it sweetie? You know .... next year I thank we'll git on down thar to Orstralia and see them thar pygmies." My mind was found guilty of the most feeble and biting thoughts. Cynicism, hyperbole, pathos, pun, wit, sarcasm all rolled up and exhaled in a disgusted breath. Take me away, la, la, la, tra-la-la,la-la!!