Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Machu Pichu as a Gypsy

By Mike McNett

My story begins early morning in Cuzco on the bus in a parking lot in a dark part of town. I rose that morning, still in my sleeping bag, I looked around and found the parking lot being transformed into a Saturday swap meet all around us. I looked over to the bed letting Zach know it´s time to get to the market for our normal chore of shopping for provisions for ourselves and the fellow Gypsies that would be embarking in the direction of Machu Pichu.

We stumbled out of the bus and walked across the gravel parking lot to find the spigot, so we could brush the rum from the night before off our teeth. After a short discussion of where and when to meet back up with the bus, we made our way down the street in the direction of the market.  Zach kept mumbling under his breath, "Mike, I really don't feel so good."  

We walked a little further, and I assumed it's no big deal.  Then a few blocks later, I found myself a few meters ahead, turning back just in time to see Zach's projectile vomiting, not once, but twice across the cobbled street.  At this moment I realized it would just be Matthias and me off to the market to purchase six meals for nine people in one hour in a busy Peruvian market.  Surprisingly, everything went smoothly, with just a couple items left to be had.  We got the grocieries back to the bus and I went in search of bread, making it to the infamous LOKI just in time for a quick free shower and to say goodbye to Zach and leave him with his bags and guitar in the televison room.

   The bus and gypsies arrived two days later in Santa Teresa minus our beloved Zach. Bernadette, Tegan, Cesar and Hilla gathered their things and made their way for the trek to Aguas Calientes, the jump off point to Machu Pichu.   There is no road leading to Aguas; it lied a four hour walk away.  I then had to decide if I was even going, after about one minute of contemplation I said to myself, what am I thinking, of course I'm going I could never miss something as spectacular as this.  The bus found a home for the next few days at a grassy camping spot just on the outskirts of town.

  I packed my bag with no idea of what to expect or even what I was going to do, and nothing has ever made me more excited than that feeling of uncertainty. I said good-bye to my friends, who oddly enough, I have spent more time with than almost any other people in my life, and now, I left Matthias, Alex, and Alaena while they stayed to guard the bus and I walked alone to Aguas Calientes, behind the rest of our friends, who had gotten a head start while I made my decision.  I  took one sip of Matthias´s cold beer and threw my bag on my back and slid my t-shirt in my back pocket setting forth on a hot and muggy Peruvian afternoon to find my way to Machu Pichu.

  I could not find the camino out of town, after asking about 4 to 5 different adults who sent me in every direction except the right one. I found three small school children on a windy dirt path.  These children could not have been but 6 years old.  They grabbed me by my hand and led me down a trail leading to the rushing river below the town.  At this moment, I really felt the adventure of my trek beginning.   They walked me for about 15 minutes, talking up a storm in Spanish with me not understanding even one word, but as children are able with their excitement and facial expression, let me believe they knew exactly where I needed to be going.

We came to a small one man cable car crossing a raging river just below the village.  The four of us sat in the car as someone pulled us across the river, and against my better judgment, we all climbed in, including my massive backpack.  All the while the smallest of the three children with his backwards hat was snapping photos with my camera. The entire scene was captured with his small finger covering half the lense.  After 10 minutes of heaving the car on a small wire across this river, we were to the other side and climbed out. We continued for another thirty minutes to their home along the path where I parted ways with my three new friends and continued in the direction of Aguas Calientes.

  I walked into Aguas Calientes just as the sun was setting over the staggering mountains above. As I walked through this small town nestled in the deep valley at the foot of Machu Pichu in search of a place to set my tent and make ramen noodles.   I wandered about for around an hour, and when I decided to head back out of town to find a nice piece of grass to place my tent, I stumbled into Cesar and Hilla walking in just as the sun dropped completely behind the mountains.  They were just in front of the Saskateers.  We made plans to meet in the square to buy our tickets for Machu Pichu a little later.

I walked down the lightless road to the grass pasture I had seen on the walk in and set my tent near the river.  The walk through the tall grass was illuminated by fire flies.  I boiled water before I climbed into the frigid shower to rinse the days sweat from my body.  It was nothing but a rinse because my soap money had been spent over the last few months on beer and park entrances. I ate my ramen and drink coco tea under the light of the fire flies as I sat on the stoop in front of the bathroom.

 After dinner I walked to the square where I sat on a bench watching all the "gringos" wander about snapping photos, and I realized I was now again a tourist as I mixed in with the picture takers, which is not a feeling that is often felt when riding The Gypsy Train. My friends arrived and we bought our tickets as if we were about to enter a movie to see something many have seen before us. I put my precious paper ticket deep in my back pocket, which is the most expensive purchase I have made since my flight arrived 3 months earlier to South America. The four of us walked up and down the narrow pedestrian street deciding on touristy restaurants. The decision was made on some fancy French restaurant.

I ordered nothing but a small beer as everyone else made up their minds. Then, watching plate after plate arrive to the table and knowing Bernadette and Tegan well enough that they would not finish their meals, I stared in anticipation.  And then I devoured their leftovers whole. We finished the night early as the morning would come even earlier.  I left the other gypsies at their hostal. On my walk back to my tent nearly 20 minutes away, I gained an entranced feeling from the glow of lightning bugs fluttering all around, the sound of crackling river to my left, and the feeling of what tomorrow had in store.

 I was filled with so much excitement that I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm even sounded at 4:30 A.M.  I found my taschenlampa, brushed my teeth, laced my shoes and walked to the gate and was astonished with what I saw: fifty, or so, tourists milling about as they waited to enter the gates and race to the top to be one of the first 40 people to get a special stamp allowing them to climb Wachupichu, the peak over looking Machu Pichu.  

As I stood there in the muggy predawn light, I watched the tourists, seeing all the gear and supplies they brought with them to wander through a grassy park, and I stood there in my brown corduroys rolled halfway up my leg because I had no clean shorts.   It is these moments I find I am realizing each and every day how completely outlandish and wacky our way of life really is, and how little you really need, no hiking boots, walking sticks, power bars etc.  
We all stood in anticipation like race horses at the starting gate.  My watch struck 5:30 and they began letting us pass through.  We crossed the bridge one by one.  Then, everyone rushed the precipitous slope. I started in the rear of the pack.  It didn´t take long before I'm passing couples stopping for air or REI weekenders adjusting their trekking poles.  Forty minutes from the bottom we reach the top.   We stood, waiting at the final entrance.  
The man with the special stamp came around stamping our tickets one by one. I entered as maybe the 3rd person of the 2,000 visitors allowed in that day. I walked to the nearest and highest point I could  find.  And I saw clouds, lots and lots of clouds. 
Slowly, as the turbid air slipped in and out, I saw Machu Pichu.  I found a burnished stone to sit on and looked out over the most beautiful and epic of sights I maybe have ever seen, and at this time, it was not yet littered with people.  I spent the next twelve hours exploring each and everything I could. I was on such a high that even after hiking all around this park I ran all the way back from there to my tent, layed out on my back in the grass gazing at the dusky sky above in complete nirvana.  I realized how happy I am and how great my life is and all the people I have the pleasure of traveling alongside.

                                "Pursuing as all travelers must inversions without end upon other mens journeys"
                                                                             Cormac McCarthy

1 comment:

  1. Michael, its a pleasure to read your words and imagine your adventure. Any story I have heard about Macchu Picchu involves the visitor getting crazy energy boosts from the cosmic energy of the place. I feel your disdain about the wacky culture that tourism has become. So much materialistic/capitalistic hogwash going on that "tourists" become well distracted from the journey itself and each precious and moment to moment living in the unknown. After a random summer of many unknown maneuvers, and then having most of my things stolen except for my bicycle and some clothes, the universe has chosen a minimalist path for me, which I completely accept with open arms. Luckily, I had my snowboard bag stashed in Oakland, and after a 20 day trim marathon in Humboldt I stacked some frogskins and moved to South Lake and got a job at Heavenly teaching snowboarding for the winter. The main focus, of course, will be shredding and getting fully radical, super minimal style, ready for more journeying into the unknown as we approach the dawning of a new age....2012 is the dawning, no better time now to get used to living with bare bones minimum and eating only things that come from the earth. The future is bright for the gypsies, emrace all the smiling faces you come across, even if language is a barrier, we used to communicate without language eons ago and are still full capable of doing so, we just need a bit of practice. I communicate through smiles and dance moves. Roam on brother, with your eyes and your heart wide open.
    Give my love to the gypsies.