Travelling slowly, and on foot, means that you have the time, the pace and the opportunity to see and experience more things when it comes to the daily life of the people in the country in which you are travelling. It tends to mean you are off the usual tourist path, so the glimpses of life that you do see are real life, and not glossed over, sanitized images that are presented for tourist consumption. And because you are not whizzing by them in a vehicle, you have the time to take them in and observe them in all of their wonderful (and at times hilarious) detail.
Lucmabamba, our campsite for the third day, was just outside the town of Playa Sahuayacco, a small, impoverished town that had been the recipient of Canadian International Development Agency aid over the years. We saw signs throughout the town that identified a school, a bridge and a road as their projects.
When we arrived at our rainforest camp, we were deep in the heart of true jungle, with all of the mosquitoes and insects that that entails. Though there were lots of ducks and chickens scratching about, they were no match for the insect population there!
We had walked 19km that day, but it was easier trekking and we made good time, arriving in camp relatively early in the afternoon. This gave us some very welcome rest time, so I sat at a perfect view-point spot and did some writing in my little notebook, some of which you have been reading over the past two weeks.
It was a perfect setting. Like a scene from Jurassic Park, I sat high above a deeply cut valley with heavily forested slopes that surrounding me, plunging steeply down to the river, far below. With moody clouds above, snagged on emergent rainforest trees that stood up like sentinels, far above the forest canopy, and gigantic flocks of parrots flying in great, squawking packs overhead, it was so atmospheric!
Bill, ever so fidgety with the mosquitoes swarming us, went off down the road in search of the music that we were hearing. It turns out it was a girls’ soccer match and all kinds of people from the town and surrounding farms, along with trekking guides and, as it turned out, our cook, had come out to watch.
One of the things we came to realize, while trekking, was that heavy alcohol use seemed to be a real problem amongst the rural people and porter/horseman/guiding/trekking population of Peru. (You might recall my story earlier in this blog about the driver we picked up in the sketchy part of Cusco on our way to the trek.)
Our guide told us that frequently, well-meaning tourists will bring along a bottle of Pisco on their trek and offer some to the guides, porters, horsemen and cooks. Unfortunately, he disclosed, they start with one drink, and then can’t stop. And if there are nearby towns, they can find more.
I mentioned above that our cook was at the soccer match. Well… let’s just say that he had a great time there, and got so drunk that he didn’t show up to make dinner, and when he did finally appear, he was too inebriated to cook. Unbeknownst to us, he was sent to bed, leaving our guide scrambling along with the caretaker of the site and a cook from another trekking group, preparing dinner for us that evening. As it turned out, it was one of the simplest meals, but probably the best of the trek!
The next morning, our cook was a nowhere to be found, and our guide was thoroughly unimpressed. When we asked him if this happens frequently, he said it had never happened to him before, but that he had only been guiding for two years. The implication from the way he said it was that it does happen regularly, and it is a problem.
What we didn’t realize at the time, was that it was a problem for our guide as well, and as a result it became an issue for us on the day we reached Machu Picchu, as our guide toured the site with us, weaving and speaking very slowly and with slurred, hard to understand speech, smelling very strongly of alcohol, having killed time in the early morning line-up that day drinking more than coffee from his cup, off to the side with his fellow guides.
But this is part of the Peruvian cultural landscape, part of the societal landscape, and part of the travelling experience. And it makes the point I was trying to explain at the beginning of this post: trekking slowly, spending long periods of time getting to know people in the country in which you are travelling, gives you insight into the true way of life of the people there. It is eye-opening and enlightening. This story, equal parts lightheartedly humorous and heart wrenchingly sad, lets you see the complexity of this way of life.