The adventure moves forward with relentless speed. All you can do is hold on for dear life and hope for the best, letting life´s path take you where ever it may lead. Go with the flow, as they say. Who ¨they¨ are is still unsure, but for now I follow their footsteps, expecting this beloved axiom to hold true while I continue to disoover the inherent beauty that lies deep within South and Central America.

Cusco, Peru (as I mentioned before) is a lovely town in the southern part of this massive country. Overflowing with history and traditions of its not so extinct Incan past, this place jives and grooves to the beat of life that pulsates with relentless fury both day and night. Hard to come by an unwelcoming face, and even more difficult to encounter someone who is not willing to offer a helping hand (and maybe even a little something of the illegal variety – ranging from drugs, cameras, Ray Bans, etc.), one is immediately taken back by the warm feelings that vibrate throughout this place. It welcomes those who have journeyed far and wide to taste the crumbs of Incan culture, where they begin to build an appetite for the main course and visual feast that is Machu Pichu.

Laying low and recovering were my main objectives when arriving in Cusco. The bus ride getting there was a bit much, so I decided to take it easy for a day or two and rebuild my strength. Relaxation, although nice, was not my only objective; finding a route to Machu Pichu that was affordable and, most importantly, efficient was also relevant. As it turns out, this task was not too difficult. The hostel where I stayed could book inexpensive trips for those who were looking, which I was, so within a day of arriving I was set to depart two days after. Traditionally, most backpackers opt for the world famous Inca Trail. Following a path that originates from the time of the Incans, this being one that they used to go from Cusco to Machu Pichu, individuals can opt to partake in the long, wearing 10 day journey up and down mountains, over rivers and through valleys, until they have conquered all of the terrain seperating themselves from this Inca Holy Land. Such a trip would allow one to experience all of the wildlife the nearby vacinity has to offer while following in the footsteps of Incans who took the same route over 500 years ago. Since I didn´t have the time (nor the impetus, for that matter) to do said trip, and also because it is booked up 6 months ahead and very crowded, I decided to go with the three day abbreviated version. It turned out to be not so bad of a choice.

After recuperating for two full days, we set off from Cusco up into the mountains. The first day, which I would classify from easy to very easy, required yours truly to sit in a car and sleep for 3 hours. While I was sleeping, numerous passangers were vomiting with relentless fury into bags and asking for the driver to pull over so they could dispose of the disportionate levels of alcohol that were rife within their system. This was both an entertaining, yet frustrating, spectacle; we were quite late to our initial destination, but I had never in my life seen such projectiles in abundance. The ninety degree turns with no seatbelts to provide security, the wicked humity, the nearby 300 ft drop offs, and the incredible speed at which as we cut through the mountainside, slicing with no regard for speed limits (are their any in South America?) or other´s safety, must have done the trick. I, fortunately, had very few problems – as altitude was no longer effecting my body and the few beers that I had treated myself to the night before were well digested by morning time. Lucky for me, unlucky for my fellow passengers that there was no other option except for the show to go on and up the mountain to go.

At the top, the fun began. Fresh, crisp air fills the lungs immediately, allowing one to adjust to the natural setting with relative ease. The sensation of being outside of the city, on top of a luxoriously green mountain with a winding river below and steep valleys on both sides, evokes an emotion that drives one to explore, to conquer, the road that awaits peddling. Our bikes, of the more basic variety, do the trick. With single suspension, and tires as big as those on 18 wheelers, we could go across the most demanding terrain consisting solely of broken glass and sharp rocks let alone the paved road that lied before us. Forward and downhill, being the only option, was the direction I went. In retrospect, the ride was no where near the level of intensity that was Death Road. Much slower, more turning, and the possibility of death being far less likely, this road was like taking an afternoon stroll compared to the marathon that was the World´s Most Dangerous Road. Albeit slicker this time around, it hardly provided a challenge during the nearly three hour time frame we shot downhill, with our top speeds at most reaching 40 mph compared to the 65 mph that was possible in La Paz, Bolivia. Enjoyable all the while, with panaramic views to make one salivate, I can hardly complain.

Now at this point group dynamics started to develop, with two new additions to the Motley Crew that had already been established between Tom, James, and I. Joining our ranks was another William, a fellow from Scotland, and a lovely lady named Alice (from London, with apparently no association to Wonderland) who also happened to be the eldest of the newly formed coalition of destruction at the ripe age of 32. William made quite an impression on me, and it was hard not to take notice. With stiking personality and physical similarities to Napeleon from Napoleon Dynamite, he never ceased to amaze with his uncanny ability to interject at the absoltely worst time in the midst of a intense conversation with totally unrelated comments or just say whatever came to mind with no regard for social contexts, leaving the audience with mouths wide opened and wondering where his thoughts were lingering. He also happened to smell like a distinct rotten flavor of cabbage mixed with putrid body odor, that doubled in repulsion when his shoes slipped off and the alluring scent from his socks filled the air, providing enough naussau for someone with a gas mask to pass out. A great conversation piece would go like this: Midway through the trip on the first day he decided that he no longer would like to be referred to as William and instead would prefer to be known as Robert. Upon hearing such request, I made a comment of the sort, ¨Good choice. William is a shitty name anways. I´ve always wanted to be called Julio, or something with a little more latin flare, let´s say Juan or Jesus (pronunciated more Hay-Zeus than the biblical name that is ever so popular). Robert´s not bad though, maybe not my first choice, but your repping a strong blood line. The Kennedy´s, especially Robert, seems like one could hardly go wrong. Excellent decision in the end, I like where your head is at… ¨

 A statement that warranted this reply, ¨Yea, I know. The Kennedys, who is that?¨

Will (US version): ¨……¨

William, now Robert: ¨Oh, I know. The American football players, right?¨

Will (US Version): ¨…..¨

Robert (from Scotland): ¨Yea, I have always liked American Football¨.

Crickets, blank stare, end of conversation.

Or, better yet, the following day our group was sitting down, conversing gingerly over the subject of hunger and our worst moments during our relatively short lifetimes. James was recounting a tale of when on a business trip with a coworker through Ireland, he had not consumed food nor water for some 48 hours. Busy driving, with few places to stop other than to go to the bathroom where he and his mate found themselves, these two were in dire straights, hardly able to keep going yet found enough energy in the tank to push through till morning. James, about half way through the evening, couldn´t make it and started scourging through the car in search of food. He found something, the equivalent to the prepackaged Rhamen Noodles (or Cup of Noodles, based upon your preference) that are popular amongst the College population but did not have the water to complete the recipe. Ravenous, tempted to eat his own hand, James decided to go ahead anyways and eat the noodles without any further consideration for as he said, ¨My insides were eating themselves. I know people say that alot, but I really mean it. The pain was so intense, my body so weak, blood sugar to low, that I thought if I didn´t eat anything I was sure to pass out or probably worse, leaving my buddy in a bad situation cause it didn´t look like any sort of medical services were nearby. I did what I had to do, it wasn´t terrible, and I made it through okay¨.

Will (US version): ¨Holy shit. I haven´t even come close to that. I go some 45 minutes and I get hungry. Props. That´s digusting though. Probably tasted like chalk and I could only imagine how your mouth was afterwards considering your dehydration¨.

James: ¨It wasn´t pretty, I will be honest. That´s the last time I will let something like that happen, or at least the last time I hope that happens to me or anybody else. But you know, there´s people out there who have it alot worse so I shouldn´t complain¨.

Will (US version): ¨Too true, at times we forget how lucky we have it. Hunger, which occurs sparingly, is rather miniscule in the grand scheme of things and especially in the lives we lead¨.

Robert (formerly William, from Scotland, and not in the slightest referring to Robert F. Kennedy of the United States) : ¨Yea. In the north of Scotland they´re very religious¨.

Will (US version): ¨….ahh, Yea. The Catholics and the Protestants don´t get along at all up, right?¨

Robert: ¨Football (meaning soccer) is crazy up there. This one morning, I woke up on a Sunday and was starving. I ate the night before but not alot, so I walked around looking for somewhere to eat. Everything was closed! You know, it´s a Sunday, and it´s Scotland, especially the north, so everything´s going to be closed. Well, I found a McDonalds like ten minutes later. I had to eat McDonalds on a Sunday. It was crazy¨

James: Looks at Will (US version) and laughs.

Will: Looks at Tom, wonders what just happened, and laughs.

Tom: Looks at Will and James, then looks at Robert and says ¨That´s not crazy at all.¨

This conversation actually took place. It was followed by blank stares, utter bewilderment, and chuckles around – except for Alice, who pretended that she missed the entire thing because she had no idea what to say. This example may or may not help convey Robert´s absurdity and tendency for the nonsensical, but it was worth a shot. He also being the only Scotsmen I have ever come across, I felt obliged to honor the impression he made on me – one of those individuals who deserves a video camera on him at all times because you have no idea what he could say next. I think he could make millions.

Now Alice was a much different story. A proper English girl who had spent the last three months horseback riding in Ecuador (she described as ¨volunteer work¨, which puts the volunteer work I did in Buenos Aires to shame), the eldest of our group was quite timid and apprehensive of the wonders Peru has to offer. Rightfully so, from my perspective, as the two evenings before our trip had not treated her so well. First, en route from Lima to Cusco, her bus was hijacked by a group of bandits. As the story goes, these gentlemen place rocks in the road so the bus has to veer off and park itself on the side, allowing their forces to board and seize whatever possessions they please from the fear stricken and tearful crowd. Guns in hand, masks covering their faces, they left a far more lasting impression on Alice´s memory than Scottish Napoleon could have ever done to mine. Scarred from this encounter and consumed by trepidation, Alice decided to handle here anxieties the following evening by going out and drinking them away. Whether or not this was an appropriate decision, she nonetheless went and did as she pleased, this time her evening ending with a homeless man accosting she and her friend, robbing them both, and solidifying her opinion that Peru was a discpicable, unruly place. Fair enough.

Alice´s free flying spirit, as expected, was constrained by her unfortunate confrontations with Peru´s worst. Any person who travels in South America faces inherent risks whereever the go, and she happened to experience this for herself. Very poor people, with underdeveloped countries to compliment their destitution, can lead to very dangerous situations, especially if you are a foreigner. This is the gamble; the payoff being exposure to some of the world´s finest beauty and the drawback being the slight chance of theft, injury, or (in the worst case possible) death along the way. Stories of Alice´s sort have started to become more common as I enter into the Peruvian north, especially drawing closer to Ecuador and Colombia. A close friend of mine who happens to work in the Kidnapping Insurance business (no joke), specifically in South and Central America, warned of this area before I set off on my trip.  I made a mental note then, which has been reinforced with first hand stories from other travelers since I have been on the road, and will continue to stray from night buses, traveling solo, and being an absolute idiot.  Control the controllables, everything else you just have to handle in the best way possible when it comes flying your way.

Now, back to the trip. Biking was easy. Rest, when we arrived to our hostel, was difficult. The stench from Napoleon´s bare feet (a combination of raw onion, wet sock, and dirty dog) filled the air and made it difficult to breath, so strong you could almost taste it. The inner lining to a sleeping bag which he carried around to protect him from ¨the chemicals from detergent, especially in South America¨ (which I doubt is actually used for the exact same reason: because this is South America) could hardly mask the smell, and the funky aroma blessed our living quaters for the entire evening. Waking up early was more of a blessing opposed to a hastle, and our group was on our way by 5 AM towards Agua Calientes. A town formed within the past 15 years as a result of the massive river flooding that happens to occur frequently around Machu Pichu, this village stands  19 km away from where we set off from early that morning. All that stood in the way of myself and Machu Pichu was some rocky terrain, a few steep inclines, a handful smooth, rolling hills, and just about 9 hours of trekking. No big deal. The scenery itself was worth the trip. A description: The shallow river we crept along on the overcast afternoon slid its way through the deep valleys that were accentuated by intense, vivid green foilage, while the erosion from the river´s force during high season exposed the endless types of rock and their various sizes from the first step to the very last. Unable to absorb it all at once and witnessing the hard earth shoot straight up, form mountains, and touch the sky, it was better that the journey was long rather than short, for one was continously enchanted by the beauty and began to understand why the Incans placed one of their finest cities in this area.

The trip that consumed this entire day only had one downside: pouring rain pelted the body for the last two hours. As it turns out, the water proof jacket I purchased in La Paz was not so water proof (which I found out the hard way). Dripping from head to foot, shivering from the cold that swept through the valley, our group landed in Aguas Calientes at around 6PM. With no spare clothes, and the ones I did were soaking wet as the small bag I had purchased as well turned out not to be waterproof, I went to sleep praying for better weather the next day for our climb to Machu Pichu and my clothes to dry before the 4AM wake up. It turns out only one of my wishes would be appeased, the more important regarding the following day´s weather as the rain had stopped by late that evening, so I suited up with wet socks, shoes, pants, and t-shirt to match.

The point of leaving so early is to catch sunrise at the top of the mountain where Machu Pichu lies. It´s a strenous journey getting there, climbing from the base of the mountain upward for nearly two hours, but well worth the sweat and energy. Plus, there´s prehistoric looking steps made of rock to guide the way, so the only real danger is loosing your footing, falling over the edge, and plunging to your death or maybe rolling down hill, breaking a few bones, until someone happens to stop you. I don´t know how often that happens, if ever, but it is a possiblity, one that slipped into mind as I was charging up hill in the pitch black.

The view from the top was simply, for lack of a better word, mind-blowing. The labryinth of steps leading the way upwards, challanging the body and one´s will power, provides the sweet sense of bliss when reaching one of the world´s most fantastic vantage points, almost like you were in a city of clouds, looking down on the earth, with the only sounds being from the birds flying above and river roaring below. Nature abound, the sun slowly pulls itself over the mountaintops, through the clouds, and leaves the sky a tinge of pink before coming to rest after its morning exercises. You sit, heaving for fresh air, sweat dripping down your face, contemplating whether this is real or just something you came up with in a dream. Pinching you, bringing you back to reality, your eyes focus on the city that was created to escape the Spaniards in the 1500s, Machu Pichu, realizing you would rather be no where else on Earth except right there, right then. 

Machu Pichu, the city itself, is spectacular aesthetically and even more impressive architecturally. It levels you. Resting high above, carved out of a mountain, the city of stone and earth took 200 years to build and was made for around 600 people. Its heights was an attempt by the Incans to be closer to the Gods, its various temples used to pay tribute to their numerous deities, its wondrous beauty a result of unparrelled determination. Each factor visible by the lay man´s eye, one can only begin to fathom the glory that was the Incan Empire with Machu Pichu being a sterling example of their power, ingeniuity, willingness to put forth extreme effort to protect their people and survive. It is unfortunate that the downfall of this empire came from foreign disease brought on by the Spanish, but at least this city above the clouds pays tribute to this once thriving civilization and allows those in the present to taste their dominance, even if only for a brief period of time. I shall never forget it.

It´s that time. I have been typing for too long. I am in Lima and need to explore the city a bit. I got in yesterday at around 6PM, had an early evening, and plan to do alot today just not sure exactly what. This place seems like it has a lot to offer, so I doubt it will be hard to find something. Also, be on the look out: I plan to post some more photos posted up in the next few days. Meanwhile, for all of those who this applies to, namely mothers and mothers to be, Happy Mothers Day. Thanks for everything, Mom. You´re the best. Chau.

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